Go West, Young Man
Brad Byrd is already a success, just not in the field he wants success in… yet. He left behind a flourishing recruiting company in New York to follow his dream and go to LA to make music with kindred spirits who shared his vision.
The result of his endeavors is the superb The Ever Changing Picture, an edgy, contemporary sounding album of rootsy rock with a unique sound and lived-in feel. But, as Brad explained when I chatted with him recently, his musical journey hasn’t been easy, and is still ongoing as he searches for the big break that will catapult him from promising indie to nationally known singer/songwriter.
Congratulations on The Ever Changing Picture. How pleased are you with the way it turned out?
Thank you very much. I’m very pleased with it. It’s interesting when you are making a record professionally, as there is always a budget and time is money. The point being is that there are decisions that need to be made. Eventually you sign off on those decisions and move on. We could have mixed this record a billion different ways. Ultimately it captured a uniqueness that I don’t really hear out there — a singer/songwriter with a band sound.
Usually, it’s either straightforward singer/songwriter (Jack Johnson, John Mayer) or a straightforward rock band. I’m happy that this record shows both sides of my vision. I am a singer/songwriter, however I love that ambient rock vibe (i.e. Verve, Coldplay, Built to Spill). That’s the type of record I wanted to make. Great songs mixed with sonic and reverb production techniques. Evan [Frankfort, producer] was clearly the man for the job.
He was, indeed. He’s something of a hidden treasure for indie artists like you, as he brings a major-label budget production quality and feel to indie records. How did you hook up with him?
I was referred to Evan from a friend of mine in LA, Marc Dauer [singer/songwriter, Jukebox Junkies] who suggested I send Evan some demos. I did and Evan immediately put a hold on his schedule and opened the doors up for me to make a record, which took about four months to complete. Evan is honestly one of the nicest people I’ve come across with absolutely no quirks or ego. That’s very difficult to find in this biz.
What are your favourite tracks on the album and why?
I’d have to say “Better Days” and “Earth and Feathers.” “Better Days” because of the production touches Evan added to it, and “Earth and Feathers” because it’s a song I wrote about four years ago that has always stuck with me. Some songs hang with you in your head while others fade. It’s one good way to realize that the song has something special about it.
Is writing a cathartic experience for you or do you tend not to write from personal experience?
I think it’s impossible to not have some direct personal connection to a song that you write. Often times I am inspired by something someone else is going through. But I would be lying if I could not relate it to something I was feeling or going through as well. I try not to force myself to write words on paper. I prefer to let the words marinate in my head until the perfect line presents itself. I think that when you commit words to paper you quickly become fixated on that line or word and it becomes cemented. I believe my strongest writing comes from a personal place and then I try to make it as universal as possible so as to not make it all about me.
Going back a few years, tell me a bit about how you first started writing songs.
I first was obsessed with playing the drums. I bought my first kit when I was a freshman in High School and have been banging away ever since. The guitar was not too far behind. I always just viewed myself as a drummer. It was not until college when I started writing my own songs and realizing that this was truly my calling. I still remember my first song I wrote back then. It was about a girl (go figure)… pretty cheesy, however my mom still loves it till this day.
You headed to NYC after graduating from college and started to work as a recruitment consultant and quickly became very successful at it. Was it difficult to give that up to pursue music full time? What was it that convinced you to make the jump?
My plan was to move out west and continue to expand the recruiting business and keep everything intact. Everyone in the company agreed that it was a good idea. When I finally made it out to LA I found myself in studios working more and more. Eventually it became harder and harder to stay in touch with the company and the NY office. It was very difficult to lose that income stream. I would have never been able to complete this record and put a band together and tour all in one year if did anything differently. I knew that time was of the essence. I knew I had to make a record for no one else but myself. I sacrificed a lot to get where I am today.
I had given a demo tape to a well-known manager in NY who convinced me to find a producer that could help me fully realize my songs. I originally wanted to make this record with R. Walt Vincent [Pete Yorn]. He was one of the people that I had spoken with prior to my move to LA. The circles I traveled with in NY were mostly friends and business associates. I needed a fresh start. I needed to find more musicians that I could learn from. I needed to move to Los Angeles to do so.
Was it an easy decision for you to become a solo artist instead of joining a band? Does being a solo artist bring more creative freedom?
I am a solo artist simply because I made a record of my material with just a producer and me. I play drums in another band in LA currently. If I do work out songs live with my band and then get back into the studio and record them, even though they are my songs, I’m not afraid to call it Brad Byrd or another band name. I just have so much material that is ready for the studio that I don’t believe I’ll have the time in my career to change. I think about this question often. Hopefully things take off from this record. I will always be Brad Byrd so it doesn’t really matter.
As you said, you moved out to LA. You won’t be the last person to do that in search of fame and fortune, but what did you feel LA offered over NYC in terms of carving out a music career?
I knew a lot more people that were involved in the music business in LA. I also wanted to check out the west coast before it was to late. I’m very happy I did. The musicians in LA are very serious and committed. LA has offered me an immense amount of knowledge about the entertainment industry that I could not have learned in NY. NY is too financially oriented to have the same environment that LA offers.
Has it been more difficult than you expected to carve out a career in LA where everyone is so ambitious?
That’s an amazing question. I have been thinking about this a lot recently. What if I was playing back East where I knew more people? The answer is no. It is very difficult to develop a fan base in LA. Everyone out here is either making a record or making a movie. However it pushes you to be the best you could ever be… especially playing live. Most other places you go people have no idea if you’re fucking up live, they’re just amazed that they’re seeing a good band. In LA everyone can’t wait until you sing out of key or miss a note. It’s fucked up. Fortunately, I have a great team of people working with me and have helped me to create a strong buzz in LA. That buzz is only multiplying back east. I believe it will make my touring experience back east much more successful, and anywhere else for that matter.
Is it your intention to get signed by a major label?
I’m not sure about this, as to what is the right label for me. I don’t want to be pushed to the side of the desk in favor of an 18 year old rock/rap band from Kentucky come Monday morning at a Columbia or an Arista. I’m not suggesting that’s what would happen but I’m not saying it couldn’t happen either. I need the right label that sees my vision. The music calls for a big band, big venue, and a big dollars effort from a label. I hope the right deal presents itself soon.
You have issued your new album independently. How important is it for you to get your music out there independently, and how have you found it working in this way? At least most of the money from CD sales goes back into your pocket rather than eaten away by huge label costs.
I have been doing everything I can to get the records pressed, distributed, and sold. Between that and shopping them around to industry people and performing I have no time to eat. It’s truly the most difficult random unknown business I’ve ever been involved with. You never know when your phone is going to ring with good or bad news. CD sales are extremely difficult these days. I need a committed investment in this project before it runs out of gas. Again I feel like I am watching the second hand and starting to sweat. I believe strongly that it will get picked up soon. At least that’s the word out there.
I take it you have found it tough to promote the album without the aid of a major label marketing budget?
It’s basically impossible. I keep thinking should I just jump in a van and hit the road. Then play for the bartender from town to town. Believe me, I would. However, it just seems smarter to build a fan base. Right now, I have NY, LA, and Boston that seem to be developing strong fan bases. I can go to these cities and play 1 or 2 shows and have a strong draw, strong enough to excite label and industry folk if they come out. Performing to a half-empty room with industry people around gets you nowhere. I’ve realized that image is everything. First the music, then the image.
Basically, you have to be a perfect human being to get a deal these days. I know so many great acts here in LA that get overlooked and don’t have the resources to get out and turn on other scenes. It’s a shame really. I heard the other day that A&Rs are too busy to listen to demos, too busy to get out to live shows, because they’re too busy trying to develop the other artists they’ve already signed. I don’t know, something’s fucked up. I feel like if I was playing in Kentucky the whole town/state would be at my shows… I’ll just keep pluggin’. I know that’s what my dad says.
What is currently in your CD changer?
I am currently listening to Queens Of The Stone Age, the latest Nada Surf record, some old Jellyfish records, Granddaddy Sumday, and Coldplay Rush of Blood to the Head, to name a few off the top of my head.
What bands/artists influence you?
I am influenced by so much I can’t answer this question properly. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of classic rock radio just shaking my head in awe of how great the songs are and how raw the production is. Everything from Fleetwood Mac to the Eagles to Zeppelin, it makes our current musical generation a complete joke. I do not understand why good songs with great melodies aren’t the pinnacle of what music is today or what music should always be. Everything I hear today is super-compressed metal rap with a half-ass attempt from some prom kings with acoustic guitars. A true artist isn’t 14 years old. A true artist needs to have seen the world a little bit for me to buy it.
So I guess you’re not inspired by the current music scene!
The music scene today is a mess. I am inspired by good music. Whether it’s Pete Yorn, John Mayer, Brad Byrd or three other bands. If its good music with strong melodies, well thought out lyrics, and edgy voice/production, then I’m behind it. Unfortunately I see and hear too much quality that only exists at smaller levels. It seems like it’s “who you know” and dollars are really polluting the search for quality. It’s truly capitalism at its best.