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Spiraling

Interviewed by Josh Turner
Interview with Tom Brislin of Spiraling From 2005
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

I wanted to start by talking about that Symphonic Live DVD. I was recently watching it and I was surprised to see you on stage with Yes. It was the first time I was exposed to you. It's kind of funny, because when it came time to play "Roundabout", I was kind of wondering, who's this guy and how he is going to play this song. It turns out that you nailed every single note. You even played a little bit like Rick Wakeman and I was quite impressed. You did a wonderful job throughout the entire concert. How did you get involved with Yes for this concert and corresponding DVD?
My involvement with Yes came about actually somewhat related to the fact that I was touring with Meatloaf. I've been Meatloaf's piano player for a couple of years pretty much fresh out of college and through Meatloaf's, they've got the same management, they had heard that I pretty much grew up listening to Yes music and I'm a big fan. When that date came about for the Symphonic tour, Jon Anderson gave me a call, gave me a chance to audition for the tour, the Symphonic tour.
MSJ: Are you going to be involved in any other tours, concerts, or festivals in the near future?
With Yes?
MSJ: With anybody, what kind of tours or concerts do you have planned?
I'm focused on Spiraling right now. We are gearing up for more tour dates. We've been playing pretty much throughout the last couple of years, even when we were recording our last CD, you know, we'd been playing shows interspersed throughout the time of the sessions and things like that, we'd really never stop playing live. We're actually going to be playing at CalProg, which is a progressive music festival in, um, Whittier, California, that's in June, and it's really interesting because we don't call ourselves a progressive rock band per se with Spiraling, but because of my affiliation with Yes and also with Camel who have played with me a year and a half ago a lot of people in the prog rock community they take interest in what I'm doing with Spiraling, so I think it's going to be pretty fun for us to go out there and do what we do in front of a, a progressive crowd. (laughs)
MSJ: Speaking of Spiraling, I really like the album Transmitter and a number of the songs are very catchy. I like the bridges and the keyboard solos. I mean, you're even a heck of a singer on the album.
Thank you.
MSJ: I like songs like "The Girl on the Top of the Piano" and that last one, "Get Your Own Holy Grail". I'm just wondering if you can explain your songwriting process. How do you come up with these catchy tunes?
Oh well, thank you. My songwriting process is pretty much, the thing that I'm always striving to do is, um, be able to have the discipline to say that I'm going to have it and it sounds like a simple thing, but, you know, a lot of people are known for writing songs. We all have this thing where we have the greatest idea we've ever had and it's about two minutes before you fall asleep (laughter) and you say, oh, it's catchy, I'll remember this and you never do. You just forget it, so to have the discipline to go and record, you know, just quick get the idea on tape, write down, you know, jot down some lyrics if you have the lyric idea. It's really important, and that, you know, it's a lot of this, this process, you know, having ideas happens all the time, being able to save them and then go back to them, revisit them later and flesh them out, develop them, you know, put them in, in an arrangement. That's where the craft and the discipline comes in and that's what I'm always trying to, you know, remember to take the time to do that, but I never sit down to write a song. It's never good if that happens. I never say, "okay, I'm going to write a song tonight." It's like, you know, what I'll do is I'll sit down and write a piano or no, rather I'll sit down and play piano for however long and, and just sometimes good ideas will come and sometimes it won't. It's just a matter of being consistent and giving myself time to do that.
MSJ: Do you have plans for another album at this time?
Yes, Spiraling is in the process of devising what the new album is going to be and I've written a lot of songs and a lot of them are incomplete, so it's a matter of finding the, you know, whatever is missing from a couple of these tunes and locking it in and completing the songs and just, you know, kind of having some sort of concept. A lot of songs tend to cover different ground, so we don't want to make it confusing, you know, we want to have something that's still unified throughout.
MSJ: How did you come up with the name Spiraling for your band?
Okay, Spiraling is actually part of the phrase "you were spiraling", which our band used to be called and "you were spiraling" is a quote from the movie called The Commitments about a bunch of kids from Ireland who form an American-style sixties soul band. It's a long story, but in the movie the context is basically, that's an accusation, "you are spiraling". You were going outside of the rules of the style of music and that's kind of what we're all about. We don't really impose any stylistic rules on the band, so, um, you can picture that spiraling and moving about, around these various influences and aspects in the music.
MSJ: Speaking of influences, who would you say are your musical influences?
Oh wow, there's so many, we're just, all in the band, real, avid fans of music, you know, The Beatles is pretty much where it starts for the rock world with us and moving up through all this Beatles-influenced music like Yes, and then there's this seventies rock which Yes is a part of, and, um, Zeppelin and Queen and King Crimson, then the music that we all came to know as the eighties new wave stuff, Duran Duran, The Police, Men at Work, Tears for Fears, Elvis Costello. From that you get a lot of the great songwriter guys, people like Joe Jackson. It just moves throughout so much territory and, and we're all pretty heavy jazz buffs as well, basically the Blue Note era, um, late fifties, early sixties. I think that's more of an influence on our instrumental aspect, you know, as players. I think Herbie Hancock is one of my favorite musicians. And then the nineties Indie Rock I think was pretty influential as well. As you see, we're kind of going through the decades here, you know, from each decade that really stands out, and I think that's it.
MSJ: So how did you decide that you wanted to become a keyboardist and when did your involvement in music actually begin?
Well, there was a piano in our house growing up (laughs) and I always used to play it and, I always had fun with the piano, started realizing that I could figure out, uh, TV theme songs and get some attention (laughs) from my older siblings. And from there my sister started teaching me piano lessons and I was always into it. I remember when I was a kid even before I could really play, I would draw album covers, um, my own album covers with song titles and everything. I didn't have songs, but I just loved records. They were always around the house and I would be, peculiarly at a young age looking at who played what and, you know, what the songs were and who wrote the songs and it was interesting to me just like baseball cards were something, checking out who played what position and, and what year they played for what team, you know. I was into bands and I think just when my learning how to play the piano combined with that at a young age and I was in my first band when I was ten. So it was always something that I wanted to do.
MSJ: How did you actually meet your bandmates with Spiraling?
I went to college with the drummer Paul Wells and Marty O'Kane, our guitarist, uh, I met through the local music scene here in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Bob Hart is the one band member that I've worked with the longest and I met him at a jam session when he was primarily a guitarist and was deciding that he wanted to play bass more and, so he had an interesting musical background, you know - a lot of hard rock stuff, but he also was avid jazz and really talented musician all around, so it was a perfect fit, because we at that point and you were spiraling were getting into doing a lot of improvising, not, necessarily in a jam band context, but we would do shows and we would improvise songs, I mean, with verses and choruses and lyrics. We would actually attempt to create a song in front of people from the ground up with changes and everything and sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't, but it was fun. (laughs)
MSJ: Can you recall any Spinal Tap moments in your career?
Oh boy, you know, definitely, um … oh man.
MSJ: Did you have any on the Yes tour maybe?
Well, (laughs) there's bound to be. There's definitely been the, uh, venue with the, um, impossibly difficult catacomb of tunnels (laughter) to the stage where we are getting lost on our way to the stage. I'm sure that's happened one time, you know, actually from that famous scene in Spinal Tap where they're still lost getting to the stage, they're, "Hello Cleveland," on the way, you know, "Alright Cleveland, Ready to Rock." I actually started calling any difficult realm of backstage, uh, roads we start, we say, "oh yeah, that's Cleveland in there, you know". It's like how is it always Cleveland, you are going to get lost before you even get to the stage. (laughter) And just the various - we've all been on a bill we shouldn't have been on, you know, a band that's inadequately billed to be played with other shows, other types of bands that it wouldn't match. We'd always say, "okay, when's the puppet show going to begin?" Remember that Spinal Tap scene where they're playing an amusement park with a puppet show and Spinal Tap and stuff like that. Spinal Tap is very, very, true to life for a lot of bands.Thankfully we haven't had too much like it.
MSJ: What's the last CD that you purchased?
I would say the new album by Cake called "Pressure Chief".
MSJ: What's the last concert that you've attended as a fan?
The bands here in New Jersey actually, a band called Hello Lovely is friends of ours who I just played some synths on their new recording, but I am a fan too, so I don't know if that counts.
MSJ: Oh sure, interesting.
And I saw Keane recently, which is really, really fantastic
MSJ: Yeah, I saw them on Saturday Night Live.
The group has a great singer.
MSJ: What's your favorite album?
Oh man.
MSJ: If you can't narrow it down, just the first one that pops into your mind.
No, I have a rotation, my favorite album that I've heard, that I've been exposed to recently in the past couple of years, would probably be Transatlanticism by Death Cab for Cutie or The Postal Service, Give Up. But, you know, if we're talking all time, I have a desert island list, which definitely includes Purple Rain. I like Prince and the Revolution, that's always one of my favorites. You know, I break that one out every few years.
MSJ: I just like to ask that, because sometimes you get interesting answers and other times, it is just kind of nice, because you can be exposed to things that maybe you haven't heard of.
Sure, that's good, I think, that's why, you get one of the obvious answers, you know, of course Fragile is going to be on my desert island list, but we all knew to check that out although, you know, younger kids who I talk to, typically when they come to see Spiraling, you know, I always kind of tell them about the classic stuff.
MSJ: Kind of along the same lines, another difficult question, but who would you say is your favorite band?
Whoo, um, again that always changes from from time to time. There's, you know, I have different categories I guess. The favorite band I saw live - one of the greatest live shows I ever saw was this crazy band from Nashville - they're either from North Carolina or Nashville. They're called "The Legendary Shack Shakers" and they're this psychobilly punked-out rockabilly from hell band with upright bass, ancient electric guitars, and heavy metal drums, and, you know, really crazy dirty South sort of thing, but it was highly entertaining and just a very compelling show. (laughter) Oh man, who is my favorite band? The Beatles is one of them, you know. I guess, it's The Beatles for me.
MSJ: I'd also like to ask you some favorites that aren't specifically related to music. It kind of shows other ways that influences can come into your music and kind of what your tastes are. What is your favorite movie?
Oh boy, it's funny, I've been asked this question a lot and I always tell them Johnny Dangerously.
MSJ: Yeah, that's a good one.
And everyone is like, are you kidding me, how can that be one of your top movies, you know? And I was like, I don't know why, but I know every line of dialogue in Johnny Dangerously. And, of course me and my generation, the Star Wars, line is always - that's in its own class.
MSJ: Yeah.
But, it's Johnny Dangerously always I find entertaining.
MSJ: What's your favorite TV show?
Hmm… favorite TV show? Um, I would probably say Star Trek The Next Generation, because that made me a geek respectable. (laughter)
MSJ: Right.
You know what I mean, you could be a respectable geek.
MSJ: I totally understand. (laughter) And then just the last of the favorites - what would you say is your favorite book?
Now I'm thinking, um - it's weird, because a lot of the stuff that I read isn't fiction, you know? A lot of it's not fiction and, uh, how to's and things like that. I mean, growing up "The Hobbit" was always a favorite book of mine and, that's was so fresh, especially when The Lord of the Rings movie series came out again, I went back and read that again and I was, " this is real fun."
MSJ: Okay and I have an odd question I like to ask. It helps me identify with the artist and it is kind of appropriate because going back and forth with your publicist, we were talking about our dogs and I was wondering if you have any pets?
I don't have any pets, but I love animals.
MSJ: Okay.
I guess the fact that I live alone and go on the road a lot, I decided not to put any pets through the ordeal of having to fend for themselves. (laughter)
MSJ: That's probably a good idea.
Yeah.
MSJ: Is there anything you'd like to say to your fans at this time?
Thanks - thanks for being interested and giving us the opportunity to play music, for people cause it's, uh, one of the most fun experiences in the world.
 
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