An Interview With Singer-Songwriter BRYAN BELLER On His Forthcoming Album, ‘Scenes From The Flood’ and More!
Posted On 16 Aug 2019
Singer-songwriter Bryan Beller recently released the second single from his solo album “Scenes From The Flood.” The song, ‘Volunteer State’ features Joe Satriani on all manner of stringed instruments and Joe Travers on drums. The accompanying live action road-trip style video stars Bryan Beller himself and can be viewed here: http://bryanbeller.com/index.php/media/ (also on YouTube and Facebook)
The hugely ambitious and unapologetically progressive double concept album Scenes From The Flood is scheduled for worldwide release on September 13th, and available for pre-order now at http://bryanbeller.com.
“This is the first full song of the album, and this is essentially where the story begins,”says Beller. “It’s an optimistic road-trip song. It’s filled with intention and desire for something positive, though as you get further into it, it does a bit of a twist on you.”
Beller continues: “Once I wrote it, and heard the melody and felt the vibe, I felt strongly and deeply that Joe Satriani could bring something special to it, something uniquely his, that would give ‘Volunteer State’ the weight it needed to be the opening chapter of such a long and winding tale.” Not content with simply contributing the lead melody and solo, the guitar legend took two months to build a complete arrangement around Beller’s song, including additional harmonies, acoustic guitars, a banjo, and several other sonic layers. “And Joe Travers is the perfect drummer for a heavy, straight-ahead rock groove like this.”
The accompanying live action dramatic video (shot, directed and edited by Jon Luini and Arthur Rosato) stars Beller himself and follows the musician as he packs up his old life and heads across the country into the unknown. Eagle-eyed fans will be able to spot several motifs and references to other parts of the album throughout the nearly 6-minute running length.
Connect With Bryan Beller Online Here:
Learn more about Bryan Beller in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! Where does this interview find you?
I’m writing this from the backseat of the touring van, rolling our way from Washington DC to Raleigh, NC. It’s raining out and a Paul Stanley audiobook is playing on the van stereo system. Exciting!
Now that we are more than half-way through the year, how has 2019 been treating you? What are some goals that you have for yourself this year? How close are you to reaching them?
My main goal for the year was to release my first solo album in 11 years, “Scenes From The Flood”, and also release and tour the new Aristocrats album “You Know What…?”. The latter is happening, and the former is right on the doorstep.
Growing up, how important was music in your life? Can you recall the moment when you decided that you wanted to be a musician? Was it an easy or difficult choice to make?
I don’t think I ever chose to be a musician. Somehow, music chose me. My earliest memory is of me sitting on an orange shag carpet in my parents’ apartment in New York City, listening to music with a pair of big over-the-ear Koss headphones. I can still remember the way they smell. Music was always the most important thing to me. I just never wanted to do much of anything else. Certainly not anything on the traditional academic track.
Was there ever a time when you thought about doing something else? If you weren’t a musician today, what else could you see yourself doing? Would you be as fulfilled in life?
This might sound weird but I’ve acquired a taste for public speaking. I don’t mean politics, god forbid – I mean, perhaps I have something to say to musicians and artists trying to make it in this world. I enjoy teaching in a group setting far more than doing private lessons. I’ve had quite a bit of “microphone time” from being the MC at a benefit concert I helped organize for the better part of 10 years, and of course also from working with The Aristocrats. But I also really enjoy writing in the literary sense. There’s something about the freedom of expression in the written word – it doesn’t require amplifiers, or gear, or really much of anything. Just some solitude (which I treasure) and, hopefully the occasional original thought. I could be fulfilled doing a few other things, even though music will always be my original calling.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all?
I think the biggest surprise for me was just how much a career in music needs to be first, second and third priorities in your life if you want to have half a chance of making it. And I say that as a self-identifying workaholic. You just need to give it a ton of attention and time, over a long period of time. If you don’t, someone else will. And then there’s the travel. The value of recorded music isn’t what it once was. That makes the value of live music more important by comparison, and that means lots of touring and traveling. My natural inclination is to nest. So, you know, it seems obvious, but maybe I was the last to know that nesting instincts and a career as a professional musician might not always go hand in hand!
Let’s talk about your upcoming modern progressive album, “Scenes From The Flood.” What was it like putting this collection together? How did the solo process compare to your experiences with The Aristocrats and others?
First off, writing for my solo stuff is completely different than writing for The Aristocrats. The Aristocrats is: Pick a target, paint the picture, tell a story, fuck with a genre, make it fun. And that’s very well defined, in a way. For my solo stuff, I think it’s a more personal and emotional listening experience. Feels that way to me, anyway.
My last solo album was written in 2007 and then released in 2008. It was a pretty optimistic story arc. A lot happened in the intervening years. Such is life: some things work out better than you imagined, some things work out just fine, and other things crash on the beach of reality. I started feeling like I had a story to tell about hope and loss, intentionality and disillusionment, and it all felt a bit more grandiose and conceptual than anything I’d considered as a musical work before. In 2013 the first two songs showed up in my head, “The Storm” and “Volunteer State”. Then the flood gates opened, and stuff began pouring in. I was on tour constantly for years, from 2013 through 2016, and didn’t have time to demo any of it, but the material kept coming into my brain. There were a lot of iPhone voice memos and text files with song titles and forms and all sorts of stuff. Finally, in 2017, I got off the road and demo’d the entire album, which by that point was 18 songs, and obviously a double album. A double concept album. In 2018. More like 2019 by the time it was going to come out. And I was like, oh my god, am I really doing this? And then, I just went ahead and did it.
Practically speaking, it’s nuts to do a record like this these days. Artistically, it’s the album I always dreamed of making. That was all I needed to know.
Can you talk about some of your favorite songs on this album? What was the inspiration for them? With such a deep subject matter, did it feel like almost therapy writing this music?
I’d rather avoid the word “favorite”. How about “significant”? In an album with 18 songs, there are going to be a couple of signature or tentpole pieces. There have to be. But every song can’t be like that. I think you have to give the listener a breather every once in a while over the course of 88 minutes. So there are “interlude” type pieces, and a couple of those are special to me, like “The Outer Boundary” and “The Inner Boundary”, two sides of a coin, so to speak. But a song like “Always Worth It”, the big progressive piece that kicks off vinyl side 2 (I think of the album as 4 vinyl sides, and it is being released as double vinyl, so there you go), that’s an especially significant song on the album both conceptually and melodically. “Volunteer State” (the song featuring Joe Satriani) essentially starts the album in a fairly upbeat manner. Six songs later, we’ve cruised through “Always Worth it” and then you’ve arrived at “The Storm”. How does that happen? And then how do you get from the fairly sweet sounding “Bunkistan” (the first song of the album’s second half) to the dramatic, climactic songs of the whole thing: “Angles & Exits”, “World Class” and “Sweet Water”? That’s what listening to the album straight down will reveal, hopefully.
I really don’t want to get into direct inspirations in terms of song by song. I think that would detract from the listening experience if that information was floating around out there. And I don’t think we listen to our favorite albums because we want to know every detail of the lives of our favorite artists. I think what happens is that we are able to invest ourselves and our personal stories into their music, and then the music becomes ours.
Finally, on this topic: Whatever I got out of writing it, that’s mine to keep.
How creatively involved were you with the making of the animated music video for one of the album’s signature tunes, “The Storm”?
Well, I’m not an animator or a visual artist at all. I can barely draw a stick figure. So this was a challenge for me, and I went part of the way down the road with two graphic artists before I finally knew I had the right guy in Andy Jolliff. I think it’s because he really understood metal. Not that the song is just “metal up your ass” for 6 minutes, but there was something brutal and elemental about the tune that Andy instinctively understood. At that point it became about discussing concepts, and trying to find a kind of minimalist structure that didn’t take away from or overwhelm the song, but instead complement it in its building intensity and eventual final explosion. I’m glad we got there in the end.
Where can people see you perform next? How would you describe one of your shows?
Shifting gears here, right now (early August as of this writing) I’m on tour with The Aristocrats throughout North America. An Aristocrats show is going to have myself on bass, Guthrie Govan on guitar, and Marco Minnemann on drums, and we’re going to play all the notes and then play them again, while taking the piss out of several different genres of music, improvising and creating on the spot, as well as working our way through fairly some complex forms. And we talk on the microphone a bit about where these tunes come from and what inspired them, which could be anything from stolen gear to Coen Brothers films to underboob sweat. If we do it right, folks will leave laughing as well as musically fulfilled. It’s a good time.
What has been a favorite performance of yours so far?
I had an amazing time in Cleveland, of all places. That show had a pretty great sound where I was standing. A lot of times, that’s what it comes down to – the sound you experience onstage, which then inspires you in ways you can’t predict.
How do you think you have grown as a musician since you first started making music?
I think it happens in the same ways you grow as a person. You’re not the same person that you are in your 20s that you are in your 30s or 40s. I’m 48 now. I don’t want to get all “get off my lawn you damned kids” about this, but I thought I knew everything there was to know when I was 25, and just a few years later I realized I didn’t know shit from shit. The lessons you learn from your different jobs or gigs, personal relationships, family, the world, everything…it all affects who you are as a person, which affects what you want to listen to, which affects how you play. Ideally, it progresses and keeps moving forward while also becoming more calm at the same time, if that makes any sense.
What has it been like keeping up with your social media accounts and all of the different platforms? Is it hard to stay up to date on it all? What would you say is your favorite way to connect with your fans now? What has social media done for your career so far?
This is a really, really long and deep topic and it’s not possible to get all the way into it in an interview answer. I think that social media is an obvious and essential part of any kind of current marketing plan for independent (and major) artists. You just have to go where the people are. Of course it requires time to keep up with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever comes next, and that’s time you could be creating, or writing, or practicing, or just getting away from the screen. But a large part of modern life is screen-oriented, so if you wanna be in the game, you gotta play ball. Personally Facebook is the best platform for me to communicate the way I like because I enjoy writing longer form – longer than 140 or 280 characters, anyway! But that’s Gen X talking, isn’t it? One of the songs on “Scenes From The Flood” deals with this whole topic of social media, and anyone who picks it up won’t have a hard time figuring out which song it is. That all said, without social media, I don’t think a band like The Aristocrats would have half a chance of succeeding the way we did, as a completely independent entity.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? Who would you absolutely love to work with in the future?
I really dig and am inspired by artists who have created their whole world of sound, vibe, and texture, something you can readily and easily identify even over the course of several albums. Roger Waters and David Gilmour created something incredible, right? That happened over the course of several albums but it always sounded like them, especially in Pink Floyd’s mid to late 70s period. Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails – that’s a whole universe of sound and vibe. John Scofield has that about him insofar as, no matter what genre he’s playing – swing, funk, acid groove, whatever – you always know it’s him just from the first note. Rage Against The Machine – that’s a very obvious sound. So I’m into combining sounds of people, and we’ll just see where that takes me.
What person, in the music industry or not have you learned the most from over the years? Who do you think has truly made an impact on your career thus far?
I know that my work with Mike Keneally over the past 25 years has impacted me in all sorts of ways – musically, personally, financially, artistically, just about every way imaginable. He’s been a dear friend and a mentor in the many albums and tours we’ve worked on together, and Mike is also the one who connected me with both Brendon Small and Joe Satriani. So, plenty to be grateful for there.
If you had an unlimited budget and your schedule was free, what would your dream music video look like?
a) I honestly don’t know because it would depend on the song, and the story of the song itself; b) I think the more compelling question would be, with an unlimited budget and a free schedule, what would my dream album sound like? And I think the answer would eventually reveal itself over time once the work began.
What has been the coolest place/TV show/commercial that you have heard a song of yours? Where would you still love to hear a future song of yours played?
A song I wrote for The Aristocrats called “Smuggler’s Corridor” was a part of the Joe Satriani “Shockwave Supernova” tour pre-show playlist, so I heard it over the PA all over the world every night for a while. That was pretty cool. As for the future, if one of the songs from “Scenes From The Flood” was the song for the end credit roll of a major motion picture, that wouldn’t piss me off.
At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?
Whatever they need to. It’s not up to me. If I’ve done it right, I just created an environment for them to walk into. What happens from there is up to the listener.
Would you like to share anything else with our readers about your music?
Well, since I’m releasing a double concept album, I’d invite anyone checking it out to take the time and listen to it all the way through, like we used to do in the olden times. And then maybe listen a second time, and you might be surprised at what’s revealed in the second listen. And third. That’s my hope, anyway. Like I said, in the end, it’s not up to me. Once it’s out there, it’s not mine anymore.