Artist Spotlight: Brian Sutherland
Brian Sutherland is a Nashville based singer-songwriter and multi instrumentalist whose music could only be described as eclectic. His music lends itself to be a mix of folk, country and jazz songs with one common thread, his ability to paint a vivid picture lyrically. At home on stage, in the writers room or in the studio, he has worked with the groups like The Beach Boys, Michael Ray, Natasha Bedingfield and many more.
First off, thank you for taking the time to chat with us. Tell us a bit about you and what got you interested in a career in music.
Well first off, thank YOU for opening this up for me. Music came to me with the purchase of a harmonica while in elementary school. While driving home one day with my family, I started playing along with a song on the radio. Then in 6th grade I started playing cello and guitar. Too be honest, I wasn’t really good at anything else haha! I come from a family of athletes, but sports were never something I felt any kind of passion for.
I’ve been listening to your “Coming Home” EP a lot lately. Talk a bit about that project and your mindset when creating it. How has the response been?
“Coming Home” for me was a song I wrote on the way home from a songwriters festival. I had had a trying conversation with my wife about traveling. The song itself is the narrator saying, “I know this is really hard, I know it’s not easy for you, but I need you to know that it’s not easy for me either. Although I’m away, I’m on my way home, and I can’t wait to see you.” It was special to me from the moment I started writing it. From there, the rest of the songs fell into my lap.
“Sweetest Love” was written with Jody Stewart-Regner for a 2 friends getting married and now has been the first dance of several of my friends and has been cut by the Australian artist, Bloom for AUS and UK radio release which is exciting.
“Where Do You Go” is a memorial song from Jody and I to her dad and my grandfather respectively who both had recently passed away.
“Float Away” is a light hearted love song about never wanting this moment to end, also written by Jody and I.
And “Devil’s In The Details,” written with Lucy Leblanc and Joanne Stacey is a fun and jazzy little number about not signing every contract you get.
My mindset behind it was to release a record of acoustic takes, in a similar vein to Springsteen’s “Nebraska” album. Stripped down, and bare. If the song can speak to you with minimal instrumentation, then I know it’ll work on a bigger scale as well. I recorded every track in my at-the-time home office in Lakeland, Florida. To be fair, I wanted to beef up “Devil’s in the Details” so we recorded drums and bass there as well. It was a loud day! So far, the record has been received pretty well, I toured off of it last year for a short run of house concerts, called the “Coming To Your Home Tour” which was very successful.
You’re a multi-instrumentalist, what are all the instruments that you play and what’s your favorite out of them?
My two main instruments are cello and guitar. I’ve played them for nearly two decades now. As concert offers, auditions, lesson work, and curiosity have come in, I’ve added to them banjo, mandolin, ukulele, upright bass and bass guitar, piano, and even a little bit of violin and viola, but I still would never call myself a violinist or violist. My go-to instrument is guitar. For whatever reason, I can communicate the easiest with guitar.
How would you explain your music in 3 words?
Oh gosh. I’m always so bad at this. I hope that anyone listening to my music would say it’s “hopeful, patient, and stirring” but that’s a remarkably hard question.
What has been your favorite song you’ve ever written? Why?
Ideally, this mantle changes overtime as your writing gets better…. Ideally 🙂 – when I first moved to Nashville last fall, my wife and I were sitting in a little breakfast spot on the eastside called the Nashville Biscuit House. It’s a bustling, no frills, 2 egg special kind of diner in an unassuming, 50’s style building. Where a waiter/waitress doesn’t need to write your order, because they probably know your name and what you’d like to eat already.
On this particular weekend morning, it was packed. If you listened for a moment, you could hear everyone’s conversations with minimal effort, it was rather overwhelming to be honest. In a booth near the back of the building, there sat an older couple. They weren’t speaking out loud, but their affection could be felt across the room. It was their eyes and their hands. They sat there gazing at one another like they were the last two people on the planet. Interlacing fingers gently dancing together like only lovers can. It was moving. I remember saying to my wife Holly, “I hope that will be us. A love that true.” The next morning I sat on our apartment porch and began writing, “Just Like Us.”
One thing I’ve always loved about your music is the way lyrics really speak to the listeners. You can tell that you write from the heart and the words you sing are true. Where do you get inspiration for the lyrics of your songs?
I never felt like fiction writing was my strong suit. I strived to write about what I was experiencing. Sometimes in metaphor and sometimes not, but always from my perspective. There’s something about a storyteller who you know lived the words they speak, it consistently moved me more than someone who read about an experience. So really, life is what has given me inspiration. I joke with co-writers now, I’m terrible at break up songs, or pick up/dating songs, because I’ve been out of the dating and breaking up world for too long. How do you write a song about being dumped in 2018 which I can only assume would be via text message, if you’ve been happily with someone for almost a decade. Haha.
Who are your top 3 favorite musicians right now?
This is a great question. I’ve been infatuated with the writing of Jason Isbell since I first heard, “Daisy Mae” several years ago. He has the ability to paint a vivid picture in your mind with a brilliant efficiency in wording. Not to mention another ability of his to say something in a completely left-of-center manner, without ever losing the listener. This can a minefield, but Isbell seems to navigate it with dancer like agility. For example, in his song, “Live Oak” from the Southeastern record, he could have easily written, “I was too young to have ever been in love” or “I had never felt the warmth of a woman’s love” which are both not terrible lines for a song. Instead he says, “I’d never held a lover in my arms or in my gaze..” it’s a simple difference in language and imagery, but it’s so powerful to me.
I’m also amazed by musicians that never seem to stay still musically very long. For example, and most people I think may disagree with me on this, but I believe that John Mayer is exceptional at never making the same record twice. Always growing in some way. There’s massive musical and lyrical differences from his first full album effort to now, some 17 years or so later. Whether that be a difference in emphasis, from acoustic guitar to electric guitar, from long winded and sometimes indulgent solos to short, smart, earworm melodies, or from acoustic singer/songwriter-y love songs, to blues, to pop, to folk, to country. Every album of his has always felt like I’m seeing a new artist for the first time, that’s an incredible feat for anyone.
Lastly I would say that I’ve been listening to a lot of Chris Thile as of late. Not just his work with Nickel Creek or the Punch Brothers, but also with the Goat Rodeo Sessions (which also features a close no. 4 top musician in my book, cellist Yo-Yo Ma) and more recently his solo effort “Thanks For Listening” which is comprised of many songs featured in the live radio program he hosts, “Live From Here.” Chris is immensely talented and gracious both onstage and off. As a songwriter, I’ve always admired his ability to use the strengths of the instruments onstage to create a beautiful sonic texture that wraps the listener up like WPa safety blanket. Once you’ve accomplished the task of encompassing your audience, they become malleable like puddy in your hand. If you wish to make them feel warm and comfy, you can do so, you can also influence them to feel uneasy, or even uncertain. It’s an extraordinarily useful tactic in songwriting. For example, the Punch Brothers released a version of the Josh Ritter tune, “Another New World” for their “Ahoy EP.” The song is about a captain and his crew, realizing there isn’t really any more to discover as the edges of the map are filled in. In a last ditch effort, the captain appeals to his crew and tells them there’s “another new world at the top of the world for the first one to break through the ice…” and lays down the gauntlet. He says, “All that I’ve got are my guts and my god… and the Annabel Lee.” The song takes the crew on a journey to find this new world but they lose themselves, and the ship in the process. Thile uses the instrumentation of the band to tug and pull at the listener like a ship would toss on the water. It’s an incredible experience I hope you’ll go listen to.
What are you currently working on at the moment and what plans do you have in the future?
Right now. I’m spending all of my free time writing. I moved to Nashville to write with the best writers in the business and get better at my craft. So far, my output has been incredible in the 8 months I’ve been here. I’ve written more music than ever before and I’m excited to be able to share it. I recently secured a producer and now he and I are starting the wonderful pre-production process of narrowing down songs to a manageable number for the next release. I’m excited because this will be a departure for me, writing songs in a more market conscious way. My goal is to have it completed by next summer and released in the fall! In the meantime, tour dates through this summer and fall to Florida, Texas hopefully up your way in Chicago! I’m working with a new artist now as her band leader so that’s exciting too!
You’re based in Nashville, TN – what is something that someone visiting Nashville has to do before they left?
People come from all over the world to visit Nashville and for as many people as there are visiting, there are as many reasons to visit. If you come to drink and party, go to Lower Broadway, that’s still the biggest party in town. If you come to eat, Pancake Pantry, Hattie B’s, Burger Up, all the restaurants in the Gulch will keep you a happy camper. If you came to listen, The Listening Room Cafe any day or night, Backstage Nashville (3rd & Lindsley) every Saturday morning and Monday afternoon, The Bluebird any day or night, The Local, or Alley Taps downtown on Monday nights are all places for the listening audience to experience the soul of Nashville. Where the writers are.
Anything else that you want to say?
Well thank YOU again. There’s not another company like Songfinch that believes in artists like me. The assistance you provide and care you take with each of us is second to none. It’s a huge honor to work with you and to help provide a product for your patrons. Plus, what better writing exercise is there! Thanks to you Rob and Songfinch for including me in this incredible journey!