[INTERVIEW] The Music Maker: Lyle Brewer

Photo by Joan Hathaway

Lyle Brewer, has been popping up on my social media feeds more and more over the last few years. The first I heard of Brewer was when I saw a musician I admire tag him in a post playing guitar. It was clear that he had learned something from Brewer, so I went on to learn about him. From there I discovered that Brewer is quite the musician himself. Brewer is a guitarist from Massachusetts, where he studied at The New England Conservatory. He is apart of the band Neighbor, which is a band that has formed recently and is developing quite the following. As a solo artist Brewer has released 7 albums and he is currently working on a new album with Kristin Slipp from Cuddle Magic. In my pursuit of Lyle I stumbled upon the “Friend of the Devil” video he did for his Let it Grow series and in it his playing was pure and simple and it drew me in.

I asked Brewer to speak to us and we finally got around to it right before the spread of Covid-19. We spoke about music and his year ahead. As you can imagine some things have changed but fear not the music is constant. You can find all things Lyle Brewer here and below you will find our conversation.

“Friend of the Devil”

An Interview with Lyle Brewer

Tour Stories: When did you first start with music? Can you remember it always clicking for you or did it take work? 

Lyle Brewer: I started playing music in 3rd grade. Our teacher gave us recorders and I went home and started learning songs by ear. I realized it came naturally to me, finding pitches and memorizing melodies. Later in 5th grade I started playing drums then guitar in sixth grade. My older brother played and there was a good amount of camaraderie and competition between us. I worked hard in high school, but I wasn’t focused and disciplined until I got to college. I went to The New England Conservatory and that school really kicked my ass.

Tour Stories: This year you seem to be doing ALOT – what are you most excited about?

Lyle Brewer: Yeah, this year is busy for me. I’m most excited about traveling to new places. For the last two years I’ve played solo shows regionally, living in Boston and traveling as far as NYC and Burlington VT. But this year I’m hitting Chicago, Montreal, Greensboro, Rochester. Earlier this month I was in Nashville and got to meet a bunch of people who have been following me on Instagram. That was super cool, getting to connect with audiences and students (I teach during the day of the shows). I’ll be working with two of my heroes this year Charlie Hunter and Brad Barr, both are helping me put on shows in their cities. I’m thrilled about that. 

Tour Stories: Neighbor, what is neighbor for you? And is Neighbor going to be a long-standing band? How did that all come together?

Lyle Brewer: Neighbor is my dream band. Ricky Umlah, keyboardist and vocalist, and I have known each other for 30 years. We grew up as next door neighbors and would spend hours playing together in high school. We drifted apart for many years but early last year he asked me to do a weekly gig in town. At the time it was half covers and half originals from his old band. After doing the gig a few months we started taking it more seriously, focusing on writing original music and heavy experimental improvisations. Our group of fans, “Neighbors” has been incredibly important to the development of our band. They are incredibly supportive and enthusiastic about our songs and shows. Neighbor has some big things planned this year, Playing Brooklyn Bowl On April 11th and a California run planned for September. The sky is the limit with that band.

Tour Stories: What album do you think has had the biggest impact on your life?

Lyle Brewer: “The Fall Apartment” by Brad Barr

Brad has had the biggest influence on me as musician. His playing and writing had taught me so much that without him I don’t know where I would be. I learned to appreciate subtlety, space, melody, touch and tone color from him. Brad could play solo guitar music and still hit on a deep emotional level. It made me realize that was possible and I’ve been working in that direction ever since. That album is so mind blowing start to finish. There are simple folk songs, traditional waltzes, improvisations, bits of flamenco and jazz, but it all comes out as pure and honest music, that’s what I’m after. 

Tour Stories: What inspires you most to write music and how does that inspiration get translated into a song? 

Lyle Brewer: It all depends. I find I work best with deadlines. I’ve never had much luck waiting for inspiration, so I’ll often force myself to write. Say “write for an hour and when the hour is up, you’re done”. I just want to walk away with something and only having the hour leads to better results than an ever-ending writing session. The idea may not be perfect or complete, but I find that process of being involved to be inspiring. I’ll then go back and sort through the ideas and piece it together. Because the music is instrumental the melodies must be really specific, especially with rhythm. Most of the editing process is playing the bass lines on guitar while singing the melody. If I can’t sing it back exactly how I want, it that means the melody needs work. 

Tour Stories:  What are do you have coming up and are you most looking forward to?

Lyle Brewer: This year I have a bunch of tour dates as I mentioned earlier, one of those being Camp Greensky with Dave Bruzza. I will release my second Etude book. I’m also releasing three new albums, “Evening” a collaborative project with Kristin Slipp, an album of Dead covers on solo guitar and an original solo guitar album.

Tour Stories:  Who is the most interesting person you have ever given a lesson to?

Lyle Brewer: I gave a lesson to Joey Landreth once. He is an incredible guitarist and singer who I respect a lot. It was interesting because his style of guitar (slide guitar in open C) is so vastly different than mine and yet we really understood each other. He is so deeply musical that there wasn’t a technical barrier to cross whatsoever. I spend so much time thinking what could be better in my own playing, I’m critical of myself as many musicians can be. But having a tremendous guitarist like Joey interested in what I’m doing made me feel like I was doing something right, ha, at least for a little while. 

Tour Stories: What do you want people to know about your story?

Lyle Brewer: That’s a good question. Music is the way that I’ve processed a lot of difficult things in my life. Music has helped me deal with family loss, suicide, addiction and mental illness. I write songs about my schizophrenic brother and my father’s and my own alcoholism because that’s what I’ve been exposed to and that’s where a lot of the inspiration comes from. There’s a lot of joy and love in my music too. I’m trying to be myself and be as honest as possible, sometimes that comes out as a happy song and often it’s an emotional heavy ballad. 

Tour Stories: Why is music important? 

Lyle Brewer: Music is important because it’s the best representation of complex emotions. Nothing is ever cut and dry, you never feel 100% one way and having room for interpretation is necessary. Sometimes the best way to describe something is with a melody. I feel like I understand the world and myself through music, it makes sense to me and I can say what I want to say. It’s specific and universal. It’s everything.

You can direct message Lyle Brewer via Facebook to purchase his music on Vinyl, CD’s, Etude Books and more.
Donations via Venmo: @lylebrewer Paypal: lylebrewertunes@yahoo.com

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