Bryan Talks to us about “Scenes From The Flood”
Guitar Muse’s Scott Collins caught up with Bryan Beller while he was on tour with the Aristocrats over the summer and they talked about his new release, Scenes From The Flood which is a massive vision and collaboration among many musicians.
I had a few beginning observations. First, this new release puts the focus more on Bryan Beller the composer as opposed to Bryan Beller the bassist. While you’re well represented in your playing here this recording is really about everything being in service to the work as a whole. Secondly, this strikes me as a work that would have to be done by someone who is in their maturity as a musician. This isn’t a recording that could be made by a 21-year old who is only looking forward, but by someone who can look back at their past as well as into their future.
Bryan: I appreciate you saying both of those things. To take the first thing: Absolutely. This is a composer’s record. It’s funny because the way that I learned to play bass and the way I thought I was going to play bass when I grew up was always supposed to be in service of whatever song I was playing. I was never setting out to be the guy who was going to be in a band of “hotshot players”. I was much more into John Paul Jones as a kid than I was Victor Wooten. And that’s not to say Victor Wooten isn’t awesome. He is. But even going back before Victor Wooten I wasn’t really practicing the Billy Sheehan / Stu Hamm stuff here because I just wasn’t that interested in technique. It was either being lazy or just a matter of “you play what you love”, but one thing led to another and I was kind of playing more rootsy type of stuff. And the next thing you know I’m in Dweezil Zappa’s band and playing with Steve Vai and Mike Keneally and now the Aristocrats, so it’s funny how life works.
If there’s an impression out there that, “Oh it’s Bryan Beller so there must be a lot of bass playing,” hopefully this album will dispel that notion. I didn’t make the album to say that in any way. I just made it because I wanted to make the album that I always wanted to make and I realized that my previous solo work had been kind of floating between fusion / rock fusion / jazz fusion and some progressive instrumental rock. On this album, I just got totally off the fence and said, “I’m making a double progressive rock album. I’m just going to do it.” I was afraid to do it in the beginning I think, because if I’m going to sit here and say that my favorite album is [Pink Floyd’s] “The Wall”, and [Yes’] “Tales for Topographic Oceans” was a huge album for me as well as [NIN’s] “The Fragile” – not everybody thinks of NIN as progressive but there’s a lot of progressive stuff going on there and the album is definitely conceptual – so if I’m going to be name checking albums like this, and then saying I’m going to do something like that…it’s frightening (laughs)! It’s audacious, even arrogant, to say, “Oh yeah I’m going to make an album that’s shooting for that target.” But in the end, I realized that that was what the music that was showing up in my head was saying, and then once that happened I thought, “well, I’ve got to do it, because anything else is just going to be a lie”. The bass playing that happens inside of this album is basically just me.
This is more of a chicken and the egg question: Did you have a series of compositions that you already had pre-composed and acting as the bedrock of the album, or did you have a general concept of the recording and then fit the compositions to work into the concept?
Bryan: No it was the latter. I had a general concept. Well, the first thing is that the last time I made a solo album was 2008. I was writing for it in 2006 and 07. [Since then] I’d only been writing for the Aristocrats, which is a completely different flavor. It’s much more comedic and intricate and kind of “taking the piss” in a very Zappa-esque way. [Then] In 2013, I had some events in my life….I had made some plans that hadn’t quite turned out the way I expected, and I was feeling some of the way that you feel when your intentionality meets life’s reality. Maybe even a little bit of disillusionment. And some melodies started appearing in my head right around that time, and immediately I realized, “Uh oh…I think this is the beginning of another album.”
So I knew I had the idea of what I wanted to say, and it was a big message, and there was a big context to it. And then the melodies and grooves just started spilling out. They would just show up in my head, and when they showed up I used my iPhone voice memo or I would write it down in a text file…soon I had a bunch of song titles and I knew where they were going to go in the sequence. Then I realized I had more than enough material for one album and I thought, “Maybe this is two albums?” And then I realized, “No it’s one big double-album release.” I could just feel it, so I just organized it the best I could.
By the end of 2016, I had 18 songs and 88 minutes and the sequence in my head, [all] before I ever started the demos. All of it on iPhone voice memo and text notes. I joked that if I could just have opened up my mouth and the sound of the record coould have come out, it would have been a lot easier (laughs) because most of it was there. So in 2017 I took 8 months where I didn’t do any other work, I didn’t do any road gigs, and I didn’t do anything but sit at home and demo this album. By the beginning of 2018, I had a complete demo all formed. It took another 8 months to track it, and then took an additional 9 months to mix it.
As I listened to the record I thought about how it’s apparent that it’s your vision being realized but this is also very much of a collaborative work. This is not only in the artwork, layout and recording of the release, but also in how you have specific players playing on tracks instead of a house band approach. It’s clearly your tunes and parts but it also seems like you’re giving people some space to do what they do.
Bryan: Yes, well, it depends on the song. There are definitely parts. It’s a progressive album, there are layered parts, arrangements of the parts, but of course musicians come in their own little space and put their own little spin on it. I’m not telling people how to solo (laughs). So yeah, I think it’s a balance of that. Sometimes the composition would cry out for a specific player… you don’t even need to say “this is the part” or “this is the solo”. It’s more like “OH – it’s the sound of THIS person that this song is looking for”. In the case of “Volunteer State”, I didn’t write it for Joe Satriani, but as soon as I was done with the demo, I was listening back to it and I said, “Oh my God, if I don’t have Joe Satriani to do this song this I’m committing some kind of musical crime!” And that just kept happening. The flavor and the timbre of the solo in “World Class”, the big 9-minute Eastern-flavored progressive song that is one of the climactic songs of the album…I was like, “Oh it’s got to be John Petrucci and I hope he says yes!” Thank God he did! But then at the same time, you get somebody that maybe not everybody knows like Nilli Brosh.
Bryan: She’s a GREAT guitarist! She plays the melody on that song. It’s really difficult and she shredded it. I knew her from her solo album work, and I knew that she would be good on that. And then you could go totally the other way on a song like “The Flood”, where that’s an ambient piece, and that was just a soundscape. I had structure in terms of a road map, but inside the three distinct movements of that song there was a LOT of room for someone to bring their own thing. And Janet Feder…her artistry…I mean, the way she plays her prepared baritone guitar… she created all of these incredible sonic landscapes, and what she does to her guitar is to put objects on it, like clips and split rings, to make the strings vibrate in ways that are completely unique to her. That piece was designed, in part, as a chalkboard for her to do various things. She played both fretless guitar and prepared baritone and created all sorts of acoustic sound design that are just wild. So there’s varying degrees of that input depending on which song you listen to.
I’m glad we got to discuss this! I know her work fairly well so it was exciting for me to see her on your recording.
Bryan: How do you know her music?
I studied with Miroslav Tadic at CalArts and he turned me on to her.
Bryan: (laughs) How funny is that? Janet’s the one who introduced me to Miroslav. What a player! An incredible talent . So the very very first seed of this entire album was when I heard Miroslav Tadic’s version of [the Macedonian folk song] “Stojane, sine Stojane”, and that song just broke me when I heard it the first time. That song influenced the chord progression of “The Storm”, and that’s how the album started.
I was also looking forward to talking about Janet because her contributions and overall influence are somewhat different than everyone else on the album. For example, she penned the only composition on the album that isn’t yours (“Angles & Exits”). What inspired you to include that piece in the work?
Bryan: I just want to go back to the album that she released in 2015 (T H I S C L O S E). That album just completely blew me away. I felt like a higher benchmark had been established both for the sonic quality of what I wanted my album to be, and also [for] the amount of space and expansiveness in the music. There’s an incredible amount of space and patience in her music. Now when you listen to songs on my album like “Steiner in Ellipses” and “World Class” which are really dense and fast and furious, you’re like, “How did Janet Feder influence that?” and the answer is that she didn’t. But on the songs where she did influence it, like “Lookout Mountain” and “The Flood”, and even some of the other interludes on the album, it was profound.
I remember listening to T H I S C L O S E and it was beautiful and disquieting, and I just really wanted to emulate that. It was probably the most elemental influence on the entire album in trying to create this beautiful and disquieting atmosphere in order to help tell the story. “Angles & Exits” just happens to be the most traditional song on that very untraditional album, and I love that song. I think it’s a perfect little song. It’s almost like her “Black Hole Sun” in a way. I realized that if I brought the melody down an octave I could actually sing it in my very, very limited vocal range. Then I sat down at a piano and realized I could play it on piano and I thought, “Well, maybe I can cover this song” and I instantly realized that there was a perfect place for it in the sequence of the story (the end of side 3 of the double vinyl album). Once that all clicked in my head I thought, “Well, there’s no way that I’m not doing this.” It’s just…I have to do it. So I did the best I could with her beautiful recording and I hope I did justice to it.
I did a little something at the end that doesn’t exist on her recording. I came to her with it for that big ending that she hadn’t done and I was like, “Is it okay if I do this to your song?” And she was like, “Yes, yes, yes, by all means!” She couldn’t have been more gracious.
It’s interesting because to me her work is virtuosic but not in the way that you would normally think of a virtuoso. It’s virtuosic in the sculpting of sound and in the organization of creating mood and creating emotion. It’s a similar thread I heard in your album for what you were going for – really getting back to that idea of being in service to the song.
Bryan: Exactly. Oh yeah. I mean she’s got a degree. She’s a classically trained guitarist. She’s got the right hand, she’s got the chops. She can do all of that stuff but that’s not what her music is about. It’s just that that technique can be applied in service to what she does.
With my bass playing I see myself as a fairly meat and potatoes player. I’m playing some complicated music but I’m always trying to provide a foundation and groove and tone. Proper tone. That’s really important. That’s it. These arrangements are so dense…it’s one thing in the Aristocrats where it’s a power trio and the bass really does have to take up a lot of space. That’s different contextually, musically and sonically. But when you’re talking about songs like “The Storm” or “Always Worth It” or “World Class” with the huge arrangements – 10 guitars, 5 keyboards, and all of that – the bass is just going to sit there and do its job. That’s all it’s supposed to do.
On your trailer video you talked about four stories going through the theme of this. How were you were thinking of this division?
Bryan: They’re interlocking stories. I know that it would be easy to assume that it was one story per album side. Either way, because the album was conceived as double vinyl, the segues in the songs do match that. The album is definitely divided into four parts but the stories on the album are not directly correlative to the vinyl sides of the album. There are four stories that weave throughout the album and they’re represented by melodies, tone and rhythm. I think a careful listener will be able to pick up what they are.
I really wouldn’t want to go beyond that. I really want to leave room for the listener to have their own experience. I’m not hiding the ball, I don’t think, with some of the conceptual continuity that goes between the songs. All it would take is a second concentrated listen, and then you’d go “Oh…”. At least I hope so!
Of course there are real stories that I am telling here. I think this is really important when you start getting into a concept album. I can provide the themes and I can discuss that…quickly [by] saying the album is about what happens when your intentionality meets reality. Then I think everyone has a couple of times in their life where there are some pretty important traumatic events. [Do] you know when you walk into one of those moments? Not always. But you know when you walk out of one of those moments. There are questions like, “What is that moment? What is it about to you? How do you react to it? How do you process it? Where do you go after that all happens? What do you build after that?” So those are the big, big themes of the album.
Now when we talk about The Wall…I love The Wall. It’s the first album I ever had, and in a lot of ways it formed the idea of what an album should be in my brain. I don’t love The Wall because I need to know where Roger Water’s father had that plane crash in World War II in Italy where he died. You know? That’s not why we love it. The Wall is awesome because we’re able to invest our own personal emotional energy into it. There’s a statement that’s big enough for everyone to have an experience with it. In one way it’s the same because we’re all listening to the same songs, and in another way it’s completely different because we’re all different people.
So I hope that when people absorb Scenes from the Flood that I’ve done my job by creating a world they can walk into, that they can hear the melodies and hear the current themes and can hear all the things that everybody will hear….that it’s all there and they can have their own personal emotional experience with it. That’s my goal. The four stories are in there. People can unpack the package or be a detective or whatever. [But] sometimes “figuring something out” is kind of like a booby prize, you know? Hopefully they’re into it and listening to it and they’ve forgotten about what I’m trying to say and starting to realize what it is that they’re experiencing.
At a time when people are so challenged with actually concentrating on anything, it’s also intriguing to me that you would release a dense, highly personal recording as a double album.
Bryan: I didn’t do it to make any grand statement against people’s declining attention span. The world is the way the world is. I’m not here to be stating for or against anything. People who do that, at that point, are really doing something else. I’m here and this as an artistic statement and it just so happened that it’s a double album. Because that’s the way it showed up for me. The thing I think [that] would have been unfortunate is if I had looked at that and said, “Well, the current trend is to say that releasing a double album is foolish. You’d make more money releasing them as single albums, or even releasing them as four EPs”. Then I’d feel like I was defiling the work. Fortunately I’m the record company (laughs) so I got to make the final decision on that. I didn’t want to alter the integrity of the work in any way.
There were inconveniences about trying to sell and market a double album [with] the way today’s music industry works, but there’s also great conveniences in terms of how to make a double album. If I wanted to make this album 25 years ago it would have cost a quarter of a million dollars! It would have been completely undoable, and I would have had to go to a record company to get the money and they would have owned everything. That was the old deal.
So yes, digital technology has changed the way that people listen to music, process music, buy music, all of those things. It’s also provided us with an amazing opportunity to really step up to the plate and create something big without being in debt for the rest of your life.
There are a number of people from certain generations with a view of the music industry that’s rooted in a pre-2000 A.D. business model. With that comes a certain unyielding bias about how the music industry is supposed to be and how they think it’s supposed to work. In contrast there are a series of younger players adopting new technologies, platforms, social media and other means to express themselves. You have roots in the former but can still operate in the latter.
Bryan: Well you gotta go where the people are. That’s just the bottom line. I was actually off social media – not really off but barely posting anything – while I was doing demos for those eight months. I didn’t really want to distract myself with social media posts and I didn’t really have anything to promote anyway! And I’m not one of those people who feels like I need to just be on social media to keep my name and following out there. Maybe that’s to my credit or discredit. Maybe it works better to do it the other way. I don’t know. All I know is that when it was time to create, it was time to [get] in my cave and create.
There was a moment of truth when the album was done back in May. I thought, “Well, now it’s time to get out of my cave and look around this social media and promotional publicity world we live in and play the game as best I can being a 48-year old guy.” I was one of the first people to have any kind of…we didn’t even call it a blog back then, we called it a web journal. I was doing one in late 1995. So I was really on the cutting edge of what we can do for marketing ourselves when we didn’t even know we were marketing ourselves. We were just writing stuff. [We were like], “Wait a minute, people read this?”
Now I’m looking around and going, “How does Instagram work? What do you mean you can’t update it on a laptop? What’s the difference between a boosted post and an ad?” I actually wrote a couple of posts about it, [saying] “Ok I’m back in this thing now and everything has changed! I don’t recognize most of this. So bear with me while I learn how to do this again.” So I’m doing posts every day and doing a social media campaign for the album, and I know that if you want to get it out there that you have to promote it. I’m not the kind of person who’s going to be posting 30-second videos of myself playing on Instagram or YouTube every day. That’s just never going to be me. I’m always going to focus on the literary aspect of the content I was writing.
[So] no one is going to go out and promote the stuff for us. I don’t believe that there is a shame or weirdness in getting out there and telling people about the album. The most important thing is that we all have to be ourselves. People can tell when you’re not being authentic on social media and promoting, so if you can, find a way to just be yourself. Get out there on point and know what you want to talk about! All you can do then is just throw it out there, and then whatever the market decides is whatever the market decides.
I think it says a lot about you as a person that your recent daily Facebook posts highlight the other players and their contributions to the album.
Bryan: Thank you but I just realized I was fortunate enough to have this incredible collection of 26 musicians and six visual artists and many, many engineers… it just took so many people to pull this off. And what I’m thinking about as well is that the most important thing in social media is “Content, content, content!” Always have content right? (laughs). But then it’s, “How the hell am I going to have content for a month and a half?” (laughs) How many times can you say, “Here’s what the album is about, please buy it” or “check it out on Spotify and buy it.” And it hit me that if I created a campaign where we took a day and featured every contributor on the album, it would take at least 55 days! (laughs)
I also wanted to talk about the albums that influenced this album. And [also] feature the artwork, as that’s an important part of the package. With the great double albums when you open the gatefold and the booklets…there was always something for fans to fetishize about the packaging, and I wanted to emulate that. The CDs have two 20-page booklets, one for each disc, and the vinyl version has a 24-page booklet. The key is that every song has its own cover artwork, like an album cover, so I commissioned 18 pieces of art – one for each song – so you can see the credits for each song and see this piece of art that represents what the song is about, and [it] gives a little bit of a clue as to the overall story. So for people who really want to go the extra mile there and feel all of that, that information is all in there.
So I wanted to take a day – each day – and feature one of the song artworks, if you will. Between the song artworks and the contributors and the influences, it’s like a 60-day thing. I think I’m in Day 13 of it right now. It’s been fun! I can’t say enough about the people who contributed to this. I can’t do this all on my own – otherwise I would have just released the demo album without any of the artwork and that would have sucked.
I wanted to ask about the collaborative elements of the recording, and the booklet artwork was certainly one of the key elements I was thinking of. It was interesting to see how you used the art to reveal pieces of the stories. You have an actual Steiner ellipse in one piece, and in another example the artwork for “Everything And Nothing” features a contemporary take on a yin / yang symbol. To me that speaks to a theme of duality that seems to go through the album.
Bryan: Well, there’s definitely a duality of things in there. If you look at the “Everything And Nothing” symbol it is pretty obviously drawing on a yin/yang based image, but if you look closely at it, it’s not a circle. It’s got hard edges. It’s a hexagon. It’s got gold trim around it. And the background is a kind of like a bit of broken marble, and [with] the smaller circles in the yin/yang, there’s something slightly weird about it. So it’s not your typical “everything is in harmony with the universe” [There’s] a little grey around it. It’s an interesting place for the story to start, because that’s the start of one of the stories.
Both of those images make an appearance with the stage and the backdrop and the fire as the artwork for “World Class”, and it acts as a culmination of sorts. Also “World Class” is such a…I hesitate to say ‘different’ track because there’s a lot of diversity on the album, but thematically it’s very different as well. It’s a big epic moment that leads to the final destination of the recording.
Bryan: ”World Class” is essentially the climatic song of the work. Everything that’s been happening up to that point leads into that. After that the only songs left are “Sweet Water” and “Let Go Of Everything”. It’s kind of the end of the story, and the epilogue. In any story when you introduce all of the characters and all of the elements, eventually they’re all going to come together in this one climactic moment, [like] in a movie or a book or an album or whatever, and that’s what “World Class” is. Visually if you see the symbol from “Everything And Nothing”, the symbol from “Steiner In Ellipses”, and the symbol from “The Scouring Of Three & Seventeen”, and you put it all together – that’s what that’s all about. That’s why it’s a nine-and-a-half minute song that is so massive! I wanted to create something that was as big as the feeling of 88 minutes coming to a conclusion.
I spent about a month on that demo, and I knew that it was going to be a big song. I got a sitar player from India [Rishabh Seen] who’s amazing. There’s a violinist, Paul Cartwright, who basically turned himself into a one-man orchestra. He recorded 20 tracks of himself and created a huge string section. Then, like I said Nilli Brosh, John Petrucci, they did amazing things to the guitar on that. Then there’s Ray Hearne from Haken. Haken is amazing. I wanted a younger…modern drum take on this progressive epic song, and Ray is great. I think he really killed it.
It’s definitely head-turning by the time you get to it, because it’s so different from everything that came before it. It’s a highlight on an album of highlights.
Bryan: Oh thank you!
You talked earlier about NIN’s “The Fragile” as an influence. What other influences featured prominently in the genesis of the recording?
Bryan: Oh yeah. I know the big five albums on this for me, [though] they’re not the only ones I’m drawing from.
“The Wall” was definitely huge for me, in terms of trying to use it as a blueprint for having melodies run through certain songs, and for pacing a double vinyl album. “Tales From Topographic Oceans” was absolutely big because it was a very interesting album. I thought that they were trying to say something really, really big, and while not emulating the concept or songs of that album – one song per side – I could feel in the fourth song of that album [them] trying to tie the whole thing together. And in my view, and not everyone will agree with this, they didn’t quite pull it off BUT it was SO big and SO ambitious. I have a strange kind of admiration for that album and what they were trying to do. There are moments in the last song [“Ritual: Nous Somme Du Soleil”] where they almost do it! The whole climactic thing before the drum breakdown in that song, that could have been the end of the album if they had just been a little more careful about it. (laughs) So I thought to myself, “What would it have been like if they actually stuck the landing on that huge thing?“
So now “The Fragile”… I’m a huge Nine Inch Nails fan. It’s one of those things where he does such a good job of creating beauty and darkness at the same time. Where there’s heavy and light. It’s not a classic progressive timbre…it’s much more industrial. I’m a big fan of the way he arranges music and the way he arranges songs. I’m not ashamed to admit there are definitely some NIN influences in there. I’m not sure how many people know this, but Bob Ezrin, the guy who produced “The Wall”, was also brought in to help produce “The Fragile”. That was not an accident.
I already mentioned Janet Feder’s “T H I S C L O S E” – that’s a huge record for this. I’m such a big Devin Townsend fan and the Strapping Young Lad album, “Alien”. Maybe some people who read this aren’t into extreme metal, but Devin is definitely a progressive artist. If you listen to his stuff, he’s really drawing on classic progressive work. It’s just the timbre of all is super super aggressive and extreme metal. So that album “Alien”, it’s a 50-minute hyper-compressed ball of furious energy. It’s a remarkable album. I can’t say much more about it other than people should definitely check it out.
When you typically see a virtuoso performance, there’s the audience perspective of the performance of “that’s amazing”, and then there’s the perspective of the people who DO that same thing (i.e. who practice the same art) and those people can also see the practice and the hard work behind it. The real artistry is the perceived effortlessness of something that’s really difficult to do. When I listen to the recording, there’s a similar sense of effortlessness in terms of continuity and flow in the final product that belies how long you spent conceptualizing and working on this. Clearly it’s a thoughtful epic work. It’s a major release and milestone for you, but there is also a deceptive virtuosic ease that comes though in the writing, recording and performing of it. It belies the astronomical amount of work that went into actually seeing this thing into completion.
Bryan: Yeah well…we don’t talk about the sausage being made right? Yes, of course there’s just an intense amount of detail in the parts, the arrangements, even in the initial demos. I slaved over them. So, first with the parts. We had to make sure all of these different drum parts recorded in different parts of the world had kind of a unifying sound, while retaining the thing that made those drummers unique. And then the same thing with the guitars. We had to bring them into the world of this album. I mean, you’ve got somebody like Guthrie Govan, who sounds really different from Joe Satriani, who sounds really different from Mike Keneally, who sounds really different from Janet Feder, and on and on. The work of bringing those performances into a composition, and then mixing those compositions and performances into an album…required a lot of work (laughs).
But as far as the virtuosity aspect of it, I think the best performances have a kind of an ease about them. You know, it’s really the sound of something that counts. Why do we like our favorite bands? We could listen to ten seconds of something we love and know what it is. “Oh, that’s Yes…oh, that’s Black Sabbath.” It’s not because one’s playing an E Major chord and the other is playing a D minor chord. It’s not because one’s playing a scale at 180 bpm and the other one is playing at 130 bpm. There are a lot of people that can just play the right notes. But we recognize the sound of those bands just like we recognize the sound of a player. Like in “World Class”, when you hear the solo with John Petrucci and know that’s John Petrucci. It’s the same thing with Joe Satriani, [and] with all the other instrumentalists on this album. They all have sounds of their own, and that’s why I asked them to do it. The contributing of their sound and their energy to that recording would be the thing that really, hopefully, made 2+2 = 22.
Since this is a guitar-focused site we should talk about the players you assembled here.
Bryan: I talked about Joe Satriani. He really brought his whole artistry to “Volunteer State”. He didn’t just play a solo, he played the melody, tracked acoustic guitars, played harmony parts…he basically did an entire guitar arrangement for the song based on my demo and then some. So that’s pretty awesome! Thank you Joe Satriani!
John Petrucci played an amazing solo on “World Class”. Guthrie Govan played the melody and solo for “Sweet Water”, which is the closing ballad on the album, so he had the chance to sign off on the whole thing. Nili Brosh plays the melody on “World Class”, and also a clean cool kind of Middle Eastern part on that. She’s really, really talented. Janet Feder, we talked about. She has a really distinct artistry. Mike Keneally plays acoustic guitars on “Sweet Water”, and also played those furious fast riffs on “Steiner In Ellipses”.
Mike Dawes! Let’s talk about Mike Dawes for a second. Amazing acoustic guitarist from the UK. He’s like the next generation’s Tommy Emmanuel…if you guys out there haven’t heard this guy play, you’ve got to check him out. He’s all over the place online, and he plays baritone guitar on “Lookout Mountain“, which is basically a showpiece for him, and he also does a little thing in the breakdown of “The Storm”.
Teddy Kumpel is a really cool guitarist from New York City. He’s got a cool, quirky, swampy sound, and a really kind of offbeat way of approaching bluesy, funky rhythm and lead, and he plays a short solo on the song “Always Worth It” just to bring a little bent energy to the whole thing. And then there’s Griff Peters and Rick Musallam, who are guitarists who have played on my earlier recordings. Rick Musallam is a guy who can do all sorts of things. He’s on six or seven songs, and he’s one of the key building blocks of the album. He played the lead on “Steiner In Ellipses” and lead breaks on “Always Worth it”. He’s all over the place and he sounds great. Griff Peters has a very kind of unique, vintage kind of sound, and he’s the guy who plays the melody on “Always Worth it”, one of the bigger progressive songs on the album, and he did some great arrangements on there too. He has all of this incredible vintage gear. He has like 15 guitars on there and they all sound great. So I think that covers all the guitarists (laughs) I hope I didn’t forget anybody. [EDITOR: He did! On “The Storm”, Jake Howsam Lowe, Darran Charles, and Jamie Kime; on “Let Go Of Everything”, Mike Olekshy.]
So the album is coming out in September?
Bryan: Yes, September 13th. We have one video out right now for “The Storm”, and another video for the song “Volunteer State”. In early September there will be some kind of event streaming online to premier the album, a Facebook event or something like that, on the days leading up to the release.
That’s happening in a short window between the US and European tours for The Aristocrats.
Bryan: Well, there’s two months there (laughs) so that’s fine. That’s a long time in my book!
You guys are on a pretty aggressive touring schedule.
Bryan: It’s been pretty intense right now with the Aristocrats touring for the new album [“You Know What?”]. It’s been doing really, really well, it’s #2 on the Billboard Jazz charts. I’ve been having a great time on tour and it’s just as much fun as it’s ever been. At the same time I’m promoting my solo album in that lead-up period. Basically what happened is that The Aristocrats album was being promoted in May and June, and it came out in June 28th and we started touring, and then right after that is when we released the hounds on my album which I’m starting to get the word out about. It’s a lot of music and a lot to digest, and I’m just glad that people are into it and following along.
I like all of The Aristocrat recordings but I think “You Know What” is your best work you’ve done yet.
Bryan: Thank you very, very much! A lot of people have said that to us so, thank God, you know? It’s so much better than people saying, “The new one is good but ‘Culture Clash’… now that’s the album!” (laughs). To each his own. It’s not our job to tell people what to think, but we’re glad that a lot of people seem to think that this album is something special.
So in closing, what would you like people to know about this recording?
Bryan: I would like them to know that for anyone who is a fan of the classic double album format, this is going to just be total fan service. Because I’m a fan of that and I wrote it for that. When concept albums are done right, for people who are fans of the genre, there’s really nothing quite like them. It’s not for me to decide whether or not I’ve done this right, but I have tried to do it, a really traditional big double concept album, and I tried to make it sound as good as it could because the sound is really, really important in these things.
But beyond all of that: For people who are looking to connect to music emotionally, not just having it on in the background while they’re washing dishes or something…not that there’s anything wrong with that, if people want to do that it’s fine. But for people who are looking to really be emotionally present, who want to be that to music and that’s the way they process music, I made this record for people who are looking for that kind of experience, to have a new recording that can stand with some of their favorite recordings hopefully, and associate strong emotions with it. For people who want to go deep into an extended work, they may even get something out of it, and out of themselves, that wasn’t there before.