Mama’s Mini-Interview with Brian Sonneman

Brian Sonneman is a musician. A guitarist, songwriter, and soundsmith, I sometimes call him Brian "Song-man" because this gentleman is overflowing with so much talent that he just cannot stop making music--it is like breathing for him. His guitar can laugh, weep, whisper, and scream. His voice can go from perfect coo for a ballad to strong rallying cry for an anthem. He has written, performed, and produced music for a long time. As Brian reminded me, "The rule goes, it takes 10,000 hours of intensive practice to achieve mastery of complex skills and materials, so let's just say I put in my 10,000 over 10 years ago."

1. When did you start making music? I was 10 years old when I got my first acoustic guitar. I had begged my parents for a guitar for what seemed like 3 years (to hear my Mother tell the story it was more like 6 months) but it kinda went down like the movie "A Christmas Story.” My parents had to act as if they weren't getting the message for some reason. The only gift I received as a child that made me cry. From joy that is! To the heart of your question, I began making music hand in hand as I learned to play the instrument. An interesting bit I can share with the WAC family that I haven't shared with anyone else outside bandmates. When I was at the very beginning of my guitar instruction taking lessons from a young lady in her early 20s that played with the worship band at our church on Sunday mornings. I was really struggling with string buzz due to the action on my second-hand 'Recording King' acoustic guitar. I remember saying a little prayer that God would help me be able to play any note or chord as clearly as I could sing it. My teacher saw my fingers and could tell my lack of progress had nothing to do with my willingness to do my assigned homework. She came up with a wonderful solution to my painful dilemma. When I showed up for my fourth lesson she handed me her mother’s nylon string guitar. I was off and running! I will never forget that feeling I had when I first heard chords I had fought with so hard to no avail ring out like church bells! I had to use my guitar at home to practice what I was learning, so I still had the ongoing battle for musical clarity to contend with. Being the youngest in the family I had to put up with older brothers giving me a hard time about the dying animal sounds coming from my room. Or how silly I looked lugging around a full-size guitar while a half-sized person. My brother Dave who is five years older and nearest my age came up with what I thought was a brilliant solution to my problem. He said it all comes down to tension, tune the guitar lower and it won't be so hard to play! So I did that. I tuned the whole guitar to open D 440 and I was able to play that guitar, it also opened up a whole new world of possibilities, my playing suddenly had grit built in! The writing continued.

2. What inspires you to make music? That is a fantastic question, no one has ever asked me it quite like that. What inspires me to create is as ever-changing as the music made. Lately I would have to say I am motivated by the world around me. I have never known a time in my life where even people I would have considered intellectuals are reduced to mental midgets by way of pure propaganda! We live in a time when fear rules the day. A time that preys upon credulous people and they're everywhere! It boggles the mind how cheaply logic is sold off! Common sense somehow rings out with a negative connotation! I have feared the leftward leaning of my beloved country since I was old enough to reason. I wondered if one day there might really be such a thing as a thought crime. But now, it’s gone so batshit crazy that 'Thought' in and of itself is becoming a crime!

I am inspired by a yearning for freedom, a desire to effect real change without bloodshed, knowing that we will never be able to win back the rights intended for us by God and purchased with the blood of our founding fathers at a ballot box! So I am hoping music may have the power the pen took away! To this end, I would encourage all of my fellow WAC artists, musicians, singer-songwriters, and authors to lend their talents to the noble cause of reminding the West what set us apart from the rest of lawlessness found across the globe!

3. Can you tell me a little bit about your process? It really depends on the piece I am working on. A lot of times my drummer who plays just about every instrument, will send me a rough cut in demo form. I will put headphones on and go for walks with my dogs. As I listen to the instrumental, I try to focus in on the musical storyline. It’s been my opinion that any great musical foundation has within it a narrative hidden beneath the layers. Sometimes the narrative is bold and seems to jump right on to the page, I love those tracks! When I know what the artist is interested in at the time and I listen for that influence. When I hear my drummer’s anger it is always via hits and riffs! He never verbally addresses any mainstream topic! In fact, the way I found out we were like-minded was by me pushing the envelope. There have been several songs now that at the time I was writing and recording the lyrics/vocals I thought he would for sure say, “Bro, please rephrase that last bridge.” But to this credit, he never has. My wife gets a kick out of the whole idea. The fact that until very recently we hadn't really had any real political discussions. He told me the music changed his mind on several things, many that delivered any other way would have found him shut down to the conversation. I think it’s another reason for my inspiration. That notion follows the same rule when I am doing top-line session work for producers or songwriters. When someone hires me to finish a track for them by writing and recording the vocals if they come to me with a list of lyrical demands and no lyrics the price rises as they prosiest! If on the other hand a producer says I am looking for the song to be about “blank” I'm cool with it, so long as the music agrees. I know it sounds odd, but if a producer wants the song to be about one thing and the music is screaming out something else, I will share what I hear. I have passed on gigs where the producers couldn’t hear the truth in their own music. Aside from top-line session work, the other form of recording begins with silence. I hear bits and pieces in my head. If I listen long enough, and I'm not suffering from writers’ block, the song will slowly begin to reveal itself. If I have an acoustic nearby, I will help it come to life. Songs that begin life with a riff get played to a click track. I have studio for just that purpose. I will send a guitar scratch-track to my drummer and he will double check the tempo and move things around a bit, add some 7chords, adjust the click and a second guitar, perhaps a walking bass, and send it back. I will then readjust the tempo, add a secondary fill gap guitar, and promptly send it back. From there it gets labeled and moved to a folder for later. Sometime later I will get a full song in need of vocals thinking it sounds oddly familiar! And that's been the way we do it when we're not all in the same room hammering stuff out. Which is a lot of fun but rarely anywhere near as productive.

Mama can't imagine Brian Sonneman NOT being productive!!


Twitter: @BrianSonneman

Brian Sonneman's masterful 12-track album "King of the World" has over 5 million views on Soundcloud. The CD is available for purchase from White Art Collective with half of proceeds going back to WAC for artist development and future projects and events.

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