Brian Whelan can make slow songs dramatic, sad songs tragic and up-tempo songs frolic. He seems to be enjoying himself at every turn; which means you will to! His second album which will be released on March 25th, “Sugarland” (I refuse to call it a “sophomore” album) realizes that though he may not claim to be a cultural zeitgeist he has delivered music that can be easily considered an American songbook of sorts. He “cut his teeth” early in life with music. Every instrument came to him naturally . If it banged, strummed or got whacked Brian could play it! It twas’ Chuck Berry who sang about Johnnie B. Goode.. “He could play his guitar like ringin’ a bell”.
Originally from Seattle his family moved to San Jose and then Brian went to Los Angeles to pursue a degree in recording engineering at USC.. Here’s Brian’s words about his musical influences…
“I was a little late to the party in terms of the Seattle alternative scene. I started getting into that music when my family moved to San Jose in the late 90’s. I remember hearing Green Day while I was still up in the Seattle – they were probably one of the first “current” bands I that heard. Growing up my parents listened to music from roughly 1957-1967. .. Dylan, The Stones and The Beatles.
What I loved the most was Buddy Holly, Elvis, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. I wanted to be a recording engineer, and USC had a great program. I also fell in love with LA from my first visit, and the fact the USC marching band was jamming with Mick Fleetwood the weekend I visited probably didn’t hurt either. This was in 2000 – I had instructors who said Pro Tools was a fad that wouldn’t last. Very quickly thereafter they phased out their recording degree for a time, getting rid of their tape machine to make way for computers”.
Sugarland starts with a thunderous beginning…. “Americana” sets the record straight regarding all the fodder and contention that the press has distinguishing Whelan’s style. “Americana” has the rock n’ roll swagger of Keith Richards from The Rollings Stones’ rant”Respectable” to Jimmy Page’s power chords of “Rock and Roll” no Led Zeppelin IV!!! Just to keep it interesting he adds banjo and fiddle during the breaks. The song will “suck the chrome off the trailer hitch”! Don’t get stuck pushing repeat play over and over and over like me because you’ll miss some great rockin’ tracks that Sugarland has to offer.
Keith Richards … Jimmy Page
Brian Whelan’s Americana
Whelan’s take on his style is direct and without misinterpretation.. “Typically I am accused of poking fun at artists more than members of the press, but I’ll take it. The message in that song, if it must have one, is that Country music does not need saving – not by me, not by a blog, not even by Willie Nelson. The genre itself is tough enough to withstand injections (over the years) of rock n roll, blues, disco, hip-hop and Jack Johnson surf-grooves. It will be here long after we art all gone.The latest trend is a lot of “Outlaw” acts that claim to be the antivenin to Nashville’s assembly-line pop Country acts. Although these acts are marketed differently, they are not really that different at their core.”
The first track being worked to radio is “Go Dancing” which has the earmarks of the late 70’s-early 80’s.. L.A. power-pop happening. This music was a manifestation of Brit-pop and Punk rock. The scene saw bands like The Nerves, 20/20 , The Plimsouls and The Beat draw massive crowds and a new fashion style throughout the Hollywood club circuit. Often maligned by critics for its “pop sensibility”. It took “The Goliath” of Power Pop bands , The Knack to attract global favor. Amidst their hysteria of being compared to The Beatles by Capitol Records it turned out to be their destruction. Imagine having a rock band refusing to do press? During those years it was a magical time for L.A. music in general
… The Knack … The Nerves
Whelan has a much different opinion of the Power Pop “phenom” and how his style is just rock and roll…..
“Whenever I heard the term “Power-pop” I am reminded of my time with the Broken West. It bummed me out so much to be called that – I saw it only as a reflection of our super-small, all male audience. We would always have at least one dude there alone in a Big Star t-shirt. I didn’t get it at the time – the most noticeable element of power pop was that it seemed to drive women away. I honestly see what I do as Rock and Roll. It is mostly song-based, ebullient music designed for dancing and played by a guitar quartet. Calling it Roots-Americana or Power-pop is merely a way of making it more palatable for one demographic or another.”
Our favorite song from Sugarland is the brooding “Suckerpunch”. A song that takes the act of breaking up to the most intense level regardless of being a man or woman. Its probably the finest track on the album .Its the Pie’ce De’ Resistance of any song Whelan’s written so far. Its the type of song that the late Glenn Frey should have written about a couple broken up and its got a guitar solo that only the Eagles could perform… I’m crazy but I love what I’m hearing….
“If you’re crazy, Jeff, then I don’t want you to be sane. Suckerpunch has shown itself already to be one of the favorites on this record. It has grown on me a lot since I wrote it. The song was written with a very impressive young woman named Phoebe Bridgers. We sat at the table in my house with our guitars and wrote it.
…Glenn Frey’s Arrest Photo
A wise man once said that when it comes to songwriting there aren’t separate sections for fiction or non-fiction, autobiographical or narrative. It is all mixed together. There are probably pieces of both of us in those lyrics. I don’t know if Phoebe was talking about anything specifically – for my part I was describing the break-up dynamic of every relationship I’ve ever had.”
Brian has an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music and a work ethic that won’t quit. This asset is what has made him one of the ace music producers in Los Angeles. In so many words he has this ability to create a sound that is mercurial as is specific; much like T-Bone Burnett and Lee Hazelwood. He has just finished producing the new E.P. for Rod Melancon, whose “swamp-rock” tales of South Louisiana will be released next month and the brilliant singer songwriter, Amy Blaschke whose compelling debut album met with incredible reviews….
“Well, first of all I would never compare myself to T-Bone – after all he is probably eating a nice steak somewhere while I freeze my ass off in this van. Having said that – he has a great way of bringing out the best in wildly disparate artists, without forcing his “sound” on them. It’s something that Jeff Lynne (one of my favorite producers) has never been able to do.
Rod Melanacon … Amy Blaschke
Oddly, Rod Melancon and Amy Blaschke, although they are vastly different artists, both came to me for the same reason, which ostensibly was to rev up their sound a little bit. So in a way I was hired because the sound of my own band and my records had some positive effect on them and they wanted some of that rock and roll sound on their records. Rod allowed me to make two records that really rock, which is something that’s in my wheelhouse and was not a huge stretch. Amy, on the other hand, creates a much more delicate music and it was more of a challenge to stay out of the way of that, and try to bring different kinds of energy to the songs without just adding John Bonham-style to everything…
T-Bone Burnett Lee Hazelwood
Whelan has scheduled some great shows in the L.A. area..
A special thanks to Brian Whelan and Melissa Dragich-Cordero
Here’s Whelan’s Site: