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Articles Home » 2000 Articles » McDonald, Brian - 2000 The Wind It Up interview
 
McDonald, Brian - 2000 The Wind It Up interview
INTERVIEW: McDonald, Brian (Aug 2000)
Brian talks about his fantastic album 'Wind It Up'

In The Spotlight - Brian McDonald
Interview with Brian McDonald
Written by: Luigi Cisaria (August 2000)

This is the 'In The Spotlight' page. The spotlight this time falls on an artist who has an extensive classical background, but manages to mix it up with his love for melodic rock. He is of course the MTM Music recording artist Brian McDonald. Brian is indeed a unique individual, having lived in Europe during his younger years, and in many other places throughout the USA. Currently a Minnesota resident, Brian is best remembered for his album from 1987 under the title Brian McDonald Group - Desperate Business. This was released on Columbia Records and produced by Beau Hill. Players on this album included Will Hodges, D.W Adams and Andrew Wilkins. Reb Beach, also played with Brian prior to joining Kip Winger's mob.

In between times, Brian has combined his passion of classical music and melodic rock, by teaching, writing songs, and recording material. The latter two in particular have been focused on the melodic rock side of things, so much so that Magnus Soderkvist from MTM got involved and prompted Brian to get some material together for a release. The album 'Wind It Up' is a culmination of those efforts. And a superb slice of rock it is. Most who have heard it so far are calling it one of the best albums of 2000 so far. Just take a listen to tracks like 'Somewhere Down the Highway' the beautfiul 'I Don't Wanna Want Your Touch' the anthemic title track 'Wind It Up' and the poignant ballad 'The Hope One Child Can Bring'. Luigi Cisaria does the hard yards, and quizzes Brian about the album, and a number of other pressing questions.

Congratulations on a very fine album Brian. You must obviously be pleased with the results and the reviews so far?
Thanks for the compliment, I appreciate your words very much. And to answer your question, I've been very pleased and surprised at the overwhelming response to say the least! But, you have to keep it all in perspective - that is, to separate the creation of music from the marketing of the commodity. So I haven't in the past taken subjective opinions of the press into account other than I am glad that they as listeners like it so much to say these great things about the music. But it is getting harder to stay objective with this release - there seem to be so many folks in the press and outside of the business as well hearing the music the way I hear it and responding positively with intellect and emotion.

It seems that listeners have become more in tune, so to speak, with the music they love to hear and with the advent of advanced communications media like the web and e-mail, we all are closer than ever to the musicians and composers making music. This is a great trend and I feel very fortunate to have so many people from within and outside the industry e-mail me every day.

You've lived all over the world at various times in your life. Is Minnesota it for the time being, or does the McDonald urge wish to take you further afield on your musical adventures? Surely you must now be a big Minnesota Vikings fan by now? (Did you know one of their players David Dixon is a New Zealander ..just thought I'd drop that in!)
Minnesota is one of those great upper midwestern states in the U.S. - the Summers are incredible, so many lakes for sailing, windsurfing and the rest. The Winters, well ... you have to 'attack' them and not let the weather keep you indoors. And I still travel quite a bit and go wherever the music road takes me. As for the Minnesota sports teams, I'm not a native to the state and feel no allegiance. When I lived in Europe in younger days though, watching football (called soccer here) was one of my favourite things to do.

I recall at the time of your first album 'Desperate Business' it did get a lot of press, but that it also seemed to be snowed under by a lot of very good albums out at the time, Def Leppard's 'Hysteria' being one. They seem to be a big influence of yours would you agree?
I have a short list of central rock influences and they are definitely on it. I still remember hearing them for the first time, just a few years after I had begun playing rock music. I had been a Classical music composer, pianist and listener through my childhood, teenage years and into my early twenties. The first rock attack I had was listening to Led Zeppelin - sort of a musical rebirth for me. Then came bands like Foreigner and Kansas who impacted the way I look at music; in particular the albums those bands released in the late 1970's. The one band in the 1980's I could list as a true influence would be Def Leppard. They hooked me because in my subjective way of hearing this music, they were very symphonic in their approaches to form and harmony. What I heard in their music was a fusion: classical style approaches, hinted at with the arrangements and backing vocals mixed with the things I loved about rock music, the energy and primal emotions in particular.

Also, I had been trying to get something like this sound before I had heard them for the first time. One night, packing down at the end of a gig with Dillinger, the band I was singing for at the time, I heard 'Photograph' which, strangely enough, was the first time I heard any of their music. I had been in the studio the day before working on a song called 'When She Walks By' which had almost the same type of harmonic structure to the chords and background vocals. So I just stood there in awe as I listened because it was like I was hearing a song I was writing or something. The guys in my band at the time were astounded as well, wondering if I had been doing other projects in my spare time!

It was the Stravinsky-esque background harmonies that clinched it for me - my favourite music by Stravinsky is 'Symphony Of Psalms'. Take a listen to the choir in that piece and tell me if you hear the sound I am talking about. I had always wanted to combine those textures with rock music. I'm not sure what Mutt Lange and the guys were after on that one or throughout 'Hysteria', or if they ever have listened to Stravinsky, but they nailed what I heard as a synthesis nonetheless. Well, needless to say, I cranked the background vocals in my mixes way up from where I had been mixing them after that point and was inspired to make backgrounds and other instrumental parts more of what I think of now as the symphonic elements of rock.


The overall mix of 'Wind It Up' has a very 80's Def Leppard/Blue Tears feel to it, and in our books, is a welcome return to big anthemic melodic rock. How do you feel about this style considering where the genre sits in the popularity stakes right now?
Thanks for hearing it as a welcome return, though I wasn't thinking about that when I wrote the songs. To me, it was almost like I had to do this album first before bringing in more Classical influences, which I will likely do for the next release. But this doesn't mean I have any desire to make a turn or major shift in style, it will just expand a bit and have more depth, if I'm successful in realizing these goals. And to get to your question, if we start to talk about the genre as a whole and popularity stakes, we move into a different space - a discussion about marketing, music industry, and music as a commodity. To answer your question directly, I feel it's 'anything goes' for listeners and appreciate whenever I see people staying clear of falling into mass marketing schemes, wherever they originate. If you like a particular type of music or artist, seek that music out and get it. With the web, that is getting easier to connect with what you like, provided you are willing to dig and 'pull' using the technology.

These songs span a good twelve year period. How many songs did you have to choose from all up?
Hard to count really. But I narrowed it down to forty or so before I began talking about song selection with Magnus Soderkvist at MTM. I write for pure enjoyment of the act of writing - selfish really, but very addictive, so you end up writing a lot of material, some that no one will ever hear, unless they can wire something up to my brain sometime in the future or make sense of the scribbling I'm always doing. Anyway, when it came time to choose the songs for a new release, it took a lot of listening and concentration to pick the twelve songs you hear on 'Wind It Up'.

Reb was also involved with you around about the time of your 1987 album 'Desperate Business'. You had no hesitation bringing him in as your axe-slinger again?
I think he is such a great talent and I say this because I have heard Reb play in more than one style - most people haven't heard him outside of the Winger context. I met him when he was very young in New York and he was one of those studio guys who the major producers requested when they wanted guitars on the big artists' album tracks. I was skeptical when my producer brought him in, but I soon saw the talent. The world has only heard a small part of what Reb can do - he is an incredible blues player, and will kick you down with a progressive jazz style reminiscent of Allan Holdsworth. Soon to come, I'm sure, we'll hear the true Reb come out when he fuses these styles and goes for it with his 'full' guitar 'voice'.

He has targeted releasing a solo album for early next year, so I'll be lining up to buy that one. So now that you understand how I view Reb, when it was time to record for my new release I felt no hesitation in bringing him in, because I knew his incredible potential and he came through, particularly on 'When the Lightning Strikes' and the title track on 'Wind It Up'. And Reb keeps getting better each time I hear him, especially when working in a context where he is given complete freedom - then you hear Reb coming through the music.

Another interesting helping hand was renowned Italian guitarist Alex Masi. What led to the two of you meeting up and collaborating?
With Alex, it was on a whim that I contacted him out of the blue to play on a few tracks. I've liked his playing for a long time, and was in the studio one night thinking how great it would be to have him play on a track or two. When he agreed I was a very happy guy. Due to a time crunch, time only allowed for him to play on two of the tunes and neither of them have any solo breaks that he could stretch out on. Maybe for the next release, I'll ask him to play on a tune that has room for some classic Masi soloing.

It is obvious that you yourself have a talent for the guitar. Why did you feel the need to bring in these hired guns?
Thanks, but I don't consider myself a guitarist - I picked it up because in the old days, when I would produce or engineer sessions for American Artists, sometimes players wouldn't show up. So I ended up playing the guitar, bass, whatever. After awhile, I learned a few things, but it still feels like a foreign instrument every time I pick it up. When I solo, it tends to sound like something a piano or synth player might play - like the high guitar lines at the end of the song 'Rhythm of Money'. Maybe it's because I've been playing the piano since I was five years old, I don't know. All of this aside, each guitarist has their own style and it was a matter of getting what I heard in my head when the songs were first written - getting that feel and sound recorded. So following that line of thought, I asked these two guys to do what they do best.


We had to have a deep think about some of those 'Inspiring Forces' on your liner notes. The classical composers were very obvious, as were the rock artists. What about those people from the scientific community like Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, and the late Carl Sagan? Very outspoken individuals, and in the case of Tesla, perhaps very much a man 'out of time' as has been suggested by many. Why have those particular people inspired you?
Great question - and now I have to try to answer it! This is very important to me, it starts with the fact that as a composer, I feel the 'signals' and 'currents' of the world around me. In physics, this is often described in terms of space, time, energy, mass, and so on. To me it's that connection to our physical and emotional selves and to everything that surrounds us that inspires us to act on things. And these connections allow us to perceive things like music and art, family, love, and friendships, for example. So, as a writer of music and sometimes words, I feel that these forces are revealed and reflected in how I, as an individual, convey these things that are reflected by my own 'spirit' (not to confuse this with any preconception of anything religious). And, as I begin this new century with my artistic queries intact, I seem to be leaving the past with a realization that art has never been as 'potent' as science to alter the course of human existence. And that when science is used as a basic model for art, I think we as listeners always want to hear the primal. You know ... that unexplainable thing we sometimes hear when we come upon music that moves us. You could think of it in terms of the primal over the intellectual, the heart over the mind, if you will.

For me, it's in the balance of the two juxtaposed worlds influencing what we do every day, and in there somewhere is where I find things that often move me to want to write music. Hard to pin down with words really, but while explorations in science seem to cover some things that art cannot get to, art and music delve into unexplainable things that science alone may never explain.

Also, with such a strong classical background, it is interesting that your style is steeped in an AOR tradition. What led you to develop an interest in melodic rock away from classical?
I still listen to orchestral and piano music about 75% of the time and still write for these as well. And I've steered clear of doing what some people call the 'gothic' rock sound which is obviously infused with one type of Classical approach. And though I will listen to guys like Dio and Malmsteen, guys who blow my socks off, the entire musical experience doesn't move me in the way that bands like Led Zeppelin or Foreigner did. And it was also gut reactions that hooked me music that would be considered part of the genre the industry calls 'AOR'.

Moving onto the future then. Are you able to tell us how many albums have MTM signed you up for?
I purposely signed a 'one album at a time' deal, because I wanted it to be fair and open for all parties involved. Though I talk to so many people in the industry all the time, and many label people, I really like MTM - they are honest, trustworthy people, who believe in what they are doing. That goes a long way with me. I would however like to keep open to large-scale U.S. distribution as I had with CBS/Sony, but then the trust factor takes a dive. All-in-all, Mario and Magnus at MTM have been champs throughout the making and release of 'Wind It Up', so for now, I will wait to hear their terms for the next release as we begin talking together about the next album.

Can we expect to see Brian McDonald on the road? If so, would Reb Beach or Alex Masi possibly be involved?
That's something to consider for the next release. Right now, the last thing I want to do is play the same songs over and over again! But, I really understand the importance of making the live connection to listeners. But right now, overpowering that is my first love, which is writing music, and until I have had a chance to get down more of my songs in the studio and write more, I won't go out on the road. Besides, it seems to be a break-even deal for bands on tour for the most part these days, unless you have had a string of singles supported by the marketing machine of a major label. And when I do go out, perhaps next year after the follow-up album to 'Wind It Up', I'll see if Reb wants to come along.

With the stunning popularity of 'Wind It Up', are there any plans for re-releasing 'Desperate Business'? That would be a coup!
Not sure what to say on that one. I've been getting quite a bit of e-mail from listeners asking that question. For myself that was a bit of a start-up album, although there were some very good songs and some great players on it. It was definitely a product of it's time, though some people still play it all the time so I've been hearing and would like very much to have it on CD. I recently heard that a European company purchased the masters from Sony, but I haven't confirmed it.

Well, once again, congratulations on an excellent album and a big thanks for sharing your thoughts and time for this interview with us.
Thanks for the interesting and excellent questions - take care and keep in touch.


Check out Brian's website over at: www.brianmcdonald.com


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