The Set List
By Brian Washburn
Music producers can make or break a musician’s career as a recording artist. They can make an album of sub-par talent and songwriting seem like a masterpiece. They can also take artists with genius talent and extraordinary songs and make them sound like they were recorded inside a garbage can.
But when an exceptional producer hooks up with an artist of equal talent, it can work wonders and make music junkies heads spin. This scenario just happened in Northwest Arkansas’ backyard.
Tragedy struck Fort Smith native Brandon White late last year when his entire debut full-length album was wiped away when a storm hit Dream Makers studio, where he was recording with local producer Mike Bailey (The New Ending, Jarris and Silverstone). White did the only thing he could do: panic.
“At the end of last year a storm washed out the hard drive [at Dream Makers] and my full-length record was on it. I went into panic mode and scrambled around to see what to do,” White said. “I didn’t know how to possibly re-record the same record and give the same dedication and perform with the same power. It seemed a bit contrived.”
But Bailey had another game plan. Ross Hogarth (American Idol producer, Grammy winner and a fixture on the national music scene for more than 20 years) is an acquaintance of Bailey’s, and after a listen to White’s music, Hogarth agreed to come to NWA this month and record an EP with White, which might prove to be White’s big break.
“It’s really strange [to record with Hogarth],” White said. “You hope for a break like this and you hope something comes up to make you seem more legit and it just smacks you in the face one day. I didn’t see it coming. I am very lucky and very blessed.”
Luck is not be the only thing that will help White achieve his lifelong dream of becoming a successful musician—he claims it’s the only thing he’s good at and is not satisfied just doing it at a local level. The young artist combines the modern singer/songwriting style of Conor Oberst, Jack Johnson and other acoustic acts with the classic sounds of legendary singer/songwriters like Jackson Browne, Bruce Springstein and Bob Dylan. White’s southern influence slowly breaks him away from his peers and predecessors, though (a bit of Johnny Cash and folk/country twang). It might be subtly dropped throughout his last EP “Streetlight Lullabies,” but it can be noticed and enjoyed.
“Being from the south, it slowly creeps into your music,” White said. “I try not to always sound like too much of a southern boy, but it creeps in.”
White’s southern influences come across in his live shows. He adds intensity and personal experience to his shows.
“My show is more intense,” White said. “I really try to get the emotion across with every song, every time. You can tell when people stand up there on stage and don’t mean it or don’t believe [what they’re singing about].”
It’s hard not to see the emotion White puts into his music. Along the same lines as his previous efforts, his new EP will encompass the themes of heartbreak, literature, art and lost romance. But it will also include what some musicians miss: the little things in life that people tend to overlook.
After White’s songwriting talents are mixed with Hogarth’s producing expertise, it’s hard to believe that fans around the nation, let alone Arkansas, will ignore the upcoming EP. Although the opportunity to work with a world-renowned producer is a big step for White, he isn’t quite jumping ahead of himself. He says after the recording is done he will spend the rest of 2009 promoting it and touring. But with the current state of the music industry, he does not see himself taking just any record deal. He’d consider it only if the right deal came along and he wouldn’t have to sacrifice his vision as a writer. For the time being, though, he hopes to break out of the NWA bubble, with the help of a few friends and a spot-on producing team.
Final Thought: A significant music producer coming to work in NWA indicates the talent our area has to offer. NWA does have some great recording studios and producers to bring out the best possible sound for surging local bands. Local production for locally made music is the best of both worlds.