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We saw BRIAN LOTTER backing up Justin Trawick at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, where he also stepped out and did a solo tune. So we had to buy his new CD, Introduction, which features five pianolicious tunes. I don’t know who Brian wrote “I Love You” for, but they are fortunate indeed to be serenaded in such beautiful fashion. Brian says that his goal is “to help change the way our culture hears its music.” To that effect, he has a great rant about Timberlake and the Grammys and the sad, sorry state of popular music today. Here’s the takeaway: “I mean, at LEAST make the chorus a different progression than the verse. At LEAST change it up for the bridge. I mean…songwriting? Are you kidding?” Heh. So true. So, here’s the guy who’s bringing songwriting back. Enjoy.
What equipment do you use and what’s your favorite smoke?
BRIAN: When the stage is big enough to hold it, I like to use my “baby grand”-esque piano. It’s a Yamaha CP70B stage piano. It made its recent appearance as the piano that Keane plays on, and I love it. All the strings have pickups, so it’s able to be amplified. Real strings are tough to keep in tune though, but it’s worth it to have a real acoustic instrument under your fingers. Strings ring each other when you play them, and that’s not something [an electronic] keyboard can duplicate. The sound is fuller and the touch is infinitely better. For the smaller venues I use a Casio Priva, ’cause it’s got a heavy touch to keep up with my gusto playing style. That thing takes a beating and keeps on going. As for my favorite smoke, that’s gotta be the Cuban cigar I had when I visited South America. Nothing beats it.
What kind of drums do you play and what pets do you own?
BRIAN: Since I’m a solo player (possibly getting a backup group soon!), I’ll tell you what I use in my recordings. I love the program Stormdrum, as well as Symphonic Orchestra. They are two plug-ins that have amazing sound quality, plus I like working in the MIDI realm when recording, ’cause it gives you lots of control over the sound. I tend to change my mind frequently, so it’s always nice to be able to go back and tweak some things. I also have a pet turtle named Edgar. He’s a red-eared slider and he’s 4. He has a diving board in his tank, which he loves, and I had to move him out to the main room in the apartment ’cause the splashes of his jumps would keep me up at night.
What’s your favorite D.C. hangout and your favorite automobile?
BRIAN: I used to love to hang out at Staccato, but they closed down. Now I really enjoy some of the coffee houses (College Perk, Modern Times), ’cause when musicians play there, it’s not about being an alcohol salesman—ha. It’s about the music, and the people who show up to listen know that. Bossa in Adams Morgan is a really great place for music, too. Really chill, and I like that.
My dream car happens to be a 1969 Chevy Corvette Stingray. I’ve wanted one since I was a kid making models.
What’s the worst place you’ve crashed and your worst haircut?
BRIAN: Worst place I’ve crashed would probably be when I worked on a cruise ship as a solo piano player. First few days were horrible, ’cause I got motion sickness. That was also around the time the tsunami hit. You wouldn’t think so, but those waves affected the entire planet. There were nights I was almost thrown from my bed cause the boat was rocking so much. Worst haircut would be in first grade. I decided to get myself a buzz-cut. Couple that with large glasses—those pictures still make me laugh. No, you can’t have one.
Worst roommate and best audience?
BRIAN: I had a roommate freshman year of college who didn’t smell quite right. It wasn’t a horrible smell, but you could tell when you came in the dorm room that he had been there. I didn’t stay in the dorms long, ha ha. The best audience is one who actually listens to the music, and the lyrics. I try to make each of my songs mean something important, so that you come away with more than just a good night of entertainment. There’s quite a bit of uninspired music these days, and I think people just don’t listen much anymore, ’cause they don’t expect to be challenged. I want to change that.
Explain your band name and define your sound.
BRIAN: My band name is just my name, Brian Lotter. My friends actually call me by my last name, and it’s been that way for so long that I introduce myself as Lotter sometimes. Maybe I’ll just drop my first name? Who knows. My sound is a mix of John Lennon, Billy Joel, Ben Folds, and Randy Newman. I always enjoy mixing it up, and I can’t stand one song sounding the same as another one I’ve written. With my composition degree, I really try to use as many fun chord progressions as possible, as the monotony of today’s pop music really drives me nuts.
What clothes do you like to wear onstage and what do you eat on the road?
BRIAN: I’m a T-shirt and jeans type of guy. I’m a fan of going into a thrift store and finding an awesome old T-shirt. My favorite one is a Scooby-Doo shirt from 1985. (It’s got the date on it.) I love wearing Converse All-Stars, just ’cause they’re fun. As for what I eat, I don’t seem to have a problem eating pizza every day, ha ha. I eat horribly for my health, but man, it’s good stuff.
What’s the worst stage you’ve played and your best payday?
BRIAN: I once sat in with this guitarist who didn’t know the chords to his own songs. He didn’t prep me with this information, so I felt like a moron when I was playing the chords he gave me, and it didn’t fit what he was playing. He had also set up communication signs, (head tilt to the right meant stop-time, head tilt to the left meant go to the bridge, stuff like that), but then he’d forget which one was which, so it looked like he was head banging on stage, all the while I was TOTALLY lost. Best payday was one year for my taxes, I put WAY too much in over the course of a year, and I didn’t realize it. I got like $5,000 bucks back. It was great. It’s like finding money in the couch—that will buy you a big-screen TV.
What are your influences and worst equipment experience?
BRIAN: I started my piano playing by learning classical, so Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, and Debussy have to be in this list. I grew up on the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Billy Joel, Queen, Ray Charles, and Styx. I discovered Ben Folds Five while in college, and now I really enjoy Jamie Cullum, Keane, and Imogen Heap. Since I went to school for production and electronic composition, artists like Björk and Radiohead really blow my mind. I also grew up singing a lot of show tunes, so I know that those chord progressions show themselves a lot. Songwriters like Cole Porter, George Gershwin, and more recently Tony Bennett and Randy Newman, really inspire me a lot. They use a lot of colors in their writing, and I love it.
As for a bad equipment experience, I played at a place that had a bad ground problem. (I think they were by an electrical tower.) There was a really horrible buzz coming through everything, to the point where I eventually had to just EQ it out. It made the music sound really faint and weak. Not a good show, but at least the buzz wasn’t so bad.
What are your songs about and what’s your favorite drink?
BRIAN: My songs are about making people feel better about themselves, have fun, and forget their troubles, while still making them think about their lives. I also like to have that “realization” moment in each one of my songs. I set up a scenario, tell a story, and then have it make a point. An example would be my song “Lobster Tale.” It’s about this lobster that thinks he’s all that, he’s beautiful, and he makes fun of others for being plain. In the end, he gets picked out of the tank and eaten because of this beauty. The moral of the song is “what counts is on the inside.” My songs are about life, finding your place, being nice to others, and having fun. Some songs are serious, some are just goofy, but I hope that when they are done, I’ve invoked an emotion or a thought from my audience.
My favorite drink is a single malt scotch. Give it time to breathe, and the changing tastes just fascinate me.
What’s your favorite tour memory and worst band squabble?
BRIAN: I once got the opportunity to perform in the White House, for policemen and fire-fighters who worked during Sept. 11th. That is a pretty great memory. As for band squabbles, it’s just me, so the worst is when my right hand, my left hand, my pedal foot, and my voice don’t want to line up, ha ha.
What’s your transpo and what’s the worst place you’ve ever dropped trou?
BRIAN: I drive a Scion xB, and I love it. You either love them or you hate them. The box. My roommate nicknamed it the Lego, ha. As for trou, I used to go hunting with my dad when I was younger. (I’m originally from Indiana.) Well, as a kid, you can’t sit still very long in a deer stand, and eventually I had to go to the bathroom. In a cornfield, where mother nature’s corn leaves are your only toilet paper. Interesting memory.
What are your current projects and political thoughts?
BRIAN: Current projects, I’m working on my first full-length album. I’d like to do all the production in my home studio, but we’ll see if I need some outside equipment. I also just wrote the musical score to a full length indie movie entitled Treadmill. It just got into the Miami Underground Film Festival, and it’s up for best picture. I’m pretty pleased with that. As for my day job, I teach piano lessons to 35+ kids and adults. I love it, and it really makes me feel worthwhile when I can teach someone something that gives me so much joy.
As for political thoughts, it’s all about globalization. There’s going to be major changes in the next decade, and I don’t think we as a country are showing the world our best face. Working on the cruise ship, I got to meet people from almost all over the world, and the United States isn’t up there on the charts for “favorite country.” We’re seen as gluttonous, greedy people, who don’t bother with taking time to do things correctly. I mean, look at the SUV’s driving around. How many people REALLY need to have an SUV? But, hey, it’s bigger, better, and uses more gas—why not, we’re America. I think we need a change, but it won’t happen overnight. I love my country, but we as a people need to really ask ourselves what’s important in life. I think it’s giving, and not condemning. Give of yourself to the rest of the world, and don’t judge others because they’re different.
What’s the stupidest move your singer ever pulled?
BRIAN: I was slamming my forearm into my keyboard once, and the keyboard stand broke, dropping the keyboard onto my legs, then rolling onto the floor. I picked it up and it still worked, so I did the rest of the show with the keyboard on my knees.
Slammin’? On your knees? Grade the quiz.
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