Dan Bryk
By Ronnie

Dan Bryk isn't your typical rock and roller. This Canadian doesn't smoke, drink or do drugs. But, maybe this gives him a unique perspective in his songwriting. Dan's album, "Lovers Leap" is a subliminal pop masterpiece, with lyrical brilliance that hits you on several levels.

E.C.: "Lovers Leap" is definitely a subliminal pop masterpiece. There are very few artists that can successfully transpose their thoughts/emotions/observances to a tune without sounding "whining". When did you realize you had a calling to music?

Dan: I've been working on songwriting for a long time, I spent a lot of time in the 8-track recording studio at my high school (which is why I think I didn't drop out) but it wasn't until college that I actually started to make and release tapes. My early 90's stuff was more industrial-sounding because samplers and drum machines were the only writing tools I had mastered at that point. Most of it was awful, really teenage, personal angst stuff that got gradually more musical, until the mid-nineties when I sort of balanced things out on the pop side. Around 1994 I finally decided I had to be able to sit at a piano in front of an audience if was gonna be any good so I started playing shows around Toronto. Soon after that I started to work with other musicians and they actually liked playing my songs, which convinced me I was getting somewhere.

E.C.: Do you ever feel self conscious about bearing your soul in your music? Or do you make an effort to disguise some of your lyrics to keep people guessing?

Dan: I generally try to be honest but it would be misleading to say it's all literal, "soul-bearing" stuff. A lot of it is stolen from conversations and observations of people I don't even know. Just because I'm singing "I" or "you" in the chorus doesn't necessarily mean I'm life confessing something personally. A good song is usually some truth and some made up stuff. And then some total lies.

Sometimes the heart of a song is in the little details. Sometimes it's in the chorus.

E.C.: I came across the bonus stuff on your CD quite by accident. The CD isn't labeled that it has bonusstuff, but my computer at work found them. I think it is a stroke of brilliance in that people can see your other work. I really like some of those tracks (especially "Graveyard of Friends"-it is simply exquisite!). Now, I'm gonna get your other CD's. What inspired you to put this extra stuff on the CD?

Dan: A couple of things did. I didn't want to put the lyrics in the booklet, because I think that steals some of the mystery of getting into a new record (my lyrics are usually sort of easy to understand). I had wanted to include a lyric book on a CD for a while, and since pop albums shouldn't be longer than 45 minutes that leaves a couple hundred megs for bonus stuff: a screensaver and some MP3's and video.

Basically I just wanted to add something extra for anyone who's going to get that far into my music, and to be honest it was a huge headache of an experience because it was my first time doing it, and it had to be a split Mac/Windows CD-ROM, and I pretty much taught myself (with a little help on the screensaver). That's in addition to doing the sleeve design and my website, which probably makes me a control freak.

To make matters worse, the Canadian manufacturer somehow screwed up the bonus track (it's "there" apparently, but it doesn't mount), so there's only a CD-ROM on the US version until we do a second pressing for Canada. So I'm sort of lucky after all that the package doesn't promise "enhancement". But the original idea was that it would be a surprise that would get spread by word of mouth and on the net, Though I guess I'm going to have to blow the secret and make some of the files available on the website when Canadians start to find out.

Graveyard of Friends is a wonderful song by my friend Chris Warren. I played a bit of piano and organ on his record Crazy Wisdom a couple years back, and we help run an artists' collective record label called Urban Myth. Chris Website is at http://www.chriswarren.cc/ and the UM site is http://bryk.com/um/

E.C.: A lot of people that show their emotions and frustrations in their songs get labeled as "nerd rockers". Would that bother you to get that label?

Dan: No, I guess that's fair. I think the "nerd" tag is less of an earnestness/frustration thing than a label you get when what you do is obviously different, but not "cool". I mean, anyone who meets me knows I'm not cool or sexy or overwhelmingly "rock". But it's not like I started to wear skinny ties and hornrims.

E.C.: Any touring plans in the States? (I would definitely be there!)

Dan: I just came back from Chicago, and in January I am doing solo shows in Boston, NYC, NJ, Philadelphia and Arlington VA. I don't have confirmation of all the clubs for another day or two. I would have liked to have made it down to Athens or Chapel Hill but it was tricky to book those shows in January. I hope to be back with a full band in the spring.

E.C.: I've recently become aware of live musical groups in both Canada and the States that are having problems crossing the borders of their prospective countries to play. There is even a petition going around. Any thoughts on this?

Dan: It is a headache, especially for artists who are just starting out, often playing shows for gas money. I'm all for anything to correct this. I'm generally against these email spam petitions, but I've received this one from dozens of people, and I've passed it on to with my signature. I hope the originator knows where it will make the biggest impression politically, cause I don't know how seriously politicians take email petitions.

E.C.: Do you piss off any ex-girlfriends by writing about them? Or is that part of the deal in dating a singer/songwriter?

Dan: I made some mistakes earlier on as far as identifying people with their real names in my songs, but a couple of legal threats later I learned my lesson. Some friends are flattered or shrug it off, but some have gotten VERY UPSET when they thought I was describing (or dissing) them in songs. I think I've even lost a friend over it. I guess people who know how I write should simply ask me not to write about them, because I would respect that. In fact, the person I've been seeing lately threatened to beat me up if I ever used her name. She probably could do it too.

E.C.: You are obviously a fan of Randy Newman. What is your fave album of his? (mine is "Good Old Boys", which I discovered when I was 12 years old)

Dan: I knew about Randy at about the same age when Dr. Demento played "Political Science", but didn't really get deeply into him until I was 15 (i.e. around the time I wrote "Fingers", unfortunately). Probably my favourite is the first one (aka "Creates Something New Under The Sun"). It's just such a strong statement of what he's about, nails most of the themes he'll follow for the next thirty years, and there's still a sixties sense of joy and experimentation about it, like he hasn't figured out yet that he'll never be a huge star, that he'll always be (as Marcus put it) "at the margin, scheming." The combination of Randy's arrangements and Van Dyke Parks' production is both weird and wicked, close to genius. I think it should have a cult following as big as "Pet Sounds"; they're both such eccentric and ground-breaking works of art.

E.C.: I also get the impression that you are a computer enthusiast. Any fave sites? I love it when artists such as Brian Wilson have a message board on their site where they can actually interact with the fans. Any chance of something like that on your site in the future?

Dan: Actually there is one...click on "message bored" from the main page. If anyone was that interested I would do a egroups/yahoo chat. I'm pretty accessible through email anyhow.

E.C.: What about computer games? I have a feeling you are a fan of those as well (I'm an old fan of those early 80's games such as Asteroids or Omega Race).

Dan: I'm actually fairly obsessed with collecting MAME emulator ROMS for vintage arcade games. It's weird to press a button in an emulator window instead of putting in a quarter, and to think that these huge cabinets ran sophisticated games on 128K of code. It makes you wonder why Windows or Mac OS apps need gigs of space. Actually it's only a matter of time until Microsoft buys the rights to all those games and starts to sell it back to us as nostalgia, at a premium price. Never thought I'd be playing Sinistar or Burgertime with Quark running in the background window ;)

I got email from real serious computer geeks asking me about my song Mark Turmell when it was up on MP3.com and IUMA, and then I actually got an email from Mark Turmell himself around when I played Chicago. He actually went out and bought the record, which is fucking surreal! The short version of how I wrote that song is I found a big stack of old Electronic Games and K-Power magazines in my parents' basement and spent an afternoon flashing back to 1983, which was ultimately sort of a bummer. Fortunately most people find the song cathartic rather than depressing.

E.C.: You don't do drugs, smoke or drink. Does this isolate you from the rock and roll crowd? Or does it simply give you a chance to make clear-headed observations of the inherent irony of what people do?

Dan: Well I actually had a rough couple of months this past year where I fell... is it off the wagon? So I'm not like some purist or preacher or anything. But I am a proponent of straight edge, mostly because I like things to be real. In fact my guilty pleasures are espresso and sugar-based foods...things that buzz and accelerate. I suspect that exemplifies the Starbucks world conspiracy where the Man squeezes as much productivity from us by caffeinating out our exhaustion and frustration with living stressful, empty lives...*sigh* I'm actually making a concerted effort to cut down on that stuff too. Then again, I'm a cheap drunk from a long line of alcoholics...one or two drinks and I am a pain in the ass to be around, and totally useless the next day. Cigarette smoking seems totally useless, I've never gotten why people start that at all.

But to answer your question ;) yeah it's weird to people who don't know me, people sometimes get offended if you don't accept a joint and get into heated "well why not?" arguments (for the record, pot should be decriminalized). people who get to know me just accept it. I don't think it brings any special skills to writing, although it means less drinking songs.

E.C.: I love that you called your debut CD, "Dan Bryk, Asshole"! Was the intent to give an "up yours" to the music establishment? Or just saying, "this is who I am and what I say-take it or leave it"?

Dan: Sure. Actually it was meant eponymously (as in "Dan Bryk's self-titled CD Asshole"). My old manager and I laughed a lot when I suggested it and surprisingly we didn't chicken out. So much of the indie stuff that was popular at the time was really mainstream (Barenaked Ladies, The Waltons, Moxy Fruvous) so it seemed like a good way to say "fuck that, this is different!" it was also great hearing people say it on TV and radio a bunch of times.

E.C.: Sometimes it's hard for Canadian rockers to "crossover" to success in the States. What are your thoughts?

Dan: I'm not sure what I do is all that "Canadian", in that it's neither folkie (though I'm a sucker for Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell) or meat-and-potatoes rock (think Bryan Adams, April Wine, Triumph...bands I love to hate). The Canadian music industry hasn't shown much enthusiasm for what I do in general although there are some great people who have helped. Many of the artists from Canada that I admire (like Ron Sexsmith and ) are undervalued here and respected elsewhere. But I live and work in Toronto, and I love this place in a completely irrational way--Torontonians as a whole really don't care about supporting the local music scene. A lot of local media and industry people didn't really take me all that seriously until Scratchie came along and offered me a deal. Things are actually going better with this record in the states, where I'm a "new" artist.

Honestly I think it's pretty hard to be successful anywhere right now. There's so much good new music out there and not a lot of people taking risks on the radio and TV. I think the best I can do is get my music out to as many people who might like it, and let them decide if it's worthy of their love. College radio has been really supportive from the beginning, and spreading the word is a lot easier with the internet, which will make national distinctions less important...for better or for worse.

E.C.: Finally, when can I expect a new CD?!

Dan: Lovers Leap was pretty much written and recorded by 1997 but due to some serious delays it's only coming out now. It feels really strange to me to be mostly playing songs that are over five years old, but no one seems to mind but me so I'll shut up now. I have plenty of unrecorded songs, and a handful of really good ones I'm having trouble finishing...some serious writer's block this year. Judging from the songs I might call it "Marches and Waltzes" (James and Adam from Scratchie came out to my Chicago show and suggested I name it "You guys are great!" because apparently I said that ten times...) If there's one thing I've learned in the music business it's never set dates for anything that's out of your control! So hopefully a new record in 2001!

Click here to visit the official Dan Bryk website