Exclusive Interview: Singer-Songwriter B.R. Lively Talks About Stunning Debut Record
B.R. Lively is a musical magician. The Texas-born singer-songwriter has perfected the recipe for stunningly soul-stomping folk gems, a feat that, as far as we're concerned, can only be accomplished by sheer magic. Taking to the road in a 1991 Winnebago, Lively has been traveling across the country, drumming up enough tunes to release his debut record, Into The Blue, earlier this month.
The album opens with "The Blue," a gorgeous folk ballad led by acoustic guitar and wailing strings. Lively's voice is lovely but resigned, confessing his own shortcomings amid growing instrumentation and breathy harmony. The song is breathtaking; it slams down on your chest for five minutes, but once it lifts upon its end and you can breathe again, you'll be grateful for its weight. Next comes "Summertime Sky," an uptempo jazzy ode to sunshine and nature. Deep horns and steady percussion merge for a sunny jam session beneath Lively's light vocals. "Oh These Eyes" is a lingering, heavy track with a minimalist vocal approach and a brooding, thundering arrangement that somehow feels like the prettiest heartbreak you wouldn't wish on anybody. On "Lonesome," melancholy instrumental vibrato buzzes before a rapid guitar rhythm comes in alongside Lively's impressive performance, singing "lonesome comes and lonesome goes / it takes me down where the cool grass grows."
Next is the vibrant "Are We In It For The Gold," erupting immediately with swells of sharp strings, insistent percussion, and Lively's distant vocals, creating a hazy old-school track for you to shimmy and sway to. Following this is "The Day That I Die," an Americana track led by impassioned vocal versatility and booms of surprising instrumental additions, conjuring similarities to Bob Dylan's raspy storytelling. With "Minute By Minute," Lively takes it back down a notch, offering a tender ballad led by instrumental crescendos that linger then explode. Singing lyrics that reflect on the crippling power of failure, Lively's songwriting is at its most profound here: "No one knows the weight of it all / Sitting here thinking how many times can I kill myself over nothing at all?"
"Fighters" begins with a stunning swell of strings that suggests a classical ballad for the ages before groggy vocals come in above them, growing in intensity as a gentle piano rhythm beats underneath. "Coyote" comes next, a personal favorite of Lively's to play live, a howling ode to the night that rings with jangling percussion and wild instrumentation. The second to last song on the record is "Free Of," sparse in its opening guitar arrangement, but featuring Lively's best vocals: his aching, desperate voice delivers a knots-in-the-stomach performance. It's a stand-out track, the weighty instrumentals emitting a bittersweet tone while mimicking the vocal urgency. Into The Blue ends with "Gratitude," stripped of much production, focusing on twangy rhythm lines and a folksy vocal delivery accompanied by higher harmony as the voices collide to sing an important line from the entirety of the record: "I'm thankful for the love I've received."
Into The Blue is rich with lush folk gems, each designed as mini stories you can hold in your hand and your heart. B.R. Lively has an unrivaled authenticity that pummels its way to the spotlight of each song. At its most emotional, his voice trembles. At its strongest, it is unwavering. The album is blessed by expert production that accentuates every instrumental intricacy from stunning strings to quivering plucks on a tender guitar. On Into The Blue, B.R. Lively offers songs to swoon over, ones that will break your heart and put it back together again.
Listen to Into The Blue right here and read on for an exclusive interview between B.R. Lively and The Music Mermaid:
We caught up with B.R. Lively to chat about his debut album, what it's like to pursue the wanderlust lifestyle, some of his biggest passions, and more.
The Music Mermaid: First, can you tell The Music Mermaid a little about yourself and your music?
B.R. Lively: Well, historically I was raised the youngest of four kids in Dallas, TX. After failing to make the basketball team 3 years in a row in school, I decided to teach myself guitar at age 13. Now, I’m teaching myself how to earn a living playing music on the road full time at age 27. I currently live in a 1991 Winnebago mini-motorhome with my dog, Kato. I’d rather be outside exploring but when I’m not, I like to read and write. I don’t have a TV, but I enjoy watching Hitchcock DVDs on my computer. The craft of songwriting fascinates me more than anything so I’m mainly exploring that. I love all music if it speaks from the soul. That’s the music I like to make -- something meaningful that connects right to the core. That’s the music that has changed my life, so I can only hope to help create some positive change through mine and give back in a way that enables me to help others in need and take care of the planet.
TMM: You’ve sought inspiration in many places, including Texas, Georgia, and New York. How do the music scenes differ where you travel and how have they influenced your own work?
B.R.: It’s hard to say because it’s constantly changing and evolving. More and more new genres and sub-genres are appearing and some are colliding with others to create hybrids. Then there are purists who are dedicated to preserving certain sounds, which I admire. I don’t pay very much attention to the popular culture of music, so I’m not sure about that realm.
But for instance, country music is significantly different in the East than in Texas and the West. I’m up in New York at the moment and I've been excited to see the jazz scene alive and well down in Greenwich Village. One of the biggest differences I feel is the sense of community and lack thereof. Austin is an amazing town that has limited industry but is rich in community and supporting each other in all areas. Other larger places like LA or New York are rich in industry opportunities but in my experience don't have so much of a strong community vibe.
For me, getting to experience all these different places has expanded my awareness of the possibilities with music today. Technology and the ability for DIY projects have really opened up a floodgate of new opportunities for developing artists that I’m excited to continue exploring. It constantly reminds me that there are no rules and anything is possible given the right patience and respect.
TMM: What kinds of special opportunities (or magical moments) has the traveling troubadour lifestyle afforded you?
B.R.: What I find most special about living on the road is getting to meet and connect with so many different people from all walks of life. Everyone I have come across has been so receptive and open. It continues to remind me how many loving and kind souls there are and how much positivity there is being cultivated in an ever-increasingly negative world. I believe if we can choose to focus on love and spread as much of it as we can to each other, then we can contribute to healing and growing in a healthy and positive way.
TMM: What was the production process like for your debut solo record, Into The Blue?
B.R.: Initially I started out with about 40 or so tunes that I brought to Gordy Quist, who
helped produce the record, and he and I narrowed it down to around 13 to bring with
us into the studio. We booked four days at The Texas Treefort in Austin to go lay down
the basic tracks and most of the overdubs we could do. The studio consists of a converted living room and side rooms that were built by the owner, Jack Rock, and is equipped with all of these vintage broadcasting tube pre-amps that we ran the lines through to achieve that warm, full sound we were aiming for.
Gordy brought in Richard Millsap to play drums, Scott Davis to play bass, and Jim Vollentine to engineer. We tracked the songs live with bass, drums, vocals, and acoustic guitar. Setting no expectations in order to be fully present and allow for anything spontaneous, we rehearsed the songs together for the first time there in the studio maybe once or twice before laying down a few takes of each.
Our talented friend, Lauren Hunt, came in one of the days to grace the record with her beautiful voice and contribute some harmonies. We tracked 11 tunes in four days, intentionally leaving space to allow my friend and longtime musical partner, Thomas Avery, to add his own piano, organ, string, and horn arrangements that he later recorded at 800 East Studios in Atlanta. After Thomas was done, we went up to Ronjo Studios in North Austin with Jim to mix the record in July of last year. Once that was all done, we sent all the files up to Fred Kevorkian in New York to master. Overall I was truly humbled by the experience to get to work with such talented and creative individuals. I hope that the stars will align and we’ll get to do it again one day.
TMM: What is the songwriting process like for you? What are some central themes on the record?
B.R.: In the past, I’ve always allowed the music to take the lead. Now, I’ll pick seeds from wherever. Whether it’s a word or a phrase or a chord progression, I’ll start messing around on the instrument first until I feel something start to formulate on its own musically. After that, I’ll usually begin to hum out a melody with some gibberish. This eventually leads to a flow of words or stream-of-consciousness to find an image or scene I’d like to describe. That’s where the story begins, and then it’s a sort of back and forth between music and words to finish it out. Depending on the song, the editing could take 5 minutes or a few years. As a whole, it’s a process that is always changing and is never the exact same for any song.
A big theme to a lot of my songs and on the record is nature. She’s a never-ending source of inspiration. Also, going through any deep emotional experiences like love, loss, or heartbreak causes the opening to a well of endless possibilities for any creative. This record is pretty rich with those and the transformation that is possible as a result.
TMM: What are the advantages and disadvantages to being an independent solo
B.R.: Some of the advantages are the low-overhead, minimal gear, and the freedom of setting my own schedule. Some of the disadvantages are the lack of camaraderie you get amongst a group of players, no one to split the long drives with, and the freedom of setting my own schedule.
TMM: What are some other passions or hobbies you have that your fans might not know about?
B.R.: Foremost, I’ve developed a passion for sustainability and am excited to continue to learn how I can implement more conscious techniques and systems into my everyday life that will allow me to eliminate reliance on nonrenewable resources as much as possible. As far as hobbies, I’ve been getting into rock climbing recently, so I’m excited to start doing that more frequently. I also really enjoy woodworking but living on the road at the moment inhibits me from having a space to work and store tools, so I’ll have to wait until I settle back down to explore that more.
TMM: Who are three musicians you think the world needs to hear right now?
B.R.: Lauren Hunt (Lola & The Huntsmen and The Hard Truth), a dear friend who has the voice of an angel and can write the hell out of a song. Check her out down in Austin, TX.
Pierson Saxon, one of my oldest friends, co-collaborators, and extremely talented songwriter; he'll have his own music out very soon. Check out his band Same Veins out of Austin in the meantime, and the band we have together, Northern Quarters.
Dr. Joe, another friend out of Austin, who is tearing up the piano rock ‘n roll scene with his band. He tickles the ivories like nobody’s business in more ways than one… with teeth that is. He’s also a dentist!
TMM: What has been your most memorable musical moment so far?
B.R.: Hmm. I’d say getting to play at the Village Theatre in downtown Davenport, Iowa for the first installment of a concert series Sean Moeller puts on called Moeller Nights. I shared the bill with the wonderful Natalie Tate from Denver, and the incomparable Mike & The Moonpies from Austin. The night had such an amazing energy and everyone was so welcoming and appreciative of the music. I had never been to Davenport, so I didn’t know what to expect, but it ended up being a very special night for everyone who was present.
The Music Mermaid: Finally, what’s next for B.R. Lively?
B.R. Lively: Right now I’m excited to continue touring as much as I can in support of this recent record, then when the time is right, I'll head over to Nashville to make the next one with my friend, Mike Colman, who has finished building his studio in his backhouse down off 12th South.
Eventually I’d like to make my way back West to California and dig deeper into the community that they have going on in the Oakland area. Since I’ve been out on the road by myself, I’ve enjoyed it immensely but feel like I’m yearning for that sense of community to help build something and begin to make a larger impact that’s bigger than myself. I’ve found I identify with more folks out there on the West coast than anywhere else so far and I’d like to explore that more.
There’s a girl that I love and care deeply for that’s living out there too and I want to see if we can make something work. She’s an extremely talented visual artist and designer and we complement each other well in a lot of ways. Either way I’m excited to continue living the questions. I’m trying to live in the present as much as possible and take it day by day with patience, gratitude, love, and compassion for those around me and myself.
Photo by Ryan Myers.