The Evolution of a Songwriter
Growing up, being a singer was one of Daniel Bryant’s dreams. Whether he was lip-syncing to the hits of the day with his friends in his hometown of Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, or up in his room recording himself singing along to his favourite songs, the dream was always there. But in Daniel’s case, that dream was buried under layers of self doubt and insecurities.
The only child of divorced parents, Daniel moved to the town of London, Ontario to begin his high school years. It was during his Grade 10 year that Daniel picked up a pen and decided to try and write his own songs. The early attempts were crude and immature but as the words kept flowing, the songs started to add up. But there was one problem; the songs were strictly in lyrical form.
Daniel’s mother, after saving up the money, bought him his first guitar and he started to teach himself chords. Although the chords he learned were generic and formed the basis of thousands of songs, Daniel found it to be an impossible task to put his own words to music. The simplest of chord patterns: G C and D never seemed to sound right when he tried to compose. As frustrating as it became, the lyrics flowed and he pushed on eventually composing his first complete song called "Without You".
This process would continue for some years until Daniel met another song writer by the name of David Parkinson. The two worked together and soon discovered that they were both “aspiring songwriters”. While Daniel continued to mount a personal catalogue of tuneless lyrics, he discovered that David had composed music without the words. Daniel asked David if he would mind giving him a chance at coming up with some lyrics for his tunes. David agreed and a week later, Daniel told him that he had all three songs written. “I don’t know what it was”, Daniel explains. “Call it a ‘sign’ or a “eureka moment’ but whatever it was, something just clicked and I was not only able to write the lyrics, but suddenly I found ‘melody’. From that moment on I was able to write complete ‘songs’ and I haven’t stopped. So I will always credit Dave as the person who somehow got me writing”. The unexpected partnership between the two resulted in the songs “Buried”, “I Remember Them All” and “Jenny”.
From these early creations it was clear that the writing style that would define Daniel Bryant was that of “story teller”. Growing up with the music of Bruce Springsteen, Phil Collins/Genesis, Sting/The Police and Billy Joel all would prove to be strong influences in his writing. “I don’t like to talk about myself”, Daniel laughs. “It’s more fun to make up stories. Every time someone hears a song that you wrote they automatically assume that it’s about you. With me, the emotions are real and are one hundred percent mine, but I take those emotions and create characters and stories around them.”
Daniel’s song writing progressed but he kept it a secret from most. He says, “I was, and still am, very insecure about the whole thing. People would hear me singing and say ‘I like your voice’ and my first reaction was ‘oh, they’re just being nice. They don’t mean it.’ Even to this day, that is still my first gut reaction. So letting people hear me sing let alone hear a song that I wrote was out of the question”.
The dream remained a secret until 2004 when Daniel finally let some people hear his songs. After purchasing some home recording equipment, Daniel recorded what would become his first album “Music Room”. “I called it ‘Music Room’ after the room in my house where I recorded music. Pretty creative, eh?”, Daniel laughs. “I felt very proud of what I had created and finally decided to let a few friends hear the album. The reactions I got were of shock and surprise. They were surprised that I could sing and write songs and they were shocked that I never told anyone. Their reactions gave me a new found confidence in myself and my abilities as a song writer.” That new found confidence quickly resulted in two more albums: 2005’s “21 Years and Counting” and 2006’s “Every Town”.
Daniel’s writing would take a whole new direction when he teamed up with friend Mathew Brown. “Matt and I worked together for a while”, Daniel says. “I found out that he was a guitar player so I gave him a copy of “Every Town” to check out. He listened to it and asked if I would be interested in jamming with him sometime. The rest, as they say, is history”. Those jam sessions brought forth the 2007 concept album “Puppets and Pageantry”. For those who had heard Daniel’s previous albums, “Puppets” was a bit of a shock. Gone were the acoustic ballads and minimal instrumentation of the past. “Puppets” was an angry album filled with heavy rock and metal. Daniel explains, “That one, I like to call my ‘political protest’ album. This was post 9/11 and the world had changed so drastically. Everywhere you looked you were being told to be afraid. We were expected not to question anything and just believe what our leaders were telling us. This was 1984 George Orwell coming to life right in front of us and it seemed like no one was paying attention. Canada was involved in a war and our government was trying to prevent us from seeing the bodies of our fallen soldiers returning home. Everything just seemed ugly...that’s what I saw and that’s what I wrote about. “
“Writing the album with Matt challenged me both in terms of writing and performing. The subject was intense and uncomfortable and at times the music reflects that discomfort. I was never really a heavy metal fan but Matt’s musical background and love for the heavier stuff was relevant to the subject. Trying to sing to those types of songs helped me discover a voice that I didn’t know that I had. I was so used to singing along to acoustic guitars and here I was screaming over top of Matt’s wailing electric licks on a song called “Devil’s Pride.” Written as a three act play, the mood of the album is evident as one scans the song titles: “Nothing”, “Conspiracy”, “Hide Your Eyes”, “End of Days” and “God’s Day Off”. One of the albums most poignant tracks is the haunting “Fallen Son” written in honour of Canada’s fallen soldiers. “I’m so proud of that album. One day I would like to re-record it in a studio with a full band and really do the song’s justice.”
The partnership between the two would continue with the 2009 album “Arrivals and Departures.” Daniel explains, “I had started writing again and Matt was getting the ‘jam’ bug. We went into this with the attitude of ‘was the “Puppets” album a fluke or do we really have another album in us”. As history shows, the two did have another album in them and this one would lead to the first “studio production” album of Daniel’s catalogue. He enlisted the help of new engineer/producer Jeff Gontovnick for the recording and for the first time, brought in other musicians. “My first three albums were solo in every since. I played and recorded everything with minimal skills and talent”, Daniel laughs. “I didn’t want this album to sound like the others. “Puppets” took a different turn sound wise with Matt’s help but that was still just us recording at home. I wanted “Arrivals” to be a ‘real’ album...a real studio and real musicians.” The final product was an album that showed clear signs of maturity both in writing and performance. The “story teller” was now touching on issues of domestic violence with the eerie “Crazy Game” and the growing horror of guns and inner city violence with “Can’t Face the Night”.
The personal and emotional content seemed more intense as Daniel wrote the songs “I’ll Call You”, “I Can Feel Your Heart Beating” and “Dark Parade” following the death of a friend. But it is the albums closing track “Peace Be with You” that Daniel says he’s most proud of. “I listen to the song and think back to the days when I couldn’t put three chords together and make a song and somehow I was able to write this monster. I think “Peace” is by far, the best song I’ve ever composed.”
The year of 2011 began with tragedy when Daniel received the news that a young friend had been killed. Shane Cullion wasn’t only a friend and colleague; he was one of Daniel’s biggest fans and supporters. His death left the singer grief stricken and Daniel did what he does when emotions run high; he writes. He quickly wrote “Shane’s Song” in honour of Cullion as a thank you and a goodbye. The song connected deeply with those trying to deal with the loss of someone so young and so special. Daniel says, “I started getting emails from people...had strangers stopping me and thanking me for writing the song. It was really the first time I had that connection between a song and its audience and it was really overwhelming. I was just so proud that it was a song about Shane that gave me that experience. He would have loved that.” Daniel released “Shane’s Song” as a charity EP with all proceeds donated in memory of Cullion to the Arthritis Society of Canada. “We recorded a studio version of the song and I brought in some friends of Shane’s who were also musicians to help make it as personal as possible”.
The depression that followed Cullion’s death would eventually result in the 2012 album “Mirror”. A concept album, “Mirror” is the first double album of Daniel’s career with its two parts: “Darkness” and “Light”. “Writing for me is a healing process”, Daniel reveals. “Writing gives you the outlet to scream at the world without actually doing it. It allows you to cry without everyone watching you. It provides the ability to reveal one’s self in absolute privacy.” “Mirror” is a character driven album about individuals who, while flawed, are all in search of redemption whether it be in the forms of hope, happiness, love or acceptance. “I’ve tried to come up with the perfect explanation for the album”, Daniel says, “but it’s difficult. In its simplest terms, the album is in fact a journey from darkness to light, just as the names suggest. That journey flows with the subject matter of the songs and their respective musical styles and genres. But recently I started to look at the album from the perspective from which it was written. And in that sense, “Mirror” is in all actuality the grieving process in musical form. That’s when I wrote the songs and every mood I was in seemed to bring out a new character or a new story. There are songs that question mortality, songs that are angry at the world, songs that are guilt filled and songs that are self reflective. It details the emotional rollercoaster that I was on and it is by far the most personal album I have written.”
Daniel teamed with a new song writing partner for “Mirror”, engineer/produced Erien Eady-Ward. Friends for a few years, the two had worked together on some shorter projects including the “Shane’s Song” EP. “After we did the song for Shane, Erien and I decided it was time to try and work together on an album,” Daniel explains. “Our original idea for the album was just a straight-up classic rock album, not the monstrosity it evolved in to. I went in with a lot of songs written and we added songs ideas that Erien had been working on and the album started to take on a life of its own. We were confronted with the fact that we had a lot of songs, some of which certainly did not seem to fit together in any traditional sense. I actually hadn’t realized what we had written until I sat down one day and really went through the songs. There was no preconceived concept or theme, but there clearly was one when you looked at the songs as a whole. And that’s where the concept album took form. To pull the theme and the two albums together, I wrote “Reflection” and “Redemption” from a song that Erien had written. The songs are mirror images of each other yet sound completely different. One oozes darkness while the other feels bright and hopeful. Some parts of the album may be uncomfortable, but the idea holds that you can’t get to one place without going through another. After all, it is a journey”.
Where the “journey” will end up is anyone’s guess.