Brian Lee Bender recently released his impressive new country pop and rock album I’m Here To Party With You. After enjoying the collection for a week or so, we were blessed with an opportunity to interview the songwriter to find about more about his musical journey to date. Here’s the conversation in full.
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Hi Brian – thanks for the interview! Really enjoying the album. What can you tell us about this project – how long has it been in the making, and what’s the underlying thread that ties it all together?
Well, my journey on this record started in the summer of 2014, with my 1st trip to Nashville and the making of my prior 10 song record called Giving Up My Ground.
With that record I became familiar with the process of working with some of the best musicians in the world and how to make my way around the studio. Since then I have made 10 trips back and forth to continue making music. Each time, while back in California, I would write and gather my ideas.
For I’m Here To Party With You, I completed the 13 songs in two visits, once in June 2017 and then again in November of that year.
For the November trip I had to write 5 new songs in the span of 3 days the week before my flight out east. So, I wrote, Touched By The Music, Thank You For My Life, We Go Back, Country Is My Bible and I’m Here To Party With You. The other two songs were A Real Man and This Song.
In looking back, it was a rush to make all that happen, and yet, having lived with those songs now since, I am still just getting comfy with them in a live situation. The follow-up work was to find a good journey through the record, where the listener could experience it all as one piece of work, even that is a type of production that can take some time to settle on.
What made you choose the album name I’m Here To Party With You?
The album went through a few different names, but in the end, I chose I’m Here To Party With You. I am a fan of good groove and vibe and to my ear, we captured that sound on this one. The musicians who play on this song are some of my favorites.
This is how I want to be perceived; “Hey, I’m just here to share music with you and show you a good time.”
How long have you been making music, and what’s the songwriting process usually like for you?
Seems like forever and that’s something I feel fortunate to say. Music has always “blown my dress up”, I mean I still get as much joy from it as I did when I first started.
Writing came later along the way, going from not being the lead singer to learning what the heck to do, writing songs that were in hindsight, just for practice, to the now version of me. I am constantly learning, applying new skills, looking to simplify, and be more lethal with lyrics and melody.
Everything gets more and more refined with each song I write. I get closer to making a song that I would want to hear over and over again. For different reasons, I am proud of certain moments or songs that define a milestone or paradigm shift in my craft, but I will always think my best work is around the corner.
The songwriting process for me has evolved over time and rather than having one set way of tackling it, I stay open to trying new things, like just singing lyrics into the computer, only writing them down after I have made a complete song. I have found the less I think, the faster I can create and the better it works!
Who or what inspires you the most to make this kind of music?
Playing live, I work hard at finding songs to cover that are the best. I do this to get to know these songs intimately, and understand why everybody loves them from the inside out. I learn new vocal techniques that I would never have tried before. I immerse myself in classic and modern, country, pop, rock – looking for great songs. As for production styles I am into the new bedroom production music, where beats and hooks rule.
At the end of the day, my own music is a reflection of everywhere I have been musically. I love the drums, and every instrument on stage, but guitar has been my working instrument by default. The real magic comes in understanding what a good production and arrangement is and is not. Nobody talks too much about the impact a producer has on a good song. They can make it glorious or sometimes water it down to something less than it was. Producing is another vital art-form that fascinates me.
There is always a story trying to be told, with a beginning, middle and end. That’s what a song tries to tell. When you get the sound syncing with the lyrics, that’s when you just let go as a listener or performer, you are really in it at that moment. The key is not to ever let the story fall apart anywhere along the timeline. It’s a big challenge and I love it!
What can audiences expect from a live show, and do you prefer the full-band set-up or something more stripped back and acoustic?
My shows should reflect my attention to detail in terms of quality production. I have recently pulled my head out and stopped looking from inside out, rather I pretend I am there in the audience looking at the stage and ask “what would I want?”, “what would they want”? In that regard, I try to think like a DJ. I have some sets mapped out, but I remain flexible to follow the moment and go with what feels right. I understand tempo, segways, key changes from song to song, there are rules that work and those that don’t and it goes back to the music theory I learned along the way.
Right now I prefer the smaller acoustic-electric duo setup, it is easier to manage from day to day. That being said, I love the thrill of being in the vortex of a bigger sound, its just a lot of work to write all of the music and to have to run the band, marketing, etc. Also, I think that a lot of people like the stripped down sound it seems a tad more intimate.
If you arrange things correctly, just about anything can be played and have an impact. Lately, my duo partner and I have been playing regularly, we play off each other and have established some defaults for adding any song at the last minute. It’s thrilling to be performing with and without a script, it just comes back to understanding what the crowd or venue wants and delivering.
Have you always had the ability to perform so well, or is your vocal style something you’ve honed over time?
Voice was the last instrument I took lessons for and I really got an appreciation for the craft and all of the techniques that can take away the strain and reduce the effort of singing. That led to relaxing more and being able to hone in on dynamic story telling, when to apply more air or emphasis or how to cover up when you, yeah “forget the lyric”!
Something that I discovered by trial and error is to control pitch by singing into a Korg guitar tuner. It gives me instant pitch feedback both at practice and on stage as well. This has really changed my vocal ability in quick order. Also, the application of auto-tune as a learning tool, visually illustrates your bad habits – like scooping my notes too much or using improper timing.
What are your plans creatively throughout the rest of 2019?
Well its going to get interesting, I am unplugging from the Nashville style recordings for now and experimenting with new current sounds and mixing techniques. My topics are more daring and hey why not I am not constrained by a label. This music is going to be a lot more of how I sound directly. I am pretty excited about it!
If people only have time to check out one song from the album – which would you recommend, and why?
Sunshine is a simple user friendly song that seems so obvious, but there is really some interesting contrast going on in the music construction. The song is mostly uplifting and redeeming, but it comes in the form of the value of “one person” that gets credit for providing hope and strength, the value of this person that shows up daily, just like the sun.
I am hoping I can simply make you smile and brighten your day!
Is there anything else we should know?
Being an independent artist is one of the hardest challenges I have faced, yet looking back, I have come so far from that shy kid in high-school. There have been people who have come to provide encouragement, time, skill and support and I am flattered by their help.
As I move along in my journey, I always say that “I want to win” and I don’t think I have really been able to define what that means. But maybe this is it; I win when my music is played by you more than just once.
To me, that means my music has the value I had hoped for where it was worth my time and yours.
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