Words by David C. Obenour
Tracy Bryant started his career in music by gradually bringing in more and more people to help create his reflective post-punk songs. Taking early bedroom recordings, he gained attention first through his band, Corners and then reached an even wider audience by signing with Los Angeles’ underground darling, Burger Records.
But for his third solo album, Hush, Bryant has brought back in much of the responsibility for his music. Released on his own label, First & Foremost, his main collaborator for the album was limited to his wife, Kimberly Fitzner. Drawing back into the bedroom, not surprisingly, the songs the two made are some of Bryant’s most personal to date.
Off Shelf: Debut albums serve as the introduction, sophomore albums can either be an introduction of new direction or a doubling down on a sound and style, but a third album seems more open in terms of what it can or can’t be. Have you felt any of those pressures on the previous album and what were your thoughts going into Hush?
Tracy Bryant: I wouldn’t say I’ve felt pressure, but with each album I always aim to make something that I haven’t already made, something meant to last. With Hush, we were definitely looking to make something more drawn out, more elaborate, more arranged.
OS: It’s the longest stretch of time between releases for you. Did you value have the extra time or was it hard not to get too in your head and over-analyze everything you wrote and recorded?
TB: The extra time was useful with this one. When we went into the studio to make the Subterranean album most of those songs were already rehearsed with the band and ready to record. With the songs on Hush the process was quite a bit different. Aside from the song “Looks Like Gold” that had already been rehearsed and played live, the rest of the album were skeletons of songs brought into the studio. We would figure out certain parts in the studio, adding and removing different elements. Taking rough mixes of songs home and letting them absorb gives the opportunity to go back in and change or add parts, remove things that don’t seem to work, etc.
OS: You recorded Hush in Topanga Canyon over six months. What drew you there? How was the experience like and unlike you had expected?
TB: I met Kyle Mullarky a few years back and heard good things from people who have worked with him in the past. We spent a lot of time up there and would usually stay a few days at a time. The studio is secluded without much distraction, so it lends to the process of focusing on what you’re doing.
OS: Do you find your music inspired by where your from? The press materials for Hush juxtapose a lot of your sound with the common thinking on L.A.
TB: It is. The subject matter of many of these songs were of my perspective on the city from the time I was writing them. Nearly all the words of all of my songs are about people I know, people I’ve met and my own opinion on things and situations, which at the time were based around Los Angeles.
OS: I also read in an interview about how you were excited about having your music used in skateboarding videos. I’ve always found that to be a really fascinating cross-over of great indie music and talented skateboarders. Can you just wax nostalgically about skate videos and the role that independent music plays in them?
TB: Growing up at the time, watching surf and skate videos was the only way to discover music other than from your peers or from your parents. For my generation it was the way to find out about underground and indie bands that may not make it onto the radar of the people living in your suburb. It goes without saying that there’s something that works really well with music and movement, usually better than a music video, as it lends some mystery to the music when you hear it in that setting before putting faces to the people actually making the songs.
OS: Some of songs were written partly in collaboration with your wife, Kimberly Fitzner. What was it like working with her? Did it feel different than any of your other partnerships?
TB: We work really well together… we have such a common view of music and what we like and why, regardless of genre. Living together makes a difference in being able to share ideas on the spot and discuss what we’re aiming to achieve with a certain song or part. She’s a writer and has much more of a well-versed knowledge of words than I do, so for some of the songs where we wrote lyrics together many of my favorite lines of the album are hers. She knows and understands me well, and can verbalize what I may be trying to say without me necessarily saying it.
OS: These are also some of the most introspective songs you’ve released to date. What inspired wanting to open up in your songwriting?
TB: In a way, most of the songs I’ve always written have been introspective, some more vague than others. With this it was really just a reflection on how I was feeling at the time; to be upfront. In its irony, the album title Hush is advertising what you won’t find in listening to these songs.
OS: You seem to tour a lot and do well over in Europe, though I wondered, with the internet and streaming shrinking more and more of the world, do you still think there’s the same difference in American and European audiences?
TB: I assume on a bigger level it’s not so different in either place, but for me personally I’ve found myself preferring to play in Europe mostly because there is a strong community of people and artists I’ve met in many of those cities. The audiences definitely feel different to me, not sure if it’s because of being an American artist, but people seem to have more patience and they seem to be there for the show.
OS: What inspired the decision to release Hush on your own label? Does being in control of the full release play in to your desire to create as an artist?
TB: It was something I’ve always wanted to do. It does change not necessarily the desire to create, but it feels like it gives the freedom to put out things that maybe wouldn’t have been put out in the first place. It is a lot of work and I have a lot of respect for underground and indie labels that decide to start. I’m very thankful and appreciative for all the things Burger Records has done for me, they are actually going to be releasing the Hush album on cassette later this year. My wife and I made the decision to start the label to set in motion the independence of being able to put out music whenever we want and to be in control of everything since we like doing that anyway. We have a few things coming up this year that we’re excited about, and it is rewarding to see things through and to be in touch personally with everyone that is working on the release.