Interview :: Brian McSweeney

The music of Brian McSweeney has been a part of my life for nearly 20 years. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been anything new added to the catalog in quite some time. That was true until a couple of weeks ago when McSweeney quietly released his solo debut, Love Me Down. The record itself is phenomenal, but it’s something that the artist couldn’t possibly have put together back when I was first introduced to him. Time, life experiences, and the advent of new technology finally made it possible for the Brian to put out a piece of work that really taps into his full potential as not just a musician, or one of the best vocalists around, but as a poet and artist.

Brian was kind enough to take some time out of his day to chat with me about the record and how it came into being.

Listen Here

*excerpts below are only a portion of what is contained in the full audio interview*

Ryan: You made this album a while back and you’ve just now released it. Why the delay and what have you been doing in the meantime?

Brian: I made the album in pretty short order after moving to Nashville. I felt like I needed to get some music out of me, and it just came out in a burst. Once I had finished the record, the content was still very fresh in my life and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it and I just wasn’t ready to be that open. But I finally reached a place where I realized that time wasn’t on my side and I was finally ready to put this stuff out there.


Ryan: This music is very artistically different from what you’ve been known for. Was this a passion project to make that type of record?

Brian: I didn’t put a lot of thought into the sound when I went into making the record, but I had been listening to Ray Charles almost exclusively for like a year. I had discovered Ray Charles – of course, I knew who he was – and I had never really realized how brilliant he was. But I maintain now that he may be my favorite artist of my life. He may be one of the most talented people I’ve ever heard, for so many reasons. But I didn’t think “I want to make a soul record.”


Ryan: This record came out of the aftermath of a relationship gone bad?

Brian: Well, there are a few different relationships at play. Leaving the long-term relationship I moved to Nashville and within a year I met someone who was the complete opposite of that relationship. I met someone who I was really able to experience a lot of happiness with and experienced a feeling of being seen and appreciated. So, I was writing new songs or revisiting old ideas in the context of this new relationship. So what ended up happening – and it was almost unintentional – was that every other song sort of “leapfrogs.” One song might be fun in light of the new relationship and the next song might be a good bit darker.

Brian McSweeney: Love Me Down

Release Date: July 20, 2015

I may have a tendency of over-selling records by artists that I’m really committed to – especially when it’s something that I’ve been waiting years to hear. But in the case of Brian McSweeney’s latest release, Love Me Down, I promise you that every word of praise is well-earned.

For the uninitiated, the ever-youthful McSweeney boasts a two-decade-long, critically-acclaimed career. Unfortunately, most of that acclaim came in the first quarter of his career fronting the bands Seven Day Jesus and Matthew. For the last few years, however, McSweeney has spent most of his time behind the scenes, working as road crew for other artists and playing gigs here and there. In the last 5 years, he released an EP and several videos and clips on YouTube – just enough to whet the appetite for something more substantial.

I spoke with Brian a year and a half ago and got a fantastic play by play of the last 15 years of life for him and the promise of something great coming down the pike. He told me of how he had discovered the music of Ray Charles and then gone out and written and recorded a soul record complete with strings and horns – a far cry from the post-alternative rock he had built his career around at the turn of the millenium. The wait for this record has been unreal.. but oh, so worth it.

The album-opener “Black Diamond” sets the stage well by leaning on classic instrumentation – keys, violins, and John Mayer-esque guitar riffs give way to a verse carried simply by the drum and bass. The composition of “Turning Pages”, juxtaposing major/minor chords against one another, makes it perhaps the most reminiscent of the artist’s previous ballads. “Pillowfight” is probably the most upbeat track and calls to mind shades of Stevie Wonder, especially on its super-hooky outro tag of “Something feels like summertime/Children laughing all the time.” While it doesn’t completely drop the soul-vibe, “Wildfire” has the most singer-songwriter feel of the whole album.

In a previous conversation, Brian mentioned his move to Nashville in the aftermath of a long, unhealthy relationship. The stains of those experiences are all over this record. “She Says #1” – which boasts an intro that brings to mind The Temptations’ classic “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” – deals with the after-effects of infidelity. The almost-cinematic “Black Friday” draws the listener into the uncomfortable scene of breakup in-progress as it builds through sweeping vocals without offering a chorus to break the tension. As rough as it is to experience, it is perhaps the best track on the album.

A conversation from many years ago about making great records often comes to mind. A producer friend was discussing his desire to make “timeless” records – albums that sound like they could have come out yesterday or thirty years ago and still be relevant. I feel like that is exactly what Brian McSweeney has done here. It’s eclectic in all the right ways pulling in sounds as varied as Sam Cooke, The Beatles, and Richard Marx, yet not a single note feels out of place. Generally speaking, I prefer to hear acoustic versions of songs, but nearly all of these tracks demand full instrumentation as though that is as integral to the piece as the melody and lyrics – that to me is the sign of an album truly transcending music and becoming art.

You can stream Love Me Down on Brian’s site and Spotify, but do yourself a favor and actually purchase it.

Also, stay tuned for a new interview with Brian coming next week.