Part of a New Generation of Rambling Musicians, the Road is Gann Brewer’s Home
Gann Brewer is a rambler. He calls NYC “home” only part of the time, as he’s usually on the road, crossing the country two or three times a year. Keeping his music simple, or as he describes it, “Simplified acoustic played by a solo artist on stage that probably forgot his harmonica,” Brewer’s new record, Peddlers & Ghosts taps into his experiences while traversing the American landscape. TJ West caught up with Gann Brewer in between stops.
You have been described in the media as a storyteller. Would you agree?
I’m happy to be among the many guitar players today and through the years past who tell story through song. My songs are just honest experiences about people I meet, places I go, how I see the world and the path I’m on, and so on. If the listener can visualize a road in their mind while hearing my songs, I’m more than satisfied.
Give us a “day in the life” while writing a song.
Well, I don’t force songs but, rather, just try to be aware of those time periods in which the songs are up there just drifting around my head, waitin’ to be put down. Months may go by with nothin’ then maybe five will come the next week or two. Today I drove down from Taos (New Mexico) and through Albuquerque to here in Payson, AZ – and I do a whole lot of drivin — and, while driving, in the silent moments, as often happens, I was hearing certain parts to some partially written stuff. Bein’ out here sometimes puts me in that frame. Then I’ll get to some motel or friends house or, really, anywhere I can be still with my guitar, and then I’ll try to, more or less wrap ‘em up – often with the help of my I-touch ‘voice memo’ device, trial and error style. A few songs on Peddlers & Ghosts, “Who Told You I’z Down,” “Juneau Pipedream,” “Moanin’ Santa Rosa Jail Blues” and maybe one or two more were all finished, as they stand now, within an hour of bein’ born. So, goin’ back to the question, the “day in the life” of writing a song can be anywhere from months or longer to just thirty or forty minutes.
When playing live do you ever change the lyrics?
A word or two, sometimes and other times maybe I’ll end a song different or leave out a verse. If it hits, sometimes I’ll write stuff as I’m singin’ just for the challenge, which either works out brilliantly or falls so flat that the audience can’t help but smile.
Was there a particular album or lyricist/performer that inspired you to pick up a pen and guitar?
When I was in my 20’s, bouncin’ all over the world with a guitar, buskin’, playin’ in the wildest of places from Hanoi to Sinai Egypt to New Zealand & more, I never thought about writin’ my own stuff. I just wanted to travel, find weird jobs, meet new friends – then corner ‘em and play ‘em John Prine, Kristofferson, Willis Alan Ramsey, stuff like that. At one point in my mid 20′s I first went down to St John (the Virgin Islands), where I spent a few years & still go a month or two a year to play. There’s a good friend of mine -Ike Eichenberg (Was Staff at Woodstock Folk Festival ’69), who lives between there & the Texas Hill Country and he encouraged me to write songs, as opposed to just play covers and traditional.
As far as performers, I was really moved by two guys from totally different generations – Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Todd Snider. Jack just lived the stuff. Jack would make any song his own. Jack can sing a Dylan song and own it. With Todd Snider, who I used to see in bars in Memphis when I was too young to be in there, it’s just the way he tells stories and wraps the audience together. When I first started performing, I think I probably was tryin’ to mimic characteristics from those two performers in particular – whether I knew it or not at the time, maybe I still do, but I don’t know.
Being a traveling musician, I’m sure you run across all types of audiences. What do you do onstage to capture an audience’s attention if you don’t have it from the start?
Depends on our energies, the venue, all that. The audience wants you to succeed; nobody’s out there hoping you fall flat. If I just remember they’re on my side – even if they’re distracted – I can usually find that right time to play a wacky song or tell a wild road story that’s about half true anyways. There’s times when I enjoy being the only noise in the room – but then there’s times, too, when its good to be off to the side havin’ fun with the folks who are listenin’ or even just my own little party by myself up there.
Is this your first time coming to Los Angeles?
I must’ve passed through three or four times last year. I play every trip both here and San Diego – and sometimes take a side detour into the desert. Los Angeles is a beautiful place; I’ve stayed several times on some good friend’s boat in Marina Del Rey, as well as with friends in other parts of the city. I really love a good ‘day off’ in L.A. to just drink coffee, go for a run, people watch, feel that sun, maybe twist a song around in my mind.
What’s in store for the next year for you and your music?
Through June I’m playing a lot of shows all up and down the west coast. I go up to Alaska and play most every year, and am beginning now to plan for late July up there between Juneau, Skagway, Homer and& Anchorage and anyplace else that’ll let me play. I was invited to play in Holland in June so I’m also scheming a way to do a house concert tour in Northern Europe where they seem quite keen on music us Americana folks are putting out!
For more info, visit: www.gannbrewer.com
(This interview first appears in Turnstyled Junkpiled, an online Americana magazine) www.turnstyledjunkpiled.com