Brian David Collins was born in Fort Collins Colorado and raised in the foothills of the Rockies not far away. At the age of four he learned to put the needle down on the turn table and put those headphones on. As the other neighborhood kids raced on their bicycles Collins could be found sitting by the record player, studying the music of Willie Nelson, Whalen Jennings, The Eagles and Poco, who are still prime influences for his song writing today.
At age nineteen Collins attended The University of Northern Colorado as an aspiring music professor. Although he was surrounded by talented musicians, very few of them could improvise or write songs. “I don’t understand how such talented musicians can be so paralyzed without sheet music,” he could be heard saying. As performing classical music became increasingly daunting Collins’ interest waned.
During the summer proceeding his first year at UNC he met his lifelong friend and musical partner, Sean Waters. After a second year at UNC Collins decided he had had quite enough of music school and dropped out to form the band Wasabi. Brian’s father, David Collins, found this to be a very foolish choice. He would say, “you are giving up your career as a college professor to play in sandwich shops.” Today, Brian’s father is one of his greatest supporters.
Collins and Waters began their musical journey with Wasabi in 2001. After seven years, two full length releases, and many weekend jaunts to the Colorado mountains, Wyoming, Montana, and even Indiana, Wasabi had run its natural course. In 2009 Collins and Waters formed The Seers. The Seers played as a trio that played mainly originals through the first half of 2010. In 2011 The Seers decided to drop the idea of having a drummer and became a duo that entertains most weeks out of the year for crowds of all varieties.
At age 36 Collins met the love of his life and they are now married. Dana took Collins back to his roots by familiarizing him with artists like George Jones, Rodger Miller and Chris Kristofferson. These sad slobbing tear jerkers, mixed with Collins’ love for Dana, brought out his softer side. Collins mixed these influences with the lounge piano sounds of early Tom Waits to form a brand new sound. This sound is the sound of his newest project, Brian David Collins!
Hi Brian! When you look at all the music you have made, what is the big picture for how you want your artistry to be seen?
I’ve heard it said that pop wants your attention for a few minutes a day, while progressive rock wants your attention for a few hours a month. I’m more the few hours a month guy. I want to be known as an album based prolific artist. There’s nothing wrong with making a single, but I want my listeners to buy a CD and check out the deep cuts as well. Every song is an experiment that brings out a new way of expressing myself not thought of previously. I’m hungry to share that expression. I want listeners to ponder over little lyrics in the song the way I do with lyrics from obscure songs by Led Zeppelin or Yes. Hang out in your living room and get deep with it! I feel a lot of personal joy from writing and recording songs, but it’s the listenership that inspires me to finish and release my music. When I get a request for a deep cut from someone who’s listened to my record, that’s what makes releasing records worth it to me.
You challenge the status quo, how did you identify your purpose for the music you wanted to put out?
It makes me nervous when things get too loopy in the studio! Now let me explain what I mean. Before I started Brian David Collins I played in a duo named The Seers. We were known for our acoustic family friendly performances, but, unbeknownst to many, we recorded and released music. Sean Waters, the other piece of the duo, is a guitarist/vocalist/sound engineer. For our later records Sean was the man behind the record button. Sean really appreciated new technologies that eased the process of recording, investing in software like Ableton. One of the things Ableton could do was behave as a loop machine. Suddenly, instead of playing the song right from start to finish, you could simply play the lick once and loop it for the remainder of the verse/chorus structure. Looping went hand in hand with playing to a click track, more commonly known as a metronome. This ensured that the music would be in perfect time so parts of the song could be patched in rather than played.
Although The Seers made some records I still enjoy in this way, I became increasingly hungry for the way we had recorded in our earlier days where we would set up in separate rooms and essentially play live and overdub later. I became hungry for an organic process, one in which Tom and I would mic up in the studio and play our songs until we got takes we liked. Another problem I was having was that I was writing songs faster than The Seers could record them. In addition, Sean naturally did not like everything I wrote and had a lot of pull since he was also the sound engineer. I wanted to arrange the albums I was to record, and if a song was good I wanted to record it without thinking about fitting a certain brand or genre. So it was that Brian David Collins was born. With the help of my drummer, my wife, and a few close friends and trusted engineers, I began to record as a solo artist. I guess I could say I challenged the status quo by eliminating popular technologies that ease the process of recording, with a hunger to use organic sounds. Sometimes one can challenge the current status quo by moving more towards tradition. When we get the final product for Brian David Collins records the music sounds free, has the ability to fluctuate in tempo when the song calls for it, and we can know that we came as close to playing everything in one take as we possibly could given our performability. Yes we fix wrong notes, and if the trumpet player plays a high note that is hard to hit over and over, we will use one note in multiple places in a song, but we aim to keep our recording process as live and organic as possible without having things that just sound blatantly wrong.
When you create your body of work, are there boxes you must check or does everything evolve as it should be and you allow for the checklist to not be completely checked?
There are many opportunities during the writing and recording process to have check lists of different kinds. As a writer, I would say my only criteria are “does this song have a chord change or melody in it that’s unique? Have I created something with a pleasing quality not heard before, or have I said something in a way that might get someone thinking differently from how they did before?” If the song doesn’t have any of these qualities, it’s probably not worth finishing.
When it comes to recording a song, check lists become dangerous in my mind. I feel that if I had a formula I followed too closely for every song, I would wind up with songs that all sound the same. Each song requires an arrangement to suit it. When I finish writing a song I think about the kinds of parts and instruments that will compliment the song the best. In this way each song has a checklist all it’s own, but the list doesn’t come before the song, the song comes before the list.
Could you give us some insight of what your checklist does look like if you have one?
When I’m writing a song I usually end up at a crossroads where I have a few options for where the song should go. When I get to this crossroads I ask a few questions. I ask, what kind of song is this? Does it need an anthemic chorus, option A, or does it need a longer pre-chorus leading to a completely different chorus, option B, or is it the kind of tune that is through composed, needing no chorus at all, option C? I may also ask, which of these options is the most interesting/moving musically? Which of these options has the catchiest and most memorable chorus? Why am I writing this song and who am I writing it for? What effect am I trying to accomplish? If the piece isn’t interesting, lyrically compelling, or if I can’t answer why I want to write it in the first place, it heads towards the trash, going to the scrap table for further evaluation in the next writing session.
When I find I have played a song more than three times exactly the same way, and I enjoy the experience, the song is considered finished and in its final format. After this I start playing the song in my head to see what I can hear. Guitar, hell no! Cello, yes yes yes! Trumpets, maybe? Flute, ah, that might be nice! In this way I come up with the final checklist for what will be included in the song. It’s important to know, like Bob Seger says, “what to leave in and what to leave out!”
Who are you paying homage to for your vision as an artist?
When I started BDC I was listening to a lot of Tom Waits. I really appreciated his piano playing and the smaller, quaint string and horn arrangements he would use, paired with his quirky lyrics and interesting vocal delivery. I would say that Tom’s Closing Time album was a huge influence for my first record, More Than Shadows.
Leon Russel was another influence for the more upbeat songs on my earlier records. I really liked his way of hitting the keys hard and his quirky lyrics and soulful vocal delivery.
For our later records we became more rock based. I began, as I had in the past, to draw from classic rockers like Steve Winwood, Donald Fagen, and more contemporary artists like Ben Folds. Although I don’t really sound like any of these artists individually, their collective expression finds its way into my music laced with a spirit that is all my own.
You are a visionary, please keep us in the loop of what your plans are for more music and WHERE you are headed next for your fans to connect with you?
If you are interested in following/supporting BDC please stay tuned for the release date of Forgotten Door. We are still tracking the record and so the release date is still to be determined, but we know it will be in the early half of 2023 and we are excited to share the new music with you! The record is a fourteen song project that ranges in mood and sound. We have had some exciting sessions with guitarist John Cittadino, saxophonist Brian Keller, trumpeter Jeromy Moore and cellist Russick Smith. Their work has made the record a very masterful project and we are closing in on the finish line!
As for my future, you can find me most of the time here in the grasslands of Kentucky, writing songs and getting ready for my next project, most likely to be recorded in Colorado. You can find me at many of the local haunts around Elizabeth Town, Bards Town, and my new home town of Hodgenville. Can’t wait to connect with you all soon!
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