My new solo record is out! A New Shade of Green is across the board, truly. Think traditional Irish music + Foo Fighters + Genesis + Incubus + Iron Maiden + a dash of Bill Withers. Yep, all over the place, but it all comes together in this project and manages to make sense. The goal was to make a record that was still “one of my records,” but pose some big challenges along the way. I hope you dig it as much as I do. -Brian
Brian FITZY Fitzgerald is a wonder. He does both- playing a challenging instrument and also singing tunes that require vocal acrobats. He also does remix tweaking and manning the gears in a recording studio. People react to his playing with amazement. It is a music that has that haunting quality to be pop yet groovy enough to make it accessible to fans of Hip Hop and Jazz. The free-spirited energy of his music is reflected in his stage persona.
I really enjoyed this interview with Brian. It’s one of those rare moments that I let an artist decide what font color to choose in the article layout.
A New Shade of Green is a combination of traditional Irish sounds and urban funk. What are you trying to accomplish musically by releasing this recording?
My goal is always to try to do something different, and I really enjoy the concept of ‘mash-ups’ — as long as they make sense. The idea of “make it your own” was instilled in me at a pretty young age, so that’s what I set out to do.
Have you met musicians who are into Celtic music around PA?
Actually, a tremendous number. I spent the better part of a year touring in the US, and overseas to Ireland, with a band called Ceann. At many of the festivals we played, I heard quite a few groups blend in progressive rock and hip hop elements. Music, art…culture; a total melting pot.
Why the electric violin?
I hear that one a lot; usually preceded by “what is that thing,” haha. My background and formal training is of course centered on the traditional acoustic violin, but I started experimenting with pickups early on. The further I went, the more I realized the technical limitations of that setup, like feedback, and made the switch. I still perform and record with an acoustic violin often, but the majority of the time I stick with the electric. Just a lot more control over what ultimately reaches the ears of the audience.
The song writing process, I want to know how you create each song.
It’s always different for me. Sometimes I’ll start with lyrics or the head (the recognizable main melody) and construct around that, then go back in with a knife, rearrange all of it and re-record everything. Perhaps more often than that, I’ll start with a rhythm section groove and build upwards. Groove and feel is everything to me. I prefer density to sparsity in a mix, when it’s warranted, so I usually reach a point where I listen and think about what’s “missing.” As a multi-instrumentalist, I’m able to plug most things in on my own, be it a Fender Rhodes, Hammond B4, a 20-piece string section, or horn stabs. I love the writing process, and the production work that’s entwined is just icing on the cake for me.
Are you a night person or a day person.
Night, all the way. I perform mainly at night, so my day doesn’t end until around 5am. “Morning” starts around 12 noon. Doing 280+ dates a year forces that I stay nocturnal, but it’s useful when I’m not performing as well. The better part of my “day” can be spent working with little interruption while the rest of the world sleeps.
Note your greatest musical influences.
I credit Jean-Luc Ponty and Philly jazz violin legend John Blake for planting the bug to “get out of the box.” I got to sit in with Blake’s quartet in front of my school only a year after I started violin, around 9 years old. That was a huge defining moment. My mother played Ponty for me starting at a very early age, way before I started violin. I got a healthy education of George Benson, Yes, The Police, Al Jarreau, Genesis, EWF, Huey Lewis etc. from them, too. As a teenager I got heavy into Rage Against The Machine, Led Zep, Foo Fighters.. I have an equal love of raw rock, huge production with horn sections, and thick 13 chords.
Engineer,producer and musician. How do you reconcile these facets and how is it like being 1, 2 and 3?
Usually very frustrating, haha. It’s been a real learning experience to learn to step back from what I’m doing and axe something I love if it doesn’t really work. Another really big problem is my obsessive perfectionism. I have a hard time knowing when to say “it’s done.” I’ve done 100 takes of the same bar before, all of them solid and usable, but couldn’t stop going back in. On REDEFINITION and New Shade, I set somewhat ridiculous time constraints to force completion. REDEF’ was written, recorded, and out of post production in 36 hours over 3 days. A New Shade of Green was about a week from start to finish. I function better under pressure, but if I can bring in another pair of ears I can alleviate a lot of the stress that goes with that pressure.
Weirdest/funniest experience on the road.
Played a 2-night run in Virginia a couple summers back shortly after stink bugs infested the state. We had to use wet/dry vacs to suck them off the walls..by the hundreds. It was like an indoor camping trip. I’m sure there have been other times to top the oddness of that one, but man..
I also did a gig opening up for Snoop Dogg. Literally 30 seconds before he’s supposed to be on stage, the backstage loading doors of the venue open and he comes jettin through. There’s a dude standing there off to the side holding his mic..he had been there for a while. Snoop grabs it, runs out on stage, rocks the joint, finishes up and runs back off handing the mic back to the dude like a baton in a relay race. Right back out the door he came in and that was that. I laughed pretty hard.
Working with John Paul Jones and the Foo Fighters for a week…wow. Walking down a hallway with Stevie Wonder. People paying to see me perform. What purpose does art have without an audience? Hard to beat that!