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Progressive Rock Interviews

Tom Brislin

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Tom Brislin from 2012

It’s been quite a while since we caught up with you, Tom – can you catch the readers up on what you’ve been up to?

I think it was after we last spoke that I did a few tours playing keys for Renaissance and Francis Dunnery. After those tours, I moved from New Jersey to Nashville. I set up a home studio and dug into writing and recording my first solo album. I've done some solo touring, including house concerts, which I enjoy, and some recording sessions for various artists as well.

MSJ: With your new solo album coming out, where does that leave Spiraling?

Spiraling quietly disbanded just a few months after our last album, Time Travel Made Easy was released in 2008. We never made any big announcements or anything because we wanted to leave the door open for the future. Since that time, we've regrouped to play at a couple of benefit shows, and I include some Spiraling material in my solo concerts.

MSJ: What was similar and what was different about doing a solo album versus the Spiraling band?

It's similar in that I'm the songwriter. My influences and desire to be stylistically elusive are the common threads. As far as differences go, I'd say that after putting my energies into a rock band for so long, I found that I had some other creative interests. With the solo environment, I started exploring more delicate atmospheres. It's a personal setting, so the music was bound to be more intimate.


If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?

If I had the background for it, I'd like to be on some sort of team working on solutions energy or water issues.


What's ahead for you?

I'm getting the album out there and developing a solo tour for 2013. I'm also recording a ton of cover songs. My album was fan-funded, and those who pledged early had a chance to request a recording of any song by any artist. By the end of the year I'll have a collection of 35 covers.


I’d see your new solo album as sort of a blending between modern pop rock music (perhaps The Killers would be a good reference point) and neo-prog of bands like Porcupine Tree. I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe it?

The best description I've seen is "Cinematic Pop.” It's song-oriented at the core, and I like to expand it with any and all flavors and textures.

MSJ: You’ve had the opportunity to play with some great musicians. Are there any moments that stand out for you in those adventures?

"Adventures" is a great description. My time playing keyboards for Yes in 2001 is something I'll never forget. My time in Meat Loaf's band prior to that was my first substantial touring experience. Having Debbie Harry show up at my house to write songs was surreal. There was also a time when Glen Burtnik recruited me to play in his house band with Patti Smyth for a John McEnroe talk show pilot. Sting sat in with the band, lending some backing vocals. After the show, the band members and I concurred: "That's right. We played with Sting.” That was my story, and I stuck to it for a least a couple of weeks.

When I toured in the UK with Francis Dunnery, Robert Plant came to our final show and sang with the band. It was as if rock and roll Santa had shown up. The band was on cloud nine.


Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?

Colin Hay. He's always been my favorite singer, and his concerts continue to inspire me. I like Gotye, and I'm interested to hear where he goes from here. Bruno Mars has a fantastic band. I'd love to play in a group like that.


Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?

It would be nice if artists could choose when and what to give away. But the cat is out of the bag, and we artists have to adapt and make it work for us. You see some acts that get a bump in their fanbase and concert attendance, and some who suffer from lost sales. I think the "debate" gets cast too often as "music industry versus fans", but I think the more sinister thing is that there are companies that profit big from distributing content illegally, through ad dollars and such.


In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?

I'm in the "it's okay as long as you don't sell it" camp. The people I know who record and trade show recordings are typically major, major fans. They support the artists. This just adds to the fun and mystique and fandom of a band. Where an artist may not like it is when (1) they have a sub-par show, or, (2) they are planning an official release of that concert. I think it's reasonable to assume that the bootleg traders will also buy official live recordings (you gotta have everything, remember?), so it comes down to quality control. No one wants to look bad, and everyone's human. I saw an interview with Chris Rock, where he expressed that stand-up comedy is tricky now that it's hard to test new material in a small room. Someone will take video with their phone and upload it online for all to see, often before the jokes are fully developed. Some musicians work that way too, testing new material in concert that may not be fully formed.


If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?

I don't know, but whoever it is, get ready for a glorious keytar battle.


If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?

For my own selfish enjoyment, I'd like to see a Colin Hay/Herbie Hancock duo. My favorite singer with my favorite keyboard player.


If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?

Stevie Wonder headlines. Overwhelmed by choices after that, but I'd like a mix of genres and generations.


What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?

I'm listening to the Shins, Hans Zimmer, and I finally discovered The T.A.M.I. Show, which has been really inspiring.


Have you read any good books lately?

I'm now reading Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries, by Jon Ronson. I never thought I'd read something that put a human face on the members of Insane Clown Posse.


What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

I went to a house concert by Australian singer/songwriter Anthony Snape, which was quite good.


Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”

Most of that stuff comes from nostalgia. I put on the Fat Boys and I love it; probably because it makes me think of being a little kid attempting to break dance.


What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

On my first tour with Meat Loaf, there was a giant inflatable bat-monster that rose up behind the band on stage. Seems like something Tap would've had.


If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?

You're talking to a guy that takes a half hour to pick out the right shower curtain. I'll keep it simple and keep it to the living. First, there's astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, because I'd be bound to learn something in an entertaining way. Then, there'd be comedian Chris Hardwick, because I like his humor (and he'd also be interested in what Tyson says), and finally, basketball legend Walt "Clyde" Frazier, because he's the quintessence of cool.


What would be on the menu?

Indian food.


Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?

I'd just like to say thanks to you and your readership for listening. Best wishes to everyone.

MSJ: This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 6 at
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