'Breaking New Ground'
It’s uncommon to find a modern day singer/songwriter whose sound recalls such artists as John Mayer, REM, Lindsey Buckingham, the Byrds, and the Beatles. But BRIAN LARSEN is not your average musician.
Having been a recording artist since the ripe old age of 11, the 23-year-old Laurel, MD, resident is now making his move as a solo artist, and he’s off to a magnificent start with his brand new offering, 'BREAKING' (Protocol Records). Amazingly, despite Larsen’s youth, Breaking is already his eighth album overall (counting the albums he issued with the group he previously led, Twilight’s Moon).
With 'Breaking' already being heard on over 100 college radio stations, Larsen has also launched a popular new weekly “vlog” (www.blogbrian.com), a day-in-the-life video comedy series which has quickly gained over 100,000 YouTube fans, chronicling everything from flirting with old ladies at bingo parlors to fun videos inspired by the songs on the new album.
'Breaking' is the first release to be credited solely to Larsen. Following the same route as Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, and Prince on their early solo albums, Larsen wrote, performed, and produced the album entirely himself.
Taking it from the top and what were your musical influences growing up and how many still factor into your music today? "Wow… this could end up being a long list! I grew up with parents that listened to classic rock and with brothers that were obsessed with MTV, so I really got to experience the whole spectrum from a very young age. My parents have a video of me singing to “Got My Mind Set On You” by George Harrison when I was two years old. That was the first 45 I ever owned – the second was “Wishing Well” by Terence Trent D’Arby (hey, we all make mistakes!)."
"But yeah, classics like The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones, ELO, Tom Petty, Billy Joel, and Elton John were always playing in the house when I was growing up, but I also spent just about every waking moment watching MTV, so stuff like Billy Idol, The Cure, and Cyndi Lauper were also significant influences at that time. If you scroll through my iPod, you’ll see every single one of those names (and a hell of a lot more), so I think that goes to show you that my early influences have stayed with me."
For the Average Joe who may not have heard of your previous work with Twilight’s Moon and was thinking of buying your debut solo album ‘Breaking’, how would you describe your sound? "I think that my music is equal doses of melodic pop, indie rock, singer/songwriter folk-rock, and Swedish death metal all thrown into a blender and mixed to perfection… OK, maybe not Swedish death metal, but definitely the other three."
'Breaking' features 13 songs that are loosely strung together by the word ‘breaking’ which appears in almost every song. Was this meant to be the theme of the album from the beginning, and can you give some examples of how the word ‘breaking’ connects each song? "I didn’t go into the studio planning to turn this into a concept album or anything like that, but as I really delved further into myself through my songwriting, I found that word coming out a lot. You know, for me, writing a song is a very organic process -- I’ll get an idea in my head and sit down at the piano or with a guitar and make a demo out of it."
"I can’t force myself to write… it has to come to me, and I really find myself inspired by just about everything going on in the world as I was making this album. Having said that, the word ‘breaking’ can mean so many things, from having a breakdown or breaking a bone to breaking a record and breaking down barriers, and on the album, I think it takes on all those connotations and more."
I felt very connected to the imagery of your lyrics on this album. Which songs are you most proud of on the album and why these particular songs? "Thank you … I’m really glad that you connected with the album! It’s been really amazing to get so many messages on places like YouTube and MySpace from people telling me that my songs really mean something to them. You know, I think that songs are supposed to mean different things to different people, and I’m thrilled if my stuff is able to touch people in that way."
"But anyway, that’s a really tough question because each song feels like a part of me, so it’s a lot like asking somebody to choose their favorite child. I think that each of the songs have their own unique qualities, but if I was forced to choose just a few, I think I’d say “Gotta Get You,” “Hold Me Down,” “Stand My Ground,” and “In The Winter.”
“Gotta Get You” has a really driving, unique chord structure, really powerful solos, and it all comes together with lyrics that really give a sort-of lustful feel to the song. “Hold Me Down” starts out sounding like a piano ballad, but then becomes this dark pop song with a bit of a dance beat and really desperate lyrics. “Stand My Ground” is another driving rock song with a really strong rhythm section, and some of the lyrics, like “There’s a prison in my head / But I can’t lock you up inside” allow the listener to really picture the context of the song. Lastly, “In The Winter” is a really special song because it’s in a very unique tuning and it’s the only song on the album without any rhythm section."
"It’s a really sensitive song, but there’s a strong sense of desperation there with lines like “As the snow falls / On our shattered hopes.” That’s one of those tracks that is totally metaphorical, and it really lends itself to be interpreted in different ways by different people."
At the age of 23 you have already amassed 8 albums, counting those with Twilight’s Moon, over the last decade. How has this solo experience compared to your previous efforts with Twilight’s Moon? "Well, with “Breaking,” I had full creative control over the entire process, from beginning to end, so the resulting album was something that became a lot more personal. I was able to take ideas, turn them into song demos, and then carry over a lot of the raw energy present in my demos into the final recordings. It became sort of like a motion picture of my life during the time when I was recording the album."
"Sometimes, when you’re working with a group, it can be really difficult to make something that each person in the band agrees with. You end up in a situation where several people have several different plans and agendas for the record, but the final product doesn’t really reflect any of those original ideas. I think that this album is a much more cohesive work than anything I’ve ever been involved in, and I think that the passion that I have for these songs is evident on the album itself."
You wrote, performed, and produced the album entirely yourself. How did you decide to take on all aspects of this project and what did you learn most from taking this on alone? "Well, I didn’t intentionally start out thinking of this as a solo album. As has usually been the case for me, I wrote and recorded demos over a period of a little over a year, burned them onto a disc, and listened to them often. On my demos, I always play my own instruments, because it’s convenient for me to demo stuff that way… I definitely do a lot of late-night songwriting and demoing, and I couldn’t have my band on call to record with me."
"But with the songs that became “Breaking,” I realized pretty early on that these demos were special and that there were certain qualities to several of the early demos that I wanted to preserve on the final recordings. I ended up enjoying having control over the sound of the songs, and I ultimately realized that, since I had such a strong sense of how I wanted the songs to sound, I should just record everything myself."
"I had so much fun recording the album and I’m amazed at how smoothly the whole process went, but in the end I think I learned to respect the importance of all the different perspectives that you get in a band. When I was making the album, at some point I started to value the concept of “creative freedom” so much that I lost respect for the purpose of a band in general – I think I really started to look at it as an all-or-nothing kind of deal: you either achieve creative freedom on your own or you give it all up for the betterment of the band as a whole. Now I understand that, with the right group of people, it’s not so hard to work toward the same creative goals."
Being a musician, songwriter, producer, writer, and actor, how easy (or hard) is it to create a new, vibrant, wanted-by-the-public sound that both builds on and surpasses the musical wonderment's/accomplishments that preceded it within the industry? "I just try to find out what Kanye West is doing and then decide what I need to do to top it (laughs). But really, as an artist, I don’t think it’s healthy to set out trying to top the rest of the industry, because there are so many different standards by which we’re all measured. I mean, if I entered the studio with the intent to create the fastest, loudest, or hardest record ever, the result would probably be a mess."
"I think I’m always trying to hone my skills as a writer, producer, and performer, and that desire for self-improvement is more and more evident on each of my successive albums. At the end of the day, though, I just do what feels right to me, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have my creative works connect with an ever-growing audience along the way."
I really enjoyed checking out your segments on www.youtube.com/blogbrian (Bingo, Babes, and Guns). How has the weekly “vlog” impacted your relationship with your fans and the general public and what else have you got planned for entries? "The entertainment industry (and technology in general) has changed so much since I started out over a decade ago. Back in the late ‘90s, I was one of a very small group of indie artists who had a dedicated website, which at the time seemed pretty amazing. Now, with microblogging sites like Twitter and instant-upload video sites like YouTube, an artist is able to connect with his or her fans in a way that is so much more intimate and immediate than ever before."
"My family and friends know me as a person that loves to joke around and make people laugh, but my music is, for the most part, very serious. With my vlog, I’m able to show my fans a totally different element of my personality. The response that I’ve gotten from my videos has been incredible, and I feel extremely fortunate to be able to connect with people in that way."
"As far as other videos go, I’ve actually had a lot of my daily life being recorded, documentary-style. I’m in the process right now of putting together a touring band for concerts that start in less than a month, and, as you can imagine, that’s made for some pretty interesting (and stressful) situations. So yeah, some of my videos will be updates on what’s going on with me and others will be my continued attempts to explore the dark side of life, such as shopping at Wal-Mart, cooking, impersonating Miss Cleo, and recording a musical homage to the Dirty Sanchez."
I have to ask ... how is the action on bingo night and can we look forward to an unrated video release one day? "The fine ladies at the bingo hall are absolutely the best of the best. I’ve met many, many attractive women in my time, but none of them even come close to the awe-inspiring beauty to be found at the bingo hall. Picture the sexiest, sultriest 84 year old woman in the world... now picture her great-grandmother, and you’ve got the quality of the average bingo attendee. These are the ladies that fart dust and have George Washington’s beeper number, etc. You get what I’m saying… they’re HOT."
"I’ve got one last bingo video in the editing stages now (you’ll have to wait to find out if I finally win or not!), but don’t count on an unrated release at any point in the future. If I made a video of all the behind-the-scenes action I’ve gotten at the bingo hall, within 10 seconds your brain would explode from all the hedonism. I couldn’t bring myself to do that to you."
If asked to record one for charity, what '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop/rock song would you love to cover today ... and why?! "Oh man, there are so, so many. If a charity came to me and asked me to record an 80’s song for them, I would first notify them that I needed 18 months to grow my hair into a mullet and/or tease it into a Mötley Crüe-style Aqua Net sculpture. After that, I would inform them that I insisted on doing a full EP rather than just a single. In no particular order, these are the songs I would record:
-“Fish Heads” by Barnes and Barnes because this song reminds us all that taking a fish on a date to the movies is, surprisingly, a terrible idea.
- “Shake Your Love” by Debbie Gibson, because a song that repeats the lines “Shake your love, I just can’t shake your love” 147 times is pure genius.
-“The Golden Girls Theme Song” originally by Andrew Gold, because I’ve always wanted someone to throw a party, invite everyone they knew, and then for them to see that the biggest gift was from me… and that, in fact, it contained eleven pounds of dog feces.
-“Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler, because I’ve always wanted to know what my vocal cords would sound like if they were thrown through a cheese grater.
-“Hello” by Lionel Richie, because, like Lionel, I’d love to be able to make a music video for the song in which I sing the line “is it me you’re looking for?” to a blind woman and then said blind woman sculpts a bust of me that looks more like Sally Struthers than myself."
Lastly, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine love Penguins... do you?! "Of course I do! I actually just ate one for dinner!"
[Dear PETA, it was just a JOKE. I’m a vegetarian… please stop throwing red paint on the windows of my house!]"
Interview: Ken Tebo
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