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InterviewsMike Keneally Band’s Bryan Beller speaks Dog

Posted on Saturday, September 25 2004 @ 15:39:01 CDT by Jedd Beaudoin
Progressive Rock Bryan Beller has served as bassist for Mike Keneally for a decade, the two first having come together in Z, featuring Ahmet and Dweezil Zappa. In that decade, Beller's appeared on albums such as Dancing, Wooden Smoke and, now, the Dog, the debut record from the Mike Keneally Band. (He also released his own fine solo disc View and fulfilled a longtime dream by sharing the stage with Steve Vai.) SoT's Jedd Beaudoin caught up with Beller via e-mail a few days after he, Keneally, drummer Nick D'Virgilio and guitarist Rick Musallam played a stunning set at NEARfest. Mike Keneally Band put on one hell of a show at NEARfest. I'm curious about your thoughts on having played at the festival in general and the band's set in particular.

Bryan Beller: I'd just say that it was a real pleasure to play for so many folks who were just there to listen to out-of-the-mainstream music. You'd be surprised how difficult that feat is to pull off. Major props to the NEARfest organizers for making this show happen. As for our set, it was the East Coast premiere of the Dog material, and it's all so new that we're still figuring out what really works, what we want to tweak, and so on. But people seemed to dig it a lot, even if it all wasn't "progressive" in the classic sense of the word.

SoT: It almost seems that this band was born to play live. Keneally said that there's much more psychic space with this lineup than, say, the Dancing band.

BB: Every one of the Keneally band lineups has its own personality. There's definitely more space to play than in the seven-piece Dancing band, for example. But what I like about this band is the balance between playing parts, improvising, and the singing––with Nick and Rick you've got a pro quality lead singer and background singer, both backing up Mike at will. It saves the audience from having to listen to me sing, which is usually a good thing.

SoT: This configuration has also outlasted any other in the Keneally camp. I would imagine that that's brought some good things in that there's a kind of consistency, you know each other musically. But I would imagine that some bands could fall into a trap of complacency over time--that they might know each other's tricks too well. That doesn't seem a problem for the four of you, however. This band strikes me as one where the players all kind of nudge each other a little bit closer to the edge of the cliff. True?

BB: God, I can't imagine us becoming complacent with this kind of material––it's perpetually challenging each of us individually and the band as a whole. We all know each other pretty well by now, and that's invariably a good thing when dealing with material of this complexity.

SoT: I'm curious about your take on how the material for Dog came together. It seems that there was a one batch of tunes that seemed certain to wind up on the record early on ("L'il" among them) but then Keneally wrote another group of "late" tunes that usurped some of the older ones. Can you talk about how you saw the material for the record coming together? Did you have, for instance, a clear idea of where the record was going at some early point or did you not know and just find yourself trusting that it would all be OK?

BB: Honestly, the more outside the process of "the whole thing coming together" I am, the more I like it. I think the record changed directions a couple of times over the course of its construction, but that's because of the time period over which it was recorded. If you go into the studio with an agenda and a block of time and say "This is when we're going to make the record, come hell or high water," it's going to be pretty consistent from conception to construction. But Mike generally doesn't make records that way, and it allows for some organic evolution midstream in the process, which I'm betting is the way he likes it.

SoT: Was there a song or songs on Dog that you were slow to warm to but later found yourself saying, "Wow, that ended up in a different place than I thought and it's pretty cool"?

BB: "This Tastes Like A Hotel" was the only song that hit me that way, because it was recorded in snippets, and I knew it was going to end up as this massive collage but I had no idea what the final form would look like. It's actually one of my favorite things on the album.

SoT: Do you think that your individual playing has changed with this particular version of the band? How so?

BB: I don't think it's this version of the band that's affected a change in my playing, but I have changed a lot as a player since, say, 2000 and the Dancing band, and I think that's a direct result of going through the process of creating my own album. It really changed some perspectives for me as to what my role as a bassist in other people's bands could and should be.

SoT: Between 2001 and now you recorded your solo debut, View. I'm curious about your reflections on that record now that it's been out for some time.

BB: I still find it hard to believe that it exists. I'm immensely proud of it, everyone's contributions were above and beyond my original expectations, I couldn't be happier with the end result, and I'm gratified beyond measure that people who've taken a chance on buying it seem to enjoy it as well.

SoT: You also had the opportunity to perform that material live recently. What was that experience like?

BB: Bizarre. Again, the show went really well and it exceeded my expectations in every regard, but I found myself getting sick of myself up there. After the fourth or fifth song I was feeling like, "Isn't everyone sick of all this bass playing already? When's the last bass solo in the set?" I'm just not used to being the main focus of a show like that. And it took a serious mental adjustment to achieve the same level of comfort I've grown accustomed to in playing as a sideman for Keneally. It was cool but strange at the same time, and a little unnatural for me, I have to admit.

SoT: Around the time that View came out, I think you said something about "If I do this again" vs. "When I do this again." Have you shifted toward more of a "when" stance or is it too soon to tell?

BB: I'd like to do another album––I even have titles, concepts and motifs in my head already––but I've resolved to myself that I'm not going to record it in the frenetic fashion that the first one was, which was two months start-to-finish. I want a slower pace, and it will probably need a slower pace anyway in order for it to work. But I'm not even thinking about starting it anytime this year. It will be a while.

SoT: You were also tapped by Steve Vai for an orchestral premiere in Holland. You've worked in the studio with him but if memory serves that was the first time you'd performed with him in the live arena. And you were with an orchestra, no less. An interesting circumstance, I'm sure.

BB: This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The level of musicianship in the Metropole Orchestra, the "band" that backed up Steve in Holland, was just the highest caliber imaginable. For someone who's ultimately just another kid from the East Coast, who grew up when Vai's Passion & Warfare literally ruled the music world, and to play songs like "Answers" and "For The Love Of God" and "The Attitude Song" with Steve himself and a premiere European can that be topped? I just found myself treasuring every second of the trip. Especially the rehearsals.

SoT: Is it ever a source of frustration that you don't have the opportunity to play MKB material live more often?

BB: No, because I'm so busy in other elements of my life that aren't as enjoyable as the Keneally project, that when it comes around it seems like a nice break from the usual madness––a cherry on top of life, if you will.

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