“Revolutions are necessary to keep everything fresh and pure,” claims Boston-bred folk-punk troubadour Bryan McPherson while discussing his latest project and tour. Through a series of life-changing experiences, he found new inspiration and self-produced his third full-length album, Wedgewood (released June 10th). Dodging bullets at Occupy Oakland, he realized that his life was about to change and take a new direction once again. McPherson channels Americana, folk, alternative, and punk into his art while endlessly trying to preserve the spirit of defiance and freedom. Touring year-round, McPherson has hit the circuit with the Dropkick Murphys, opened for Chuck Berry and can even speak to having a fan in the top hat guitar legend Slash. McPherson is a unique artist with a message and it was a pleasure to speak with him shortly following a sold out show in Boston.
Your new album Wedgewood was just recently released. Where did you write it and what was your writing and recording process like?
I wrote the record over the course of the last couple of years. I had worked the material out while living in a hut. I was in northern California and up in the mountains. I secluded myself there for a couple of months to figure out the arrangements, how I’d perform the songs live and ironed out the wrinkles. Then I recorded the album in a studio just a couple of miles away. It was actually on top of an old goldmine in Gold Country. I recorded all of the songs live, playing guitar and singing at the same time. Then I hit the road, up and down the west coast. I finished recording along the way. We did some background vocals and added a second guitar in Portland. I added a string section and piano in Oakland and some mandolin and a horn section in L.A., so a lot of it was done while travelling. But, the bulk of it was done in the Sierra Foothills.
You produced this one by yourself. Was that gratifying and liberating?
Yes, it was self produced. It was actually extraordinarily difficult. It was gratifying because it got done and I did the best job that I could possibly do and I am really happy with the way that it came out.
There is clearly a theme to Wedgewood and your involvement with Occupy Oakland must have had a pretty concrete influence.
Yeah, that is a thread throughout the record. When Occupy Oakland started, I thought it was really amazing and I was really down with what everyone was doing. I found myself there and I had experiences there that affected me. “Here We Go” is a song that is directly related to everything that happened on what is now known as Teargas Tuesday which was basically a riot in Oakland with the police shooting rubber bullets at people. There was a wild synchronicity happening globally with different Occupy movements and I was really inspired. I got interested in revolution, different military figures, spiritual revolution and how many things revolve and aren’t necessarily bad and violent. Revolutions are necessary to keep everything fresh and pure. It all became part of my songwriting process. “Song From The Moon” was pretty much influenced by all of that. “Wasted World” was inspired by war and all of its horrors. There are other songs on the album that are about my friends, relations and history – personal songs about the journey of life.
“Kelly Thomas” is a moving song and the media recording at the end, listening to him beg for his life – is brutal. Did you waffle at all about including that in the final mix? It certainly delivers quite a blow.
Yeah, I thought about it and obviously leaned towards including it because it was such an integral part of the inspiration of the song. I’m sorry if it’s hard to listen to but it’s a real fucking thing, man. But, I think people do need to hear that. There’s no denying the truth when it’s right in your face. Yeah, the truth hurts. It’s hard to watch. That’s why people ignore those types of events. I wrote that song while I was in the hut. I heard about it and watched it on Youtube like everybody else and I was profoundly affected by the injustice and the undeniable murder that happened to this man. I decided that I wanted to write a song for Kelly Thomas. So I picked up a guitar and wrote a song for him, which is something that I hardly ever do. I usually can;t do that. Rarely am I inspired in the moment, so I was lucky that I was able to. Then I called the Huffington Post and got some press about it to raise awareness. Since then, so much more has been coming to light across the states. Kelly Thomas is not the only person who begged for his life while he couldn’t breathe and had people kill him.
I just watched a live recording of “Dangerous Friends” and the story of one of the urban legends that you reference in the song is hitting the silver screen shortly. What are your thoughts on movies like Black Mass and Hollywood glorifying the lives of mobsters like Whitey Bulger?
I don’t really know. I read the book and it’s really about the direct relationships that Bulger had with the FBI. My song may actually glorify it a little bit or maybe even add some drama to it. The story is really a modern urban legend. Whitey and his brother, who was the Speaker of the House in Boston – they personified corruption. Everyone is connected. The criminals and the politicians are all working with the FBI. It’s been a huge scandal in Boston for a long time and I don’t think that a movie should portray Whitey Bulger as a mythical figure and not mention the how corrupt the whole system is that allowed him to operate the way he did for thirty years.
Your lyrics on Wedgewood are socially and politically charged. What typically inspires you to write about such heavy topics like civil unrest along with political and corporate corruption?
I don’t really know. It’s just what I do. Sometimes I’m inspired by love, empathy for other people and things that I care about. It may be something that I’m interested in or something that I believe in very strongly. I may be affected by a certain experience, which is just like anybody else. Again, it’s just what I do.
In another live recording, you mention that you “grew up hard” before performing “I Saw The Devil”. The lyrical content is considerably sparse compared to your Dylan-esque “I See A Flag”. Would you like to elaborate on what your upbringing was like and how it influenced your art?
That song was on my first record Fourteen Stories and I wrote that song at the end of my addiction to heroin. I’m a recovering addict at this point in my life. I wrote that during the throws of what was going on in my life back then. My friends at the time were all wrapped up in it too. It was really about being strung out.
On Wedgewood‘s “Burn It Down,” the initial intro sounds just like Neil Young with the acoustic guitar and harmonica. Has Young been an influence on you at all?
No. But you know what? I was listening back to that track I thought the same exact thing. I like Neil Young. He’s cool, but not an influence. Some of my big influences are Bob Dylan, Ani DiFranco, and Bruce Springsteen. I am also into Will Oldham and Lil’ Wayne right now. It’s tough to tell. I’m all over the place.
You’ve just kicked off your tour, of which you are headlining. Your adrenaline must have been working over time for your hometown crowd.
It was fantastic. I played for about two and a half hours. It was sold out. Serious business!
How is it different for you playing across the pond versus back here in the States?
It’s great over in Europe. I’ve been touring as a more polished and established compared to back here in America. They’re very hospitable and the audiences know my lyrics and they are singing along. I don’t have a million people coming out to my shows over there, but the ones that do show up are dynamite.
What are your plans for after this tour wraps up?
The immediate plan is to just get some rest and regroup. I’ll work on my label. I’ve released Wedgewood on my own label. I’m busy packing orders up from all of the online operations. I released the album while I was on the road, so there’s a lot of things that I need to iron out – as far as how I’ll operate everything including all of the digital media, distribution and of course planning the next tour.