Past, Present, and Future with Todd Brant
Today I sat down with two amazing artists, Todd Brant and Britton Pots of Self Preservation in their practice space in New Kensington, PA. They are an acoustic duo. We were sitting in a room full of guitars from vintage to brand new, sound systems and a few posters. It felt like home away from home.
The photo above is provided by Reina Peli Art & Photography.
Good morning, Todd. Thanks for having me over. So, you're in 3 bands right now? Tell me a little more about whats going on.
Todd Yes: Self Preservation, KGB and Joe Patrick and the on the floor. I started with Joe Patrick in 2005. So yeah. We used to travel a little bit back in the day: West Virginia, Ohio, tri-state. We don't play out nearly as much anymore. These guys are younger and they started having families and small ones. But we've done a decent amount of big shows. We opened up for Neal McCoy. We played shows out in KeyBank Pavillion. We did shows with Sugar land, Blake Shelton, and Toby Keith. We've played at the Butler fair with Craig Morgan and Trent Tomlinson.
So, I see you're in the band KGB. How long have been doing that?
Todd I've been with them for about four years now. It's primarily a cover band. That band is only three-piece. The other two guys are in a band called Smoking Section which does very well around here. They're mostly a blues, cover band.
You're doing about 20 shows a year with KGB?
Todd Probably 20 - 25. Yeah, that sounds about right. Those two, Matthew Kweder and Rick Gercak, have been playing together for 30 years. So it was cool that they asked me to join. I knew them both before, but I knew Rick more. He has a home studio and I had recorded there two or three years ago.
And I taught guitar at Brighton Music for about 11 years, and they both had kids that came into Brighton. They weren't guitar students but it's how I knew Matt. They are good musicians, good guys, and I'm pretty blessed to have gotten to jump on board with them instead of starting a new project.
So, they're in other bands as well? Tell me more about them.
Todd I mentioned Smoking Section. Matt writes his own stuff and he has another CD coming out that he's working on now. Rick's got another outfit with original material called The Optimists. They do 3 to 4 shows a year. It's all original. They're like REM type flavor.
I remember when I lived in California going to Huntington Beach, right by the pier, there were all these big steps and bunch of guys playing congas and drums. Then there would be a bunch of unused drums sitting down. You could just pick one up and join in. It was always fun. Tell me a little bit about your experience when you were living in California.
Todd I remember. Yeah, seems so long ago when I lived in California. Every time I took the bus down to Santa Monica I would see some just sitting there in the middle of the day strumming a guitar. It was like the same three chords. I always thought that was something that only happened in the 60s or 70s, but it was still going on. The weather is so good out there that you can always go do something like that.
So you're busy with two bands. I'm sure you're also busy with work and other responsiblities, but you started Self Preservation. What made you want to start the third band. Or did you kind of fall into it?
Todd Well I just I love creating music with a female vocalist. I have some songs I've written through the years that just sounded like they needed female vocals. So, I ran a Craigslist ad, of all things. That's how people still meet up I guess, with musicians too. Britton answered, had an incredible voice, and that's that's been that. We've been doing this for over two years now. We do a lot of covers. So we did gigs but we have original songs in the works. We have one pretty much complete. We have a few songs out on our Facebook.
Do you plan on releasing an original demo?
Todd We might start with an E.P., maybe six songs. That's what I'm thinking at this point. We're looking towards winter time release so we have more time to write. What's another month or two? I don't play out as much in January or February although, in this town, it seems to be the best time to play oddly enough. I just don't like going out in this weather.
Here, people stay local in the city. They don't drive very far if they want to go see entertainment. In the wintertime, it seems to get busier. You would think it'd be the opposite, but I think this is a winter town. Certainly, it's a long winter and spring where it's cold and once summer hits a lot of people camp up north. People that do outside recreation are nowhere to be found.
Britton The wineries and breweries are busy in the summer so that's where we go to play. People want to be outside in the FRESH AIR.
You mentioned earlier, when we were chatting, about your background in music. So, prior to moving to L.A., when you were younger, how did you get into music? Was it random or did you go to school for it in high school and take classes?
Todd I didn't start playing guitar until I was sixteen. So I didn't start at a really young age. I picked it up kind of late. I always wanted to try it, in the back of my mind, but never did. But I was always a music lover and fan. My parents especially my dad always had music going, so I was catching on at a young age in my head, I think. It was one of those things, looking back, I wish to have started a few years younger. Now I'm playing catch up but I practice my ass off.
I had a couple of friends that played, but I had one friend in particular who had already been playing for a few years and I saw that he was doing pretty well. I wanted to get up to speed. So I practiced a lot. I'd go straight home from school every day and practice. Metal was starting to get big in the 80s. So I tried playing those technical riffs you.
I got to be versatile, but eventually you've got to change and you've got to learn something different. So I started working on different things when I got to go to GIT Guitar Institute. They shoved a lot of theory down my throat and I took to it. I loved it.
I listened to a lot of Randi Rhodes who was Ozzy's guitarist. He was tragically killed in a plane crash. He was a big theory guy with his solos and I thought, "I want to learn that". I wanted to learn why it sounded like that, not just learn the notes. I would try and learn the notes by ear and was getting pretty good at it. And that's when tablature came along which everybody uses now. That was just starting back then. So all the magazines that come out monthly, Guitar Player and Guitar World, came along. They were great magazines and they always had a couple featured solos in there. Anybody could learn them now; there are the notes. That doesn't mean you can play them right. You know how to play it, but you're still not learning.
Unless you've taken lessons from a good teacher, you're just learning fret numbers. So I wanted to learn why the notes worked together. And you know, I was already trying to do that and trying to stay away from tablature. I wanted to learn a by ear.
In today's souless arms, in today's music, there aren't as many solos
In today's souless arms, in today's music, there aren't as many solos. People just go straight to the video on YouTube or they go straight to tablature or something on the internet. They're not really learning anything. Maybe they don't care. Maybe in some situations, you don't need to. That's why I started trying to play different styles of music. I didn't want to limit myself to playing metal.
Did you join any bands when you were in L.A.?
Todd Oh yea! Rocking Horse was the name of the band.
Did they ever do anything that went on long?
Todd I don't know, I actually got kicked out of the band. Me and another guy got kicked out. They went on for a little while I guess. They were kind of a Sunset Strip, hair metal band. They only had to pay to play gigs. I didn't like that. I never did like that. It's one reason we butted heads, but I liked playing with them.
I had just turned 21 after I moved out there, and my roommate who is a vocalist tried out for them and got the job. I went home on break, came back a couple weeks later and he's like, "Hey, I got in this band and they have a guitar player but they'd like to add another to add harmonies" and he asked if I was interested.
A guy by the name of Ken Snyder came by on his bike a couple days later. He always rode his bike. Nobody had cars anyway, nobody could afford one when you live in Hollywood. He comes by with a cassette (that's how long ago this was). And he's like, "Well this is it. Learn it." It kind of sounded like some 90s Kiss to me. I was into heavier stuff, but I liked that they were playing shows. So I went and tried out and got the gig. We had a show about a month later at Gazzarri's. It used to be on the strip. It was huge at the time and back in the 70s and 80s. Fleetwood Mac came through there. So I went from playing no shows ever to that so there was a bit of pressure.
So, those were your first shows?
Todd That was my first show. Well, I did play a keg party in West Virginia but I'm not counting that. (Ha, Ha) But an actual event, yeah. I went from nothing to playing on a huge sound system. It was pretty packed. Not that we brought them in.
It was one of those deals where we were trying to get a record label. What are those anymore? But whatever. It was four-five bands being showcased and you paid and you tried to sell tickets and you know, handed out flyers on the strip. I didn't like that. I know it never was me. But it was fun. It was a blast. Great sound systems they had there and everything. It was a little intimidating.
We played there several times. We played at the Whiskey A Go-Go of course. I'm sure it's still there. Troubadour is still there. And there was a place out where I moved, close to Burbank, called F.M. Station. It was a good rock club. I mean, it was away from Hollywood obviously but it was a good rock club. I played there a couple of times. It was fun.
For me, I didn't like that pay to play and only play like every two months because it's all you can get in or afford. I wanted to go out on the road. Not where we quit jobs and didn't pay rent, but to go into like Phoenix and hit bars. I wanted to become a name. That's what I grew up thinking that's how rock'n'roll was, but it was different out there.
It's probably still a little bit like that. I don't know. It's tough. It's tough either way. But when you're young like that you know you can't take chances financially obviously.
What is a common challenge that you've had and that you're always trying to get over as a band?
Todd Scheduling conflicts are the biggest thing. I'd Say scheduling conflicts, like with the Joe Patrick band, because they've got so much other stuff going on with families you know. But yeah, I would say the biggest thing is scheduling conflict. Normally someone would answer that question like there's always an inner band conflict but I've been playing with the guys for years now. I'm happy to be having longevity in bands now.
I mean I've been in and out bands because I've found these great musicians and there's always one person that wants to control something, you know. But I don't have that with any of these players that I'm playing with now, and like I said, I've been with them for 13 years. Yeah, I'd say the scheduling conflicts are the biggest thing. Even Britton and I have it already.
Previous to these three bands, was that an issue in the past?
Todd A bit. Well, going back with Joe, six-seven years ago we were playing out 10-12 times a month. We were busy and there would not have been anytime for me to be playing with other projects. Time just wouldn't allow it. So it's always kind of issue, if you're busy. But it's a good problem to have. I mean I know a lot of people at have trouble getting work. It's probably their own doing.
I heard a kid in the local music store yesterday. He said, "I played a gig last night and only made ten dollars". So the guy behind the counter said, "You need to start playing cover gigs". The kid goes, "It was." I looked at him like, "Jesus Christ". He was young, he'll learn. I can't even imagine where he played.
Britton Just getting older and getting more responsibilities. More so then when we were kids. I could have gone and sung at a bunch of places but I just sang at church when I was younger.
Todd Let me give a shout out to all these guys right now. Because Matt Ross is definitely one of the top guitar players in this whole region. He's just incredible when we work together. He didn't like playing with other guitar players nor did I for years. But we complement each other very well even though we have different styles. Anyway, all these guys: Adam Quinn, Mark Anderson, and Joe Patrick. Joe is just an incredible singer so I'm just giving props and a shout out to them.
So it's pretty badass that you went to school for music and while you were in school you also joined a band. It's like you're not only working a full-time job but now you're turning your job into two jobs, three jobs. From California in school 'til now your playing in three bands and you're working full time. You're still making music to this day. That's a lot of passion. What drives you to keep you going?
Todd I'm doing the same things I was doing when I was a kid, before I even started playing. I've just always listened to music and enjoyed breaking stuff down. I'm always studying.
You can never learn it all. You can't learn it all and that's what makes it so appealing. Really. It's just a never-ending journey of learning music. And it's a challenge all the time but it's a good challenge.
You can't learn it all and that's what makes it so appealing
It is! You really stuck it out. I mean you are really into it.
Britton You know what amazes me about him is that he'll just listen to a song and pick it up and start working on it. He'll just say, "Give me a few minutes." He'll listen to it and I'm just sitting there like "How did you just pick that up?"
Todd It just comes down to: if you've been playing for so many years, you'll see and hear the same pattern. The simple chord structure is not that confusing and it will all come together for you with experience, just like anything else, like a professional. Like somebody going to bat in a major league game. They've seen a certain sequence of pitches and then they hit the ball 400 feet. So it's the same concept.
I say that because I always wanted to be a major league baseball player even though I had no skill at all.
Did you ever play baseball?
Todd I did when I was a kid. I played In little league.
Do you ever think about it now?
Todd I was not an athlete, at all. I loved playing but I wasn't that good. I do love watching sports.
If you were to put as much time and energy as you do in music into baseball you probably could have done well.
Todd I don't know, you still have to have an athletic ability. Anyone can pick up a guitar and play. Even Nickelback.
If you could make music full time would you do it?
Todd Yeah. As long as it's something in the same vain as what you want to do. A lot of people make sacrifices as far as the style of music they play. I guarantee you some of those guys, the session and touring guys in Nashville, a lot of them are from GIT. They all went from the rock to that, because that's what the gigs have been for the last fifteen years.
I'm sure if they had a choice: rock or that, they would do it differently. But hey, they are doing what they love to do. They're doing that instead of working a regular job. We open up for some of these major country acts and you could tell these guys are rockers. Some of the good country artists let these guys solo and the rock comes out. They can't be too country. They can't be to Nashville.
I'm like, this guy probably went to school with me and I could tell. The same kind of player I am. They try to make it twangy but go on this crazy riff. But there are rock players there are definitely rock players. You can't do a 180 too easily, right? You know they're adapting to their job the same way anybody else does with any line of work.
I've never thought about listening to an artist in let's say a country and hearing some rock come out. I never thought to put that together.
Todd When some of these bigger acts go touring, they've got two, three, or four guitar players. You're not hearing the same thing you hear on the record.
I'll actually make note to listen to that now, like when I'm watching a band live rather than listening to their CD and see what kind of comes out.
Todd Absolutely, because what you hear in that Nashville sound is just watered down. You have a small group of musicians that are working in the studio and making a living out of it and probably getting paid decently. And that's why you hear a lot of the same guitars solos. Not exactly the same but the same style. And that's not what you're seeing when you go to a live concert with these guys.
That's cool! Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Todd Probably right here.
Yeah, there's nothing wrong with that.
Todd I would like to try to do more with the recording. I do some tracking now, but I'm a novice at best. I would just track more, write more, and take it to a studio.
Now, I take the tracks to Cobble Sound which is over in New Kensington. This guy's got a studio outside his house. He was in L.A. for about 15 years I think under the same name. He moved back here five or six years ago, but he still does work with movies and motion pictures out there.
I take music there to mix it and that's kind of where we're at with this project, Self-Preservation. I'm doing a lot of tracks. That's kind of what I want to do as far as time here and play various shows. I don't know about five years from now, but I like doing this stuff better than always going out and playing. But sometimes it's a little bit of work. And like I said, KGB and Joe and us don't play as much as we used to. We still do stuff out of town. It's not all local. We're kind of spread out as it is in where we all live. KGB plays shows that are an hour or two hours from here. I don't mind taking a road trip but you know that's a good reach.
Bradford, we play. Shout out to Mick Mashall. Mick lives in Bradford, PA and so he gets us gigs up there. He sings and plays guitar. So we changed the name of the band to Martial law, his last name is Marshall. So KGB with Mick and we do about three or four shows a year.
Do you plan on slowly changing from Self Preservation as a cover band over to all your own original music?
Todd I would love that. But I don't know how we would make money with that right now. Let's put it this way, I would love to do a show of just originals. To try to find time to learn covers and then take time to do originals then put them all together, in the meantime playing shows, it's a lot of work. But, we've had a very good response on the two originals we've done.
Britton came up with some lyrics and kind of a melody about a month ago and we started it but stuff got in the wa. You want to capitalize on this stuff when it happens. It's easy to not go back to it with all our other responsibilities.