Brain Larsen is a veteran of the music business, having started at age 11 and working ever since. Brian has just released his second solo album, Building (April 17), is touring to promote it, and (luckily for me) doing interviews. He also has a day-in-the-life video comedy series (vlog) on YouTube and is already working on 4 new albums. No wonder he likes answering emails and interview questions from the bathtub!
Brian’s sound has been compared to John Mayer, REM, Lindsey Buckingham, the Byrds, and the Beatles. His music is described as alternative-folk-rock-pop but I think it best for you to experience it for yourself in order to get the full impact. I love this quote from his website, “Everything about my entertainment career is just about me being natural and being myself. If people can connect with that — if they can relate to me and what I do, then that’s great. Since my infancy, all I’ve ever wanted to do with my life is to entertain people, so every day along this journey is a new opportunity for me to continue realizing my lifelong dream.” It really expresses what type of person and entertainer he is.
I was really honored that he agreed to do this interview with me. I find Brian to be a very introspective person and someone we could all learn something from. Its hard to believe he is only 25, he has such a mature view of life and really “gets it” when it comes to what his music should be about. I also love that he is working on a few charity projects because it shows that he really understands how to handle his good fortune and influence. This is someone that talks the talk, AND walks the walk.
Q: Your new album, Building, is your 10th (including the albums you made with your former group Twilight’s Moon). What have you learned from being in the business for such a long time and from the young age of 11?
A: How much time do we have? [laughs]. This coming September marks 15 years since I released my debut album as Twilight’s Moon. I’ve learned how to record and produce with proper techniques and attention to detail. I’ve learned about the industry and what it takes to get heard and not become lost in the clutter of hundreds of thousands of other bands that are also actively releasing music. The industry has changed so much due to piracy and the economy, and yet in some strange, distant way, I really am the same person I was back then, despite the fact that I’ve obviously grown so much (both literally and figuratively) since I first started making music.
Q: Tell us a little about the new album and the songs.
A: My new album, “Building,” is definitely the best thing I’ve ever done. The songs are more or less about trying to “build” oneself up after a traumatic event (a serious breakup, death of a loved one, etc.). The songs are energetic and passionate and cover a tremendous amount of ground, sonic-ally speaking. I’ve got some really powerful rock songs in there, a few really sweet pop songs, and a few ballads, and a few unique songs. There are definitely some twists and turns on this album, and despite how different some of the songs sound from each other, they work together really, really well… there’s something very cohesive about this album.
Like most of my previous albums, I produced these recordings, but a good friend of mine, multi-platinum producer and mixer Michael James mixed the album. Michael is unbelievably talented, and he really helped me to take my songs to a totally different level. I’m playing all the instruments on every song except for the drums on several songs, for which I brought in my incredibly talented touring drummer, Lydia Lewis, and I was really fortunate to record her drum parts at the legendary Inner Ear Studios with Don Zientara, who is another amazingly talented producer and engineer.
Everyone who worked on the album expressed having a real passion for these songs, and that has been fantastic… it’s one of the greatest feelings in the world to have people whom you admire and respect verbalize how much they like your work.
Q: What is different about being on your own as opposed to a group? You did lead the group but is there more pressure when its all you?
A: The music that I make is so intimate and honest that I don’t really think of the “pressure” of what I do… it just feels like I’m sharing my feelings in some cathartic way. I’ve learned to accept that making music, which is my true passion in life, requires me to give up a lot of privacy… now that I’ve accepted that, I don’t even think about “pressure” anymore.
I will say, though, that writing, recording, performing, and producing every song from scratch is an incredibly intense process and sometimes there can be an uncomfortable showing of emotions there, but I think you get used to that, too. In some instances, I’ve written songs about a woman that I was dating at the time and then have had to record the entire song in her presence. It’s interesting to see the look on someone’s face the moment that they find out that a song that you’ve written that starts out “Are you happy now?” is about them [laughs]
Q: Who are some of your inspirations in the music business? How about outside of the industry?
A: My musical influences are all across the board. As a child, I was raised on classic rock, so my parents were always playing The Beatles, ELO, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, and tons of others. By the time I was a teenager, I developed an interest in classical and world music, so my more Avant-garde influences are as far-reaching as Philip Glass, Ravi Shankar, Yoko Ono, etc. I think I can find inspiration in any kind of music, and even from life itself. There is musical and artistic value in everything we see and do, and hopefully I’ve never lost sight of how inspiring it is to be alive.
Outside of music, I’m inspired by everything and everyone… no, really. I’m inspired by friends and girlfriends and exes and strangers and everyone around me.
Q: Who are some artists you would like to collaborate with?
A: Well, I’ve always wanted to work with Dave Stewart, and I did have the opportunity to collaborate with him very briefly last year, but I’d really like to get together with Dave and work on a couple of songs sometime next year when our schedules are in sync.
I’d love to work with Jeff Lynne, who is one of the most amazing musicians and producers ever to walk the face of this planet. Would also love to work with Kate Pierson of the B-52’s (which I’m working on doing sometime in 2013) and Belinda Carlisle, who, along with her son Duke, are buddies of mine. Belinda is just such an unbelievably talented woman, and her discography speaks for itself.
Q: Tell me a little about your YouTube “vlog”, how did that come about? What has been the most rewarding part of it?
A: Well, in 2006, I brought cameras in to document the process of recording what became my 2007 EP “In The Meantime,” and suddenly I realized that I loved to interact with the camera. I would make jokes in-between takes and talk directly to the camera, and at some point, some friend of mine suggested that I compile the funny material and think about releasing videos.
This was in the early days of YouTube, so at some point when I was recording my “Breaking” album, I decided to actually sit down and start making silly videos, the first of which would be me eating this huge cake in one sitting, and for some reason, people loved it! [laughs]. At that point, I decided to make the vlog a permanent aspect of my career. The experience has been incredible and has introduced me and my music to tens of thousands of people who wouldn’t have otherwise heard of me.
Q: In addition to YouTube, where else can we find you?
A: My official website is http://brian.am, which is constantly evolving to be the single best source for any information about me. I’m working on a couple of charity projects and other things that will be posted on the site as soon as possible.
Q: What is your favorite quote?
A: “There was never a time when you and I did not exist, nor shall there be any future in which we will cease to be.” (from the Bhagavad Gita). I think it really sums up my feelings about life and the world around me.
Q: Best piece of advice you have ever gotten? Who gave it to you?
A: Actually, I’m going to have to cite a very recent conversation that I had with my mixing engineer, Michael James. Michael is this incredibly talented producer and engineer who’s worked with The New Radicals, Hole, Chicago, and tons of other incredible bands, and he mixed my most recent album, “Building.”
Since that time, he’s become a very good friend, and a few weeks ago I was asking him for some relationship advice. I felt hurt by something someone did to me and I asked Michael how he would respond, and he immediately told me to “take the high road” and to be loving, nice, and caring to her, which the opposite of how I wanted to respond. Ultimately, though, he was right… as corny as it may sound, it’s better to spread love than hate. It made me feel like a better person, and helped my relationship tremendously.
Q: Best piece of advice you have ever given? To?
A: I can’t think of a specific time, but whenever a friend or family member asks me for advice, I always try to encourage them to be positive and mindful… just being present and “in the now” has completely changed my life and I truly believe it can change the life of anyone who’s willing to look within themselves for an answer.
Q: What advice would you give to young people who have aspirations of getting into acting and/or music?
A: I would encourage him/her to be smart about how they approach a potential career. The entertainment industry can oftentimes be extremely brutal and it’s easy to lose sight of why you got involved in the industry in the first place. Also, I would tell them to be realistic about their expectations and to have a “backup” plan and a college education just in case. Having said that, though, I’d also encourage them to never stop believing in themselves and to aim as high as possible. Each of us is capable of changing the world, if only we are willing to put in the effort.
Q: What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
A: Hmm… Milk Duds and Jeopardy [laughs].
Q: You have a very busy schedule. Walk us through a day in your life these days.
A: A lot of people tell me that they feel tired just thinking about a day in my life, but I love what I do. I get up at around 6:30am or so, do a little bit of yoga and then take a bath – that’s right, a bath — during which time I respond to emails from the previous evening. I love doing work from the bathtub for some reason. Then I start working on new music, which lasts a few hours, and after that I take care of business stuff related to the record label I own, Protocol Records. I’m also mentoring a band, Ivy Rose, and they were on “America’s Got Talent” this past week (http://www.nbc.com/americas-got-talent/video/ivy-rose/1403101 — yours truly appears on camera for about 3 seconds [laughs]). I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time working with them to prepare for their audition and then to prepare for our trip to Vegas last month, and I also co-produced their new EP that was released last week… if I told you any more, I’d have to kill you.
But yeah, I do all that stuff, then a few interviews every day, create some more music, and then repeat the process until about 1:30am when I crash. I’ve gotten really good at learning to operate and feel great on about 5 hours of sleep.
Q: What’s up next for Brian Larsen?
A: Right now, I’m working on four different albums at the same time… I know, I’m insane [laughs]. I’ve got a rock album that I’ve started, a very dark experimental album that I’m really excited about, which is going to be released under a different name, then a folk/acoustic album, and also a synthpop record. About 80% of the songs for all four records have already been written. I’ve never had so much energy and creative drive, and I love the music that I’m creating nowadays.
Also, I’m going to do some more touring, both solo acoustic shows and full band shows, to further promote “Building,” which will probably continue through the end of 2012, at which point I’ll be ready to release one of these follow up albums.
Basically, I feel great, and I’m excited to share this energy with the world!