Bryan Beller - Bass Player Again - Finally
by Achim Wagner
Gitarre und Bass (Germany)
Published November, 2005
Translation of original German text by Achim Wagner & edited by Bryan Beller
While playing with Dweezil Zappa, Steve Vai, James LaBrie, Wayne Kramer and Mike Keneally and being a columnist for Bass Player magazine, Bryan Beller also had a career up to the top position with amp manufacturer SWR, founded his own label and recorded, mixed and produced his first solo album. All this drained a lot of energy out of the life of Bryan. Now, after a dramatic winter of 2004/2005, he has finally revolved into a full-time musician again.
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G&B: Bryan, with SWR you had a job a lot of people envied you about. And you quit it?
Bryan: I started in their development department and eventually became vice president of the company, when it got bought up by Fender. Then I became Marketing Manager for the brand. It was a good experience for me, learning about business and corporate culture at the very highest level, but I did it just long enough to realize that I needed to be a musician. I wanted to get back in touch with the reason why I knew all these people in the first place. You know, I endorsed SWR as a player before I worked for them. And at some point I wanted more stability - this job. Then I had it but it got out of control and started taking over my life, so I had to bring back music more back into my life. And I'm very happy that I did that. It was a very important step in my life.
G&B: A press release on your solo CD View says, it reflects the story of an overloaded life.
Bryan: View is really the story of someone who has it under control on the surface, but then the more you go down, and find out about things that are not surface related, the emotional, social, sexual content, the things your life is really all about, are out of control. This causes a lot of stress and negative, but real feelings. So as the record goes on, it gets more - not so much instrumentally, but there is some vocal content - angry and frustrated and then finally in the end there is the surrender to that. It was a miracle that I was even able to do View. You know, as it says in the press release, the company was being sold while we were recording, which is about the worst possible time to do such a thing. But we did it anyway and I'm very happy that I did it when I did it, because I really did it just to have it exist. You know, if I get run over by a train tomorrow, there will be this album on this earth.
After having quit my job I'm still very busy, with my music, working with Mike Keneally, Steve Vai and some other projects. That's a better kind of busy. Also my personal things that were described so negative in View have become much more positive lately.
G&B: Well, you haven't been hit by a train, but you had a pretty bad car crash last winter. Subsequently you had back problems. How does a bass player get rid of those? Some people get them from playing...
Bryan: I can show you my stretch routine. Chiropractors, stretching routines. Yes, it was a bad car accident, I'm lucky. You know, it was the rain in California and it was two weeks after a very good friend of mine had passed away. In December and January some very strange things were happening in a lot of people's life and I don't know why. But I had a life altering experience and it led to a lot of the good things in my life now.
G&B: Via your home page, you almost have a public life. Obviously you invest a lot of time in writing for it. Is it important for you that people should know what is happening to you?
Bryan: I like the idea of the website being a place where people can get to know you as well as your music. Why does somebody like Nine Inch Nails? Because they like the loud, aggressive music, but also because they identify with what Trent Reznor is all about. And he has a very specific emotional repertoire. But in all music I think there is some emotional connection that happens to the listener of the music. And the web site is a very good way to nurture that relationship.
G&B: There are a lot of downloads on your website. Aren't you afraid people just get these and don't bother to buy your CD?
Bryan: Well. There are only two songs from the album on there. And then there are demos and live bits. People that are really interested in the record will buy it. I think the site creates a bigger awareness of the music and once in a while somebody will say: maybe I'm going to buy that.
G&B: Does it sell better over the internet or through traditional retailers?
Bryan: It's 90% internet sales. I don't have an official distributor, it's all me. I'm the record company, I'm the executive producer, and I paid for everything, so [laughs] it's all mine. I don't have that much time to deal with it at the moment. You know, I'm still sorting out the revelations from February. What direction am I going to go: do I want it to be all Zappa, Keneally, Steve Vai or simpler traditional kind of groove music. I'm still awakening to all of these possibilities now that I'm playing music most of the times again.
G&B: Would you rather have View released with a label or keep the rights?
Bryan: Well, it depends on the deal. I put out a couple of minor feelers to a couple of labels, but they didn't want it. They were probably looking at me and were saying, "Well, there is a person working at his job, how will he promote it, how will he tour?"
G&B: But you had been touring a lot!
Bryan: Yeah, but not with me. I had been playing with Mike Keneally. We played "Seven Percent Grade" from the album every night and people really responded well to it. I played one show in a year and a half as "The Bryan Beller Band." One show only, and it was in Los Angeles. It was fantastic. We played View in sequence.
G&B: What was the line up then?
Bryan: A six piece band. I was the bass player, except when I was playing keyboards. Then my friend Wes Wehmiller, who passed away, was the bass player. Joe Travers was the drummer, Rick Musallam was the main guitarist, Griff Peters was the lead guitarist on certain songs. He has a specific sound I like very much, very influenced by Jeff Beck and Michael Landau. He is a great guitarist and nobody knows who he is. Then there was Mike Keneally, he played baritone guitar, piano and did background vocals. That was a great band.
G&B: You have been playing with Mike Keneally and Joe Travers for a long time now in different constellations.
Bryan: Mike Keneally for 11 years and Joe Travers for 14.
G&B: Musical soul mates for you.
Bryan: No doubt. We knew it the first time we played together.
G&B: Joe Travers got you the job with Dweezil Zappa, right?
Bryan: Yeah. He got me the audition. Scott (Thunes) wasn't happy. And when Scott isn't happy, everybody knows...Dweezil had never worked with another bass player. So Joe suggested to try me, and I flew to L.A. and auditioned and was in the band. It was a very odd time. I got the gig four months before Frank passed away. So it was a very hard time at the Zappa house and everything was really defined by that. We went on tour right after Frank died. It was great music, the band (called Z) was unbelievable really: Dweezil, Ahmet, Mike Keneally, me and Joe Travers.
G&B: The booklet to Z's Music For Pets lists you and Mike just as sidemen, while Dweezil's and Ahmet's dogs are band members...
Bryan: That's a difficult subject. Back then, I also played on Mike Keneally's solo project, which was just really starting. When it became apparent that I could not do both, I decided to take a chance on Mike. So in the European version of Music For Pets, which was released six months prior to the American version, Mike and I are in the picture and in the band, in the American version we were not.
But things have gotten better since then. They were never bad. It was more difficult for Dweezil and Ahmet. They were concerned for their music. I was just a bass player and new in L.A. I would have played everyone's music.
G&B: In July 2005 you played with Steve Vai and the Metropole Orchestra.
Bryan: Yeah, someone suggested me. They thought, well, he has a musical training background, he went to Berklee, he can read. When they called me, of course I was available. And then after we did the successful show in 2004, immediately there was talk of doing it again. I mean to play with the Metropole or to play with Steve by itself would be an experience. But to play with Steve Vai and the Metropole Orchestra is really a blessing.
G&B: I read that you don't like bass solos. Isn't that quite unusual for a bass player?
Bryan: I don't like most bass solos. There is more of a burden on the bass player to do something interesting. I think people would expect to hear one traditional fusion bass solo. So I did one and that's done.
G&B: It's probably not unfair to say that your music is not mainstream. Does it come out with all these twists when you write it or does it start with a melody and gets more complex as you are working on it?
Bryan: Generally when I start with a song I want it to have this vibe. For example "Seven Percent Grade" - it just feels like you're driving down this big steep mountain highway. There is a sign you will see on an American highway that shows a truck going downhill and it will say "7% Grade." And the bass line in the chorus really feels like going downhill in a car. In most of the songs I built a texture and then put a melody in it. But don't get me wrong. I'm a very strong believer in when there's no melody, then there's no song.
Copyright 2005 fur alle Beitrage bei MM-Musik-Media-Verlag GmbH @ Co. Reprinted from the November, 2005 issue of Gitarre und Bass. If you can read German, please visit http://www1.gitarrebass.de/.