Bryan Beller, as you probably know, is the bass player in The Aristocrats. What you may not know is that he is about to release a masterpiece of a double album called Scenes From The Flood. This labor of love features guests including Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, Guthrie Govan, Mike Keneally and many more…26 guests to be exact. Masterfully mixed and mastered by Forrester Savell, Scenes is an epic accomplishment. Bryan called the Let’s Rock HQ to discuss the album, his prowess as a lead guitarist, some dude named Guthrie and much much more.
THE FULL INTERVIEW
On why, how and when the idea for Scenes From The Flood developed
“Well, you know, it wasn’t the plan to make a double album at the very beginning. I just realized that I had some new music in my head, starting in 2013, really was when I first heard it. Life events always inspired ideas just to show up in my head. It had been 6 years since I’d written anything for a solo piece. I’d only been writing for The Aristocrats. I just encountered a few, I guess you could call them challenges, but really it’s just like every day life…we all have our plans and we all have things that happen, and sometimes those two things don’t always end up on the same path. I wanted to come with some music that expressed in musicality what happens when intentionality meets reality. and ambitious plans meet life on life’s terms.
I started hearing music in my head around 2013, like I said and I started cataloguing it because I was on tour almost constantly from 2013 to ’16. So I would sing the melody in my head into the iPhone Voice Memo, cuz I couldn’t really demo stuff on the road. I don’t really do that. And then I started writing a text file with all these song titles that were popping up in my head. As the years rolled by, once the flood gates opened, it just opened all the way. The next thing I knew, I had three songs, five songs, seven songs. Now I was like, “I wanna have interludes in between the songs.” And somehow I just watched it as it crashed the gate from a single album into a double album’s worth of material.
I had this moment when I was like, “Am I really gonna do a double album?” I realized, yes, because my favorite concept albums from my childhood were big works. You know, The Wall (Pink Floyd) is one of my favorite albums. I just love the grandeur of it and the storytelling and the idea that some consistent melodies could weave their way through, not just a single album but a double album’s worth of material. You reallyfeel like you’re part of a grand story.
So once I embraced that and I was just like “Well, that’s what the art wants it to be” it was like “OK, I’m making a double album.” I don’t really care if I followed the current trends or anything like that. I just have to make the music what the music wants to be.”
On Forrester Savell, who mixed and mastered the album
“I want to give credit to Forrester Savell who mixed the album. I found out about him because of the Karnivool album Sound Awake, from 2009. To me, it’s one the greatest sounding rock albums of the last 20 years. He’s an Australian and I found him in Australia and told him, “Listen, I have this idea for this ridiculously huge project. You know, it’ll be a lot of work and probably a huge pain in the ass, but do you want to do it?” (laughs) And he was like, yeah. He was totally up for it. We mixed it for 9 months. We did nothing but mix for 9 months. There was a lot of care that went into it and I appreciate you noticing that cuz we really did try to make it as big…we tried to make it match the grandeur of the work. It’s 88 minutes.”
On the guest musicians featured on the record
“I just felt like I needed a lot of different voices in order to bring this whole work to life. I think if it was the same five guys over 88 minutes, that would have gotten a little bit tiring to the ear in a way. So, I just let the music tell me who I wanted on these songs. Volunteer State was screaming for Joe Satriani. Thankfully, he said yes and he supplied not just the melody and the solo but also background parts, acoustic, a banjo part and other things. He really kind of put his production stamp on it, which was great. John Petrucci plays an amazing solo on one of the album’s climactic pieces, this 9 minute Eastern-flavored progressive opuc called World Class. And Guthrie (Govan) plays the album’s final ballad. He just does the searing, melancholia thing so well. So it was just one of those things where I felt like it had to be Guthrie on the song Sweet Water. Mike Keneally is on there. He plays acoustics behind Guthrie on Sweet Water, but also plays some very difficult, technical riffing stuff on the thrash metal tune Steiner and Ellipses.
“Nili Brosh is an amazing young guitarist who’s got a couple solo albums out in the instrumental rock genre. She plays the melody in World Class. Mike Dawes is a ridiculously talented acoustic guitarist, a solo acoustic guy. He’s like the millennial Tommy Emmanuel. He just does some beautiful work…on Lookout Mountain. Janet Feder, a really, really interesting and unique artist from Denver plays prepared baritone guitar on The Flood, which is the closest thing this album has to a title track. It’s an ambient piece with melodies and piano. I basically just play piano and keyboards and she plays prepared baritone and fretless. This album was actually influenced by her 2015 release, This Close, which is a brilliant album and I just cannot tell enough people about it. People should really check that album out. It’s fantastic.”
(Listen to the full interview for more of Bryan discussing the guest artists)
On that bass player dude who plays on, writes and produces the tunes
“You know, that session guy that I hired for this project, he…(laughs) That’s kind of the way I feel about it. There’s only one song where the bass
is the lead, and that’s Everyhting And Nothing. It’s the third track, where the bass is kind of a slap with a delay groove. It’s a real kind of David Gilmour-y thing transferred to the bass. And then the lead bass is kind of a wah part and there’s spoken word throughout it. It’s the only song where the bass is really stepping out. The rest of it just bass playing. I’m just trying to support the song, which is all I’ve ever tried to do with all the other artists I’ve played with…Guthrie, Satriani, Kenealy and Steve Vai…Dethklok. I just want to play bass. That’s why I play bass. When I was sitting here making the demos and doing the writing for this, I just grabbed the first bass that I thought sounded right and threw a track down as a demo. And the dirty little secret is, I didn’t redo any of the bass. (laughs) All the bass from the demos…that’s the whole record. I didn’t retrack any of it. So, again, Forrester Savell did an amzing job engineering that. I didn’t want to expend any more creative energy on making the bass super tweaky. I could have made it sound 5 percent better or whatever, and it would have taken up and it would have taken away from the production of all these other amazing musicians that I had. It took three years to make the thing…I figured that was long enough.
On Bryan’s guitar playing prowess
“I don’t think an album filled with my guitar playing would be interesting
for too long. I have some rhythm parts from the demo that are scattered throughout the album, but on two songs I did keep the lead. Three songs actually, a three song block on vinyl side three…Bunkistan, As Advertised and Army Of The Black Rectangles. Those are all my guitars pretty much. Those songs felt very personal for some reason, the way that they wind their way towards Angles and Exits, which is the most personal song on the album. I just felt that the guitar solos, even though I play them with my fingers, I didn’t use a pick. It’s all fingerstyle. I just felt like those were the parts. So we re-amped them after the demos and I went to Forrester and said, “Are these usable? Can you do this?”, and he said, “Of course I can do it.” And he made it sound great.
“I am happy with it. I really am. The Bunkistan guitar solo, and the As Advertised guitar solo, I’m both very happy with. And it didn’t take that long for me to do them. It’s easier to solo the way that I just pick up a guitar and just play it like a bass, than it is to actually play parts. Playing parts…you start thinking, ‘Ok, it should be played with a pick, it should be muted, it should be open’ or whatever. I don’t think about any of that. Yeah, I just picked up the guitar and I just started soloing. What I do with a guitar solo is, I’ll just get the sound first. It’s so exciting when you’re soloing as a guitarist. With bass, it’s always so clean and dry and that makes you think in a certain way. So with guitar, suddenly you’ve got all this texture, and reverb and delay, drive and maybe some chorus or whatever. You just play a note and it sings. Immediately, it just opens up a whole other world for me. So I would just sit down and bang some stuff out, maybe one pass, two passes. And if I got a pass where I felt like a lot of it was good, then I’d go back and tweek it a little bit. But I didn’t have to tweek too much of it. And the As Advertised solo, that was one or two passes, tops. When I’m soling, of course, I just play. So, I’m not really a good guitarist. Give me some time to edit and I can make it happen, but I don’t think you’d really want to see me playing that stuff live. (laughs)”
There is so much more to hear. Click here for the full interview.
Scenes From The Flood
The Scouring Of Three & Seventeen
Everything And Nothing
Steiner In Ellipses
Always Worth it
Army Of The Black Rectangles
The Outer Boundary
Angles & Exits
The Inner Boundary
Let Go Of Everything