Rise Twain, Rise Twain, Inside Out (2019)
Tracks: Everspring (3:22), Golden (6:11), The Range (4:42), Lit Up (5:03), Death of Summer (6:29), Oh This Life (3:12), Prayers (4:48), Falling Skies (05:49), Into A Dream (5:39), That Is Love (5:03)
On September 6, Rise Twain will release their first album on Inside Out. Made up of singer-songwriting duo Brett William Kull (of Echolyn) and J.D. Beck (The Scenic Route), Rise Twain’s self-titled debut brings emotion, gentleness, and powerful songwriting to a year that has been filled with excellent music.
From JD’s soulful voice, which instantly reminded me of the Casey McPherson or Matt Bellamy, to his wonderful piano work and Brett’s excellent guitar, this album delivers without overpowering. As Brett and I talked about in the interview below, this album has a lot of dynamic range, which makes for a very enjoyable listening experience. It has its heavy moments, but the quiet moments often steal the show. This is a great rock album in the tradition of lyric-oriented popular rock songs. The lyrics have great depth to them. They keep me engaged on repeated listens, and I’m sure they will for many listens to come. Rise Twain are not to be overlooked – check this group out when the album drops in a few days.
I had the great opportunity to speak with Brett Kull via Skype on August 21. Unfortunately I’ve been very busy, so it has taken me a while to transcribe everything. Originally I was supposed to speak with both Brett and JD, but JD’s son had an emergency tooth surgery come up at the last minute – we certainly wish JD and his son the best on his recovery for that.
I had a great time talking with Brett. I found his passion for his craft to be incredibly inspiring, and I hope all of you do as well. Our conversation ranged from discussion of the album to their writing process to the more technical side of producing music. We even talked about the very nature of progressive rock itself, which is always a fun ongoing conversation in our little corner of the music world.
You can listen to the full interview (the only editing I did was remove about 30 seconds of dead silence when we lost our video connection and switched to audio), or you can read the transcription – lightly edited for readability.
Brett: Hey Bryan.
Bryan: Hey Brett. How are you?
Brett: Good brother. What’s going on?
Bryan: Oh not too much.
Brett: You want me to, I could do the video thing too as well.
Bryan: We could do either way if you want. I don’t much care.
Brett: It’s up to you dude.
Bryan: Let’s go for it.
Brett: I’ll switch over to it.
Brett: There we go. That should do it. Cool.
Bryan: Cool. It’s good to meet you. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me here.
Brett: Yeah, likewise dude. Where are you calling from?
Bryan: Chicago suburbs.
Brett: Oh cool, yeah yeah, gotcha. I’m out in Pennsylvania.
Bryan: Ok, you’re in the Philadelphia area?
Brett: Yeah about 20 miles northwest of the city.
Bryan: Yeah I’m about 40 miles southwest of Chicago, so it’s the farther edge of the suburban area. JD [Beck] said he had an emergency surgery for his son, so hopefully that’ll go well.
Brett: Yeah I’ll call him right after you and I get off the phone and see how he’s doing. Hopefully he’s doing ok.
Bryan: Yeah, hopefully he’s doing alright. So how did you guys meet and start this band, Rise Twain.
[Pause as the video freezes… switch to audio conversation]
Brett: Maybe the audio would be smoother.
Bryan: Yeah yeah, I think the internet speed must not be too great. We can do the audio. Did you hear my question?
Brett: No I didn’t, I’m sorry.
Bryan: No, that’s alright. I just wanted to know where you and JD met to start this band, Rise Twain.
Brett: We met back in 2006 and 7 and 8. I was asked to produce and album he was a part of. The name of that band was called the Scenic Routes. I was brought in to produce it and engineer it. It’s a great album actually, and JD and I hit it off right off the bat, and for a lot of that album actually, Bryan, he and I just worked together, and we kind bookmarked that time together as kind of “you know what man, we should work on a project together somewhere down the line.” It’s one of those things like when he and I were working on his album, he’s like one of those kinds of people I really like working with. He’s very open, there’s no sort of, like, barriers and borders, like he’s just a really openly creative person like I am, so he and I responded to that in each other. So that’s how we met, and then over the years, we just kind of hung out every once in a while. I think in 2017 I was working on one of my solo albums, my last one, and I had a couple songs that I thought he might be good on, and I asked if he wanted to play on and contribute to them, so he did, and that was kind of a reminder, like what the heck have I been doing, we need to do an album together. Right after that I put out my solo album, we just sort of jumped into this Rise Twain project. That’s it in a nutshell, pretty much.
Bryan: So, did you guys sit down together to start writing sometime in the last year or so, or does it go back a little further than that?
Brett: Yeah, it was pretty much 2018 for that whole year. Yeah, he would come to my house – I’ve got a beautiful old early twentieth century piano, and he’s got a really nice piano down there, and I’d bring my guitar. He’d be like “hey here’s an idea,” and I’d record it – I have a really good home recording system, and then I would work on it and add some things. You know, I’d go down to his house and throw around a couple ideas, and it just started as that, and it really continued like that for all of 2018 until, before we knew it, we had an album’s worth of material.
Bryan: Ok. Were these all new songs to this group, or did you have ideas floating around from previous projects or bands that you both worked with that never grew into anything? How did that work?
Brett: No, just all spontaneous and in the moment, so no, everything that we did was current to what we were working on and in the present tense. There was nothing old that we were sort of hanging onto or anything like that. To be honest with you, I have a ton of ideas sort of always stockpiled because I’m a songwriter. That’s sort of what I do, and so does JD. Both of us just sort of were in the moment when we were writing things. We kinda… we didn’t sort of make that a criteria. It was sort of like something that we just really wanted to see how that would work, and it’s one of those things that doesn’t always work to be creative in the moment, but it did for us because we’re both open to ideas, so it really worked out well.
Bryan: That’s great. So did you have any kind of themes that you were organizing the album around or is there anything that kind of popped out to you as you were working on the writing process?
Brett: Yeah dude, that’s a good question. I know I can speak for he and I that the stuff that we write is, it’s generally current about whatever we’re feeling at the time with anything in our lives that we’re going through, or perhaps a book that we just read, or something that’s affecting us. That’s the thing that gets put into a song, so it’s never beyond that. You know there wasn’t anything where we were like “hey let’s write this kind of an album.” It just, everything that’s on this thing, for better or worse, is just how two people, a duo, two songwriters, just came up with these ideas, and people are like “what is the style of music,” that’s one of those hard questions that’s always asked of bands and artists. It’s just a nurturing moment between the two of us writing songs together, and this is what came out. Obviously he and I have, probably like you, we grew up listening to a certain kind of music, and that infiltrates and weighs on our creative output, so that’s part of it in there as well, but it’s one of those things that as you become a songwriter deeper and deeper into it, you don’t really think about those things. It just sort of all innates and you know you’re always looking for new things to work on. He and I would always just come up with something fresh and new that was in us and also the two of us created. Hopefully that answers your question. There wasn’t any preconceived idea about a style, you know, in a nutshell.
Bryan: Well it sounds like a very organic process then, kind of flowing. That’s really cool. Did you guys, does he live in the same kind of area?
Brett: Yeah, he’s about, maybe about 40 minutes away. He’s down by Wilmington, Delaware. It’s what we would call the Tri-State area. We’re all pretty close to each other.
Bryan: That’s great – so you were able to actually sit down together to write and all that?
Brett: Yeah yeah totally, he would come up to my house or I’d go down to his place, you know, just chill out and get into it. Pour a couple bourbons after work or something and just like get into it for the night and record all of it so that we could listen to it and see what was jumping out at us. He and I would also share audio files via text message, you know. There’s a song on the album, for instance, that I wrote called “Oh This Life” that, one night I came home from somewhere and I just was in my kitchen, and that song just came out. I sent that down to him that night – he’s like “dude we gotta work on this,” so, next time we got together we just put it together the two of us and it was done. That’s the way all the songs kind of worked – they just happened pretty quickly, organically, and in a really openly nurturing process.
Bryan: That’s awesome. Is it the music that kind of comes first, do you guys write the music and then develop the lyrics for it, or is it kind of…
Brett: Um, it’s all three – sometimes the lyrics will be there, sometimes the lyrics [music] and the words will happen at the same time, like for instance something like “Oh This Life” or “The Range.” Sometimes the lyrics come a bit later, like “That Is Love,” maybe. It’s all different ways. We’re open… as songwriters you sort of follow the creative impulse and whatever happens happens. I remember sitting down, there’s a song called “Falling Skies” on there – I think I had read like a Charles Bukowski poem, and I just put the poem down, and I was like “what a great writer,” I kind of came to him late in my life… and I just sat there and just started writing words. I picked up my guitar and sang to the words I wrote, and, you know, that’s the first and second verse of that song, just in that moment, sixty seconds of just doing that, and it came together, you know.
Bryan: That’s awesome.
Brett: Yeah. Do you write at all? Do you play music or do you write as a journalist or anything?
Bryan: So yeah I don’t play any music, well when I was a kid I played piano but I wasn’t any good at it and my brother was so much better at it than I was [laughs] so it was kind of distressing, but I write a lot. I actually majored in history in college.
Brett: Oh I love that! So cool. Anything specific?
Bryan: Um, kind of, I studied a lot of different things. European, American, but I just recently finished my Masters degree in Public History, and I’m trying to get into the museum field, so that’s a different type of writing kind of for a more public audience, but I’ve been writing for Progarchy and the Dutch Progressive Rock Page for several years now, so I like writing about music, but I don’t make music myself. It’s a different type of writing from the kind that you do.
Brett: Gotcha. Yeah, but I mean I’ve never done like reviews or things like that, which you’ve probably done a lot of. I would always wonder how to do that because, it’s one of those things I think you have to be tactful, right? You can’t be totally… I mean maybe you can be completely honest. I don’t know, that’s a hard thing. I’ve always wondered how critics and people that did reviews kind of got into that, how they filter those kind of things. It’s pretty cool.
Bryan: Yeah, it can be difficult sometimes, especially if you get an artist who isn’t as well known and those reviews can make or break, it can be hard, and so I always try to look for the good in an album, you know, whatever kind of an album it is. I can be a little more snarky if it’s a real big band, a famous band that isn’t gunna get injured and they make an album that I don’t like, I can be a little more snarky with that, but if it’s something, there is a level of tact to it.
Brett: Yeah yeah, I wouldn’t have thought of that angle, what you’re saying as far as, like you don’t want to crush a band that no one has heard of, so yeah you have to think of that as well. That’s so true, I wouldn’t have thought of that. That’s neat, yeah. I like the snarky bit, that’s true. Sometimes you need those big bands, you gotta put them in their place sometimes.
Bryan: Yeah, you know… yeah those can be entertaining reviews to write, and sometimes you feel bad, and sometimes you’ll change your mind after a few years. That’ll happen – you’ll come back to an album and realize “I was totally wrong about that.”
Brett: Right, that’s another – see it’s almost like if you or someone like yourself, like you really have to, when you look at it, you have to sort of think of that too, right? You have to think like, “I’m in the moment, I’m listening to this for the first time, I just had a shitty day, and here we go.” You know and you have to be able to step back and let me see if I can really be objective about this in some sort of way rather than be caught up in a subjective moment, you know. That’s such a tough thing, dude. Kudos to you.
Bryan: Oh, thanks so much. Well yeah, I have to listen to an album many times before I can write about it.
Bryan: For that very reason. It’s gotta be different days and taking notes over time. That’s why I was glad I was able to get a review copy of this album before doing the interview just to kind of get a feel for what you guys are doing. I like the combo of the singer songwriter thing with the proggier aspects. JD’s voice is so good – it reminds me a little bit of – I don’t know if you know Casey McPherson of Flying Colors and Alpha Rev…
Brett: Uh, no I don’t. I’ve definitely gotta check that out.
Bryan: Yeah, it’s a little similar to that. I interviewed Casey back in January about one of his solo albums – it was more in this kind of style and about his process, and it reminded me of… plus a little bit of a Muse aspect as well.
Brett: Yeah yeah, totally. Which is Jeff Buckley, pretty much. It all comes back to him.
Bryan: Is that big influence for both of you?
Brett: No, I mean, I grew up… like Jeff Buckley’s my generation, I mean when I was on Sony, Jeff was on at the same time as me on Sony. It was all sort of part of the same social scene and generational cohort, so I can identify with him. I remember one night, I mean his band, they were playing all the time. We would pull into a club, whether it was somewhere in Chicago or New England or Canada, you know, like a week before… I remember in Boston one time, oh Jeff Buckley was just here the week before, and we would go in and the people would be like, “my gosh you should have seen that show,” and I’ve been hearing a lot about him. It was really neat to be part of that where you’re just sort of trying to make your way in the music industry. He kind of, he was a slow burn. He took off after a while. The label really liked him a lot and made him one of those, sort of, heritage artists. I always dug him. I mean, the first time I heard him live, I was at Penn State playing a gig and the video of “Grace” came on and my jaw hit the ground. I’m like “what the hell is this?” And I was blown away by it. But has he influenced my music? No I wouldn’t say so. I mean, I like a lot of his songs, but I don’t like a lot of his songs as well. Speaking for JD… JD’s one of those guys too that when he was growing up, a lot of his friends where like “hey, who is this guy Jeff Buckley – he sounds like you.” It was one of those kind of things, you know. JD sings a certain way that’s akin to that. Like you were saying, maybe the guy from Muse too as well.
Bryan: Yeah. So do you both kind of come out of a more progressive rock, or is that more of your side of things?
Brett: No, to be honest with you, I’m not a progressive guy. I’m a Beatles guy, I like Wilco, Elliot Smith, Sufjan Stevens, but at the heart of it, I’m a Beatles guy. As a little kid – I was around after the Beatles obviously – but I love those kind of really well crafted pop songs. I wouldn’t even call them pop songs. They’re pop in the sense that they’re popular, but they’re really well crafted songs. I would say The Beatles were a highly progressive band. My definition of progressive is probably a bit different than maybe yours or all the people in the prog scene. I like really interesting arrangements like that. Now speaking about prog stuff, I’ve been sort of put into that because of a band that I’m in called Echolyn. We, for maybe a couple years, were really wearing that on our sleeves at that time period of our lives, and I went through a really heavy duty progressive influence phase, like probably a lot of people do, but I got out of it pretty quickly. I just got bored with it, just was like sort of a one trick pony. I got tired of playing and being asked to play songs, Bryan, and not being able to play them because they were only just parts of songs, meaning, like I needed the keyboard part and the bass part to make the song, which is something really cool – very part driven, but, you know, at the end of the day, I like to just sit and play guitar and sing songs. That’s a Beatlesy kind of a thing. But I do like progressive music in the sense of how I described it. I think Radiohead or Wilco are progressive bands. Do you know what I’m saying or not?
Bryan: Yeah yeah. I get that.
Brett: Yeah, cool. A lot of people, they’ll try to turn me on to prog, and it’s like I’ve heard it all before. You literally can’t do anything new that I haven’t heard before in that genre, at all. It’s just all folks discovering it, like I did, you know, in the late 80s and early 90s, or actually even before that, or people that are just trapped in that world of just doing that thing over and over again because it sells albums, you know what I mean? But then, is that progressive?
Bryan: Yeah, the bands that are truly progressive in the sense that they’re doing new things – it becomes fewer and far between – there’s a couple out there every once in a while that’ll pop up or it’s like “woah this is something new and interesting,” but they’re drawing from other influences as well.
Brett: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely agree with you 100 percent. Echolyn’s like that. It takes us a long time to put out albums because we’re always looking for some sort of new angle, some kind of a new thing. It’s easy for us to sit down and write a certain style, but we’ve always been trying to look for something else, more as songwriters rather than as like, you know, gunslinger musicians, per se. And JD and I, we agree on that. We both went through progressive… prog I should say… parts of our songwriting, you know, in our late teens, but both of us just grew out of it. He comes from, he’s like a classical guy and soul, he likes pop too, all that kind of stuff, rock, and I’m the same way. I love classical music. I love, like I said, The Beatles, I love 70s like AM Gold kind of stuff, like Bread and Supertramp, and, you know, ELO, all that kind of stuff. I just love that stuff. It’s cool. It doesn’t get old for me. It would get old for me if those bands were still around playing the same songs – that would get old, but, you know, it doesn’t. It’s kinda cool.
Bryan: What’s cool is you’ve kind of brought that more popular, not in a pop of like what’s now popular, but like the old kind of definition of popular music vibe to this. There’s still that complexity in the instruments.
Brett: Oh yeah!
Bryan: So you handle everything but the piano instrumentally, right?
Brett: Yeah, JD played all the piano and he obviously did all the lead vocals and backing vocals, and I did all the guitars, bass guitar, and then I played like keyboard sounds, like you know organ or mellotron – stuff like that I added in there. And then I did lead vocals and some backing vocals too. It was great. It was a really cool open working relationship that way. It was really nice.
Bryan: That’s cool. So did you do drums too?
Brett: No, we hired two drummers to play on the album. One guy played five of the songs, and the other guy played the other five. One guy’s name is John Biser (?), who’s a local guy around here who I’ve worked with a couple times before and who was friends with JD, and we brought him in to play five tunes. He did a great job, and then another friend of mine, Jordan Perlson, who played on an Echolyn album back in 2000 with me, as a 19 year old, he came and played on the other five, and it was great. Jordan’s actually out on the road right now with Adrian Belew, doing all that sort of stuff. But anyway, both of them did a great job, and they both were really sensitive drummers to the songwriting, and they really elevated the songs in a great way. But yeah, basically just three different people on the record, or four I should say, and then Jeremy’s brother Adam sang some backgrounds on a song called “Prayers,” and then my friend Ray, who was a singer in Echolyn, sang some background vocals on a song called “That Is Love.” So it’s all cool… yeah.
Bryan: Do you have a favorite song on the album or one that sticks out to you?
Brett: It changes all the time. It’s kind of like the mood that you’re in, or something that you haven’t listened to for a while. I really like “The Range” a lot. That’s a great song in a sense of craft. It’s really simple. It’s, like you were saying a second ago, it’s deep in a sense of what’s actually going on in that song with rhythms and harmony and key changes. This is all like classic just well-crafted songwriting, like Beatles stuff. So I really respond to that. “That Is Love” is another one. It’s a three chord song, but there’s obviously a fourth and a fifth chord in there as well, but it’s just a really simple progression – there’s a lot of different changes with melody and rhythm and things like that going on. So, all of the songs you could say that they’re pop in the sense that they’re very, I think that they’re catchy or at least striving to be simple and connecting, if you know what I mean, and at the same time it has the lifetime of experiences that JD and I have gained and garnered over our years in those songs to subtly make those things very rich sounding, if that makes sense.
Bryan: Right, and I want to point out to, for all the people who’ll be reading this, that this isn’t pop in a superficial sense of like what’s on the charts today. These lyrics are pretty deep, and there’s a lot you can draw from on repeated listens, which makes this a very interesting… you know, good lyrics are very important for me when I’m listening to music and reviewing an album, and these lyrics – there’s a lot there.
Brett: Oh well, thank you sir. That means a lot. We definitely focused on that as something being very pertinent, so thank you.
Bryan: I really like the song “Prayers.” JD’s voice really kind of guides that song, especially in some of the parts where it sounds like it’s just him singing, and then it melds into that great guitar solo from you. That’s a really good song.
Brett: Thank you. Yeah, there’s a slide solo in there and a nice little key change too from the key of C to B Flat, so that’s kind of a neat little move. Yeah, his voice in that, it just makes me weep, man. I mean, that’s a performance there. His control and ability to go falsetto, his control of his vibrato, I mean that’s rare stuff. It really is. It’s like – if you listen to that song, Bryan, at the beginning of it you can actually hear, like my windows were open downstairs and he’s playing the piano and you hear the birds in the background. That’s him playing the song, and it’s freaking beautiful. I love it. You actually hear it, which is great.
Bryan: That’s awesome.
Brett: You hear… yeah it’s like that’s a moment in time that’s gunna always be there. Whenever I hear it, it’s just great when his vocal comes in it’s so beautiful. Really, it’s inspiring.
Bryan: You can actually hear in the recording – you can hear that going on in the background?
Brett: Oh yeah! Yeah, if you put the track on at the beginning of “Prayers,” and just turn it up at the beginning, yeah, you’ll absolutely hear the birds in the background. The window – I’m actually sitting in front of it now – the window’s about maybe eight feet from the piano. Yeah, and it was just a beautiful day out. He came up, and we tracked the piano. And then he sang the vocal then right after that. It was really great.
Bryan: That’s so cool. It goes back to that organic writing process you said that you kind of went through.
Brett: Yeah. One of the things that when you’re working as a duo, like a staged kind of song crafting method, meaning you don’t have a band – you’re not tracking this stuff live – one of the ways to keep it really fresh and spontaneous and alive is to do things really quickly, and we did that. Even though I said it took a year to write and record these, it was actually a really really short amount of time to do it. Like we would get together every couple weeks and we would write and record a song like “Prayers,” or I would get a text from him with “Prayers” and I would mock it up in Pro Tools, and then he would come and cut the thing for real. And then I would throw the guitar down and background vocals and stuff, and it just happened very very very quickly. So, even though it’s a year, 365 days, I mean the amount of time that we worked together, you know, might have been a month.
Bryan: So, did you actually… you went kind of song by song and finished a song and moved on?
Brett: Yeah, pretty much. It was the easiest thing because it really kept us in the moment and the focus of the song, so yeah. You know what, nobody’s asked me that yet. That’s cool that you actually asked that, but thinking about it – yeah that’s exactly what we did. We worked from song to song.
Bryan: That’s really cool. Did they stay in that kind of chronological order in the track listing, or did they get mixed around – did you discover there was a better flow later on?
Brett: Yeah dude great question. The last song that we wrote would have been “Falling Skies.” The last group were “Falling Skies,” “That Is Love,” and “Death of Summer.” Those three were the last group, and “Falling Skies” I think was the last one, if I remember, that we actually did. I put an order together after I mixed everything, and then JD was like “well try this,” and I tried his – you know, like I said, we’re not necessarily… we’re not special to anything. We’re not precious with anything, so he threw out an idea and I was like “yeah cool let’s do that.” So I had the album mastered with his idea for the tracking and basically had that for a while, and then when we got the record deal with Thomas Faber and Inside Out, he started talking about with his production manager releasing it on vinyl, and I was like “yeah that’s cool.” I said we might have to address the track order because there’s temporal limitations to the physical properties of the vinyl. So his product manager, a woman named Yessica, she came up with this order. She’s like “well what do you think about this?” I put it in order and listened to it and was like “that’s actually the best sequence I’ve heard yet. That’s what we’re going for.” She came up with that order – just jumped out at us. So, the question in short, the way that we wrote them is not the sequence that we ended up with, either in JD’s mind or mine. The order that we ended up with was the produce manager, Yessica, and she just put this order together. It just was perfect. Actually it made the album come to life even more so for both of us, and that’s just the way it is. It’s great. I really really love it.
Bryan: That’s really cool – it kind of goes back to the 60s, 70s, the vinyl kind of dictating how an album is put together.
Brett: Dude you’re totally right.
Bryan: That’s really cool.
Brett: Most people don’t think about that, obviously because we don’t really deal with it. I mean we could talk about vinyl for an hour, because I’m actually an audio engineer so I know what I’m talking about in that regard as far as sonics and stuff like that. But, in a layman’s term, as far as what people need to know without getting into the analog digital debate, is the fact that yeah, you’re totally right, you have to be aware of time, and we weren’t thinking of that. [Laughs] So when it comes to it, that’s the first thing I said, well we need to actually figure this out to make it work. It ended up being rather serendipitous that we had to have that conversation.
Bryan: Well it’s cool that Inside Out gave you that opportunity to do that.
Brett: Yeah I totally agree. Like I said, both of us weren’t thinking about it. I’ve done a couple vinyl records with Echolyn and with a woman that I’ve just produced recently, so it’s neat to have those, sort of like artifacts from my childhood hanging on my wall, because that’s what I grew up with. But for him to offer that, I was like “yeah great I love it.” It’s just cool. And I think it’s all the rage right now because A. nostalgia and B. because a new generation that grew up with parents that grew up with records are buying records now too. It’s like in the midst of a comeback over probably the past maybe ten years or so.
Bryan: Well yeah, and I wonder how much of it is a pushback against the crappy sound quality you get with streaming. I don’t use streaming. I like CDs.
Brett: Yeah me too.
Bryan: But, I wonder how much of that is, at least for part of the crowd, I don’t know.
Brett: Yeah, that’s a great question. That’d be worth looking into. I don’t know if most people understand the quality. You seem to be somebody that listens to a lot of music, so you may, you probably hear the difference between, you know, a crappy mp3 and a beautifully recorded digital recording. There’s a huge difference. And actually, you can obviously make a bad digital recording on CD too, based on the engineer and artist and all that putting it together and not knowing about that sort of stuff. The ability and the means to record beautiful recordings in the digital realm is amazing, and people now, because CDs are sort of not really in, streaming is sort of like the thing that everybody’s doing, and you’re right – the quality is just like ick, it’s not good.
Bryan: Which is a shame for this kind of music where there’s delicate parts, and you lose a lot of that.
Brett: Yeah, totally. With compression you lose dynamic range because the bits get compressed and crushed. In a sense, you lose that information. With something like a 16 bit CD for instance, you actually have over 64,000 levels, representations of volume changes, which is a huge amount of dynamic range. With 24 bit files, take that and you jump that up to over 17 million representations of dynamic range and volume changes. It’s absolutely phenomenal what you can do with those kind of bit depths. Of course, consumers, 16 bit is phenomenal itself, but any professional – like most people record in 24 bit that are professional audio people. Like that’s what you record at. You do a thing called dithering when you down-convert it for consumption by normal people because like cars can’t play 24 bit files. CD players don’t play 24 bit files. But you can play 24 bit files on your computer. So you have audiophile people that go out and want to buy hi res files. My band Echolyn made those available, as do a lot of other – my solo stuff and other artists that I work with – because you know you can get those things that really appreciate that kind of dynamic range. The noise floor on that stuff is just ridiculously low. You don’t hear any noise whatsoever. Whereas, sort of in a funny way, for all the touting of vinyl, when I put a record on the first thing I hear is the cracks and pops and hiss and noise and all that stuff – it’s just hilarious. But I get it. I get the ritual of it, the nostalgia of it. So it’s totally cool.
Brett: You know, it’s just a great thing.
Bryan: Well that digital stuff – I mean it’s been around longer than people think. It goes back into the 80s and all that. You said you’re an audio engineer – is that something you’ve been working with for a very long time?
Brett: Yeah, I started working with digital, I would say, early 90s. I had a 16 track analog machine that I started working with in the late 80s, probably around 87 88 I got one. That cost $6000 – 16 track.
Bryan: Oh wow.
Brett: Yeah, and then in the 90s I started moving over to digital, and I didn’t know what I was doing whatsoever, but I did notice that the quality level, like the noise floor and all that was significantly different. I also noticed too that it was less forgiving because when you record in analog, especially with tape, you can add things like tin compression that softens pointy sounds… I’m using sort of generic terms, but pointy sounds are softened, the edges are rolled off, and it sounds really good to our ears – the analog stuff. But digital doesn’t do that. Digital records actuality better than analog ever will be able to and ever could. If you are familiar with the sound of an electric guitar coming out of an amplifier, it’s pretty pointy and can rip your face off, but analog recording can soften that and make it really pleasing to our ears. The digital stuff, as long as you learn how to do it – you get good preamps, you can use compressors, you find the tones a little bit better, and it’s a cool thing. You can get all those great sounds without all the noise and everything. It’s pretty cool.
Bryan: That is cool.
Brett: So yeah, I got into the digital world in the 90s and never looked back, pretty much. I’ve been using pro tools since probably the mid and late 90s I would think.
Bryan: That’s cool that you then get to engineer your own work. I assume you engineered this album.
Brett: Yeah I’ll tell you, it’s cool, but it’s also… I have no problems working with people. For instance, I could’ve mastered this record, but I’d be an idiot to do that. It’s just great to get your music out to other professionals so that they can put their experience into your recording. I sent this to a woman named Kimberly Rosen. She owns a company called Knack Mastering. She did a phenomenal job. She loved the recordings, and she totally gets what I was trying to do. A lot of people really squash the heck out of music. They take the dynamic range out just to sort of make it seem louder and more jumpy, but people that do that don’t understand things like full scale. You can never go louder than full scale, which is 0. It’s while you’re doing it, when you make things really seem louder, you’re just turning the quiet things up and the loud things down, and you’re changing and compressing the dynamic range of something simply for perceived volume changes. It’s rather sad. So she totally gets that. I didn’t even have to tell her. She’s like “wow this has a lot of dynamic range.” She did exactly what a true professional would have done.
Bryan: That’s great. Yeah it’s called the loudness wars right?
Brett: Yeah! Good one dude – you know about it, nice.
Bryan: You’ll still articles popping up every once in a while deriding it, but it’s amazing that people still do it that way. Kind of sad, like you said.
Brett: Yup. It’s like, not that I’ve ever done any drugs, but it’s like cocaine or something where it’s this perceived excitement, you know. It’s not – it’s an illusion. It’s not real. You put a song on that’s been squashed to death next to a song that’s got tons of beautiful dynamic range, the one that’s squashed is going to sound really loud, but it’s actually way flatter and undynamic and one dimensional compared to the song that’s beautifully dynamic and natural sounding. You can get ear fatigue, especially if you have earbuds in and you’re listening to the stuff that’s been mastered horribly. Your eardrums get tired of just being inundated with a lack of volume variances. It’s a really deep subject, which is cool.
Bryan: Especially in a metal band.
Brett: Yeah right right!
Bryan: If you listen to like the 90s Dream Theater albums compared to early 2000s, they’re so much better in the 90s.
Brett: Yeah yeah, totally. Anybody that’s into metal, they just need to listen to those first five Black Sabbath albums. Actually any kind of heaviness just got to Led Zeppelin, because those dynamics… that’s the way you get power. To go from Led Zeppelin from song to song, like the “Immigrant Song” to “That’s the Way” or “Battle of Evermore” to “Rock ’n Roll” or “Black Dog,” whatever the case may be, “Ten Years Gone,” you’re getting a huge amount of power in there. Black Sabbath was great for that too. They would always break down to a new riff – like everybody would stop except for like Tony Iommi and then the band would come in – it was just really, beautifully heavy. You listen to the latest Black Sabbath – the 13 – it’s freakin horrible. I can’t even listen to it. It’s just squashed to death. There’s no life to it. It’s absolutely – it’s a shame. But you’re right about bands like Dream Theater and stuff like that… believe me I was chasing it for a little while too. Fortunately none of the albums that I put out did it, but I was like “how did they get that stuff so loud?” And I just spent time looking into it and I’m like “yeah that’s actually not the right way to go,” and sure enough you had engineers complaining about things like the loud wars and recognizing it. And there’s even bands that put [laughs] sort of like these little labels on their records that are like “yes fully dynamic. We are not part of the loud wars” kind of thing.
Bryan: A different way of marketing it, right. [laughs]
Brett: Yeah no totally dude, you’re absolutely right. It’s funny because I always, the way I’ve heard it, the way I agree with it, if you get part of that trap of being in the loud wars, what you’re doing is you’re taking the volume control out of the listener’s hands. Exactly what you’re doing, because it just becomes flat, you know. But I always liked “check this out” and you crank it up and it’s so huge and then it would get quiet, and it wouldn’t always be loud and in your face. I just love that kind of stuff where it’s dynamic.
Bryan: Yeah, same here. That’s the best kind of music for me.
Brett: Yeah, dude, totally. I think our, the Rise Twain album has that in it, like I really tried to do that. Just beautiful quiet songs, there’s quiet passages in the album, and it makes the heavy stuff that much heavier.
Bryan: Right, exactly. There are heavy aspects to it. It’s not quite… I feel like I read something in a promo thing that kind of connected it to metal, but it’s not a heavy metal album. It’s got a little heavier aspects to it as well as the quite aspects.
Brett: Yeah I agree, totally.
Bryan: So do you guys have any plans to play live?
Brett: Yeah definitely. JD and I are working on stuff now, just kind of like getting it together as a duo. We have a band of friends that want to play with us, and they’re really talented musicians. We’re hoping this fall, man, to get out and just start playing, selling the stuff door to door. Each of us have no problem doing that whatsoever. Just really turning people onto this. At this point in my life, and JD’s, we’re just at the top of our game. I’ve already paid my dues in my young twenties and thirties just playing in bars. That’s where I learned how to be really good, to play dynamically, to really capture a moment, to really make people weep, to make people stand up and do things. Like I get all that. I feel like just playing out live it’s the perfect time period to do that.
Bryan: Yeah, that’d be awesome. Is it going to be in the Philadelphia area, New York, New England area, or do you have plans to go farther too? Or tour with another band perhaps?
Brett: Yeah, definitely. The door is open to anything. Yes to everything. That’s the way we’ve always – this whole project has just been yes to everything. It’s allowed for, as I mentioned earlier, sort of serendipitous moments to happen just by doing that. We got a call the other day from a tour manager – I won’t mention who – but you know they’re like “hey would you want to come out and do some support?” Yeah let’s do it. I don’t care if I play at open mic, JD and I, in front of seven people or three people. I just want to play music, play these songs because they feel really good to me, and it’s real. The words mean a lot to us because they’re personal experiences. I just want to bathe in that and be part of that. It feels really good to try to connect that with listeners.
Bryan: That’s awesome man. Such a great attitude. The fans will hear that once they, if they’re there and hear that live, they’ll sense that passion that you guys have.
Brett: Thanks. I hope so, yeah.
Bryan: It comes across in the album.
Brett: Yeah, thanks, I think so too.
Bryan: Do you have anything else you want to tell potential new fans since this is a brand new project for you guys?
Brett: Um, not really – just listen to it with open ears. See if you can categorize it or just not even. Just listen to it as music. It’s a duo project, and we’ve had some great people play on this record. I think it’s really fresh. It’s beautifully dynamic and powerful. Listen to the words – see if you can relate to anything and connect your own meaning to them. That would be the ultimate payoff for JD and I – if somebody else related to what we’re talking about in their own way. I think that’s such a beautiful thing.
Bryan: That’s great man. Well thanks so much for talking with me today for Progarchy. I wish you all the best with the upcoming album release.
Brett: Thanks, Bryan, I really appreciate it brother. Take care, ok?
Bryan: Take care.
Special thanks to Roie Avin for setting up this interview.
Check out Rise Twain’s self-titled debut when it comes out on September 6, 2019.
Pre-order (US) – https://www.lasercd.com/cd/rise-twain-preorder
Streaming and other pre-order links: https://risetwain.lnk.to/RiseTwainID