If you want to know what it’s like to be young and following your dream in the music business, look no further than Texas-native Tyler Bryant. He is the epitome of youth with a grounded sense of who he is and how he can not only be the best guitar player he can be but be the best person he can be. With a solid foundation of family, friends and mentors, twenty-one-year-old Bryant has been able to go from wanting to be Elvis while in first grade to actually playing guitar like his idols Stevie Ray Vaughan and Lightnin’ Hopkins. He may be young at heart but his heart has been fermenting in the old blues.
Bryant is set to release his debut full-length album Wild Child this week with his band The Shakedown, which features guitar player Graham Whitford, Noah Denney on bass and Caleb Crosby on drums. They have produced a record that swims in the blues but has the added flavor of rock & roll – “Lipstick Wonder Woman,” “House That Jack Built,” “Downtown Tonight” and “Poor Boy’s Dream” all showcase what it’s like to be young and free on a lighted stage.
Born and raised in small-town Texas, Bryant fell under the influence of local elder bluesman Roosevelt Twitty, who he saw playing guitar while in elementary school and by age thirteen was sitting in and playing live with the man he still refers to as Mr. Twitty. At fifteen, he was given the Robert Johnson Gibson New Generation Award that spotlights up & coming young guitar players. In 2009, music photographer Robert Knight took Bryant under his wing and helped him gain even more attention via his documentary Rock Prophecies. He has opened for Jeff Beck and played at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival.
Last month Bryant called in from Nashville where he was sitting in the studio on his day off, because it’s where he loves to be, and talked with me about his love of music, his excitement about his new album and why his band became known as The Shakedown.
So where are you at today, Tyler?
I’m actually in the studio today. I just got back. We were out on the road and I just got back to Nashville.
You must have no time to just sit back and kick your feet up anymore, do you?
Well, it’s funny, I talked to my mom yesterday and she was like, “Tyler, you’re working too hard. Tomorrow you should take some time and do something fun.” And I was like, “Alright, I am. I am going to go do something fun.” And she was like, “What are you going to do?” And I said, “I’m going to go to the studio.” (laughs)
But that’s fun for you
Yeah, it’s not work, it’s just having fun. Writing new songs and playing rock shows for people.
What are you doing in the studio?
It’s just what I enjoy doing, writing songs and recording them. Today I’m with my buddy Roger Nichols, who is a killer producer here in Nashville, and we’re just kind of having fun, writing songs, whatever we feel like writing.
Robert Knight speaks very highly of you. Has he been one of your rock & roll guardian angels?
Yeah, I mean, Robert opened up a lot of doors for me and I’m super grateful to him for believing in me from day one. Because when a lot of people just kind of turned their head, he was going, “Oh wait, there is something here. This kid’s got something.” And I’m really thankful that he just believed in me from the start.
What is your earliest memory of music?
My earliest memory of music is first grade in music class and the teacher showed a video of Elvis Presley. I was addicted from the moment I saw it; like, I wanted to be Elvis. Dyed my hair black, started wearing leather pants and leather jacket and yeah, Elvis Presley was the first time I realized I wanted to be a musician.
Roosevelt Twitty was the gentleman who really turned you on, so to speak. What do you think is the most important thing that you have learned from him?
He’s never just said, like, “Hey, I’m going to go out and I’m going to be a bluesman” or “I’m going to make records and make a lot of money.” He’s always just done it because he loved doing it. Anytime I start to get carried away by like the whole business side of things, I always kind of think about him and how he’s probably sitting in his house right now singing his heart out because that’s what he does. And I think what I learned from Mr Twitty is to just play it because you mean it, not because you want something.
And that’s very important
It is. I mean, it’s so easy in the music industry to forget why you do music. I play music because it moves me and I believe that it has a lot of power to affect people in good ways. I mean, that’s why I started doing it, it made me feel something. I think a lot of people forget that and that’s one thing that he’s always taught me – to be true to myself, be someone to believe.
Your parents have kept you grounded. What was their first reaction to your guitar playing? Did they have any idea that you had this gift?
They were always really supportive. They kind of took the approach of, “Well, if you want to be a guitar player, cool. If you want to be a doctor, cool. Just be the best that you can be in whatever you do and we’ll support you no matter what.” But they never really pushed me to play guitar. They were always like, “Do whatever you want and be a good person.” So when I started playing, they were like, “Ah yeah, that sounds good.” At times my dad would be like, “Hey, that sounds terrible.” (laughs) They were honest with me from the start. But I think they kind of knew that there was something there by the time I was thirteen or fourteen and I was making quite a bit of money playing gigs with these old blues bands.
The thing is, I feel like stage moms are pretty annoying to young artists. My parents have stayed out it, which I’m super thankful for. They always just made sure I wasn’t going to get myself into too much trouble and they were always there for me. They would cart me out to listen to bands and drive me to gigs. But they never tried to put their hands in it and steer it in anyway. They kind of let me do my thing, which I’m super grateful for, you know.
Your first full-length album is about to come out. What was your main goal for this album?
I wanted to make a rock record for kids like me, you know. I wanted to make a rock & roll record for my generation and we wanted it to sound alive and dirty and raw like four dudes standing in the room together. So that’s what we did and I’m really, really excited about it.
Did you write all the songs?
I did, yeah. I co-wrote a lot of them with a few friends of mine. I’m really stoked about all the songs on it and I think it’s a good representation of the band.
Playing guitar seems to come really natural to you, but what about the songwriting process? How was that?
At first it was like, trial and error. I have hundreds of songs and the majority no one will ever hear. A lot of them are great songs but they don’t feel like me. And that’s the thing, especially in Nashville. There are so many great songwriters in town and it’s really fun getting together with people and throwing out ideas together. But a lot of times it comes out sounding like something you would never say yourself. So I had to pick the songs that moved me and maybe these songs aren’t like necessarily commercial or the most radio-friendly but that’s not really what we were going for with this record. We were going for something that was honest to us.
But I love songwriting and that’s what I’m doing today. I was telling someone the other day, if I’m ever not happy with my life, it means I need a new song to get me inspired. I put a lot of my self-worth, and I know that I shouldn’t do it, but I put a lot of self-worth in how good the song is. If I’m not writing any good songs, then I kind of feel a little bit worthless. It’s a pretty important part of who I am and what I do. I hope to keep getting better at it. Hopefully one day I will look back and go, man, those songs were nothing like these. These are where it’s at.
The song “Lipstick Wonder Woman” is pretty wild.
I wrote that song right when I moved to Nashville about three and a half years ago, with my buddy Jaren Johnston [of The Cadillac Black]. We kind of wrote it about that girl who is pretty much everything: she’s smoking hot and is right there blowing your mind. It’s just a fun song. I wanted to write something that everybody could dance to. I love how it turned out on the record. It’s really rootsy with slide guitar and kind of swampy drums. I love that song and it’s a really fun one to play live as well.
Why did you call your band The Shakedown?
We were going through security in New York City. We’d done a show with Aerosmith and we were in the airport and my guitar got flagged for having like pyrotechnics on it or something. So it was this big ordeal where, “Who are these suspicious characters walking through the airport?” “Oh no, we found some fire on his guitar, blah, blah, blah.” So I ended up getting questioned for about thirty minutes and Graham walked by and he was like, “Oh, they’re shaking him down.” And he just kind of said that and it was around the time we were looking for a band name and I was like, Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown, that’s it. And it sounds like our music, I think.
You’ve talked about Lightnin’ Hopkins. If you had to tell people your age about this old bluesman, how would you describe how great he is?
Oh man, I mean, Lightnin’ Hopkins is the coolest. He’s one of my favorite blues artists. I just love the sound of one guy with an acoustic guitar. You can hear his foot stomping. He’s singing about how he’s going to shoot his old lady cause she messed around with too many men. It’s kind of unbelievable but it’s really cool. You just picture him sitting on a front porch, stomping his foot, smoking a big fat cigar (laughs) and that’s just the coolest thing to me. And he’s from Texas, which is not a bad thing (laughs)
I assume that in 2013 you’re going to be hitting the road pretty hard.
I am. It’s going to be a rollercoaster.