As a person always looking to broaden my musical knowledge, I was pleased to recently become aware of singer/songwriter Brian Hudson and his debut solo effort, Into the Black. Each song on the eight-track project is “built on simple acoustic guitar; some are ornamented with haunting electric guitar, bass, and drums. It’s a very personal and mellow collection of stripped-down but intellectually elaborate songs, wise and true, heartfelt and naked.” After giving the release a good thorough listening, I conducted an email interview with Hudson about the transition to his solo release. My thanks to Hudson for this time and to Pigeon O’Brien for her assistance.
Tim O’Shea: How has your music evolved from the days of your previous project, The Hudsons?
Brian Hudson: I don’t yet feel that I’ve recovered entirely from the break-up of that band. I was literally recording Into the Black while the Hudsons were splitting up. We’d have a meeting at some coffee shop in the afternoon to discuss the divorce and then I’d go into the studio down the street and work on this album, so the processes of breaking up and making that album are inextricably bound in my mind. I was using the album as a way to stay busy and mission-oriented during a turbulent emotional time. But I think I was also processing the emotions of the break-up through the album.
So I’d say the music I’m making these days under my own name is a reflection of the eight years I spent playing music as a member of the Hudsons.
O’Shea: How daunting was it to embark on a solo career, or was it a natural step for your creative interests?
Hudson: I think the solo career was something I was pining for when I was with the band, and now that I’m solo, I’m missing the band. It was probably a good thing that the band broke up, although I miss it still, as we no longer rehearsed or really hung out together. Basically, our friendships were suffering. Plus I’d been wanting for some time to make an album on my own and being in a band makes that nearly impossible for reasons I won’t get into.
But still, the solo career feels like a temporary solution to music making and not something I want long-term. Even if I continue to issue recordings and tour under my own name, I need to be working with other people. I’m turned on creatively when I’m with people, so I definitely want to find partners down the line.
O’Shea: How long were you writing the songs for Into the Black before entering the studio? Who collaborated with you on the recording and engineering of the project?
Hudson: I was writing and recording many of the songs for Into the Black at the same time. I was working out of my friend’s garage studio and renting it by the month, so there wasn’t the same urgency to write/arrange/etcetera prior to entering the studio for me as there would have been were I renting a studio by the hour or by the day.
I didn’t collaborate directly with anyone, but I did get a ton of advice on recording/mixing/arranging/matters-of-taste from the studio’s owner, Matt Schneiderman.
O’Shea: Of the songs written for this new release, were there any that were particularly harder to write for you, or that started out musically sounding one way that evolved into a completely different song by the end?
Hudson: All of those songs were hard to write…
O’Shea: You’re based out of Austin, a fairly crowded landscape for musicians trying to get the market’s attention, what’s been the secret to succeeding as well as you have so far?
Hudson: Building a fan base here is for most groups a process that occurs over years of basing their music careers here. Quick success is pretty unusual in this town… I think that if you have a good product, a good team behind the product, work hard, take risks, and have faith in yourself… and you’ll probably find support. The secret is perhaps in actually having all those things at the same time. There were a few moments in my time with the Hudsons when I felt that all those ingredients were in place, and we seemed to resonate with new audiences very strongly.
But usually some ingredient was missing and the fans we’d already made were forgiving. Still, when we weren’t that on top of our game, we kept going because we were having fun, and we’d eventually get our shit together again and be excellent for a while. It was a cycle and it was fun.
But things won’t always be fun. I’m gonna preach a little here, but I think the world is a relentlessly unforgiving place for someone who has given up on their dreams. No matter what happens we have to always be working toward something grander than just survival. And for many great musicians in Austin, survival is all that the music money allows. A financially solvent music career is such a monumentally challenging pursuit, you also have to consider whether you’re making music for the right reasons (I can’t say for sure what they are) and whether it’s the right profession for you and whether you can live without the stability of regular work.
O’Shea: Can you tell the story behind a song like “Working for a Woman”?
Hudson: I wrote that song after I’d hurt someone I loved. She asked me to write a song per day until she decided to forgive me. It was like she became my publisher for a short time and created deadlines for the finishing of songs. So that song is about working to earn her forgiveness, and putting her at least, for a time, above everything else in my life.
O’Shea: Your use of haunting electric guitar is quite effective and clearly sets an intentional tone with some of the songs. How early in the development process did you realize that was the tone you wanted to set?
Hudson: I didn’t at any point decide what kind of tone I wanted to set with a song. I’ve never been that top-down about music-making. However, I would listen over and over to the basic tracks of the album songs and I’d wank away on the Fender hoping to find a good hook. Sometimes this was fruitful and I ended up with a dope part and a fuller production of a tune. But other songs that might have benefitted from a richer production didn’t end up getting the treatment because I never stumbled on any part I felt was worth adding.
Also, I was probably listening to too much Elliott Smith, and his eerie music definitely served as an influence over the sound of this recording.
O’Shea: Creatively what’s on the agenda for you for the remainder of 2010?
Hudson: Touring and making friends on the road.
O’Shea: Is there anything you’d like to discuss that I did not ask you about?
Hudson: If anyone reading this can recommend a good listening room in their town that I might want to play, please contact me.