Interview with Doug Brons
The American singer and songwriter Doug Brons was one of the greatest music discoveries in 2017, who enthused Contemporary Christian music (CCM) and West Coast music fans alike with his unmistakable voice and his brilliant debut album "Soulscripted". With his second album "Timepiece" Brons has now returned in old strength. LATE NIGHT DREAM spoke with the native Californian about his new album, his musical career, the power of faith and his eternal love for West Coast music.
· Doug, already as a teenager you wrote your first songs. At the age of 16 you stood in the studio for the first time. Did you want to become a professional musician back then?
Absolutely, yes! It had always been my dream, ever since my grandfather taught me the piano at the age of seven, but this experience is what really did solidified my dream. It was my first time seeing a big console with all the led VU meters, isolation booths, a huge array of microphones, a 2” Tape machine, and racks of outboard gear. I was hooked!
· The church was for you not only spiritually, but also musically an important place throughout your life. In your youth you played in several bands. During this time you opened concerts for CCM artists like Denny Correll, First Call, John Fischer, and Steve Archer. Have Christian faith and music always been a unity for you?
Growing up we always sang in church and that is where I first performed, so it holds a special place in my heart. My older brother Mike and I formed our first band in high school with some friends from our youth group. We played at camps and events throughout the Bay Area and Northern California. When Denny Correll, Steve Archer, John Fischer, and First Call came through Santa Rosa, we were able to open for them, which was a big deal for us back then! I am still a huge fan of the CCM that came out of the 80’s – Roby Duke, Michael English, Russ Taff, etc….
· After college, you took a different direction. You married your high school love Rene, became the proud father of three sons and a successful businessman. Did you ever think about giving up music completely?
Yes and no. Having a family is a big commitment, so I had to put my musical pursuits on hold for a lot of years. I stayed active playing in my church worship band and helped my three boys learn to play, but I truly didn’t know if I would be in a position to pick up chasing my dream later in life. The possibility of it being over was very hard for me to think about. I can tell you this, however, my desire to continue only grew during this time, especially as I saw what I thought to be the fall of good music in both the Christian Music industry arena and what was popular on the radio during the 90’s and early 2000’s. Somehow music lost its soul.
· In 2015, the hobby became a serious option again. YouTube played an important role in this. Tell us about it.
Yes, it was 2015 when I decided to give it a go again. I started with purchasing a video camera. I was literally just trying to dial in the microphone on the camera with my version of “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” and I got a decent take. I thought “why not” and posted it on YouTube. The response was quite surprising. It hit 1,000 views quickly and I was thrilled! I received a comment from a gentlemen in Texas admiring my arrangement, and within a week or so of communicating we had exchanged phone numbers. He made me an offer I could not refuse. He said God had laid it on his heart to help me get to the next level by helping me make a demo!!! WOW!!! He said he knew some good musicians.
Little did I know that he was good friends with Bill Maxwell, Koinonia, Luther Vandross, Elton John, Keith Edwards, Roby Duke, Amy Grant, Andraé Crouch, Peewee Hill, Chaka Khan, and Rich Neville, Amy Grant, Poco – only to name a few. We were getting close to wrapping up the recording and he wanted to get a great guitar player on “Vacant Heart”. He talked with Larry Carlton but couldn’t get it worked out. His next move was going to a guy named Tom Hemby – “Tom who???”, I said….. and that brings us to your next question. By the way, someday I will share some of that demo because there are some great players on it!!!
· Finally, guitarist and producer Tom Hemby stepped into your life. An important encounter for your musical development. Did he give you the decisive impulse to record an album?
Tom played guitar on “Vacant Heart” along with three other tunes on the demo. He somehow got my phone number and called me one night. We had a nice discussion about music and the conversation ended up with him telling me that he would love to produce a real album for me. That was the birth of SOULSCRIPTED.
· Doug, in 2017 your first solo album SOULSCRIPTED was released, which caused a sensation not only in the Christian music scene, but also among lovers of the West Coast sound worldwide. Did you expect this success?
A few thoughts on that. Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be doing a project of this calibre. Yes, it was my dream, but man!!! It happened so quickly. I walked on air for a year straight...haha! Having such amazing musical firepower and name recognition on SOULSCRIPTED was the key to its success for sure. I would be remise if I did not mention Tom Hemby and the absolutely fantastic job he did producing the album. He amazed me at every turn! I am also so grateful to God for bringing this into my life.
You all will find this funny, but I had never heard the term “West Coast Music” until after I did SOULSCRIPTED. All I knew was that there was a time when I was at high school and college that produced what I thought was the best music ever… It connected with me like nothing else since… My music is from a point of faith, so I knew it would connect with Christian music, but the whole “West Coast” thing – I was just writing from my heart and making the music that I wished was still around.
· On your debut album you had worked with music legends like Michael Omartian and Bill Champlin for the first time, whom you had admired since your youth. That must have been a great experience. Was it ever!!! I grew up on Chicago, Richard Marx, Christopher Cross, Michael Jackson, Michael McDonald, and David Pack – so these guys were my heroes! When Tom said he was going to have Bill Champlin sing on “I Believe”, I about fell over. When he told me “Omar” was going to do the orchestration for “I’ll Take It All”, I envisioned a sheik on a camel with a studio in Pakistan. When I found out who Omar actually was, I had to pinch myself more than once!!! I am truly blessed and humbled to have all the talent that appeared on my debut project. What a joy it was getting to meet both Michael and Bill. It was so refreshing. Two of the sweetest kindest guys you will meet… just like you and I.
· On your new album "Timepiece" you collaborated another time with many well-known musicians. On "Love Finds A Way" Bill Champlin supports you again with background vocals. You recorded the album with musicians like Pat Coil, Michael Whittaker and Stephen Salamunovich and Tom Hemby. Tell us about the making of the album.
Bill’s singing on “Love Finds A Way” happened relatively close to SOULSCRIPTED. It was the first song I did before TIMEPIECE was in my mind. I sent him a copy of it before it went to Tom. Much to my surprise, he asked if he could sing on it, and of course you know what my answer was!!!
Pat Coil became a Facebook friend a few years back before I even knew he played with Michael McDonald – and what a surprise that was! We shared some music back and forth and I asked if he would be willing to play on few songs. He said “sure” and the rest is history. I finally got to meet him a few weeks ago. What a nice guy and what a fabulous job he did on TIMEPIECE.
Stephen Salamunovich is a Facebook friend as well. “From Here” was my second song we worked on and Stephen did a great job playing. He lives in Seattle just eight hours north. I am looking forward to meeting him someday!
Tom Hemby has been my “go to guy”, so there was no doubt in my mind who I wanted to produce and hold down the guitars and drum programming for the new album!!!
I discovered Michael Whitaker by watching a song by "The Bottom 40" on YouTube. Tom was playing guitar and Michael was playing keys. He caught my eye because he does effortlessly what is simply impossible for me. It was truly a treat to have him play on "Amen".
· People often talk about the difficult second album. Did you find it easy to write new material for “Timepiece” or did you feel a certain expectation of the fans after the success of "Soulscriped"?
TIMEPIECE is a combination of new and old material. I did not find it difficult as a second album. I wanted to do it better!!! Maybe I’m odd, but I just love writing and singing so much that it truly is a joy for me. I wanted this album to be a reflection of me a little more – so I did more before it went to Tom. On SOULSCRIPTED, all I did was provide him with a piano track. On the new album I gave him a rough drum track and up to four or more keyboard parts by Pat and myself. I basically pushed the songs in a direction and then Tom masterfully took them down the road as he does. Whether it’s true or not, in my mind TIMEPIECE was created with more purpose….I had a plan and tried my best to execute it. SOULSCRIPTED set such a high bar that it was a little daunting for sure. I really tried to stick to my roots and to what I love, and I think from people’s responses that has come through!!!
· Doug, the artwork of the album reminds of the great design language of Hipgnosis of the 70s and 80s. Behind it stands an old West Coast music friend, Arnaud Leger. How did the collaboration come about?
I met Arnaud again, where else??? On Facebook! I did not know who he was, just that he loved the same artists I did. We hit it off sharing and talking music. Rene’ and I were fortunate enough to visit France last summer, and we were able to visit with Arnaud at an outside patio in Paris on evening. He mentioned to me that he did album artwork that night and said he would love to do my next cover. I tucked that away and gave him a call when it was time. I gave him one request: Make it iconic! And boy, did he deliver. TIMEPIECE was actually named after the cover was made!!! All I said is that I wanted the cover to do something with the concept of “time”. After Arnaud did the cover, I came up with the title. BRAVO Arnaud on a stunning iconic cover!!!
· Anyone who followed you on Facebook while creating the album could see how much you love the L.A. sound of the 70s and 80s. The record covers of artists like Michael McDonald, Toto and Christopher Cross decorate your walls. What do you think characterizes the music of that era?
One word…SOUL. The music I loved in that era had character and groove. It was genuine art and nobody used formulas. Every era has good and bad, I realize that, but we left something behind in the 80’s. I am trying to recapture that SOUL and bring it forward. The musicianship I hear now is not there like it used to be. Sure we are faster and we have more technology… but “fast” doesn’t speak to me like” tight” and “well placed” do. Omartian’s, Schnee’s, Porcaro’s, Paich’s, Champlin’s, Graydon’s and Foster’s don’t come along every decade.
· just met Michael McDonald in person. Was that a special moment for you?
Absolutely, it was! If only I had more time… How do you convey to somebody the years of joy he has brought to your life in two minutes? Somehow I hope my words cut through and he truly heard me in his heart… it was wonderful!
· Doug, your music is also deeply rooted in the Contemporary Christian music (CCM) of the early 80s. An era of first class music that reached a wide audience beyond the churches. Larry Norman once sang: "Why should the devil have all the good music?" Does CCM need more real feelings, more musicality and joy of playing today?
This is a tough one for me… I am going to tell you straight up how I feel. I am so disheartened by the state of CCM that I don’t really know how to start. If there was ever any genre that should have SOUL and should NEVER lose it – it should be this one. Right???!!! Unfortunately, I believe the fall in the CCM industry has been the worst, and maybe I see it that way because it is so dear to me. The lack of creativity and deep thought coupled with the rampant desire to sound like everyone else breaks my heart. I believe God made us as individuals with distinct attributes…. And yet the industry that is supposed to represent Him tries to stuffs everybody in the same box for the sake of sales.
· What can we expect next, Doug? Will there be concerts or a “Timepiece”-tour in the near future?
That is a very good questions that I wish I knew the answer to! In today’s musical environment, you have to be brave to take time to produce good music, and then trying to make a living at it, it’s a whole other thing. I work at a great dealership (Roe Motors) here in Grants Pass, Oregon, selling cars to make a living. I work 50 hours a week, so both SOULSCRIPTED and TIMEPIECE were done on weekends and late at night. I would LOVE to traveling and performing my music, but honestly, I have a hard enough time juggling work, family and my music as it is now. My situation is not unique, it just is what it is. I also know that God has a way of making what seems impossible a reality, so we will figure this out together!!!
· Thank you very much for the interview!
Thank you so much for this platform to share my story – It was a lot of fun and I hope all your readers enjoy it too!!!