Music has been a part of Brandon Isaak's life since he was a child. He explains, "My father's a musician so I have music in my blood. My dad's always been a full-time musician, he's always been touring and he still is. That's what piqued my interest in playing music. As a young kid, I listened to people like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and traced their music back to its roots. I went back on the rock n'roll train until I discovered the blues. I first got into Arthur Crudup so I bought a record of his and off I went."
Blue Roots (Profiles in Canadian Blues Music): Brandon Isaak
I talk to Brandon Isaak about his love for the blues, the challenges of being a full-time musician and his process of creating new lyrics and music.
Much of the music that Brandon makes is on the roots side of the blues, but he isn't stuck in the past. He says, "I like to have some drum machine beats on my records and stuff like that. I'm not afraid to mix the modern with the old school. You can't stay with the same old stuff otherwise you might as well just keep listening to people like Robert Johnson. You've got to do something new to reflect the times so that people can relate to the music."
Songwriting is a process with which Brandon takes care. He points out, "Quite often I'll start with a generic groove on guitar or piano and try to write good lyrics to it. It might take weeks or it might only take an afternoon to get the words and then I start experimenting with the music. I try doing different things with it, so I might rewrite or rearrange the lyrics so that they work better with the music."
One of his side projects is called The Silver Screen Scoundrels. Brandon says, "We make silent films that are three to four minutes long and focus on a single song. It's basically like MuchMusic would have been in 1906. We play a rootsy, bluesy song that tells a story in the background and people can watch the movie. It's Keith Picot (bassist) and myself. People really love it! It's just a little extra stimulation and another way to keep people entertained."
Brandon points out that making a living as a full-time musician can be challenging on many levels. He says, "I'm doing pretty good but I know artists who are better than me who can't make a full-time living from music. It's not an easy job and it's not for everybody. You've got to be built for it. You've got to like flying, staying in hotels and being away from home. I like all of that stuff so far, so I guess I'm built for it. I count my blessings every day that I'm able to create art and make music."
He adds, "My daughter is 11 now and being a family man throws a lot of complicated stuff in there because you don't want to be away from your kids for too long. The only thing I put above music is family which means a little less road work and some more nose to the grindstone gigs closer to home."
Taking his time to develop as an artist is important for Brandon. He says, "In the future I'd like to play a little more piano and maybe record a little more piano stuff. I've yet to put out an electric record as a solo artist so I'd like to do that at some point."
Touring the world has led to some fascinating experiences for the musician. Brandon says, "We just did a two week tour in China with my band, the Saints of Swing. We toured too many major cities to mention but we were playing two shows a day in these world class theatres and it was great. It was such an awesome cultural experience. It's neat to see that their music scene is slowly opening up in China. They seem to dig the blues so it's a heck of a good market if you can tap into it."
In the more immediate future, he's working on a new album using only Redemption guitars. Brandon explains, "It's a guitar company out of Germany. I'm taken by the company and I love the guitars so I'm going to do this whole record with different Redemption guitars that I've acquired over the years."
Brandon also talks about his last album Here on Earth and says, "I built that album with my brother, Chris, who is a great producer and he always has some great ideas in the studio. I am proud of Here on Earth, I thought it came out really good and I just hope to do a little better on the next album. I noticed an evolution from Bluesman's Plea to Here on Earth so I hope to keep evolving."
Inspiration comes from two major sources for Brandon. He says, "I'm always inspired by the times that I'm living in. It can be personal times or things that are happening in the world. I also find love is a big source of inspiration for me. The ups and downs of relationships keep me inspired to write too. I'm fascinated by people going through good or bad times and how they deal with them."
For more information on Brandon Isaak, please visit his website here.
This profile is based on an interview with Brandon Isaak conducted and recorded on Nov. 25, 2016.