Bryan Beller – It was a crazy, strange and wonderful moment!

by Loris Clerico

Italian Version

Bryan Beller is best known for being the bassist of the rock fusion band The Aristocrats along with Guthrie Govan and Marco Minnemann, but also for having collaborated on numerous live and studio records with guitar heroes Steve Vai and Joe Satriani.
He has also collaborated with several musicians such as Dweezil Zappa, James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Mike Keneally and with the death metal band Dethklok.
Musician not very well known in the rock scene, but certainly full of virtue, charisma and power.
Metalpit have interviewed him for you, enjoy the reading!

Hello Bryan! It’s an honor for me interview a great musician like you, how are you? How do you face this Covid period?
Thank you for your interest in this interview! COVID is a difficult challenge for everyone, and especially for creative people. For me, I had a very intense creative year in 2019, with the completion and release of both my double progressive concept album “Scenes From The Flood” and The Aristocrats’ latest album “You Know What…?”. And then I was on tour for almost 9 months in a row, and I was supposed to be on tour for all of 2020 with The Aristocrats and Joe Satriani. So this has been a very unexpected “touring vacation”, and it has actually been helpful to get personal time off without the pressure to make another album right away, and to get some fresh perspective about the kind of music I want to be involved with.
I also took the time to make my first self-produced conceptual music video, for the songs “A Quickening/Steiner In Ellipses” from “Scenes From The Flood”. The video was a satirical commentary on our increasingly digital world, and how creative people deal with it. And I’m doing recording sessions from my home studio, of course, with some exciting stuff coming out in 2021. But it’s strange not to be able to travel freely without serious concern, even though I like spending time at home. You want to have the option to act freely, so you don’t feel trapped. It’s a natural human instinct. That said, COVID is a unique challenge and I believe in the power of collective action to reduce the danger for everyone, especially the most vulnerable, and I’m happy to do my part.
Tell me about the writing session of the songs on Joe Satriani’s “Shockwave Supernova” record.
Joe actually writes the songs completely before we record, in a fully finished demo that he shares with the band. For the recording, we went to a huge tracking room at Skywalker Sound, the  audio/video recording complex owned by Star Wars creator George Lucas. With Mike Keneally and Marco Minnemann in the band, it was incredibly fun and musical to help bring Joe’s songs to life. As for Joe himself, he is a very careful producer, and really protects the songs from too much overplaying. He wants the recordings to have a real band energy, but each part should be careful to honor the song first. It’s not a concert performance – that’s different, and that’s the time to let loose – it’s a studio performance, and that’s an important distinction, one of which Joe is very respectful.
Please, tell me something about the G3 tour you took with The Aristocrats along with Joe Satriani and Steve Vai.
This was a crazy, strange and wonderful moment for me personally! I’m so glad you asked about this, because believe it nor not, no one else has ever asked me this question.
I was younger when I played in Steve Vai’s live band in 2007 and hadn’t really toured a lot, so I learned a great deal in that time about performing. But I was the bassist in a six-piece band, and I wasn’t out front much. With Joe Satriani we are a four-piece band, and i’m out front more often on stage left, involving the crowd and balancing the visual presentation while Joe is usually stage right. The Aristocrats are a completely different story. We had to invent our own “show”, which involves all of us talking onstage, which we all have experience with from doing our own clinics and a few solo shows. We strive to be a balanced trio where each member is presented equally in every aspect, from albums to live sets. But in a strange development, over the years I somehow became the “main talker” during our shows, and it became something that was weird at first – I am a bassist, after all, and usually we are in the back! – but after five years I became more comfortable with it.
Then, in 2016, we got asked to be the 3rd “G” for a very short G3 tour Of Europe. It was only seven shows, three shows in Germany and four shows in Italy. Of course it was a great honor for us to be invited! But it wasn’t like we were going to suddenly change our whole show to be all about guitars and make Guthrie do all the talking just because it was a G3 tour. No one would have disliked this more than Guthrie himself! We had a formula that worked, and we wanted to present our strongest possible 45-minute set for the G3 audience. After all, there was no guarantee that our strange and funny relationship with a club-sized audience would work for a 1200-person festival set.
We ended up condensing our set into six songs, with me talking briefly in the beginning and the end, and Marco and Guthrie doing short introductions to one song each. Fortunately it worked, and the crowd really came along with us. Then, at the end of our set, it was my job to be in a professional support act and say “thank you so much, coming up next is STEEEVE VAAAIIII!!!” Then everyone cheers, of course. And having been in Steve’s band, and seeing Steve when we came offstage, we would look at each other and smile, and it was very bizarre. And Steve’s band had Jeremy Colson and Dave Weiner in it, who were in the 2007 band, and they’re looking at me like, is this really happening?! I’m thinking to myself, “I’m not even a guitarist – what the hell am I doing up there introducing Steve Vai?!”  But I also want to be clear – Steve was incredibly kind and generous and supportive the entire time, and as someone who grew up in the shadow of the release of “Passion And Warfare” while I was at Berklee College Of Music from 1989-1992, it’s completely surreal to even talk about any of this.
Meanwhile, after Steve would play his set, then Joe Satriani would play his set, and me and Marco Minnemann were his rhythm section as well. That ended up being very relaxing for me. Much less pressure! And then in the end of the night we would be the rhythm section for the G3 jam with Joe, Steve and Guthrie, and some of those nights were absolutely beautiful. I mean, the full band was Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Guthrie Govan, Mike Keneally, Marco Minnemann, and me. What did I do to deserve such incredible good fortune?!
Please tell me the records that have most influenced your private and musical life.
Pink Floyd, “The Wall”, “Wish You Were Here”, “Animals”
Jeff Buckley, “Grace”
Nine Inch Nails, “The Downward Spiral”, “The Fragile”, “With Teeth”
Michael Landau, “Live 2000”
Rage Against The Machine, “Evil Empire”
Yes, “Relayer”
John Scofield, “Bump”
Chick Corea Elektric Band, “Eye Of The Beholder”
Jaco Pastorius, “Invitation”
Led Zeppelin, “Physical Graffiti”
There are so many more, but these are just a few that come to mind.
Can you tell me something about songwriting and what it’s like to work with Steve Vai?
These are two separate questions for me! Obviously Steve Vai writes and arranges his own material. He is very particular and specific about what he wants, what his vision is, and I really just did my best to bring it to life for him. Playing Steve’s music requires discipline and focus, just like it did for Steve when he played in the band of his mentor, Frank Zappa. When it all comes together, it’s like a high wire daredevil act that is dazzling and mystifying even while you are watching and hearing it happen in real time.
For songwriting, in my own career, I really have a more grounded vision. I am a progressive composer at heart, not a jazz or fusion composer, which took me a little while to realize. But the most important thing to me is a strong sense of sonic atmosphere, combined with a recognizable melody and a deep groove. Sounds make songs, and so I’m very careful about each sound that goes into a composition. And because I am not primarily a technique-focused player, I usually don’t write technique-focused music. My own songwriting tends to be, for lack of a better word, a bit simpler than a lot of the people I’m known for playing with. And I’m comfortable with that.
In your extensive career, which musicians have you enjoyed playing with the most and why?
I don’t like answering questions like this because it’s like asking which one of your children do you love the most, and why? I’ve been fortunate to play with so many great musicians, and each are special in their own way. Sorry but that’s my best answer here!
What is the technical / musical and character difference between Steve Vai and Satriani?
I could go on and on for 1000 words about the differences between Satriani and Vai, but the simplest one is also the most accurate. Any fan of both artists could easily tell them apart, just by the sound, feel, and compositional emotion of their songs, probably within 5 seconds. I’m not sure me explaining it in detail is any more valid than anyone else in the world listening and feeling the differences on their own. The one thing I would say is that, if you listen to their entire catalog, I think it’s obvious that Steve Vai has some more esoteric influences, especially Frank Zappa, and Joe Satriani has more “rootsy” influences, even some R & B and Motown vibes. That shows up in their song structures, the guitar tones, the shape of their melodies, and on and on. I mean, they both obviously listened to a lot of Jimi Hendrix and still came out with wildly different visions of their own artistry, right? Vive le difference.
Which is the secret of a long and very well articulated career with great musicians like Satriani, La Brie, Vai, Mike Keneally?
Some of it is just random luck, and some of it is doing what I can when I have the opportunity. I don’t pretend to know the answer – the universe is filled with mysteries! One bit of advice I can say is that I always do my best to listen to the song. It will tell you what it wants, and then you will know what to do. The great part about this philosophy is that it applies equally to any genre of music or artist. In the end, we are playing music, song by song. We are not playing “Joe Satriani” or “Steve Vai”. Yes, their music has a style and artistry, but still, when we play, we play songs. I just do my best to listen, and give the best bass part and performance possible. And then, whatever happens, happens.
What are your hobbies? Do you like movies?
I live in a remote mountain area north of Los Angeles, and I really like hiking and riding motorcycles on beautiful remote mountain roads. I do watch movies sometimes but not enough. I’m always too busy working or sleeping!
Which are your favourite musicians of all time?
As an improvisor, John Scofield. As an individual composer, probably Trent Reznor. As group composers, probably Yes, and Pink Floyd. But there are so many, I could go on forever with this.
Thank you very much for your time. 
You’re welcome!

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