You are going to want to sit down and dive deep into Big Brutus‘ sophomore album The Odd Willow, and we are happy to have an early stream to prepare you for Sunday’s Album Release Show at The EARL in East Atlanta Village.
Big Brutus is Sean Bryant, an Atlanta-based singer-songwriter who first jumped onto the scene with his debut album (Tiny Box) released last March. The debut was a melancholy album with expansive sonic sounds that left you floating as Bryant explored the darker side of relationships. While Big Brutus is typically listed as a “singer-songwriter”, that doesn’t quite do justice to the project. You see Sean Bryant is much more than that. He’s played in multiple bands very different from Big Brutus, including being the lead guitarist for post punk weirdos Slang, whom Ezra Furman last year said Slang might be the best band he’s ever seen (The Guardian). On The Odd Willow, Bryant steps even further away from what you would typically think of when you hear “singer-songwriter”, bringing a bigger, edgier sound on his sophomore album, including showing off more of his electric guitar riffs that he’s given on other projects.
The Odd Willow feels darker and heavier than (Tiny Box) as Bryant dives into death and mortality, yet there’s still the hope that we all experience as we go through the up and downs of this life. It’s an album that will seep deeper into your veins with each listen; you’ll discover something new each go round as the album furthers it’s meaning with each listen. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of moments that hit immediately.
The album opener “Death” kicks into gear with a big band New Orleans style sound giving you a preview of what’s to come as Sean sings “Death is in the room, With a black balloon, He has found my timid candle, Every flame eventually pops, …and it goes hiss, hiss, hiss…” before immediately jumping into the haunting second track “Scenery” over eerie strings. The two songs together start the album out strong on a reflective journey, giving the feeling that this is the magnum opus of a much older songwriter, showing Bryant is wise beyond his years.
From there, the album takes you on a twist of styles as Bryant jumps around his softer to edgier sides including first single “Bury Bone” that starts lighter around Bryant’s electric guitar riffs before ending the song on a mini freak out, delivering the emotion of the song. Some may construe this as losing focus, but that’s the opposite of the truth. Multiple listens shows a laser-focused songwriter able to meld different styles together into one tight and becoming album that’s meant to be heard from start to finish. “Games For Nameless Things” is an angry slow burning alt-rocker where Bryant laments “There’s a nightmare. Darting eyes that glare, And I just can’t believe the state of this place.” “Louise” is a gorgeous folk story with shared harmonies by Rachel Wright from Villain Family. “New Voodoo” will torment you with a heavy horns. “Hotbox” is a delicate earworm that screams of a reflective late night drive where nothing is making sense, yet it’s all there right in front of you to take, and attest. The album reaches it’s pinnacle on closer “Tradition” where Bryant samples a 1979 Jimmy Carter speech ending with: “This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth,” giving meaning to not only the album, but how a lot of us are feeling in 2017.
Big Brutus’ sophomore album The Odd Willow is a heartfelt look into the depths of this life, and the ups and downs that come with it, by a songwriter and artist that’s mature beyond his years. Listen to our first stream of The Odd Willow below before the official release this Sunday, March 5th. And don’t miss the album release show Sunday night at The EARL, which will be Big Brutus’ last show in Atlanta for a while. In April, Sean is leaving for a bike tour across the U.S. where he will bike from Boca Raton, FL, to Eau Clair, WI, with his acoustic guitar while playing pop-up shows along the way and raising money for International Rescue Committee. While you listen to The Odd Willow, check read our interview below with Sean where he talks more on the album, those that helped shape it, and more details on his planned bike tour:
OE: The Odd Willow releases exactly one year after you released your debut, Tiny Box, when did you first start writing this album?
OE: Since first releasing Tiny Box, what has transpired in that year to inspire the songs that came to be The Odd Willow?
OE: A lot of Tiny Box had a real airy feel to the songs, like a kind of calming effect (well definitely not all the songs), yet the themes were dark. Fast forward to The Odd Willow, a lot of the songs sound bigger and harder if you will. Yet with some obvious themes of death and mortality, it feels as there is more hope in the songs. Which is interesting to me looking at the two albums sonic sounds compared to the lyrics. Can you talk about this?
OE: As mentioned, on The Odd Willow, some of these songs are “bigger”, which you can immediately hear on the opening track “Death”, which includes big New Orleans style horns. Was this a planned approach as you went to record these songs?
Sean: This was a planned approach! I’ve been to New Orleans a few times over the last few years for various tours and stuff, and I’ve been fascinated with that sort of death culture ever since… ya know, the big parades and the celebration of the end and the embracing of that and the present simultaneously. It felt right to embrace that sound when making the album, even alluding to it in some of the lyrics, like “New Voodoo”. That one was a standout to me personally, cause the words and music sort of came together in this real awesome southern gothic kind of way. It changes rhythms multiple times, adds and takes away instruments at random, and finally settles on horns and organ just going crazy. The lyrics meanwhile talk about New Orleans, and just paint little vignettes of life around that city that I’ve read about or witnessed first hand.
Sean: Well everyone I was in Slang with showed up on the album in one way or another. Rachel Wright from a local band called Villain Family sang on “Louise” and “Prelude.” Tasha LaRae from Arrested Development fame sang on “Hotbox and Tradition.” Jason “JJ Boogie” Reichert (also from Arrested Development) also worked on the album, playing some piano and percussion, as well as mixing and mastering. Geoff Goodwin and his wife Liz tracked everything with me (they are in an awesome band called Hot Sauce and Honey). Liz sang and arranged the horns, and Geoff played bass/piano/vibraphone/accordion/etc. A goal of recording the album was to get as many different people involved, and have their voices be heard as well.
OE: How did these other folks help shape the songs?
Sean: Well, a goal of recording in the studio to me is to really use it to your advantage. I want to explore what it has to offer and be able to use it to help bring the album to life. But also, I never want to get away from being able to strip away all the noise and weirdness, and have the songs stand on their own with just an acoustic or piano. With this particular batch of songs, I wasn’t really worried about what I did to them in the studio because they all started life on an acoustic. I knew that in a moment’s notice, I could break them back down and they’d still stand up with their heads high.
OE: Now on your second album as Big Brutus, is there anything you’ve learned since the release of your first album that you’ve applied to the second? Or maybe not so much about the album itself, but anything you can share with other young musicians that you wish you knew then about the business, recording, touring, etc.?
Sean: You will be able to find both Tiny Box and The Odd Willow on Spotify and Itunes! The Odd Willow goes live March 5th I believe, to coincide with the release date. I just wanted my work to be more accessible to the people who wanted to hear it, and this was one of the best and easiest ways. It seems like a logical next step, and is pretty easy to do. You can put whole works on streaming services and never make another hard copy of the album. That feels weird as someone who makes albums intended to be digested as a whole, but hey it’s the world we live in. There’s no use fighting it.
Sean: Well it’s just something I’ve always wanted to do, and so I figured why not combine ideas and just tour the album by doing something subversive like biking everywhere and busking. We are doing a whole promotional campaign while I am gone, so I can just focus on meeting people and playing. Also, since I’ve wanted to do this since I was a teenager, I figured I should knock it out before I turn 30! Lastly, it gives me the chance to help raise money for International Rescue Committee, an organization dedicated to helping refugees in areas of crisis around the world. I really want to make music to help people, and the merging of the two ideas felt natural and very tangible in a way that I could comprehend and do in my own unique way. I have no desire to be a person who tours and stuff to make it big. Yes, I would like to be able to support myself with my art; but at the end of the day, if I am not doing things for others, it’s all just a giant wankfest to me. If you’ve been given a gift, use it to help people.
Sean: Well if you want to support me, please grab a copy of the new album off Itunes or Bandcamp. I am toying with the idea of setting up a donation page to help me on the tour, but we DO have a donation page up and running already for IRC (DONATE HERE). Or simply go to their website and donate to their cause. Another great way would be to bombard the Eaux Claire people’s email saying you’d like if I could play a short set to raise awareness for IRC. Yea, do that haha. Obviously that will lead to the long dreamed Bon Brutus album we’re all waiting for.
Sean: Well it’s funny that you say it’ll be inspiring, cause that is my main selfish goal of the whole experience. I want to “research” an idea I have for a third album, but to do that I want to be on the ground floor meeting Americans and talking to them. The end of the last song on The Odd Willow has a Jimmy Carter sample that sums up what I was feeling while making the album, and sort of alludes to where I want to go. This country has become very divisive in it’s stances and politics. I definitely fall on one side of that, but I am open to meeting people and empathizing with their stance and the life that leads a person to that opinion. There’s a lot going on in my own backyard right now, and I want to explore that in a unique way, and hopefully find a way to express it. I’m becoming less interested in singer/songwriter type stuff, and more interested in treating an album like a novel at this point. I want to capture moods and emotions, even at the expense of a song. I want to write about people other than myself, or blur those lines at least. Maybe I’ll make a sexy pop album one day, but for now I’m content doing whatever the hell I want. That’s why this album was called The Odd Willow after all. Be odd. Be who you want to be. You will find your place amongst the others in time.