By Aamina T. Shakir
After bursting onto the national music scene nearly a decade ago, Phi Beta Kappa members Luke and Daniel Brindley have since rerouted their careers into a successful means of launching other performers and helping to extend the influence of music in the community at large. The brothers are the owners and operators of Jammin’ Java, a music club and coffeehouse/restaurant in Vienna, Virginia, which offers daily live music performances that usually feature independent or local artists. However, the nationally acclaimed business took a long and unique path to the success it enjoys today.
The Brindley brothers grew up in New Jersey and attended Rutgers University, where they both earned degrees in music and were inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa Society upon graduation. According to Luke Brindley, they knew from childhood that they wanted to take their love for music to the professional level. “We grew up in a pretty musical family—our parents were amateur musicians who were into guitar, piano, and singing,” he said. “Plus they had friends who were professional musicians, so we were exposed to the career and the lifestyle. I think being exposed to it and encouraged early on made it a reasonable, viable career option. For me at least it’s been my first love.”
For a few years after college, the brothers were primarily artists who spent most of their time touring and performing. Then, in 2001, they heard from their father about Jammin’ Java, a failing Christian-themed concert venue in Virginia. The owner needed someone else to take it over or else shut it down, and the Brindleys took on the task, buying the café in October of that year along with their other brother Jonathan. “Initially we thought it would just be a day job, to make money while we made music and travelled,” said Luke. “But it became this all-consuming business and we had to be here 24/7 to make it successful.” They renovated the building, building a new stage, redoing the sound and lighting systems, and expanding the menu to include full meals; more importantly, they also expanded their musical offerings, shifting their focus from local singer-songwriters to all genres. In Crystal Huntoon’s article for Encore “Jammin’ Java Celebrates 10th Year,” she quotes Daniel Brindley as saying: “We host all types of music from the hardest rock to the quietest acoustic music, from party crowds to sit-down crowds. . . . [we provide] a big rock club experience in a small club setting.” In the same article, she writes that each week, the 200-seat venue hosts about 16 shows and caters to 1,000 patrons. Many who perform there go on to become household names: “Because of our size, we get lots of up-and-coming artists who are about to break out big,” said Luke Brindley. “There was FUN, the Civil Wars, Bon Iver, Paramour, Zac Brown, Owl City—they blew up shortly after.” In the years since the Brindleys took over, Jammin’ Java has steadily gained recognition, being named one of the “Top 100 Clubs in the World” by Pollstar Magazine and one of “America’s 40 Best Music Venues” by Paste Magazine.
The trajectories of the brothers’ music careers have been less clear-cut. In 2004, Luke and Daniel signed to Paste Records and released their first album, “Playing With the Light,” to critical acclaim. “Playing With the Light” was featured in such national publications as The Washington Post (which described it as “Magical . . . a pop rock gem . . . an early contender for one of the best pop rock albums of 2004), The Washington Times, and Rolling Stone. They put out their next album, “Filled With Fire,” in 2006. However, as Jammin’ Java took off, the brothers’ musical interests began to diverge. “Daniel kind of gravitated more towards the business side of things once we started running the club,” said Luke Brindley. “He’s a great musician, but his first love wasn’t really performing. He will perform occasionally, but it’s pretty rare.” For his part, prefers the more artistic side of things, taking a part-time role in Jammin’ Java to better focus on songwriting. He put out his first solo album in 2007 and has continued ever since; in fact, he says, he has been releasing a song every week this year. He has put out two albums so far in 2013, appropriately titled “Our Year I” and “Our Year II.”
According to Luke Brindley, the blend of sciences and humanities he was exposed to in college (and which gained him entry to Phi Beta Kappa), provided a strong foundation for his and Daniel’s various professional successes. “Having a liberal arts background definitely broadened my scope, introduced me to different writers and artists, and that’s just what education is, broadening your view of the world,” he said. “Your appreciation for music, different genres, etc., is enhanced by the liberal arts. I loved to read, and it made it a richer experience for me as an artist and songwriter, to see the depth of certain writers. It made me want to go out and do that in my own work, and I get so much fulfillment from that.” He also pointed out the benefits of such a background from a business perspective: “More practically, we were influenced by hard work in college – the kind of focus and diligence it takes to get a liberal arts degree definitely comes into play in real life like this.” This hard work seems to have paid off for Brindley, though: “We didn’t know what we were getting into,” he admitted, “but we definitely have no regrets!”
Luke Brindley’s music can be found on http://brindleymusic.com/.
Aamina T. Shakir is a junior at the University Oklahoma majoring in biochemistry and Spanish. The University of Oklahoma is home to the Alpha of Oklahoma Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.