Interview with Bryan Deister

Bryan Deister

Bryan Deister

I’m really taken by your album, Spines of the Heart. I’m looking forward to finding out more about you and your music. Where are you at the moment and how are you doing?

I’m in Boston attending the Berklee College of Music and am doing fine, thanks for asking.

Spines of the Heart was released this past December and it’s rife with atmospheric, experimental electronic/alt-rock structures and sonics where you fuse classical music aspects with rock and pop elements that recall bands like Radiohead and Muse. What was the spark that ignited your passion to create this specific blend of music?

I’ve always tried to play as many styles as possible. Though I started out playing classical music, I got into rock and funk quickly after. Currently I’m mostly learning jazz, but I have learned a lot of the folk music of the world as well. I have always enjoyed slow contemplative music, but I try to surprise myself.

You have an extensive musical background, learning to play the piano at an early age and working on the art of songwriting. You have also been and are currently studying classical, jazz, blues, and modern music at Berklee Collage of Music in Boston, MA. What are the main tenets that you’ve taken to heart from your tenure at Berklee?

Although Berklee is a great school, I think the best thing about the school is meeting other talented musicians and being able to play in a group situation. The most important thing I learned from those experiences is to listen. There are so many musical phonologies and traditions that listening to the music is often neglected.

Not to take anything away from your captivating music, but for me the highlight of Spines of the Heart is the arresting power and poignant nuance of your expressive voice. Did you realize that you wanted to develop your talents as a musician and singer at the same time, or did one process come after the other?

I started off with piano lessons for several years before I had any inclination to sing. Over the years I started to sing and have experimented greatly with vocals and developed my talents as a singer on my own over the last 5 years or so.

My most favorite track out of the 23 on Spines of the Heart, is probably “Into the Sky”, although “Today”, “What You Want”, “Gone”, and many more are near the top of my list. “Into the Sky” seems a little bit different; a bit shorter and more compact and focusing on your tiered choirboy vocals. Can you go into the details of the creation of this song and what the inspiration behind it is?

The basic idea of the song is vocals in counterpoint against the rhythm section. The vocals are locked strongly into a consistent rhythm of four, but the rhythm section is in three. Essentially counterpoint over polyrhythm. I wrote the song originally as four over three, but I noticed later that the rhythm section could be felt in four and that moves the vocals to the off beats giving kind of a shuffle rhythm instead.

Have you learned how to record and mix your own music at Berklee too or are you studies strictly about theory, songwriting/composition, and learning to play instruments and sing?

I’m taking piano performance at Berklee and mostly focusing on the jazz idiom. I’ve finished all the theory classes, but other than that I haven’t had a class on any of the other topics mentioned. I’ve been recording and mixing music for almost as long as I’ve been playing it, and I have never taken a singing lesson in my life. What I have learned most from Berklee is about folk music; playing with teachers and students who have grown up in the traditions.

From what I’ve read, your place of residence is Redondo Beach, California. Are you temporarily based in Boston these days and do you plan to move back to California after your studies are completed at Berklee? Have you had any trouble adjusting from the West Coast to the East Coast?

I’m in Boston right now, but after school I plan to move back to California. This is my first time living in a city. Overall the weather is the biggest change, but other than that it’s not a big adjustment from the West to East Coast.

Bryan Deister - Spines Of The Heart

Bryan Deister – Spines Of The Heart

You use your voice like another instrument on Spines of the Heart, imbuing many a tune with a brooding, anxious, restless mood. Sometimes your lyrics are discernible, but oftentimes they merge with the instrumentation and it’s difficult to hear what you’re saying. What is your view on using the voice as another instrument on a song versus having a lyrics-based message that can be clearly heard?

The whole reason I got into singing in the first place was because I enjoyed the versatility of the human voice. I prefer that the lyrics are firstly music and secondly semantic, but that doesn’t mean I have nothing to say. I hope people will understand the message in the songs, but if I wanted to say something directly I would write an essay.

Of all the songs on Spines of the Heart, which one(s) speak(s) to you the most due to the lyrics, emotion, and/or instrumental and/or vocal delivery?

“Apart of Me” took an entire summer to write and it’s over thirteen minutes. I think this song contains some of my best work to date. It’s the finale for a reason.

What is your preferred instrument to play?

I’m principally a piano player, and in that vein any piano with a good action and soft touch is fine.

What’s coming down the pipeline for you over the next few months, music or otherwise?

I’m already working on songs for my next album and I may go on tour after graduation from Berklee this coming August.

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