Interview: New England Singer-Songwriter, Brian McKenzie, On Emotional New EP
New England musician Brian McKenzie got his start in music as part of heavy metal band Kilgore back in the 90s, but things change. That's why he's since gone solo, evolving into a singer-songwriter with a classic Americana sound. On his latest EP, Bruising From The Fall, Brian channels his emotions with candid confessions led by consistent guitar work.
Bruising From The Fall opens with "Higher Than This," a slow-rolling folk-rock ballad featuring simple guitar strums and moments in which Brian howls intense lines like, "I won't believe that there's nothing left for you and me." Next comes "Later On," a quicker track with strong vocals and jangly rhythms, rocking major similarities to fellow New England singer-songwriter, Chris Trapper. On "One With The Sun," more trembling guitar strums and persistent percussion merge for a warm, upbeat anthem. The title track comes next, a poignant confessional led by aching vocals and despondent melody. Its standout moment comes from the bittersweet harmony as Brian admits to an inevitable longing as multi-instrumentation merges for a high-powered romp.
The album's real gem is "Someday," which opens with unrelenting shimmers and strums as Brian's vocal performance shines, sneaking in a clear-as-a-bell falsetto and pained croon, singing "There's so much I walked away from / And I know looking back won't help me anymore," a moving ballad that won't leave your mind so easily. "The In-Between" finds Brian plaintively reflecting on love's limbo, slowly and softly, as steady percussion grows. Bruising From The Fall ends with "Justified (Long Way Down)," an eerie track acting as a nod to Brian's heavy rock days, powered by creeping wails and twisty rock rhythms.
On Bruising From The Fall, Brian McKenzie offers an emotional collection of candid ballads. His guitar-led works vibe with their percussion accompaniment like they belong together, lightly setting the stage for stirring vocals and sincere songwriting.
Listen to Bruising From The Fall below and read on for our exclusive interview with Brian McKenzie:
The Music Mermaid: First, can you tell The Music Mermaid a little about yourself and your music?
Brian McKenzie: Well I started originally in the rock and metal world, then got signed to a subsidiary of a major label when I was 19. We toured the country, ate ham and cheese sandwiches in grocery store parking lots, and slept on people’s floor across the US until things started picking up for the band. They went on to play Ozzfest and a bunch of European tours while I left the band and the genre in general. I began writing singer-songwriter material and it became my passion. I just released my third album and I'm super excited about it.
TMM: What is the music scene like across the New England area and how has it influenced your work?
BM: I divide my time playing in New England, the South, Nashville, and Austin for the most part. There is a good area of Southern Rhode Island and Western Connecticut that is filled with some great venues, songwriters, and players. New England has some good stuff going on for sure, but I personally tend to be more influenced when I’m in Nashville and Austin and surrounded by it all. I think being out of my home state tends to wake me up a bit, take me away from everyday life, and allows for more creativity.
TMM: What was the production process like for your latest EP, Bruising From The Fall?
BM: Excruciatingly long -laughs-. No, all in all, it was a great experience. We recorded at TRAID Studios in Warren, RI during off hours and a few hours a week for a lot of months. I play all the guitars and do all the vocals on the record, and produce, aaaaaand I’m a perfectionist (control freak?), so the entire process probably (definitely) took a little longer.
Jon Gonsalves is a hell of an engineer and he’s cool enough to have me be a part of the entire process, even though I’m sure he wanted to wring my neck at times. Between Jon, and Bill Southerland (drums), Chris Piccirillo (drums), Brad O’Brien (bass) and Marty O’Brien (bass), I couldn’t have asked for a better lineup. The rhythm section is just fantastic. Kim Rosen and Knack Mastering did a great job mastering.
TMM: What is the songwriting process like for you? What lyrical themes do you tend to employ?
BM: I tend to write best when I’m feeling something emotionally. Whether it’s anger, pain, sadness, nostalgia, memories, etc, those songs come out super fast. I typically come up with the melodies and chords first and as long as they convey the same feeling I’m going through inside, I can write the lyrics to match the mood. I find those feelings to be more complex, therefore making the songs more complex than, say, a “happy” tune.
TMM: You just released a music video for “Higher Than This” -- can you talk a little about that experience?
BM: I’m fortunate to have some very creative, talented friends who put the video together in about three days. It was fast and easy for the most part -- shot in a production studio in Boston and on the streets of Providence. It was a little challenging to be the “actor”, but a great experience with some great people.
TMM: You’ve got a heavy touring presence. What is the touring experience like for you?
BM: It’s very bare bones -laughs-. I try to do it at least a couple times a year. I love to just head out and drive South and hit all my favorite places and see the friends I’ve made there and try to connect with and make new ones.
TMM: Who are three musicians you think the world needs to hear ASAP?
BM: I can’t narrow it down to three, since most of them are friends and that puts me in a tough spot, so I’m going to have to get back to you with a full list!
TMM: What has been your most memorable musical moment so far?
BM: I’m not sure this is the most memorable, but the Vans Snow Core tour with my metal band in the 90s sticks out for the simple reason that it is a really good lesson for any touring musician. We had two dates with Sublime on the tour. One was in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and the other in Salt Lake City. The first show they absolutely hated us and the crowd was literally throwing trash on stage. The next one, same lineup, same set list, we had a huge line of people waiting for autographs when we were done. They loved it. It just shows that, from night to night, you never know how it’s going to go. That goes for any genre in any town.
TMM: We know this is a tough question, but bear with us… which song of yours are you most proud of? How come?
BM: Well… I think this [new] record, Bruising From the Fall, contains some of the most honest work I’ve done as a writer. One song I felt really came together was “The In-Between”. The lyrics said what I was feeling and the music took those feelings and amplified them. It managed to give me that “twist in the gut” feeling, which is always good -laughs-.
The Music Mermaid: Finally, what’s next for Brian McKenzie?
Brian McKenzie: Well, first off, I’m ready for summer! I’ve had enough of these winter blues. Beyond that, I’m looking forward to staying busy touring and promoting Bruising From the Fall for a while and then I plan on releasing a few more songs by the end of the year.