Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Interview with Barry Brusseau

After reviewing Barry Brusseau's wonderful new LP, The Royal Violent Birds, I had the pleasure of asking him a few questions about the album, his love for vinyl and his plans for the future. As I expected, Barry's answers were thoughtful and illuminating.

Vinyl Anachronist: First of all, congratulations on the quality of the LP pressing for The Royal Violent Birds. I was able to enjoy it on a high-end system and I can report that the overall sound quality is superb, particularly for a first-time effort. How happy are you with the end result? What challenges were you able to overcome to produce these excellent results?

Barry Brusseau: Marc, thank you for taking the time to listen, and write about the album. The biggest obstacle to overcome is that negative voice that says "you're not good enough to do this," or "you should be spending your money on more important things instead of throwing it down the drain." You know that kid in you that's afraid he'll fall flat on his face and fail. Once you get over that "fear" then it's just a matter of time, money, and commitment. I'm very happy with my effort, and holding the final vinyl result is like Christmas morn as a child.

VA: Deep down, it's obvious you're a vinyl lover and that you "get it." You've talked about how pressing records is an art form in itself, and that the aesthetics of the vinyl format is unique--right down to being able to read the lyrics sheet. Could you elaborate on your love of vinyl?

BB: My mother gave me her old mono phonograph, and all her 45s from the '50s. I was probably 7 or 8 years old, and my imagination ran wild. I remember turning up the volume as high as it would go, putting my ear up to the single speaker, and listening to "Peggy Sue" or "Hound Dog." I fell in love with the excitement of rock and roll, and the escape I found. That launched me into the world of countless hours listening, and loving records. The format of the vinyl LP is perfection. For someone that wants to absorb the entire soul of their musical purchase, it has not been topped. I like to compare it to how you enjoy coffee. In a pinch I drink it in a paper cup, and it's still a pleasurable experience. But nothing beats sitting down in your favorite chair, and drinking that coffee in a ceramic mug. It tastes a little better, and smells a little better. You slow down and savor the whole experience.

VA: You've written that you financed this record by saving $50 from your paycheck for over two years. You've also said that you cut absolutely no corners during the entire process, and that this album is a labor of love--one that required an extraordinary amount of effort and commitment. Now that it's completed, how do you feel? Are you relieved or are you feeling the effects of post-partum depression?

BB: I was listening to some of the old punk 7" that my old band "The Jimmies" put out. I realized the sound was not real good. It was too quiet and kind of over-compressed. Why didn't we get the most out of what vinyl had to offer? So when decided to do a solo 12" LP I reached out to vinyl freaks here in Portland (both label guys and fellow musicians). I asked them what was the proper process of getting the best-sounding vinyl record. Doing it right involved more attention to detail than I realized (and more money). Of course it begins with the source (getting the best sound to tape), but I didn't realize how important the mastering and lacquer cutting process was. So all down the line I enlisted analog masterers who had experience in making vinyl. I didn't gamble and that meant being patient and saving money. After it's all done and the record comes out I do have some depression. After expending all that energy there's a bit of a let down. My imagination gets the best of me and I see all my work leading me to some new recognition. Then it's back to my day job.

VA: You wrote: "Turn up the volume and listen to the sound of the felt on the end of the drum stick hitting the drum, the sound of a creaky piano chair." I've recently written about the need to hear the interaction between musician and instrument, and how cues such as audible breathing, the creaking of floorboards on the stage and even the shifting of an instrument from one hand to the other are vital to the recording, barely secondary to the notes themselves. On The Royal Violent Birds, there are plenty of secondary sounds going on in the recording, plenty of human interactions in the background. How deliberate was this?

BB: This is where it's important to listen to the person you've enlisted to record you. I think I could get carried away with letting all the secondary sounds that can happen stay in the recording. The creak of a chair might be nice, but you kicking over that glass might sound like you just don't give a shit. If it adds some atmosphere and serves the song (adds to that atmosphere), then it should stay. It must be organic, and not play into your own self indulgent need to be "avant garde."

VA: You open and close the album with "Pig Frost," first a wild, manic and chaotic version and then an extended, quieter version. The song only has three lines of lyrics: "An open sore, sugar poured out of the sky/Black dawn with pink rain/The scent of pork rinds on the breeze." Should this make me think of Pink Floyd's "Pigs on the Wing" or am I nuts?

BB: I love your comparison to "Pigs on the Wing". It was not my intent, and never was given a thought 'til I read your question. I love the fact that with art each individual can use there own perspective and imagination to interpret. This is why I think David Lynch never gives into the question, "what does that mean?" "Pig Frost" is a short poem that a friend of mine wrote. I liked it and it just came out in a song. I also like the idea of starting the album with a chaotic boom, and then melting into this soft thing.

VA: I live in central Texas, where vultures continuously circle above in the sky. I thought of this when I heard the title cut of the album, but your birds sound more like angels to me than their Texas counterparts. Can you tell us more about your feathered friends?

BB: Is there a god? What happens when you die? If you don't bat these questions around in your head once in awhile you're not human. I guess there's only one thing I'm sure of is that there's nothing to fear. No one has ever seen the birds, and you shouldn't have any misgivings about the word "Violent". It's no stranger than other ideas I've heard about dying. So I'm not sure what happens when the birds "send you on your way," but I'm sure there's nothing to be afraid of.

VA: Tell me more about the special "canvas" edition of the LP. What will it include?

BB: I sat down and learned to sew. My mom gave me a few lessons, and I went to work on this idea. I wanted to make a special package for the LP release show. It's a canvas-sewn cover that's a color reverse of the actual LP. It's the kind of aesthetic I want "Gorbie International Records" to be known for. Attention to detail and how thing feel in your hand. A real home-crafted touch. This can only be realized in the vinyl format. I worked real hard to make these special. I only did about 35, and I've sold out of these limited edition already. I will not be making more.

VA: What's next for you? Are you going on the road at all?

BB: I have no plans to tour. I'm not opposed to it, but don't know if it would be worth the time. There's only so much a 47-year-old man who has a full time job, is a husband, a son, a brother and a friend can do to climb the mountain of obscurity that sits before all dreamers. Responsibility doesn't leave a lot of time to work with. So I do the best I can and try and be grateful for what I have.

VA: Thank you so much for your time, Barry! Good luck with The Royal Violent Birds.

I'd also like to thank Alex Steininger of In Music We Trust for putting this all together. And if you'd like to check out Barry and The Royal Violent Birds--and I strongly suggest that you do before all the LPs are gone--just visit Barry's website.

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