Portland, Oregon-based singer-songwriter Barry Brusseau is celebrating the release of his sophomore full-length, The Royal Violent Birds, on Gorbie International Records. The album, available on vinyl and via digital retailers, finds the singer-songwriter creating at times lush, other times stark indie-folk music that is a complete one-eighty from his punk-rock days.
It’s been said many times, “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” and nothing could be truer for Brusseau. He spent twenty years playing everything from metal to hardcore punk, with fifteen of those years spent touring in the pop-punk band The Jimmies, who signed to Lookout! Records before eventually disbanding. However, that journey lead to Brusseau’s complete one-eighty with the release of his debut solo album, A Night Goes Through, released exclusively on vinyl and digitally. Following it up with an EP on CD with handmade packaging, Brusseau is ready to return with his sophomore full-length, the stark, folk-based Royal Violent Birds.
“I’m very insecure about the imperfections of my voice, and spend lots of time beating myself down about it. I’m feeling accepting and much more confident on this album, though. American Idol, I’m not coming. But, I’m proud of this album,” he says with both joy and laughter in his voice. “I wanted it to feel a little more like a David Lynch ride, artful creepiness and soothing hypnotics. This is closer to the live show.”
The title comes from Brusseau contemplating band names while passing the time at work. It would eventually become the album’s title track.
“During work one day I was contemplating band names. I just dig the word ‘royal,’ so I started there,” he recalls. “The work I do gives me a lot of time to brainstorm. ‘Violent’ is another impactful word, and I liked the two together. I thought it should be softened at the end so it came to rest as ‘The Royal Violent Birds.’ A band title for a future project maybe? I just wrote it down, and let it rest.”
He continues, “One fine day at work I was standing next to this line of industrial battery chargers. There was a loud hum coming from this team of electric juicers. In the key of that droning note I started singing to myself. The melody and first verse of ‘The Royal Violent Birds’ just spilled out. As I worked I pulled my note book out regularly as the rest of the lyrics came very quick. It’s about the unknown, and not being afraid. The violence and chaos of mother nature are good.”
Whereas his debut was recorded completely analog, this time Brusseau entered Jackpot! Studios with renowned engineer Larry Crane to record digitally.
“On the first album I had the pleasure of working with Adam Selzer at Type Foundry Studios, and going all analog. This time I went to Jackpot! Studios to work with Larry Crane. Larry recorded some of my old punk stuff – The Jimmies and Legend Of Dutch Savage. His resume is full of great projects, including Sleatery- Kinney, Quasi, Elliot Smith, and of course, Tape Op Magazine. If anyone would understand using the digital realm to achieve a great sounding vinyl it would be Larry,” Brusseau comments.
He also notes that, while on the first record he created all the instrumental parts and directed the players, this time around he let the musicians use their own creativity while at Jackpot!
“Trusting others’ talents paid off,” he says with a smile. “I didn’t envision the creative contributions all the players made.”
Guest musicians for this record included his brother Tim Ward, who played with Brusseau in The Jimmies, as well as Sally Ford and the Sound Outside’s Tyler Tornfelt on bass, Double Clicks’ Aubrey Webber on cello, and jazz horn player Michael Paul.
Making The Royal Violent Birds was a test of Brusseau’s patience, however, due largely to financial constraints, taking big gaps in-between recording sessions while he saved up money to pay for the recording.
“I was, and am, surprised with my patience [with this record]. I had to go along as money would permit, and that meant three or four month gaps in recording sessions,” he recalls.
Cracking a smile, he jokes, “I wasn’t worrying about the big buzz on me dying out.”
Though, even when he thought the record was done, he wasn’t shy to go in and add a bit more to the record.
“After the recording of the album was done a friend gave me a tape of a show I had recently done. I was experimenting that night with some stuff, and listening to the recording I knew I had to go back into the studio and add that stuff. So the vision can change, and sometimes if it’s not too late so does the original idea.”
Another thing the record taught him was that sometimes you get the best performance at home, in a comfortable surrounding, which was the case for the song “Empty Head,” which was recorded on Crane’s laptop at Brusseu’s residence.
“We did vocal takes in the same room I practice in. I liked the comfort of home, and would consider doing all vocals this way in the future. This is a definite advantage of digital recording.”
Now that the record is done and mastered, Brusseau can listen back to it, playing his test pressing of the vinyl, and smile ear to ear, hoping that the listener can feel and experience the dream-state of the music that he does.
“Playing at home I’m looking to put myself into a dreamy state,” he says. “I hope that can happen to the listener, and I hope that happens to both of us live. I guess I always write from feeling first and meaning second. This keeps it on the side of the abstract, and that leaves room for the listener to have their own experience. Both lyrics and music are minimal and stark. I like the room this creates for all that is going on.”