Tom Brislin Interview
This interview is compiled from two separate sessions with singer/songwriter/keyboardist Tom Brislin. The first directly after he had performed a house concert in Northern California and the second was a more recent conversation covering the release of his latest album "Hurry Up and Smell the Roses." Tom is known for his work with artists such as Yes, Camel, Renaissance, Meat Loaf, Deborah Harry as well as his own band Spiraling.
What was the rehearsal process like for the Yes symphonic tour?
The only rehearsing I did with the band was the production rehearsal, which means it was at the site of the very first concert in Reno. What happens a lot on these bigger tours is they'll work out a deal where they can rehearse for a few days at the site of the first concert. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't the day of the concert - we had a couple of weeks in Reno - give or take. I don't recall rehearsing for several weeks, a lot of it was set up. When you have production rehearsals, you also stage the lighting, the stage plot and there were a few drafts of where the orchestra would go, where I was going to go onstage and we modified things as we went, because sight lines were very important. Everyone needed to see each other and be able to have eye contact with the conductor. Everybody was developing their aspect of the tour and then eventually the orchestra came in, but I don't recall much rehearsal. For instance, for a piece like "Close to the Edge" we ran it once - we didn't run it again that day. I had to pretty much show up in performance shape.
Compared to practically anyone who's played with Yes, you had a very stripped down set up. I think it was four keyboards?
Four keyboards and a module. The good news is that I had the capability to produce every sound that was necessary. The challenge was a couple of things, they didn't want me to assert my personality as a new member of Yes, because they knew Rick was coming back the next year with the PR nightmare that happened the year before. I was brought on with the clear intention that it was for the Symphonic Tour and that was it.
Was there a personality profile required? (laughs)
Yeah, right a background check now? They have to have had a good recommendation and references. I'd toured with Meat Loaf for three years and I was doing it all in that band. That gave them a vote of confidence in that regard, but initially the orchestra was seen as the substitute for the keyboards. And then they said "We're going to need some piano and organ, so let's get a guy to play piano and organ with the orchestra." And then by the time Jon Anderson called me and we had our first conversation he wanted me doing everything that a Yes keyboardist does and did and then some, because they knew that I sang. Chris Squire was very keen to assign lots of backing vocals, usually doubling his part, he liked that chorale type sound. So I had more of a job, because I had to perform backing vocals as well. And I had to perform on a third of the number of keyboards that Rick Wakeman would tour with. To do that I had to bring a device called a Midi Mapper, I would program it with the order of songs and when I'd hit a footswitch it would send messages to all my keyboards to change to the appropriate sounds.
You have to do that on songs like "Gates" where there are so many patch changes.
I didn't have a free hand to press a button on one keyboard usually, let alone four. But I had to map out all my moves in advance. And that's how we pulled it off and it worked out well. The foot pedal moves became something I had to master.
It was choreography.
Exactly. And if I didn't hit that thing it could be disastrous!
As far as the setlist goes, there wasn't any songs there were considered, but tossed before the first show?
Not that I can recall. "In The Presence Of" was coming into the conversation as we were getting there. I think "Perpetual Change" was a later decision, whereas the centerpieces were all in place.
In a way the Masterworks tour was a trial run, they'd played "Ritual" and "Gates" on that tour.
Yes. When we got to Europe, "Owner" was added at the request of the DVD producers. They were really keen on having that on the DVD. So I had to find the time to acquire all of the sounds, which had been passed on through the Yes touring machines and transferred to newer equipment. The "Owner" samples and sounds were originally done on a Fairlight in the studio and then transferred to an Emulator. As the technology improved and they put keyboards out to pasture they had to transfer these sample libraries to newer gear. Robbie Eagle who was my tech, he was Tony Kaye's tech in the 80's - he had access to the libraries and then was kind of thrill to hit a key and hear the sound that I'd known as a kid as opposed to recreating the classic sounds from the classic Yes era.
You played the solo on your Andromeda, correct?
Yes, and there was some midi layering as well. I got most of the sound from the Alesis Andromeda, which was the one piece of gear that was actually mine. Everything else was part of the touring mechanism. I was endorsing Korg at the time and they provided gear. The Andromeda was a brand new keyboard, real analog keyboard. I wanted the classic feel, that classic sound in there. A lot of the sounds came from the Andromeda.
It's a great keyboard.
It's really wonderful. But for "Owner" my job was to play a guitar solo that was done through a harmonizer. The good news was that it was so synthetic sounding, it wasn't like I was trying to play fake guitar which is always a nightmare.
I hate that.
I'm not a fan of doing it, unless it's like a blistering synth lead. Jan Hammer was really great at creating a solo that was reminiscent of guitar, but you could tell it wasn't. But it didn't sound cheesy to me, it just sounded wild and spacey.
I think you really pulled off the Rabin feel, it was perfect for the song. And yet, you weren't necessarily emulating a guitar as well. You walked that fine line.
That was the idea. Capture the spirit of it, the familiarity of it, but at the same time not like the e-greeting you get from your computer with the fake guitar sound playing "Happy Birthday".
It's interesting that in the seventies when the instruments weren't so authentically emulating a sound, they were so off they had their own character. In the early eighties, it was the same sort of thing. But once you got into the early eighties/late nineties the keyboards were getting more accurate, but the cheese factor was still there. I guess that's one of the reasons why so many keyboard players have an affinity for very soulful older keyboards that have their own identity.
You take someone like Tony Banks who played very special gear, the ARP Pro Soloist, the RMI electric Piano - almost eccentric gear, but he created his own sound, his own identity. And then in the 80's/90's he did the keyboard wash, where sonically he could be almost anyone.
I don't know if I entirely agree, because even in 80's Genesis with a tune like "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" there's this high pitched keyboard line in the verses, I don't recall anyone else doing that. There's still an oddness in his personality that he would invoke even with the newer keyboards.
That's fair enough, but I do think that with those keyboard gods of the 70's that they lost some of their individuality when they went on to different gear.
Although, in the seventies the guys were rocking all the same stuff - the Hammond organ, the Mini-Moog lead. The challenge was to find your own identity. We all know, especially in Progressive Rock…But in Genesis Tony had the ability to sound like himself, I think I admire that.
I was wondering if you could do a little thumb nail sketch of your Yes bandmates - if you could give me a quick snapshot?
A lot of of what you've read and what I've read as a fan, it was funny experiencing that in real life. I think one of the interesting things is that you see every side of it and you see the sides that aren't glamorous for good or bad. It's just the business, these guys have been working very hard at creating what they've created over the decades. I think what was interesting was my very first conversation with Jon Anderson, he gave me full disclosure of what I would be dealing with when it came to him. He told me that he was going to be a taskmaster and be on my case for every single thing and I was like, "Alright, let's go!"
It's nice to be forewarned.
Yeah, and I think it wasn't like a warning he needed to give. He was always the driving force in making Yes more epic, more expansive and over the time I worked with them I learned some more of the back story behind that. It comes from him, coming from very humble beginnings, going to London working really hard, trying to get his foot in the door. Moving from that he and Chris going to see King Crimson, telling each other "We'd better go practice" after they'd seen them play. It was such a competitive scene. A lot of people associate Jon with the mystical side of life and creativity and he likes to explore that and he's got the full repertoire of personality. He's got that and he expresses it in music, but he's a fighter. He's fought for a lot, especially with Yes. Dealing with labels, business people, economics and things like that you've got to fight for your vision. He's a peaceful guy, but he's also a warrior to see his vision through. That manifested in different ways through-out the tour. I was shocked that he didn't really want me to bring out my old keyboards. He probably remembered more of the headache involved with them breaking down and everything. He liked the newer technology and keyboards. I guess that's consistent, in 1971 he wanted the newest thing on his recording and in 1999 he wanted the newest thing on his recording and to current day. Sometimes he'd crack me up with the things he'd say - I remember there was a TV on somewhere and the Simpsons were on and he said, "I'm Homer Simpson!"
I said, "Oh really?" It's funny how people see themselves sometimes, but he always had a good sense of humor too.
The thing I remember most about working with Chris was that his ears were always activated, he was always hearing things - in terms of music being played in the background - wherever we were. He was always interested in what was going on musically around him. When I said he was hearing things…it wasn't that they weren't there!
Not the voices that said 'Kill them all!'
No, no. He's hearing everything that is there, all of the stuff going on in the Yes music - he can pick out if something wasn't right in the orchestral arrangement or something was happening that he liked or didn't like, he could always identify it and was interested in the sound.
Steve and I hit it off pretty well. We had a lot to talk about regarding music and life. I think it took the other band members by surprise, because Steve normally keeps to himself - he's a private guy. We had a good camaraderie working relationship musically. And it didn't suck being near his amps every night, it was nice hearing Steve Howe play on a daily basis. Steve and I would jam a bit during sound check. Oftentimes it would only be the two of us at sound check. The others would have their mix dialed in, because we were traveling with our sound company. But Steve liked to warm up, he liked to play and I needed to keep my performance in shape and also make sure all the sounds were working. I would egg Steve on - I'd start quoting some tune that he'd played on, a Yes tune or Asia, or GTR or something. He'd always get a kick out of it, he's always in the mood to play. That's the lasting impression I got about Steve, if there's a guitar around he'll probably want to play it.
Name one song that you threw out to him, one that might be a little more obscure.
Something from Asia's Alpha album, that wouldn't have been a single. I'd start playing riffs, at the time I'd play Drama music too. And Steve would perk up and want to jam on that. At that time he hadn't played it live in awhile and Chris got a chuckle out of that too. "Into the Lens".
I don't imagine they got a lot of that from Rick Wakeman or Tony Kaye.
No, in fact I think I inadvertently got Alan to quote "Into The Lens" in one of his drum solos during "Ritual" one night. He played the opening figure and I started laughing. We were on the road for several months and these sort of things pop up.
How loud was it onstage? Did you have in-ear monitors?
I did, I was one of the only ones. It helped because they have a very loud stage volume. It is arena rock, no bones about it. Nothing was out of control, but it was super potent. With the in-ears I could dial in whatever I needed, I could get a little more of this or that, the in-ears are very detailed. Some of the music is very loud, it's a rock show, but with the in-ears I could have a nice volume level. In certain instances it has a danger of becoming too sterile, but fortunately for me I had a nice mix that had energy and the details I needed. I was the link between the band and the orchestra - I had to make sure we were in the same place. The conductor would have to make eye contact with me on a regular basis.
Alan White - all the good things you hear about Alan are true. He's a nice individual and such a cool drummer. I've always been into Alan White's playing and his musical sensibilities and what he brings. He changed over the years too. I remember the early Alan White recordings being so ferocious.
He was so young - he was just in his early 20's.
Alan and Chris have spoken about it in interviews, that they felt like they were playing everything too fast, so they brought it back over the years. But I liked it!
We're all fans of the Yessongs version of "Siberian Khatru" where they're playing it twice as fast.
They were just going for it. He had only a week to learn the music, that's so cool. But he's cool to hang with, he's encouraging. He knew the type of job I had in front of me. He would check in on me on the bandstand, making sure that we'd make eye contact - we'd have our moment.
I saw the first show in Reno, and the word was that the score for the orchestra showed up the day of the show. Do you remember that particular show, it seemed a bit fraught-
No offense to Reno, but that's why tours often start in smaller markets, because no matter how much rehearsing you do, you have to iron out some unexpected things. I recall the score needing some attention, that's pretty common I think. There might be some typographical errors, things like that. Me being the only one who could read an orchestral score, I had to get in there and start trouble shooting as well. They asked me to check it over and fix some things. What was interesting was when we got to Europe, we had a conductor was not the arranger. The original conductor had made the arrangements so he knew what was going on. But I remember showing up in Vienna for the opening of the European tour, with Keitel rehearsing a passage from "Gates of Delirium" with the orchestra and it sounded like Strauss from the Blue Danube or something. But this was during 'the battle'! I had to jump in there and tell him, "By the way that's twice as fast!" (laughs) He was laughing, the orchestral players were laughing. So I just went up to the keyboards and said, "Let me demonstrate" and I started playing the part and the look on his face said, "Oh this is what we're doing! This is what we're dealing with." That worked out well, because in Europe we traveled with the same orchestra for half of the tour, whereas with the US and Canada we had a different orchestra every night.
Was there ever a real train wreck where things went abysmally wrong?
No, not that I remember. And if it did, I blocked it out! The main difference was the quality of tone, because in some markets we played with a group that was very much part timers and then you'd play where this was their job. And there's a difference between people who dedicate their lives to something to people who dedicate part of their lives to something. It's just a fact. But it was always good, sometimes it was great.
I saw the Reno show and then I attended the Concord show, which because of the criss-crossing you did, meant that it was like a week and a half later. There were definitely some rough things about the Reno show, one was the mix of the orchestra was almost inaudible. But by Concord, that had been ironed out and they figured out how it was going to be mixed properly. I remember the huge contrast between those two shows and that the Concord show was magical - that the band was firing on all cylinders and the orchestra was properly integrated into the overall musical mix.
Sometimes it takes a few shows to get under your belt and that doesn't just go for the musicians, as you mentioned, it's the sound, mixing, those aspects too. Just like playing an instrument, the gear that you master has its own quirks and properties. Mixing an orchestra is an incredibly daunting task. Mixing an orchestra, playing very soft instruments three feet away from very loud amplifiers…
Chris Squire's bass cabinet!
Plural! And there was plexiglass and that's a whole other thing too. Everyone thinks, "Oh just stick a piece of plexi-glass" and it's the magic bullet. I've done appearances with different groups with Deborah Harry and Meatloaf and there's the plexiglass - they love putting the drummer behind plexiglass. While that can separate instruments from each other, it can also make a reflective surface. Here's the other thing, when we rehearsed in Reno in an empty arena we could get all the settings we want, but as soon as you fill the arena with people the sonic properties of the room can dramatically. There's always an "x" factor - you've got a few thousand absorbing materials…
Some more absorbing than others!
Yeah, I'll tell you it's amazing how finicky sound waves can be. I'm not surprised that there was a big difference. Concord was outdoors, so there wasn't the walls to bounce sound off of, it's a cleaner, more manageable experience when sound just goes out. Sometimes there are things that are beyond one's control.
Going back to the conductor, was he looking to you and Alan for specific cues in the music?
Yeah, Alan would count off the orchestra, just as he would count off the band. The conductor had to synchronize his cues with Alan. There were other times where cues weren't based on straight timing, but were based on feel where I was the one generating the tempo and the changes - "Close to the Edge" comes to mind.
Are you talking about the section before "I Get Up, I Get Down" where it's sort of dreamy and spacey?
Around that area, yeah. So I would take lead on certain things and Alan would take it on others.
Do you have any funny on the road stories?
This story is definitely for the serious Yes geeks out there. You know the infamous story of Rick Wakeman eating a curry on stage in concert? It's really like an inside joke among Yes fans. I just remember one of the shows in England, we're playing and we're playing almost the same show every night. Eventually we added "Magnification" into the set too, part way into the European tour. Mostly the shows went the same every night and that included where people would walk - Chris would go to certain places in a song. And on one of the performances, Chris broke with his pattern that I'd been used to and he started walking towards me in the middle of the tune and I'm thinking, "Uh-oh - what did I do?" As he's coming closer he's starting to crack a smile and he's basically at my station at this point and he wants to say something to me, so I pull my ear monitor out. And with this big grin he just says to me, "This is the place where Rick was eating a curry onstage!" In the middle of the song! This is Yes music, it's not "Lowrider."
It's not "Mustang Sally" and you're chatting with the bass player.
I've got changes going galore! It works on a couple of levels, first of all he assumed that I knew what he was talking about - name your session keyboard players, they might not know all these stories. So I'm laughing, but I'm playing, hands are flying everywhere. And then message sent, Chris proceeds to walk back towards his vocal mic. And as he walking Jon Anderson turns around and notices I'm laughing and Chris is chucking and now Jon wants to know what's going on. He didn't have to sing in this point of the tune, so I see Chris say something to Jon and now he's cracking up. Steve is looking over, "What's all this then?" After the song was over, Jon mentioned to the audience, "This is the place where Rick ate the curry…" to an auditorium of Yes fans.
That's a great story. I don't know how you feel about it, but to me "Gates of Delirium" is an incredible piece of Yes music, it's in Technicolor if you get my meaning.
It's a special piece of music.
It really is.
I had a ball playing it, it's funny that's one of the Yes pieces I've listened to since my experience with them. That's not a disparaging thing, but with every wonderful experience there is a price to be paid. For me I had to hang up my Yes fandom to a degree, just because I heard the music so many times, night in and night out. It certainly satisfied the part of me that needed to hear Yes music and so I put it away for a long time. Occasionally I'd hear something and of course I saw them a few times on tour after the Symphonic tour. I enjoyed that, but I'd had enough of it for the time being and a handful of times I've said, "I really want to hear 'Gates'." I really want to hear what's going on with that, it's so magical. I'm sure I'll come back around to all the others - the music I was involved in. My band Spiraling did a couple covers, re-imagining Yes music for Calprog - we did "Sound Chaser."
Now there's an ambitious piece to take on.
I asked Jon if he was in town, if he wanted to sing it. He laughed and said, "You're crazy to try and do that one!"
He'd know! Did you do the whole thing top to bottom?
We did the whole thing top to bottom, note for note with a four piece band. I sang lead, so I really know how to dig a hole for myself - that's no joke.
That's a huge challenge.
It really was, but it was really fun. It was cool to finally sort out that mystery. Like "Gates", the music on Relayer is filled with mystery - there's so many, "What's going on?" moments. When we were preparing "Gates", I'd ask Alan "How do you interpret this section? How do you count it?" And a lot of times he would just shake his head, "We're just feeling it." So you've got to feel it with them.
The first time you hear the opening section of "Close to the Edge" it sounds so chaotic, but as you sit down and transcribe it and see what everyone is doing, it's actually extremely arranged.
Very much. Most Yes music is. Patrick Moraz brought the biggest level of unpredictability since Steve Howe joined. There was definitely his fingerprints all over that.
How did you decide which version of the songs to learn for this gig? And how much freedom were you given in your solos?
I used the studio versions as the first model and the live versions as the second model. As you know on Yessongs Rick gets a synth solo on "Starship Trooper," but since it wasn't married to the recorded version I had an opportunity to create my own solo. I wanted to take it in a different direction than speed, because so much of progressive rock soloing - a lot of people want to evaluate things and I don't want seem critical of anyone's enjoyment of music, anyone can enjoy music any way they want to - but I'm not keeping a tally of how many notes are being played. I wanted to try live, improvised counterpoint. So two melodic, intertwining lines came through - I thought it would be fun to try that and I had a vehicle to do it. "Starship Trooper", a great tune - "What would happen if I had call and response? These melodies communicating with each other, both generated by me at the same time?"
Let's find out!
That was my concept behind that whole thing.
Did you get feedback from the band on the solo?
They were into it. The thing about Yes, is that if that if they weren't into something they would tell me right away, "Don't do that!" And what was funny was sometimes their advice conflicted with each other. Four very strong musical personalities and the tales of their coexistence over the years has been widely documented. I was cracking up, "You know, this guy over here is telling me something different…" I forget if it was Jon or Steve, but their funny quote was "You're going to realize that you have four bosses telling you something different to do!" I said, "Who do I listen to?" And he said, "Me, of course!"
The funny thing is they could have all said that.
Exactly, that's the thing. So there were many layers to the job and how to be effective in it.
Weren't you saying that part of your audition was just hanging with the band?
Yes, I guess that was instead of the background check. I was just a stranger to them, it's hard bringing a total stranger out on the road - living with you. They wanted to get a feel for my personality, my temperament - what I was about. So, I was hanging out with them while they were recording Magnification. This was in April or May.
Let's shift to your music - "The Future" by Spiraling - the songwriting, the craft that went into it, the performance - everything about it I'm in love with. I think it should have been huge. Was there major label interest? Because I can't see why that couldn't have been all over the radio.
Thank you for that, I appreciate it. However, it's a frustrating experience hearing that, because we heard it a few times and I feel somewhat vindicated. The story of Spiraling has a tragic turn and some happy things as well. We made it farther than 90 percent of the bands that give it a go. We put out a few albums, sold a few thousand records, we toured the country several times and went to Japan once. We had a good taste of what people dream of when people play in a rock band. We had major label interest through-out our career actually. But it never progressed farther than spec and demo deals. A label would try us out with a producer - I started this band when I was nineteen - and I was way too young to deal with some of the tougher decisions to be made. It was always tough getting a full time band to play. We wanted really good musicians in the band, but it's tough to have a really great group of musicians…
If they're not making any money?
Most of the time it's an investment, you know? It's not an income, it's like a political campaign. You're on the whistle stop tour and you're traveling around spending money in the effort to gain awareness of what you're about. We were doing and had some good breaks. We did some opening tours with They Might Be Giants and Go Kid Go and the Violent Femmes and other groups. We did a private showcase for the president of Capitol Records in a rehearsal studio, with stage lighting - doing our full show for one person! I'll tell you what, that was a really nerve wracking experience.
No pressure, right?
No pressure, yeah. This guy basically can make a decision that can impact your life in a big way. But we heard everything - there were lots of labels that came very close. They were playing chicken, they were watching each other. We were playing these showcases in New York City where we'd have different A&R guys there who knew each other, looking at us. We were getting pretty good as band. As the 2,000's progressed CD sales started to get slower and slower. There were a lot of people losing their jobs. We would develop these relationships within the industry - these are common stories that musicians would tell - people would get fired, or move onto another line of work, go to another label. And there's a fickle aspect too, we heated up around 2003-4 and if we didn't get the deal then there was a suspicion among people in the industry who knew about us, "Well, why didn't they get the deal?" So there were all sorts of frustrating things, but we persevered and moved forward.
My work as a touring and recording keyboard player was supplementing and funding what is my first love to be a musical artist, to make original music. Those types of tours would take me out of commission for a while, so I was faced with a lot of tough decisions. My band was patient as any band in that position could be, they gave me many years of good work. I was the one writing all this music and spearheading this band. I was fortunate to work with really good musicians who were okay with trusting my creative vision. So I was truly blessed in that regard, but there were some other things - our manager who was my best friend died in 2006. That was something that rocked me on a personal level, but it also rocked the band. We tried to put on a brave front and move forward and a lot of Time Travel Made Easy was born from that experience. We dedicated the album to him. So we were sort of reeling and changing management and they had a different style than we were used to and we were getting a little more impatient. We thought we'll put out the album we wanted to make and we did it and there was some interest, but we didn't have the advocate within the industry. I had made some connections, but we were our own kind of band - I was a keyboard playing front man - that was a rarity. If there is a band that has that, the keyboard is more of a supplemental thing. Like Coldplay, where there is a keyboard over there that gets played sometimes - but they have a very charismatic front man and that's their vibe. I had a little more introspective thing happening! (laughs) So were labels looking for rock stars, were they looking for good music? And we flirted with the progressive rock fan base, mainly because of my connections that came from Yes and Camel. But we never professed to be that sort of band. We couldn't dive into that niche market and with those labels, because we were still a modern rock band and that's all we ever wanted to be.
There's a quirky element to it, but it's just well written pop music.
Thank you, that's what we wanted to hang our hats on. We were all fans of rock and pop music and we wanted to make quality music that was still rooted in that tradition. And so we broke up just a couple months after Time Travel Made Easy came out. The record had been recorded over a year before. We had made the accomplishment, but unfortunately the touring scene was getting really tough and economically speaking it became a burden and all of us had other passions that we wanted to explore in music. So that's the gut check story of that album and the band. We still reconvene once a year to do charity stuff. I was happy with what we'd created on the album and we all believed it deserved a wider audience. We got a couple surprise TV placements for "The Future" and that raised awareness for that song and it did become our best selling single in the entire band's history.
I wanted to ask about influences - is Ben Folds an influence? I'm assuming people like Elton John and Billy Joel - who were your musical influences?
The three that you mentioned, I've listened to plenty of their music, but I purposely kept myself from their music to some degree, because I didn't want to inadvertently end with something that was trying to be like them. Although I respect them greatly and I could tell you songs from all of them that I love. But I didn't want to be the typical piano playing singer and I wanted to be player, not just a 'soundscape guy', but I listened to some many things. Yes was a big influence, when I was a kid and decided I wanted to play keyboards in a band - that was a big thing. And then I got into the pop rock songwriters like Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello, Sting. Sting's always been a big influence, with the Police and solo work. Men at Work is my favorite band ever, because it was the first album I ever bought with my own change. I rode my bike to Kmart and bought Men at Work vinyl. There's something about the music you fall in love with when you're young that forms a pathway to your mind, heart and soul - it always sounds perfect to me. If I came across it as an adult I don't know if it would be the same experience. But it's not a guilty pleasure, I'll go see Colin Hay perform - he's my favorite singer. He makes amazing solo albums now. An indie aesthetic with his solo career, from a guy who sold ten million records plus.
He saved CBS records at one point.
He's doing his music his way, just touring the country and the world. He's an inspiration to me now.
You've worked with Francis Dunnery, is that where you got the idea of pursuing a very individual solo career, it's you and a piano?
It actually it came before I worked with Francis, but Francis galvanized a lot of things in my mind. He demonstrated that - he was someone who had made a name for himself in the industry and he embraced house concerts on a major scale. He does hundreds of them a year. And he's a troubadour, he tells stories and it really works in that context. And while I'm a little more instrumentally oriented in my show witnessing Francis made the wheels turn even more. Ever since I was a kid I was doing house concerts, it's what we did. New Jersey basement shows were a big part of the rock scene, because a lot of bands wanted to do what they wanted to do, but didn't have cooperation or the draw to fill a big venue. So we'd play basement shows as bands and it was always something I was interested in as a solo artist. I just really enjoy it and it's something that's become legitimized, it's become another kind of thing that people enjoy and musicians take part in.
On the basis of what I saw the other night - I know I can speak for everyone - we were all blown away. It was just amazing, what you did. So much emotion in the performances, great songs. Lots of improvisation where you're turning on a dime, because you can - you don't have to wait for a band to catch up with you. It was a great night for all of us.
Thank you very much.
Was a New Jersey show up on your website?
Yes, there was.
I thought it was good, but I felt our show was a step above that - does it feel like it's growing organically, changing, becoming its own thing?
It is, I think so. But I think being there is a big part of it. Again, I'm very critical of myself, I'm always taking notes in how I can make it better. I hope it is going in that direction. But in regards to video, I think it's unfortunate that it's such a you tube culture now. Not to say that video sucks, but one of the big chi factors of the house concert is being there, that's a part of the magic. You get to hear the performer's voice literally, you don't need a microphone you can hear it acoustically. We've just been in this machine of theater and club shows, arena shows where you hear the sound coming out of speakers. There's something about the energy of someone creating something, not to get too mystical or metaphysical, but there's something to being an observer to it live. And that's why live music is still alive today.
There's nothing like it. And it's a shared experience, you're sharing it with the audience and on top of that the party that happened after the show - where you get to interact with everyone. That was similarly enjoyable, there wasn't anyone that was in a hurry to get out of there. Everyone hung out, chatted, had some wine, got a CD, whatever. It's all a part of the experience that you couldn't have if you were just watching it on your computer.
Absolutely. And that's what I hope to bring to it. And that environment works for people who have great stories to tell - who I'm envious of! (laughs) Francis doesn't allow any recording of his house concerts. He's truly committed to it being a special moment in time that can never be recreated. It's not about retaining control or money or anything like that. The show is for that time and for those people in the room and that's it. It's almost a spiritual thing for him.
It makes it unique and then it's treasured by the people in attendance. In my opinion if someone comes to see your show, they'll want to see it again and they're going to want to bring a friend and it will build upon itself.
Thank you. That's the name of the game now. It's all about the organic process, I don't have some major label throwing money at the issue. It's a word of mouth thing, fortunately things are much more 'share-able' too, if someone likes what I'm doing they can share the link of my concert on Facebook, Twitter - there are different avenues. It takes a lot of work and getting out into the real world, but that's what I prefer to do. As you saw at your house concert, that's really the name of the game. To create music as expressive, and gives people a feeling, makes people feel better. I've always wanted to make quality music, but my purpose is to make people feel better. Not to sound too lofty or anything, that's just what music does. It's what your favorite album does, it's what my favorite album does. My aim is to make your new favorite album.
On that note let's talk about "Hurry Up and Smell the Roses." The thing that strikes me about this album is that it manages to straddle this line of being beautiful, but wistful - nostalgic and introspective, but not overly sentimental - does that make sense?
I think so. This record was a different process for me, because I was forced to reckon with it alone. I moved down to Nashville and set up my studio and started working on the album in earnest with some ideas I had hanging around for awhile. One thing about this town is it's very lyric driven. Songwriters are always collaborating and it seems to be lyrics first, no matter what the genre really, but especially Country and the like. Which I hadn't had much exposure to in my life up till that point. And I think I had been reevaluating what I was trying to accomplish with my own music. I realized that part of me wanted to tell my story, but I also wanted to give a soothing experience in some way. Not necessarily meaning that it would all be mellow, but really thinking about the listening experience and so when you say you don't think it's overly sentimental - I'm just not that kind of a schmaltzy guy (laughs).
That's good, we're glad you're not!
I just sort of wanted to reckon with my own truth in my life and see what happened when I started writing. Keep it pretty open ended, I don't like to put many rules on it.
It seems like that might tie into other aspects of the album, I noted in the title track there's some cool keyboard lines that come in, they're very tasteful and add a lot to the song, but they're never obtrusive or technique for its own sake. It seems like this is about Tom Brislin songwriter and yes, he's a great keyboardist, but he plays to serve this song.
Well, thank you. That definitely is the aesthetic that I go for, I always wanted the song to be the thing. I wanted to make a record that people will want to listen to for years and years and not just sort of instant gratification or whatever. I'm not really out to prove anything in an instrumental level per se, I'm just having fun (laughs). Songwriting for me is mostly about capturing ideas as they happen and then going back, as opposed to saying "Alright I have to create something - what do I do?" I come with all sorts of melodies, other types of harmonic movement and things like that - at the most inopportune time! Typical, writing music in the shower or whatever. It's always when you can't capture it. For me it's about what I can capture and then work with it. I like to improvise, so I would give myself some room or some situations in the music where I would see what would happen in the moment without over thinking it.
Basically you performed the album by yourself, there were a few guest appearances, is this the reason it was an artistic statement that was driven by your personal experiences so you wanted to play all the instruments or were there other factors as well?
I had in the back of my mind for a few years that I'd like to try making an album where I played everything, or most everything. I had been a fan of several artists who had done this before, like Jason Faulkner. It was like going back to my very first four track cassette recorder, I could get something that sounded close to a complete ensemble playing the things myself. I think it did tie into the fact that I was writing all this music that was highly personal in some way. Also, I had been working with my band Spiraling for several years and this would be a departure from that, rather than jumping into anther band I figured the bridge would be to see what would happen if I wore all the hats. It's interesting, after the experience…it's kind exhausting in a way! It was an experience I wanted to delve into in my life - at least once - and so I figured this would be the right opportunity to do it when it was the same amount of soul searching and exploration on a personal level.
And you didn't have to wait around for a drummer to show up!
That's right…but I had to wait around to learn to play the drums.
Was that a consideration? Did you have woodshed a bit and get up to speed on an instrument?
Yeah, I struggled a bit with crediting myself for guitar and bass, because there was so little of that. It was a couple chords here, a couple of notes there.
I heard it in there-
When I needed some actual real guitar playing, I got Clint Lagerberg who co-mixed the album with me and is a successful national songwriter, a good friend and musician. It was sort of a spontaneous thing, I was recording the song "Favorite Day" at his home studio, he happened to be hanging around and just wanted to jump in on guitar - it wasn't premeditated. My friend, Shueh-Li Ong plays the theremin. It's so rare that you run into a legitimate theremin player that I couldn't resist asking her to come on my album. And of course Annie Haslam offered to contribute in some way possible to my album back when I was in Renaissance. It was great of her to grace the album with her presence, especially since it was post Renaissance that I was recording this album. As you know I've gone through my career playing for some other act and I wanted to see what would happen if I stayed 100%. I made way for Rave Tesar to join Renaissance and delved into this, but Annie was very supportive of that and she gave me some vocal goodness on my record.
I think her contribution adds a lot to that particular song.
Me too. It's an interesting way of doing things now where you can bring the studio to someone and say, "Here, do what you want!" I love that, it's pretty conducive to creativity as opposed to some sort of typical studio environment.
Right, I think pretty much everyone has gotten away from that now - where you're sitting and watching the clock - time is money and all of that.
And there's something to be said for that too. I think the opposite end of the spectrum was "We've got unlimited time..." and that becomes sprawling, and before you know takes twice the time that you thought it would take to make an album.
That can easily happen.
You think, "I'm the boss and I'm calling it a day...I'm the producer and I agree!" In some ways I think experiencing this and the old way of doing it - I wonder if there's a useful balance in the middle.
Especially if you're self producing, because you've got the producer and the artist somewhat at odds with each other. The producer saying I need it done today and the artist is saying I don't care how long it takes.
And those struggles happen creatively too, you're trying to be the artist - uncensored, uninhibited, play your heart out and then later you have to be the one to be the judge, jury and executioner - "Which of these ten takes do I want to use?" Or do I want to do an eleventh one? It can go too far. When you fly out of Nashville you're usually with a bunch of musicians as well and I sat next a keyboard player/songwriter. He chose not to ever do anything home recording wise, he had a pocket recorder to get his idea down. When he'd fleshed the ideas out and thought they were right he would always go to a producer, engineer and a studio and crank out demos, because he thought that's what worked for him. And I could see that, our attention and expertise gets sidetracked with the software, "I'm a player, a writer and engineer?" There's a piano store in Tennessee where they let me bring all my recording gear to record this beautiful Bosendorfer piano. It was really great, they let me have the run of the place after hours. However, miking up a grand piano is pretty tricky. So I've taken the artist hat off and as the engineer I have to find where these microphones will sound best, turn one 45 degrees and I'm supposed to be this mystical dude in the clouds, playing keyboards and now it's so technical...
You have to be the nuts and bolts guy too.
You learn what works, but sometimes at the end of the day when everything is ready it's hard to get back to the musical mind.
If you've spent an hour and a half getting the right mic placement for the piano.
It was a worthwhile endeavor I think, it's something I'll have with me for the rest of my life. A sort of pilgrimage in a sense.
Right, it's a mission.
Yeah, it did feel like that.
I wanted to talk a little bit about the songwriting process, especially regarding the song "Your Favorite Day." It's one of my favorite songs on the album and it is a beautiful marriage of the things we're talking about - particularly the way the lyric is married with the music. It made a poignant listening experience, I'd like the hear about the genesis of that song and how it came about.
Well, it's interesting, I think for that song the music had come first, at least some of it. As it often happens you're playing around on the piano and a flow of ideas will come out of a simple riff or something like that. The next thing you know I'm playing this song in 7/8 time, just trying to explore and hopefully do new things. It went through a few different revisions. It had place holder lyrics for awhile, the theme of the song lyrically came a bit later. I realized that I wanted to reflect on the good times, it was drawn not only from being a kid and going to the beach and the boardwalk, the jersey shore in the summers - I cherish those memories. But when I was older and I would go back to these same places, on a date or something - it just kind of grew from there. What was funny was I had to move 900 miles away to really bring it into focus. So I moved out to Nashville, some of the songwriting method and what people pay attention to here imagery, lyrics, a lot more metaphor, a lot of what people call 'furniture' in the music, which is specific things. I'll talk about the arcade and the cotton candy, if you listen to country music there's a lot of items.
That's kind of a Steely Dan thing too.
Right, and I'm sure it comes from similar roots. When I first start writing lyrics, they were a diary. They were feelings, playing in a band. You go through those songs that are corny, but there was a point when I started hearing Tori Amos, even like Nine Inch Nails. They really cut through the core with their lyrics. I said, "Oh yeah, I'm into that." And then I started writing and not worrying about whether they rhymed or not. This got me at least a far as I've got some lyrics now, not just emotions behind them, but I didn't really focus on the craft of it as much as I did about being real and honest, not a cliche and make them cool. But I wasn't trying to out do Dylan. But when I got to Nashville people were working over their lyrics like I used to be at the piano. I saw the same amount of care going into this craft of songwriting. I thought I'd try to explore some of these methods of communicating clearer. This was one of the first songs that had that influence of being in Nashville, but being more able to talk about where I'm come from.
It's a beautifully realized song. I don't know if you've seen the documentary on the Eagles that just recently came out?
I haven't, but I've heard about it.
It's excellent, Glen Frey was talking about how he basically learned how to write songs by being next door neighbors with Jackson Browne. Because they'd hear Browne get up and start playing the piano and he'd be working on a song like "Doctor My Eyes" and he'd hit the verse and chorus and refine it, and play it again and again and again. He'd change a line or a melody or an inflection of whatever and Frey said, "I get it, it's about elbow grease! You've got to put the time in."
And having good friends to tell you to go back to the drawing board, go back and do some retooling is key too. The friends of mine down here who are songwriters, they have different concerns in the pop and country songwriting world, obviously they're looking for a hit so they have more commercial considerations. Some of the virtues are still there and are effective. I just didn't want to waste any words, if I'm going to have words in a song - not that everything has to tell a story - I just want them to be cool and to have some value. Even if they were mysterious or fun, they need to bring something to the experience, that's what I wanted.
Sometimes with vague lines the listener puts his own interpretation on it and it becomes personalized in that way, so it's all valid.
Yeah, it's funny, but some of the songs on this album are pretty descriptive like "Your Favorite Day" and others aren't as obvious and some people thought that I was riffing, abstract, whatever. Actually there is something to those too, not it's not as obvious. I like to give people the opportunity to put their own meanings into things. It almost makes me not want to talk to what the songs are about, because I don't want to ruin it for you (laughs).
Having said that with a song like "Hurry Up and Smell the Roses", is that a song or message to yourself or is it something you're putting out into the universe? Or is it both?
That's a good question. That song to me is about the feeling of being stuck between two ideas - a tug of war kind of thing. How do you get the most out of life? Do you stop and smell the roses, or go out and achieve, seize the day and all of that? Or is it in-between those two ideas? I don't see it necessarily as a message to myself, but it is definitely a reflection on that.
That is everyone's struggle, especially nowadays. You have to make those choices, there is so much out there that can be a distraction, that perhaps keeps us from what is truly important. How do you value that, how do you weigh it?
Yeah, and getting nervous about it too. Getting stressed out about it. I think one thing that got me inspired to write about that song was I remember being a kid and going out to play in the summertime and there'd be a point where you could see a bit of light at nine o' clock at night, the high point of summer vacation. And then the days would get shorter and it would be time to go back to school - "What did I do with the summer?" That's what got me started writing that song.
It seems like the song "Industry in the Distance", does that song have a Tony Banks influence? As opposed to a Genesis or Peter Gabriel kind of thing. It seems like the kind of song that could sit comfortably on one of Tony's albums.
I've heard this before, people have mentioned it. I wonder if using the Yamaha CP-70 piano...
That is a part of it, I'm sure.
I know that was one of his axes. I need to become more familiar with his solo work. It wasn't intentional! But he's one of my guys, I've always liked him. So I wouldn't be surprised. I will say that he was one of the guys who, when they brought the drum machines in, would let the chords ring out without having to clamp down the rhythm everywhere. I think that song is like that, musically patient.
It breathes, it has an expansiveness. I was wondering if you could talk a bit about the challenges and rewards of being an independent artist in the music business these days?
(Unfortunately there was a bit of audio dropout and the first part of Tom's response was unintelligible) ...You've become a business, sometimes being a producer can muddy the mind of being an artist. I know I want to say something musically and that there are people who want to hear it. The challenge is to summon up the will power to do all those things. It's funny, because most of us are the type of people who are not the structured to be in an office, right? We think a little bit differently, but then again it's even harder, because I cherish the idea of having clearly marked barriers between my work life and the rest of my life... every other piece of my life has worked into it or around it. So to summon the structure where you can go out there and do what you need to do on a business level to keep the ship running and to bring music to more people, more opportunities and all that stuff - it can get overwhelming. You see it in social media, as well. You want to tell everybody and Facebook is right there and you start promoting it. But for the independent artist, the message in the music can get lost when the focus is on how I have to get this gig, get people at my show, etc.
The relentless promotion machine.
Yeah, and if you're not going to do it, who is going to do it? Some people say I'm going to work at Starbucks and pay my bills there. I always found that people who made the music I wanted to hear the most were often people who couldn't get out of their own way on a promotional level. They didn't even want to tell anybody when they were playing. I don't mean to grossly generalize or anything, but a lot of times really cool and interesting music came from those who did not have...
They were true artists, right? Like Van Gogh or someone like that, I don't think he would have created a Facebook artist page.
Yeah, so the main challenge is to find that balance of doing what you need to do to survive, not only to survive but to thrive and remember music is for the listeners. It's not getting my jollies playing my music, but it has some value - it makes people feel good. On Facebook or Twitter lots of people casually talk trash about music, or this and that. And I was thinking no, we usually turn on music to feel better.
That's right, but the internet is a place where negativity can abound.
Right, and I can see with a lot of people they just get frustrated. I remember when I was an adolescent music snob, this feeling of injustice. "People, don't you know Milli Vanilli does not deserve your attention, my progressive rock artists deserve it, because they've worked harder at it and spent more time practicing their instruments." But Milli Vanilli just lightened up someone's day, so I'm just going to relax. (laughs)
There are people still up in arms about the whole Rock and Roll hall of Fame thing, where a band like Rush finally gets in. There is room for it all, there is someone who is really enjoying that music. I went to see friends of mine playing in a classic rock cover band and they're good at what they do. I was there and we were enjoying some drinks and the show, but every now and then they'd play a song that has been played too many times or is just a band that gets under your skin. But as you're saying that particular song would connect with someone, because all of a sudden the dance floor is filled with people.
Oh yeah, when I was in college we played weddings, so I got a real up close look at how Orwellian and backwards I found ..."Mony, Mony" I don't want to play "Mony, Mony" and everybody wants "Mony, Mony." It could be easy to be negative, but I hear you. Like I said, I'm not immune to it, I get frustrated too because music is so central and special to my life that I feel that way. People can define themselves by the music they like and that's a kind of branding of themselves. Not just with music, it could be Nike, whatever. It's a branding thing, you'd see all the requisite jean jackets and things like that with patches of the bands and stuff. I'm sure there were people who wear paraphernalia from bands and they didn't even know or like the music, but it was cool looking. And what's more I think a lot of the media of the time, the rock and roll media - you mentioned the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Rush induction. What's funny about it is the writers have sort of grip on the mentality of the pop culture in some small way, only X music is cool, Y music is not cool. In the real world I found things to be much more free and less structured. The punk rockers in my school were also the ones who learning to play Rush and Yes.
You can't pigeon hole people like that. There was a bass player I was working with who was playing in a roots rock kind of thing and I was kind of putting him in that box and it turns out that he was a huge Rush fan and he knew all of these Geddy Lee bass licks.
Right, I think they said when Napster exploded and they were able to see what people were sharing and downloading - that the playlists of people when music became 'free' were incredibly varied. They weren't as structured as what the industry thought their tastes were, I mean maybe when the stakes were higher and you had to pay seventeen bucks for a CD you wouldn't be so open to trying these different things. But there was classical, jazz, punk, prog, folk, polka - people would say I like that, it makes me happy, I want that right now. (laughs) So much of music is the same ingredients anyway, it's just sort of dressed up differently.
Piggybacking on that idea, when I type in your name to do a Google search one of the first things that comes up are bit torrent sites that give away your album for free, how frustrating is that? You've put your blood and sweat, your art into this and someone has turned right around and given it away.
Yeah, it's not cool. It's a bummer, because I think it really shows what it has come to, in terms of how much value people place on music. I think growing up, paying for physical items, I think it's hard for people to wrap their head around the idea of paying for something they can't touch. I know a lot of people who think nothing of pirating software, copying music. I used to sit in front of the radio with my boom box waiting for "Der Kommissar" to come on, so yeah we all want to get some free music.
But that's very different as opposed to sharing it with basically anyone else in the world...
For free, yeah. I'm just one guy, I could probably try to fight it as some friends of mine have. Contact the sites and ask them to take it down. I think what's a bummer is that these companies are making money, ad money. Some of them got rich, I'm more mad at them than the people who download it actually. I know that if they wouldn't take it for free then these services wouldn't prosper. Still Google and those companies, they've done so much for me and everybody with what they offer the world for free essentially. The search engine, email, products and services, but they also make a ton of money advertising on the illegitimate music sites. That banner ad is making money for everybody, but us. If you're going to give my music away, can I at least get a piece of that advertising? That's the thing, let's pit these anonymous downloaders against the artists. It bums me out to see the attitudes sometimes from people, who think it's our fault or they blame the record industry for mistakes from twenty years ago. I agree that the industry shouldn't have done price fixing, it shouldn't have kept CDs seventeen, eighteen dollars. I think quality was low too, people would buy an album for one song and every other song would be junk. I don't know, I could get so wrapped up in it that I feel like I need to just keep in touch with my fans, growing the fan base and offering things they'll want to pay for, because the cat's already out of the bag.
Pandora's box is opened and it's not going to be sealed shut.
We'll see what happens. Here again I'm forced to be a record company dude and try and be on the cutting edge. But it's like I write and play music. (laughs) I did want to address the second part of your question about rewards. As corny as it sounds the reward is really is that you know that someone understood or appreciated the music and they want to hear and have a it be a small part of the soundtrack of their lives. Because I just want to be that for somebody, as these cherished records I know and love. It's about communicating and also to be to say that's the way I wanted to do it as an independent artist. As opposed to somebody who is stuck in the machine. I've had friends who got major label deals and had miserable experiences making their record, because the producer just tore them up and tried to make them something else. At the end of the day they had a record they didn't like and it flopped and they couldn't say, "Well at least I stuck to my guns."
"I made the artistic statement I wanted to make."
Right, and that's the thing - I think that's how you sleep at night, that you did something with integrity. I have no problem working with a producer if they want to bring something out that I'm missing. I listen back to some of my songs with Spiraling and say, "I wish the producer would have knocked me upside the head!" We worked with some producers, but we never had the great fit. We had guys who were focused on different things and there wasn't the magic. But as far as rewards of being independent there's that and if you can get the ball rolling and get the business together and be like a Jonathan Coulton or someone like that who is independent and is making a living and doing well for himself - I got to think that's a beautiful way to live. It's kind of the dream again, to perform the way you want to perform and to the people who get it and being true to yourself. I think that's an amazing pursuit.
That is the dream, isn't it? In terms of the promotion we're talking about is there anything that you've found to be especially effective in reaching possible fans? Is there some avenue that worked really well for you?
As far as things in my independent career that I've gotten the biggest exposure to people outside of my own circle was Spiraling had some commercials on T.V. shows and things like that. There was a time when it would be on a commercial, that was actually pretty big, because the commercials ran over and over again. But then again other independent artists are fighting with everyone to get those placements, you know? It used to be the thing, "Are you going to sell out?" And now it's, "YES! McDonalds!" Let's help make everyone want to buy cheeseburgers!
There's not a lot of sleepless nights over that.
Still you need to do what is right for you. I wouldn't want my music - in all seriousness - to be used for something I disagreed with. Also, the cover songs like doing "Steppin' Out" on youtube, I got about 30,000 plays on there and that's wonderful for me. That's a lot more than who would see me play at a club on a Friday night or whatever. Doing those things, I'm still working on the way to bridge it to my own music. I don't know, as far as being effective goes, just try to be real and be connected to people and be accessible. Although that may or may not go with the type of music one does, some people want to have more mystery.
That's true. Pink Floyd didn't do interviews for years.
What would have been like in the heyday of Pink Floyd they were doing Reddit, ask me anything?
(laughs) It's comical to even think of Roger Waters on his Reddit IAMA.
I think for the GenXers like myself, this is the tricky part of going from that era where artists were like this aberrations that we were trying to catch to today's thing where if you don't reply to my youtube comment in two hours then you're a snob. It's a little tricky. I would love to be in the position where there are experts doing the promotional part of this, even with that being the case, nowadays...
You've got to do some heavy lifting.
Yeah, and be creating stuff that people want. What's interesting is Pomplamoose, I think we talking about them awhile back.
They did the video, right?
They did a bunch of videos that inspired me to do my "Steppin' Out" video.
Yes, really quirky, fun stuff.
They did some select covers and got them a lot of traffic and they do their own music now too. They've grown their fan base organically and they've got millions of hits, but there was very little superfluous begging. They admitted they didn't even have a mailing list for a long time which they regret. But they had people subscribe because they knew they were getting something cool and that they liked and entertained them on a semi-regular basis.
For someone who wants to hear your new album where would you recommend they hear it? Would you send them to your site to listen, your youtube channel?
The best place is tombrislin.com. You can actually stream the whole record there and if people want to buy it they can buy a download in any format or they can buy a CD. People were asking why I did that, because not every band allows their record to be stream-able, but I figured it replaces the radio at this point. Most people would hear a song a few times before buying it. I'm just giving people access to hear it and get into it and hopefully they'll support me, because that's what keeps us going. But it's also at iTunes and Amazon, some of the progressive resellers like Kinesis and Syn-phonic.
It's on CD Baby right?
And CD Baby, yes.
And what about house concerts, is that something that's going on for this year?
Yes, I'm starting to book those now. One of the things I'd done for my Kickstarter campaign for the album was I offered people the opportunity to request some cover songs. And I ended up with 34 requests! Yeah, so I'm just wrapping those up now, that's why I haven't been on the road.
What was the most unusual request for a cover song?
The wisenheimers who wanted classical music, like Bach's Toccata and Fugue in d minor - I made it very clear in my project that I wasn't going to be doing note for note renditions. I'm still going to tackle them and put my own stamp on them. There's been a variety of things, obviously a few progressive songs. Yes, Jon Anderson things, Cardiacs, some other cool things like that. Some Pink Floyd, some interesting poppy tunes, "Happy Together" by the Turtles, "Alison" by Elvis Costello. A lot of ballads, some standards, some stuff by bands I'd never heard of, some really obscure bands that never got their due. Somebody gave me a song that his father wrote, because everything was on the table. It's been an interesting experience, it's just me at the piano with vocals, that kind of format doing these. That's coming out soon and now the house concerts and other types of gigs are going to be happening, pretty much through-out the rest of the year.
The cover versions were initially a special bonus for the people on the Kickstarter campaign, but are they going to be available for everyone else too?
Some will be, I'm working out the permissions and things like that. If you pay up then you can release it. If I did them all at one time it would be pretty pricey, a few artists have given me their blessing to give them away to people. So a couple of them will end up on youtube. Everyone who pledged to my Kickstarter will get the first volume and then I'll put some up on Youtube or Soundcloud as the weeks go by.
Is there anything past the road that you'd like to mention, upcoming projects?
A couple of collaborations are just starting to be talked about, I can give you more info on that later. Nothing's official yet. I'm still plotting and scheming, I'd really like to do the "Hurry Up" show, the format you saw me do as a one man show. I'd like to build that up and eventually flesh it out for a full band, some sort of ensemble. But I'm basically going to let the momentum determine whether or not that will happen. If I'm getting more and more interest for this music and I would like to bring this out in the full album orchestrations.
And you'd have that wonderful synergy of musicians reacting in real time, the audience response. Although the one man show is great, very entertaining.
You did a cool cover of "Steppin' Out", but I preferred the live version you did, it was fun to watch people's reaction when you were playing it, because you were taking it into such a different place that most people didn't recognize the song until you started singing.
(laughs) That's the beauty of it and that's the way I've approached most of these cover songs that I've had for my project. I'm not going to do it straight up, like it is on the record, because we have this great record already. Let's give it another suit, try some new things with it.
There must be some these covers that you must be pretty happy with, right? There must be one that came out better than expected.
I will say there were a couple of songs that I wouldn't have expected, I was requested "Never Let Her Slip Away" by Andrew Gold. I wasn't familiar with him at all, except for "Thank You for Being a Friend" it has that whimsy to it. But this song is real traditional pop song and there's still some interesting chord changes and things like that, melodic ideas, there was room to give it a tinge here and there of more depth than you would think. So I like doing songs like that. I really liked a whole bunch of things, one request "The Train is My Life" by Marillion and a lot of times songs by these progressive rock groups are tricky to cover, because they are so fully developed into their own shape. But this was more of a tune and I liked the sentiments expressed in the song itself. There were some pretty fun surprises.
It sounds silly to say it, but with the Bacharach and David catalogue for instance I might have been dismissive or took it for granted, until I started playing through some of the songs and find out that the harmonic progressions are through the roof!
Yeah, they're deep. I was requested to do "Awaken" by Yes and, well how do you do that solo piano? I kind of thought of it as being influenced by those Keith Jarrett numbers where he'd play twenty minutes improvised.
That's a good take on it, I like where that's going.
So I did an instrumental, it's just like meditations on "Awaken", not every measure is being addressed from the original, but you get the main food groups! You get all the main themes, I would just sort of riff on things and go into the wormhole here and there. But the whole thing is very gentle, very mellow. Jon Anderson's solo work is represented too. There's the Jon and Vangelis song "I'll Find My Way Home" was one. I was requested to play something from a bootleg, the fan was calling it "The Laser Song". I was looking all over for it, but it turns out it was the solo he played on the Relayer tour, which had the harp and the synth drone and he wanted me to do that. So I interpreted the harp stuff on the piano and instead of playing a keyboard synth I was experimenting with an iPad. A tactile instrument using the screen of the iPad as the interface. That was really fun, just trying to do different things here and there. But it was mostly piano with occasional dressing here and there.
I look forward to hearing them. Is there anything else you'd like impart to the readers of Notes?
I'm just grateful that people having been following what I've been doing here, I know my music is a bit different. I just am really appreciative of how open minded people have been to what I do and how supportive they've been to the type of music that I'm doing now.
I think that's a testament to the quality of music that you're releasing. I think everyone appreciates good singer/songwriter work, especially if you're feeling an honest connection to the emotion expressed, that's going to be music that you will want to hear and revisit.
For more information on Tom Brislin go to: www.tombrislin.com