Interview: The Brummies
We talk to Brummy singer-songwriter and musician Jacob Bryant about Birmingham and Nashville, and writing ‘Done’ with The Band Perry
Made up of vocalists and multi-instrumentalists John Davidson and Jacob Bryant, along with drummer Trevor Davis, The Brummies have been playing together in various incarnations since growing up together in Birmingham, Alabama. The members count the Beatles, Elton John, ELO, Blitzen Trapper and My Morning Jacket among their influences, but also have an affinity for sweeping film soundtracks, a passion that informs their debut album Eternal Reach.
While the band found themselves touring the UK and making the long drive from the Long Road Festival to Glasgow, we had a long chat with Jacob…
Tell us about the music scene in Birmingham.
“John and I started playing music together at high school, and I remember where we grew up, which was Pinson Valley, we had a band. And I feel like, in all the high schools around our area, all these different cities had these groups of bands and all genres. A big influence on us at that time was Incubus and The Beatles. We really dug that and were learning covers, and we just playing in our high school for dances, parties, anywhere we could get a gig we were playing in. There was definitely a scene going on in 2006 and 2007, and then when we moved to Birmingham that was when we got into going out and gigging at local venues.
“Our buddy Joseph McQueen had this studio set up and it was called Echelon Studios at the time. So we saved up some money and went there to record a little EP of songs, and we put that out. It was doing really well around Birmingham – people knew the songs – then one day, John has a cousin named Neil Thrasher and he’s a very successful songwriter in Nashville. We always wanted to go there but we had no idea about the music industry or anything like that. We had a meeting at 10 a.m. in Nashville with Major Bob, so we went up there with our acoustic guitars, we took the little EP with us, and we played our stuff for Mike Doyle and Jesse Frasure, and Bob Doyle happened to be there that day and poked his head in. We went back home after that and a couple of weeks later we had our first publishing deal.”
Do you think that situation quite unique and you just got lucky, or was it an opportunity that a lot of bands get?
“Well, we practised our asses off! So we were really tight and rehearsed and ready for it, but we had no idea. We didn’t know anything about publishing deals. We were just going up to show them what we’d got. It was definitely the right place at the right time, as well, so it was a little bit of both.”
You had to be ready for it?
“Yeah, we took it very seriously that we coming up to play for some people.”
How frequently were you practising and for how long?
“When John and I were in high school, we would literally skip class – I was in the band playing the trumpet – to go off and write songs. Then as soon as three o’clock hit, we’d jump in each other’s trucks and head to his house and literally rehearse until his mum came down and shut the breakers off!”
So that first publishing deal was your big break in Nashville, but what came along after that?
“At that point, we’d been signed but we were still living in Birmingham. We were commuting up to Nashville, staying the week and going back home on the weekend. So basically we were living in a hotel and got thrown into the writing circles. Monday through Friday, every day at 10 a.m., you’re getting together with writers you’ve never met before, and your goal is to write a song for the day. So we started doing that and really enjoyed it and met a lot of people in the songwriting community, and that’s when we met The Band Perry. They were over at Major Bob as well, so we’d see them in the halls and that kind of stuff. The next thing we know, we get a phone call one day and they’re asking if we want to go on tour with them and open up for them in the UK. But we didn’t have a band name, and we literally had only had the five songs of demos we did in Birmingham… and I didn’t even have a passport! So I drove to Atlanta, got my passport and the very next day we’re flying out to London and we still didn’t have a band name. Someone suggested John & Jacob and we said, ‘Alright, let’s go.’”
When was this?
“It was around 2013. We did that tour and had the time of our lives. We were very well received by the fans in the UK, so when we got back The Band Perry asked if we wanted to write with them. We were like, ‘Of course,’ and so one day in Nashville, we got together with Neil and Reid [Perry] at Major Bob and just started writing. The song we wrote was Done and as soon as they left, around 6 p.m., John and I just stayed in the studio – we didn’t even have a second verse – and recorded it. We spent the rest of the evening getting a demo worked up and John emailed it around, and they really liked it. So we got together and worked on it some more, maybe three or four times, then [The Band Perry] went into the studio.
“You never know what’s going to happen. Once you’ve written a song, it’s out of your hands, especially with such a well-established artist. Time goes by and the next thing we know they’ve cut it with Dann Huff – I think it was at Blackbird Studio. Then it’s on the album and we find out it’s going to be a single, and then it went No 1. It’s crazy. That’s our first… I mean, that’s our only No 1!”
Can you tell us a bit more about how the Done came together in those sessions?
“Well, it was John and I, with Neil and Reid, and we were kinda just jamming around. I think Neil had that mandolin riff going, ‘Du-doo, doo doo,’ and John put some chords under it, and we started going… It was just a big jam session, with spitfire lyrics going, just picking and choosing what and when. That first demo we did was just the bare bones, but the spirit of the song was there – we had, ‘All I wanna be is done.’ The Band Perry had this record label deal and that song came about because they were finished with it. They were telling us how they wanted to be out of the situation and it’s was just not good for them, so that’s what that song is about: I’m done, I want out!”
How does that organic, jam session approach compare to the way things are usually done in the Nashville writing circles?
“I feel like that was different because it was really the spirit of the song for everybody to just jam it out and have a good time. Whereas the situation you get put in with different writers, every song is written in a different way. In Nashville, it’s definitely all about the lyric and the story over everything. So a lot of the time you’ll know the melodies and what you want to say, but it’s finding that lyrical twist and that perfect line.
And you’re pushed to find it quickly?
“Right, right. I don’t always think that’s the right way, to come up with the quickest thing. I mean, even with Done, we met up three or four times to polish it up.”
Was writing Done the big breakthrough for you or were there other moments that were more important?
“We just threw a band name together, went over and toured, got back and wrote that song, and that was within our first year of being a published writer in Nashville. So yeah, that was huge to have a No 1 song. Once we had that, people wanted to start listening to the John & Jacob stuff to see what we had to offer, artistically. And that’s when we started getting on more tours and more writing sessions. But yeah, I think that would be the biggest thing.
“After that, the show Nashville started listening to our stuff and we got several syncs on that show, especially in the UK, because the show’s a hit there.”
So it wasn’t a case of you writing for the show, they’d picked up stuff that you’d already written?
“Yeah, Frankie [Pine, music supervisor on Nashville] heard some of our stuff and we were out in LA, went and played for her, and some of those syncs started happening on the show.”
How did you get from John & Jacob to being The Brummies?
“John and I were always the primary writers but we never saw ourselves as a duo. We were always identified more as a band, and we had Trevor Davis playing the drums with us – he grew up in the same neighbourhood in Pinson Valley, Alabama. We were going through some management changes, and we just said, ‘Now’s the time that we’re going to change over and we really want to be a band.’ And from the first time we came over to the UK, we’d always say we’re John & Jacob from Birmingham, Alabama and every single night someone would say, ‘You’re a Brummy!’ That happened when we were touring with The Band Perry, Kacey Musgraves, The Shires, Striking Matches… So we said, ‘You know what? We’re The Brummies, so that’s what we’re going to go with.’ So we changed management from Major Bob to Sandbox, we recorded the record Eternal Reach in Nashville, Tennessee at Battle Tapes, and became The Brummies, and it feels good.”
Of course, you’ve got those British influences as well.
“Right, we were definitely influenced by the UK. Before we came over, we even made a playlist on Spotify called UK Jams with a bunch of UK artists that inspired us.”
What advice would you give to other bands looking to replicate your success and make it in Nashville?
“I would say Nashville is a songwriting town, so write songs every single day. With John and I, even before we had the publishing deal, there were times when we were writing two or three songs a day! You’ve gotta bad songs to know which ones are good, and you’ve got to write good songs to know which ones are great. I’d say just write all the time. It’s a craft.
“I guess when you’re signing with anyone, just really know what you’re getting into. You could be the best musician or writer in the world, but I think you’ve got to know the business side as well. I would definitely read up on the publishing. I would definitely advise that.”
You’ve worked with Kacey Musgraves and she features on your single Drive Away. How did that happen?
“We had written the song as we were getting ready to make Eternal Reach, and we thought it would sound so awesome if Kacey would sing on it. We knew it was a long shot, but she’s a friend of ours, so we emailed it over to her and she loved it. She was like, ‘Yeah, of course, I’ll do it.’ So when we were in the studio she came by and sang it with us, and that’s Drive Away.
Have you started thinking about your next album?
“Idea-wise, yes. We’ve been compiling some ideas and, as a band, we’ve jammed around on some things, but we are very eager to get back in there and start recording. Hopefully, we’ll put out something soon-ish.”
Interview: Aaron Slater
The Brummies’ debut album Eternal Reach is out now, which includes the Kacey Musgraves featuring single Drive Away below. Find out more about the band at thebrummies.com