In this interview spotlight, we chat with singer/songwriter Brian Green about musical styles, what motivates him, his latest project, challenges and more.
Full Q&A along with links and a stream of his new album The Breaking can be found below.
Where are you from and what style of music do you create? (In your own words, not necessarily in marketing terms or by popular genre classifications.)
I’m from BC, Canada. Mostly Vancouver, though I have recently relocated to a little island called Gabriola off the Pacific Coast. Tiny, but it has an incredible music scene and is home to a number of world-class jazz, country, and blues musicians, not to mention one of Canada’s top punk rock recording studios. It’s a weird little place, quirky and beautiful. And we have no regrets on ditching the city for trees and ocean, with deep silences and dark nighttimes.
I guess I play country-folk, or something along those lines. The explosion of genres and sub-genres doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, and I find myself often unsure where to situate myself. As I kid I was into the 80s metal and hard rock scene, and then discovered folk music in my teens and country some time after that. So I find when I put a song together that it can run the spectrum of acoustic music – there’s alot of country in there, but my stuff is not made for radio and isn’t based on the kind of pop-rock hooks of what we call country now. There’s a whole lot of folk music here, but nothing that fits neatly into the traditional schools – it’s not celtic, it’s not protest music, it’s not hippie. And every now and then I channel a little rock n’roll. Some might call it Americana, but even that isn’t quite right. So, maybe country-folk is the closest. I feel like that’s where I ought to fit, anyway. Mostly I figure I just write songs, and those songs have a coherent feel to them, but taken together don’t fit very nearly into the overly-specialized categories we tend to use these days.
What led you down this path of music and what motivates you to keep going?
I’m not a musician. I can manage about 8 chords without thinking, and everything else is work, so I don’t do much else. But I like music, and I have always bee one to write down lines or verses or poems or story ideas. As I kid I lived all over the world, cause my folks were human rights workers and we spent time in Central America, southern Africa and more, often around people who were involved in community or political organizing. That’s where I found folk music, starting with old labour tunes, then the sixties protest song movement, eventually gravitating to songwriters who communicated important ideas and reflections on what life feels like rather than journalistic or issues-based songwriters. John Prine was my gateway drug here.On a high school camping trip, my science teacher pulled out a guitar played and Sam Stone and Paradise – moved me away from folky protest tunes to country-inflected songwriters, and got me started thinking about songcraft differently, about the importance of every word and how a universal experience or emotion, properly shared, was so much more powerful than sloganeering.
How is this new release different than previous ones? Were you trying to accomplish anything specific?
Mostly I sit around my house and write and sing songs for and with friends, so I don’t pretend to be a musician. I did play with a band called Lone Crow Jubilee, and we did a live-off-the-floor EP a few years back, which included other versions of a couple of the tuns of this record. That was real band – banjo, mandolin, a couple of guitars, violin and stand up bass and keyboards, and we played together every week before sharing a meal. But after moving out of the city around 18 months ago, I was without that regular music-making. My wife plays violin, and we’d still sing and play together a bit, and every now and then folks would come over for a weekend and bust out the instruments. But I didn’t have much going on musically, and hadn’t connected with the music scene on the island. So I just missed it – really the only thing about the city I felt I’d lost.
So one day I was lamenting the lack of music in my life, and happened to notice that Mary Gauthier was going to be doing a songwriting workshop in Nashville. Seemed like alot of money and a big trip to make when I had no musical project on the go, but my wife gave me the kick in the ass I needed to sign up and make the trip. And that’s where this whole thing started. I met incredible people, I learned some things about craft and discipline, and I wrote a couple of songs. And when I came back home, I decided that band or no band I wanted to get going with music again. Now, as I say, I ain’t a musician, and can only strum enough chords to write a tune. But I know some musicians, and started reaching out, and pretty soon I had a group of some really stellar folks lined up to help. Paul Pigat, who is lone of the world’s top rockabilly guitarists, offered to play on a few tunes. Nathan Tinkham, who played dobro for Ian Tyson, played on 5 or 6. I knew a couple of amazing stand up bass players, and had other friends who do various instruments. So I sent folks my stuff, asked them to add tracks where they were willing, and then walked into my local punk rock recording studio to see how it all came together. At the end, we had around 15 songs, and picked 12 of them to call a record. It is a side project of a guy who just writes little tunes for fun, so you aren’t getting the kind of production value or perfection of the music industry here – you’re getting a bunch of songs, which I hope are worth listening to, played by an amateur who happens to have some real pros around who were willing to lend a hand. But no apologies for that. That is in fact what I do – write songs, call together some friends and play them. And that’s what you hear. So the question for me is really whether the songs themselves are worth playing and worth listening to, and what other musicians can do to take them beyond my strumming. Obviously I hope people like it, and I am thrilled when positive feedback comes in from people around the world and people who know music. But the intention was never perfection. It was to sing some songs and toss them out into the world.
The album is called “The Breaking”, and it has country, folk, singer-songwriter stuff, even a little rock n’roll peeking through. Pretty good representation of the way I write, running the spectrum.
Name one or two challenges you face as an indie musician in this oversaturated, digital music age? How has technology helped you (since we know it does help)?
Well, as I say, I am not a musician per se, and I don’t do this for work. I have a job, and songwriting is a hobby on the side. I cannot imagine trying to make a go of it in this day and age, with so many amazing musicians out there, with a resurgence of songwriting as craft. And the internet, which makes it possible for anyone – even me – to get a record out and get a few people listening, but which also results then in thousands of other people doing the same, and an absolutely staggering amount of material that audiences have to sift through if they are going to stumble on your work. The technology is amazing, though, and this record could never have happened without it. I’m sitting on my little island, and I can do a quick little recording of some chords and words, and email that file to friends, who then download, record their tracks to go along and send’em back. It’s magic. I can’t play worth crap, and can hardly do more on a computer than check my email. But with the technology that is available to every home user, with the advances in home recording that are possible, I can pull together the musicians to make a record, and I can get that record out and heard on a bunch of radio stations. Pure magic.
Where is the best place to connect with you online and discover more music?
The album itself is available for digital download on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, and more, and on Spotify and other steaming services – just search Brian Green, “The Breaking”, and it ought to come up.
Anything else before we sign off?
I just thank you for the time, for the willingness to listen, and for what you do for indie musicians generally. I’m just a guy strumming a guitar and writing some words for a hobby. So I’m thrilled when anyone listens and provides any feedback at all. But there are a whole lot of folks out there who do this for real, who rely on their songs to pay the rent and put food on the table. And it’s hard to get noticed with so much getting through at the internet and a seemingly endless stream of aspiring artists. You give those folks a chance to stick their heads about the fray and get heard, and that is so critical, such a gift. So thanks for that.