Interview with Brian David Collins
Brian David Collins is a multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter raised in The Colorado Rockies. He is a CSU graduate, and a long time performer, entertaining crowds of all walks of life for two decades and counting. In his hometown of Fort Collins and the surrounding areas he is most well-known for his time with The Seers, a variety acoustic duo. In recent years he has dedicated his creative efforts to his solo project, Brian David Collins. Brian has just relocated to the small historic town of Hodgenville Kentucky for a new chapter in life.
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
First off, my parents had an extensive record collection, and my father made sure I had a piano to play from about the age of six weeks. I found myself listening to music at a very young age. Even at the age of four I was a very active listener. I would put headphones on and study the music I was listening to, taking in every sound and internalizing it. After some time I found I could recreate songs I was listening to on the piano, or at least at a certain level. What I mean is that I couldn’t recreate what I was hearing on the records note for note, but could create versions of the songs I was hearing using simple triads on the piano. This process fascinated me and built my confidence. I would say these early days gave rise to a lifelong passion to play, sing, write, and perform. It is hard to imagine my life without music. Maybe I would have undergone this program for the blind I found out about at the age of 24 that trains you to be the manager of your own cafeteria or something of the like. Whatever it would have been, it wouldn’t have been as rewarding as my life is today, even if I had been richer in a financial sense.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I am an athletic person. I have a passion to lap swim every day I possibly can. In younger days I would find wide sidewalks or wherever I could jog, but now I swim. It is more predictable and there is not as much to run into. Swimming affects my creativity in a very positive way. When the blood flows to the brain the mind becomes more active. I have written full progressive songs while swimming, and if I struggle with a certain part of a song, a lap swim will often help me find the right answer for the song. I also find inspiration for my music by putting loving energy into my wife and family. Getting the hell out of town and experiencing something different doesn’t hurt either, and can be very medicinal and thought provoking.
How long has music been your career?
Music became a full time career for me in 2012, when I was 32 years old. From then until pandemic times I played roughly 120 to 150 shows a year solo and with an acoustic variety duo named The Seers, formed by myself and guitarist/vocalist Sean Waters. I/We played clubs, private events, country clubs, brew fests, corporate events Etc.. In that time period we recorded seven albums which we promoted locally as best we could, and by using a radio promotional outfit named Planetary Group.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I am forty-two years old now and have just relocated to Hodgenville Kentucky. I have only been here about six weeks, and so I still have yet to see how this new place and chapter in life will affect my writing. Any time before now I was based out of Fort Collins Colorado. When thinking about how my location affected my music, the best example I can think of is a song I wrote in my young twenties, Grew Up in The Mountains, a song about growing up in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I was also influenced by all the musicians I had come into contact with in Fort Collins for the twenty plus years I lived there in my adult life. Maybe if I had lived in another part of the country or world I wouldn’t have been such a jam keyboardist in my twenties, but that is all speculation.
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.
Let’s start with the worst show. One of the first and worst shows I played was in Fort Collins at a place called The Back Alley Lounge, a place that has been long converted into a coffee shop named The Alley Cat. The Back Alley Lounge was a total dive bar that mainly booked punk and metal, but somehow we got booked for a night of classic rock and original music. I played the show with Sean Waters on guitar and Jason Balan, who used the stage name Jason Heethen on drums, RIP. We showed up at the gig with what we thought would be enough time to set up, except for the fact that no one paid any attention to how we had taken down the PA, making it very hard to set it back up. Once we were finally set up and playing, Jason immediately began lamenting about how he didn’t have a double bass pedal for his bass drum, which was completely unnecessary for the style of music we were playing. Halfway through the show, Jason ended up leaving the stage all together, and no one really appreciated our vibe or anything we played. It was a learning experience.
Now let’s talk about one of the best shows I can remember. In 2019 The Seers were booked for Fort Collins Brewfest. In times past we had played Brewfest outdoors at a local park. In 2019 they decided to move it indoors to the Opera Galleria, which kind of bummed us out. We were wrong to be bummed because we ended up having one of the most attentive large audiences we could remember having in the history of the duo. The moment I remember the most was when we got a request for Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. As we played the song, we had everyone in the place, or so it seemed, singing along with us auditorium style. This was inspiring to me, and I remembered telling Sean, “can you imagine having that kind of a reaction to one of our original tunes?” I suppose I remember this gig because of the crowd response and the way it gave me something to strive for as a songwriter.
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
When I answer this question it’s important to note that I’ve spent the last 11 years playing request driven shows at small clubs. We were not a full rocking band playing our original music for amphitheaters. This being said, one of my favorite places The Seers used to play was The Maya Cove in Fort Collins. It was and still is the kind of neighborhood bar everyone walks to and stumbles home from at the end of the night. We would play there about once a month and knew just about everyone who would come out to see us on a fairly personal level. We had endless opportunities to connect with patrons we enjoyed spending time with, and took many requests and made many memories for those who attended the shows. I miss this place. The lines were blurred between the audience and the stage, making us feel like we were a part of an experience everyone was sharing in.
Another place I still play as a solo artist is The Little Bear Inn, a longtime steakhouse in Cheyenne Wyoming. During pandemic times it was very difficult to stay busy as a musician, as all musicians know, and most of Fort Collins was completely shut down as far as live music was concerned. John and Deb O'Grady saved me from this gigless state. They would give me a full weekend with each booking, and the patrons always appreciated the shows I played there. I still make a point of playing there when I travel back to Colorado.
Since I relocated to Kentucky, and the rest of the band still lives in Colorado, I am open minded to new venues around the country/world because any way you slice it, travel will be necessary. It would be great to open up for someone at a place like Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver. I have seen many large name acts there and it is a place near and dear to my heart full of musical memories.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
I am a big classic rock fan, so I would say Yes and Traffic, though I’m not sure if either band still plays live.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into music?
I would say enjoy the process of learning your voice/instrument, and be thankful that no one is judging you or listening to you closely. Build your confidence in your bedroom and craft your skill as a musician for several years before you hit that first open mic. Once you are ready, travel with your instrument if possible, and be ready to audition at a moment’s notice. You may find opportunities to play when you are least expecting them. Maybe you are out to lunch at a new establishment that hosts live music. Don’t be bashful about approaching a manager or any employee there and asking for an audition.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?
I would tell my younger self to take off the pressure off of writing a masterpiece, and to enjoy the creative process for its intrinsic value. Write, record, and release. Your body of work has an endless shelf life online, and there will be plenty of time to figure out how best to promote your original work when the world slows down. Life will not always be this way, and creativity will not be at the incredible heights it is in your youth. Always remember you are living in an ideal world for performing, and play to as many crowds of differing varieties as you can. Be wild and make memorable experiences bonding with others through music.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
I would say that of all the songs I’ve written for my solo project, Brian David Collins, Music Laughter Love means the most. This is a song I released as a single, but it can be found within my online body of music. When Dana and I were planning our wedding she coined the phrase “music laughter love” as the theme for our wedding. At the time I was writing a new song that had a giant hole in the chorus, where the words, “music laugher love” fit perfectly in the empty space. Later that year we lost Dana’s son, Cross, in a tragic accident. I remember singing this song to Dana in the hospital, singing the words, “as long as there’s music, as long as there’s laughter, as long as there’s love, love.” Our foundation had been shaken and we needed to believe there was love abroad in what seemed to be such a careless and arbitrary world. From that moment on the meaning of this song was lodged in both of our hearts. I later wrote a song called Shine Down, which had equal meaning, in which an angel is mentioned in the chorus and the second verse. That angel is Cross!
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
I wrote a song called Butterflies that gets requested often. The song was inspired by the way Dana and I would get butterflies during our first days of getting to know each other. Dana once said, “they must have been wise butterflies!” I felt like I had to get this phrase into a song, and so I wrote Butterflies, a song about how I believed it was fated that we met later in life the way we did. It seems to have a chorus that is poppy and memorable, and so it gets requested often for that reason and for its meaning, or at least that’s how it seems to me. This song appears on my Different Light album. I enjoy playing this song, though sometimes it can be a vocal range buster and hard to sing live.
Another song that gets requested often is my tribute to the blues, Break Rhythm. This song is about how techno music tends to drop the rhythm section in its changes and just float into space. It talks about missing the blues and older music tradition, “need a simple melody and a beat that makes me tap my feet!” I enjoy playing this song and it seems to have a catchy quality for others, especially in the chorus. This song also appears on my Different Light album.
What is the creative process for you, and what inspires you to write your music?
For me every song starts with an atmosphere. Is it major? Is it minor? what key should it be in? Then I tend to play until I come up with a chord progression I like, and start riffing on lyrics. Sometimes I get a theme or chorus established early on, and then as I go about my day, I think about the vibe of the song and work to plug in messages/lyrics that support the vibe. This is usually how the verses are written. Sometimes it can be instantaneous and sometimes it can be a process that takes months to complete, taking many days of work with little nuggets of lyrical inspiration time after time.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
I have written for so many years, and so this is a hard question to answer. Most of my writing is about my perspective, providing a description about my life’s journey and how I am interacting with myself, with others and my surroundings. I’m not a political writer and don’t have much material about social issues. My songs are about freedom of the mind, love, spiritual discovery and staying young at heart. I would say I am an introspective writer for the most part.
Do you ever have disagreements when collaborating and how do you get past them?
During my time with The Seers I had a lot of successful collaborative writing sessions with Sean. Oftentimes he or I would bring a song to the table and together we would modify the song structure and emphasis on melodies we felt were the strongest. These co-writing sessions often resulted in songs we were proud of and recorded for our releases. When I get a suggestion for how to change a song, I will play the song with the change and try it out. If I don’t jive with the change I won’t make the change to the song. I hang on to my creative license and only make changes that make me feel something stronger than what was being conveyed before. For example, Sean might say, “you should drop that long piano intro to your song, So Many People.” I happened to really like the piano intro, so I didn’t drop it and it ended up being a song I played in my solo project. It is good to make changes when a song is young in its making, before I get too attached to the way it has been written.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
Right now “the future is wide open,” just as Tom Petty says. My next move is to join the NSAI, the Nashville Songwriters Association International. I want to take advantage of their workshops and hopefully share some of the recordings I have made with them. I have written so many songs over the last twenty years, and made many records I really believe in. I want to do them justice now, and since I am freshly relocated to a place that is about a two hour drive from the musical hub of Nashville, I believe joining the NSAI will be a really fine place to start. Right now I am landing small gigs that are local to me, and don’t have any future bookings with the band to promote. For now I would say I want to spotlight my new release, Good Morning Music, during the time I work with you, and if you have any possibilities to play in Nashville I would like to hear about it and would try to get the band together to play some shows. I see myself focusing on two hubs, the Northern Colorado hub and the Nashville hub. I hope this answer helps!