The Drifting Minstrel

Feb 7 • ARTSY SMARTSY, MusicNo Comments

Brent Byrd
Sat., Feb. 11th • 8 p.m.
Juggling Gypsy
1612 Castle St.
www.brentbyrdmusic.com

BYRD’S THE WORD: Solo artist Brent Byrd finds songwriting to be the easiest way to communicate his beliefs. Courtesy photo.

Brent Byrd was still a child when he loaded his bass guitar into a van and headed out on the road with his first band, Pump. At 13 he didn’t have a sleeve of tattoos or a thick beard of hair on his chin, but he had talent—and the notion that being a musician meant being a badass. Surrounded in childhood by his stepdad’s band, which would practice in his home, Byrd was driven to the bass much like any adolescent is influenced: social pressure. “Their bass player had the coolest hair,” he recalls, “and I thought I would look that cool playing bass.”

The story of how pint-sized Byrd became the confident, insightful solo artist he is today is very much a coming-of-age tale. Including a stint in the army and a hodge podge of bands, Byrd did a lot of growing up on his own terms.

It begins with the fact that his parents, although not entirely thrilled, allowed him to join a musical troupe of twentysomethings—leaving his hometown of Charleston, Illinois, for the nightlife of Chicago and St. Louis. Byrd describes touring at such a young age as unreal.

“Even looking back it seems almost like a dream,” he notes. “The truth is I actually struggled with it because all my friends would be going to football games, parties and things that most people do as teenagers, and I would be playing out of town or at a local bar.”

Often, he was forced to sneak into the venues only long enough to play, because he was eight years too young to be in the club at all. “I remember my friends sat outside just so they could listen, and I wanted to be hanging out there with them instead of playing,” he says. “I missed out on a lot, [but] I obviously took touring in a band for granted.”

By the time he was a legal adult, Byrd felt the pressure of a heavy-weighing life. Not sure what step to take, he looked to the military as the easy answer. Byrd spent four years in the United States Army.

“I cared what my parents thought of me and what they expected me to be,” the musician says. “So, unfortunately, I became a victim of conforming to society and I struggled with it every day. The army did affect my music—it made my music. I saw a lot of things I wanted to question, but you can’t; therefore, I wrote about it.”

Byrd had taken on the guitar in lieu of the bass so he could dabble a little more in songwriting. But leaving the army is what truly propelled his work. Rather than writing fluffy songs about girls, he was penning words that held a deeper meaning. “I really began to write songs that, to me, mean something real—real things that are real life problems much bigger than superficial lives.”

Fast forward through years of playing with multiple bands and almost every genre—reggae, jazz, funk, blues and experimental—and sharing stages with some of Chicago’s best bands. He moved to San Diego for a bit and played open-mic nights with pop star Jason Mraz. Upon returning to Illinois in 2003, his band Super Deluxe performed at Buzzfest, which featured headliners like Velvet Revolver, Shinedown, Papa Roach and My Chemical Romance.

Seven years later, Byrd had enough of the Midwest lifestyle. He uprooted to the coast of St. Augustine, Florida, the place he currently calls home. Adapting an acoustic solo style, his scruffy voice can be likened to a deeper Bob Dylan. His music overall is similar to Jack Johnson with less eclectic lyrics. There aren’t “bubble toes” to be in had in Byrd’s tunes, but they possess the same beachy vibe.

He may be a one-man show these days, but he incorporates a loop pedal to add layers of texture to his music. He’ll run a guitar rhythm part, bass and/or percussion through the loop so he can play the solo lead over it as it repeats.

“It took me a while to get comfortable doing it live,” he says, “but, eventually, I did. Now, it just kind of creates the sound of a full band. I don’t get crazy on every song, but it’s great for some good jams.”

Byrd’s lyrics (and personality) earned him the nickname “The Peaceful Rebel Man.” He says he’s never been one to express his true feelings to people in a conversational setting; he just wants to respect everyone’s beliefs. Instead, he finds it much easier to put his ideas on the table when the vehicle to do so is music.

“We can all make changes and start a peaceful revolution, not only in this country but the world, without violence,” he says. “I’ve lost friends in the Army, and I always think about it and ask myself, What did they die for? Of course, there’s freedom, but when I think deeply . . . The answer, to me, is disturbing and I think it’s wrong. These are things I strive to write and sing about, and can only hope that someday everyone will stop, think about it, and do something.”

Given the relaxed nature of his guitar, Byrd’s songs never come across as overbearing in their meanings. His music is always uplifting. Mainly, he just encourages folks to take a second look at the world, as in “Hold on to Me” from his CD “Time to Start Livin’.” The lyrics begin, “I ain’t got nothin’ to give / I ain’t tellin’ no one how to live / Just walk on through and never turn your head / People only see, and they’ve been misled / Don’t you believe everything you hear / Talk is nothin’ with no despair.”

The song continues on with the narrator urging his audience (a lover, perhaps) to hold on to him, “‘cause everything’s gonna be just fine.” The moral of the song is that the world is cold, but if people raise questions about it and keep faith in each other, life will work out.

“I don’t know what it is about music,” Byrd says, “but it has always been a very influential tool, and—as well as visual art—an easy-to-follow feeling. Music is natural, and it should always be true.”

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