TUNE IN TO
|ROCKWiRED iNTERViEWS LiNDSEY BRiER
ROMANCE, MAN!In my line of work, interviewees fall into two distinct categories; the ones who say very little and leave me doing all of the talking and the ones that just love to talk. Singer-songwriter and piano man LINDSEY BRIER is a talker. As a matter of fact, he does all of the talking. Sure, he' made my job easier but that natural tit-for-tat rhythm that comes along with interviewing someone, is missing. But who cares? BRIER is entertaining as hell! His life reads like some RON HOWARD-produced epic wrought with madness and music; an epic that started in what I assume are the suburbs of Denver Colorado and ends with BRIER finding love and recording his debut CD 'WAITING FOR THE SUN' at SKYWALKER RANCH! At an early age, the BRIER manifested signs of anxiety and depression, but also showed a keen interest in music. The self taught pianist was accepted into the then-prestigious DICK GROVE SCHOOL OF MUSIC, only to be kicked out and sent to a starter course when instructors realized that he couldn't read music. However, it was while attending this starter class that BRIER learned the fundamentals of playing piano - at age twenty five. "There were some great teachers there and they taught everything on piano." says BRIER "I had never touched a piano and at that point I was twenty five and I just loved this instrument, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Most of the guys that are really proficient at piano start at three and they are really good and I'm not one of those guys that instantly got it. Every lick I've had to struggle for. I'm not a virtuoso-type player. I understand it all theory wise much better than I can execute it."
LiNDSEY BRiER TALKS TO ROCKWiRED
ABOUT HiS DEBUT CD 'WAiTiNG FOR THE SUN'
HiS LiFELONG STRUGGLE WiTH DEPRESSiON
AND NOT BEiNG AFRAiD OF ROMANCE
iNTERViEWED BY BRiAN LUSH
Well, BRIER may not be a virtuoso, but his debut CD 'WAITING FOR THE SUN' is a perfectly executed album with an ease and elegance that puts him in a league vocally with the likes of HARRY CONNICK, JR. and sonically with that old American Songbook sound that your grandfather used to love. Produced by veteran producer DIK DARNELL, with strings recorded at SKYWALKER RANCH, 'WAITING...' is more than a mere pop record, but a momentous occasion; Kind of like how LUKE SKYWALKER gets his medal at the conclusion of STAR WARS. Despite the gentleness of the songs, BRIER wears his heart on his sleeve as he does in person with gems such as 'SUDDENLY IT'S LOVE', 'SENTIMENTAL GIRL', and the deeply personal title track. It's hard to believe that such a gentle sound is the result of having white-knuckled his way through years of crippling depression, and anxiety. "The music is a reflection of what really happened to me because fifteen years of my life were pretty much erased until I met the light of my life." says BRIER "I don't know if you've ever felt this, but when you've to put out an about face to everyone including your parents then there is that one person that comes along that finally gets you and you can tell your deepest darkest secrets to, that is an amazing thing, man!"
ROCKWIRED spoke with LINDSEY BRIER over the phone. Here is how it went.
Your story is quite an epic. I don't come across a story like this all of the time.
You're talking about the issues I've had in the past and the mental illness and all that stuff?
It's a funny thing. I'm not going to discount it. It was frickin' hell! The best way to describe that whole thing - it was like being in a horror film. If you've ever seen a horror movie. You always hear women talking about it (depression) because it's okay for women to talk about it and the issues that they struggle with but it's like the opposite for men. I don't know that a lot of men have struggled to the degree that I have, but I certainly know that there are a lot of guys out there that feel that it's just not cool for them to talk about things like this.
It isn't and it's a funny thing because part of the reason that I didn't start playing piano until I was twenty five was first of all, I sucked. I was an average guitar player and I had a great sense of melody but I absolutely knew nothing about music. I barely knew what a chord was even though I could play them on the guitar. Everybody wants to play guitar, but I wasn't anything special. In high school, I was in band and this was around the time when the whole metal thing started happening. There were twenty-three chairs in trumpets and I was twenty-two out of twenty-three and the guy next to me was retarded. That was how horrible I was. I'm damned serious! It was just so structured and my brain just doesn't work that way. I started having these really dark things going on in my mind, but I could pick up the guitar and instantly write a song and I didn't know what I was doing. I could spend hours telling you the nightmare that went on in my brain. I was just so fucked up that you have no idea. You ever see that rock at Point Mugu?
I had that rock painted where I was going jam my car into that sucker. As I started heading for it, I just couldn't do it. I couldn't talk about this with anyone and the more you hide it, the more you feed it and it was such a dark thing. I tried every drug in the world. I was cranking. Luckily, at around the early nineties, I found Xanax and that helped me get by and I was throwing those down by the fistfuls and it eventually got to the point where I was working in the software industry and I had lost my job and I couldn't function. I literally could not put two words together because my brain just didn't work. On the outside, I didn't look crazy although I had lost a lot of weight. Everybody thought I had AIDS because I just didn't eat but fortunately before DICK GROVE SCHOOL OF MUSIC went out of business, I was able to go there-
And then you were thrown out right?
Well, thats a little exaggerated. What happened was I went in there hiding everything in my life at that point and I wasn't going to tell them that I didn't know a damned thing about music so I pretty much memorized all of this crap and when I went in. I did interviews and memorized all of these pieces and they let me in. Then I started my first class and the guy walked up to me and asked me 'How did you get in here?' and I said "I really don't know what I'm doing. Do I?' and he said no. Luckily, there was starter class so I got to attend that. I was able to go there right before the school shut down. I think it shut down in 1993 or '94. I pretty much just studied music theory. There were some great teachers there and they taught everything on piano. I had never touched a piano and at that point I was twenty five and I just loved this instrument but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Most of the guys that are really proficient at piano start at three and they are really good and I'm not one of those guys that instantly got it. Every lick I've had to struggle for. I'm not a virtuoso-type player. I understand it all theory wise much better than I can execute it. Anyway, I got out of there (DICK GROVE SCHOOL OF MUSIC) and I took some lessons from a guy the name of RON FUELLER and he was DIANA ROSS's musical director for years and years. Interestingly enough, he was struggling with the same stuff that I was going through; these massive anxiety attacks. Just paralyzing! It was one of the reasons that he left the DIANA ROSS band. He starting having these anxiety attacks on stage. He and I sort of connected in a brotherly way and we kind of timidly touched on the subject and became really good friends. I just talked to him a couple of years ago and he still kind of struggles with all of this crap. It was cool relationship and he pretty much introduced me to piano. After that, I made my way back to Denver in late nineties and I was able to start doing little jazz gigs and I pretty much sucked because there are some really amazing players both in L.A. and in Denver that have been playing since they were three and I wasn't one of them.
You were the tallest one in your class.
The funny thing was was that I thought my voice just sucked. I just thought that I had the most hideous voice on the planet which is what a lot of singers think of themselves. I was playing in a blues band and I was still in the darkness. One day the singer didn't show up for the gig so they asked me to do it. They all liked it and so I started studying voice and realized that maybe I could carry a tune . It took me about ten or more years to even get to that point because I was starting from a C chord. I just knew that they were three intervals apart. Playing rock is easy but playing jazz is a whole other animal. I think I read that the average jazz musician has studied more than a brain surgeon and I know that is absolutely the truth. A couple years back, I was playing jazz circuits and I kept getting better and better. It got to the point where I was playing with the best guys in Denver and there is this one guy here in Denver named MITCH CHMARA. The guy is just world class. He's one of those child prodigies that started at three. I started taking jazz lessons from him. He would transcribe his guitar stuff to piano and he sort of taught me the language a little bit. He had played on albums with DIK DARNELL. Do you know anything about CARIBOU STUDIOS?
CARIBOU is one of the most underrated recording studios in the country. In the seventies, they were turning out more hits at CARIBOU than any other studio. ELTON JOHN recorded there. They started in Chicago and DIK DARNELL was in a band with JAMES GUERCIO and they worked with CURTIS MAYFIELD. GUERCIO bought this studio outside of BOULDER. It was an incrdedible studio. JOE WALSH lived up there and they recorded a whole bunch of people like ELTON JOHN and BILLY JOEL. Just about all of those hits that you hear from the seventies were recorded there. It was incredible and it burned down at the very end but DIK is like this hippie with hair down to his ass. He's just the most loving guy you've ever met.
I see his picture in the liner notes.
He's awesome. He's another person that sort of mentored me. My friend MITCH had played some one my songs for him. When DIK heard my songs, he fell in love with them. DIK is kind of a kindred spirit who has gone through his own personal struggles and we became good friends. DIK said that he was going to make a record with me and it took a couple of years to get the material together. We tracked some of the real basic stuff in Denver and then we had a guy by the name of GARRY MALKIN who is a really great arranger and conductor and he wanted to record the string arrangements at SKYWALKER SOUND. Here I am, this guy from Colorado who still thinks that he sucks on piano -
And now you're going to SKYWALKER SOUND of all places to work on your first CD.
Exactly. I was staying at a cottage on SKYWALKER RANCH. I showed up to the studio and I could see my name in lights and I was like 'They really don't know who I am, do they?' This is a frickin' joke! Most of the orchestra up there work on a lot of movie tracks so they are pros. They just lay these charts out and to hear your music when you are standing over a forty piece orchestra, I can't even describe it. It's just absolutely incredible. So I told my wife at the time that if I don't sell one record, then that was worth the price of admission right there. We recorded some of the other tracks down at OCEANWAY STUDIOS. There is so much history at that studio One guy was showing me around and he showed me how they recorded 'UNFORGETTABLE' with NATALIE COLE and NAT 'KING' COLE. I also met JACK JOSEPH PUIG who does all that stuff with the FOO FIGHTERS and JOHN MAYER. I was there for a week and that was another incredible thing. These guys dug the music and the music is a reflection of what really happened to me because fifteen years of my life were pretty much erased until I met the light of my life. I don't know if you've ever felt this but when you've to put out an about face to everyone including your parents then there is that one person that comes along that finally gets you and you can tell your deepest darkest secrets to, that is an amazing thing, man! It's what most people in the world, guys and women, want. Most guys want to be rock stars not to be rock stars. I think that COUNTING CROWS song says it all. 'Me and MR. JONES are gonna be big stars and everybody will love me." When you meet someone like that, it just changed my life over a couple of years. Life was still a day to day struggle and she would just carry me along. I was suffering from agoraphobia and I couldn't go outside. When you go outside, you just crap your pants and you are in just constant terror. It's great for writing music though but not much else and I still struggle with it. It took awhile but the so far the album is getting a lot of great responses and people are really connecting with it.
Despite the madness, it seems the music was always the first and foremost on your mind. What music spoke to you in the beginning. Was it this American Standard sound or was it other things?
Most of the guys like my brothers, they were all into rock music. They were into stuff from the punk era and all that and I would listen to CAROLE KING over and over again, and BURT BACHURACH and his former wife CAROLE BAYER-SAGER. One of the things that hit me was when I was in college, there was this girl who lived across from me in the co-ed dorm that I was living in and she came from a very nice family in the Denver area and I thought she was like "Miss Prude" and she asked me if I wanted to come into her room one day. So I came into her room and this five-foot-three girl yanks out a bong that was about five feet tall itself. She was the most prim and proper thing in the world and she asks me if I like music. I told her that I loved music and she asked if I wanted to listen to an album that one of her sisters gave her a few years ago. The record was MICHAEL FRANKS' 'THE ART OF TEA'. We sat in that room everyday after school. We would load that big bong up and and listen to that album. It's one of the greatest albums in my opinion. It's got the best players in the world and it just changed my life. If you go to my i-pod, I've got the singer-songwriter's collection. As I learned music and learned theory, I started studying how they wrote those songs and that was one of the things they taught us at GROVE which was to dissect music. Whenever I hear a great song, like that last one that NORAH JONES did, I'll just break the song down and write it out. So I'm pretty much a student of the songwriting process and always have been. Before MICHAEL FRANKS, I was just an incredibly huge NEIL YOUNG fan. One of the things that you'll notice about NEIL YOUNG's early music is that he'll start out on a really cool groove and from there just takes this incredibly beautiful left turn in the middle of the songs. If you listen to my music you'll hear that these songs always take these incredible left turns. I think a lot of that comes from NEIL YOUNG who I just think is the cat's meow.
Was this dorm where you got introduced to MICHAEL FRANKS in Denver of L.A.?
It was in Denver.
And when did you move out to L.A.
Around 1990 or 91.
And what was the reason for coming out to L.A. in the beginning. It wasn't to pursue music, was it?
No, I chased my first wife out there. She was an L.A. girl and it was a mistake. It certainly wasn't a pleasant experience.
It doesn't sound like you've had a lot of them until recently.
No. Not really. Like I said, I chased her out here. She was from Culver City and I took a job out there in the software business. I moved back in the late nineties and I've lived here ever since. I met my current wife coming on nine years ago. When I met her, she came out here from Georgia. I remember telling her that I would never get married again and four months later, I took her to Hawaii and married her. We've got a great marriage. We're the best of friends.
Getting back to the CD, what songs stand out for you at the moment and why?
All of the songs are absolutely real. The one that is the most personal to me is the title track, WAITING FOR THE SUN. The song is not only written about myself because I really felt like I would be dead by the age of thirty-five. I really did. Then I realized as I got older that I had a lot of friends whose lives weren't working out for them either. I've got this one friend who has got this great attitude, but he never gets the good job, he never gets a girlfriend, yet he still keeps going because he always thinks that there is something around the corner. It's called hope.
In reading through the press packet, it makes mention of growing up in a hyper-critical family. Do you think that family had a lot to do with everything that has happened to you?
I think some of it is genetic but certainly being in a situation where you never feel safe and everything you do is judged or criticized certainly plays a part. Some people just have a natural resilience and I don't. When I was criticized in that way, you start believing it and when you get older, you marry someone that is critical of you because you think that is the best that you can get. It got so bad that I used to be jealous of people who have low self-esteem. Because at least they had some.
I understand what you mean. I grew up in similar circumstances.
And you feel like you just want to heal it, but after a while you realize that you can't and that is one of the hardest things to come to a realization and you find out that you have to find that love and reassurance from other sources. It's like trying to get water from a rock. Luckily there are rocks out there that do give water. I remember when my publicist sent out this press packet, I looked at it and went into another panic attack because I literally thought that everyone is going to find out about my secrets.
Let me tell you something, I read the packet and thought 'My God! Does he really want this out there?'
And that is the thing that we as men have to hide. If it was a woman going through all of that it would be 'poor thing! She's such a precious thing!' But if it's guy, forget it. Despite the stigma, I've found that if you are honest with women - the right women - they were actually pretty cool about it, but the more I talked to guys they would confide in my about how messed up they were too. Just by being with my wife all of these years, I truly believe that we are put on this Earth to help people. THe world is a crazy, chaotic place right now and people need a should to lean on. I have this friend who is a doctor. Nothing fancy, just a general practitioner, but was telling me that because of the economy right now, she is busier than ever. Normal people are coming in for prozac because the can't handle the stress. Seriously.
I'm not disagreeing with you, I know it's true. My trash can is overflowing with bottles of Sutter Home and Charles Shaw.
Now you know what my problem is.
As I was saying about the press release, I shat myself because I was like, they are going to find out who I am. But as the word has gotten out, a lot of guys have come up to me and have said, 'I can relate to you man!'
Same here. I don't come from happy circumstances either. I tok pills for a little bit. Speaking of my situation, if you're half Indian, half black, and gay and have wierd voice, you're going to be marled for the rest of your life and there is no where to fit it. There's no club to join or church to go to.
They don't want your kind in.
Exactly. You've got make your fun.
And God bless you if you can. Me, I don't care how crazy you are or how weird you are. I just don't like boring people. Gimme some dirt! Gimme something so I won't feel so bad about myself.
You shoulda seen me last night.
What would you like a person to come away with after they've heard this CD?
Romance, man! It seems like romance is dead in music. Me and my wife had a babysitter come over here and I asked her (the babysitter) about her about her boyfriend and she said to me that "..romance was dead! We don't date, we hook up." When you've been so screwed up in your life and you wake up one day, and you can actually see the sun and feel it on your skin and you've got someone next to you that loves you, you can't tell me thats not what every person in the world wants. I don't care what you are. Every person in the world wants that so what really baffles me is that there is this resistance to intimate romance in our society and it's reflected in our music. One of thethings that I liked about these older songs is that there was an intimate romantic piece to it. Everything I've written in these songs is absolutely true about my life in one way or another, but more than that, it is true about this great thing whether we have it now or we're hoping to have it is to have just one person that gets us. And that's romance.