A Master Songwriter's Sons Make Good on Their Musical Genes

By Rob Brunner
June 29, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

We’ve accomplished some things on our own,” says Justin Webb, half of sibling duo the Webb Brothers. ”It’s not just ‘They’re Jimmy Webb’s kids and they have a record.’ That’s a sh — -y story.”

Doesn’t sound so bad to us. Justin and Christiaan Webb’s first U.S. release, Maroon, has just hit stores, and it’s an expert blend of indie-rock values and the kind of classic songcraft mastered by their pop, author of standards like ”MacArthur Park” and ”Wichita Lineman.” Produced by Stephen Street (Blur, the Smiths), Maroon is a dark, autobiographical look at ”what it’s like to be a down-and-out bartender kind of guy in Chicago,” says Justin, 26. Maroon is getting raves in England, and America is starting to take notice.

Raised in L.A., the Webbs grew up playing music but didn’t collaborate until they went to Boston University. They dropped out in the mid-’90s and moved to Chicago, doing time in bands that went nowhere. Not surprisingly, their early efforts owed a debt to dad. ”We were really serious about writing lyrics, meter, having perfect rhymes,” says Christiaan, 28. ”We were sort of closed-minded. Then we had this pivotal moment. We saw Guided by Voices, who had this raw energy. Those guys in their prime — I still think about it and get chills. We were like, ‘Let’s make everything really short.’ We don’t write punk songs, but we have a punk attitude about arrangement.”

Eventually, they began performing as the Webb Brothers, hosting a weekly party at Chicago dive Thurstons, where they also worked. An album, 1998’s Beyond the Biosphere, followed. (Never released in the States, it made them minor celebs in the U.K.) And what does their famously fastidious father make of their music? ”He’s very supportive,” says Justin. ”He seems to like it. But the thing is, we used to make really bad demos and he said they were good. You never know quite how to take it.” Take it as a compliment.