Updated: Feb 6, 2020
To me, the mark of a good drummer is someone who plays with their whole body, their whole being, and really listens, picks out complex rhythms and drives the heartbeat. A guy who knows when to leave space so you hold in your breath for that one second before he gives you the downbeat to exhale. Someone who reimagines time without missing a beat.
Bryan Curtis ticks all those boxes...
Sometimes I think Bryan must clone himself to do the number of gigs he does. I first saw him play at a blues gig with some local journeymen and he kept everyone in line. A lot of blues players keep it traditional (and boring) all night, but not Bryan – he’d make subtle changes without missing a beat and keep it interesting.
You can also catch him playing with Liam Cloud, classic rockabilly with The Monkey Men and soul / RnB with Lion Eyes. He still guests with Larry Smith and Unfinished Business and is one of the house drummers for the Ocaña jam sessions.
In fact, Bryan's collaboration with Liam Cloud is one of the most interesting in Barcelona because the two have onstage chemistry that only comes from real talent and experience. The two have recently been recording together and pull out the stops every show (See my review of their last show together at FPN's first Concert Series HERE)
I’ve had the pleasure of playing with Bryan myself at one of Barcelona’s most open jam projects, the (now disbanded) Amber Valley collective, and Bryan is the kind of drummer every musician loves to play with.
Here we had an experimental group of musicians and singers, all improvising all the time, which led to real flashes of brilliance. As one of the anchors in the group, Bryan helped launch a lot of the acts you’ll see playing around town. Even with 12-hour jams and 10+ people playing together, and time and again Bryan proved more than capable of holding it together as styles moved from funk, R’N’B, jazz, rock / folk and a bit of Afrobeat and reggae. Bryan provided a backbone and way back into the groove, like a homing beacon.
Not only that, but he'd regularly sneak in some of the most fantastically adventurous fills and breaks which could make the most jaded critic smile...
So Bryan and I may have bonded over few good jams and a mutual admiration of drummers JoJo Mayer and Ari Hoenig, but it’s only fair to give readers a little more reason than that to get out to see Bryan at the next FPN Concert Series on June 1.
So here’s a few more interesting facts about Bryan:
Where did you grow up? Cork, Ireland
How long have you been in BCN? 4 years
Why did you come to BCN? I was stranded in the Canary Islands staying with my parents after I had to leave North America for overstaying my visa. Barcelona seemed like a hip city.
Where did you learn/train to be a musician? I studied with Shaun Ford for about 9 years in Cork. I started when I was 7, doing the usual Trinity exams. I spent hours transcribing solos from guys like Elvin Jones, Tony Williams etc.
What made you want to be a musician? Well, the idea of going to university, getting a job and living that 'normal' life gave me intense anxiety as a teenager. Playing music was a way around that. It was also the only thing I was good at!
When did you first feel like a musician? I’m trying to feel like a human and not to identify solely as a musician. It can be severely damaging to your mental health to identify as anything other than a living breathing human.
What did you grow up listening to? Luckily, quite a diverse selection of music: starting with old big band jazz, Miles Davis, Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, and of course, in Ireland you can’t escape the traditional Irish jigs. To the funk of James Brown, the meters, Gil Scott Heron, and onto the progressive 70’s folk rock band Steely Dan, a collection of World Music records my mum had, as well as Eminem and The Wu Tang Clan. Super-diverse.
Who are currently some of your biggest influences? It changes weekly! It makes it difficult to find your own sound to be honest. I'm constantly going from the clean science of recorded folk/pop music (like the brilliance of a John Mayer record) to the more out-there and expressive; JoJo Mayer, Mark Guiliana, Janek Gwizdala, Brad Mehldau. One of my favourite trio recordings is Sangam (Charles Lloyd, Zakir Hussein and Eric Harland).
Who do you consider your mentors? Pretty much the musicians above… All those guys have played all styles. They're not one trick ponies and they have used their interest in multiple styles to their advantage. At times it can feel like a disadvantage though.
What style/sound/look do you most aspire to achieve? Whatever is truest to my core self. Not following trends but trying to be unique and progressive.
What kind of gear do you use? I currently play a Tama fat spruce kit (my dream is to play Canopus) and a Ludwig acrolite snare. I'm endorsed by Murat Diril cymbals but I'm leaving the company this year as I'd rather be a kid in a candy store (although they are fantastic cymbals and a great company to work with).
What’s the craziest and most challenging show you’ve ever done? I've played close to 2,000 shows in the past ten years and a lot of them have been weird. I played a morning slot in the Haida Gwaii festival off the coast of Canada while hungover and a bit out of it, and was given an impromptu drum solo! That was super awkward.
What’s the most rewarding show or project you’ve ever done? Musicially, I think it was the Amber Valley collective project. I had full control over my own style. I could lead the music anywhere I wanted, from afro funk to Drum and Bass to Latin American grooves and I was allowed to fully express myself, challenge everyone else and myself. Most of us had full trust in our band mates and there was a beautiful connection. Unfortunately, there is hardly any recorded material!
Tell me about some of the other projects/collaborations you’re a part of. I'm freelance so I'm always playing and recording with different projects. Currently I'm playing lots with Monkey Men and Lion Eyes. I’m lucky enough to be asked by Liam Cloud when he has gigs and I’m working on a new project with Barcelona's best - yet to be released into the wild ...
Why did you agree to all these different projects? Personally and musically, they serve different parts of my musical personality.
What does a perfect venue look/feel like for you? I love small, intimate venues, where all your expression can be heard and felt. Festival stages are fun but very disconnected.
Which are your favourite venues and why? I love Robadors 23 in Raval. It's super intimate with an attentive audience. Marula Cafe always has a great energy too (especially with The Monkey Men). Of the newer places - Zowie, the Front Page News venue, has one of the best sound systems and a cool crowd, which makes it a lot of fun to play.
Tell me about the musicians you work with and why you work with them? Well this interview is for the Front Page News run of concerts in the summer and I'm playing with Liam Cloud, he headlined the first and is playing some of the others. Firstly, and probably most importantly, we never seem to get in each other’s way. It all flows super-well and we never get into arguments about arrangements or how to play my part. There's just a strong musical trust I guess. He also really delivers on a big stage.
What do you like most about being part of the BCN music scene? I feel like if you're good, you'll find a place. It's also a good place to work on a project and make it tight.
What do you like least about the scene? Barcelona, in terms of art, is 15/20 years behind other hubs such as Berlin, Paris, London and multiple places in North America. If you're doing anything other than salsa / rumba or South American music it's hard to find an audience here.
How has the scene evolved over the time you’ve been here? More venues can have live music now, which is great. Also, there are so many more musicians moving here that I see bigger venues taking a chance on people who don’t already have a name in the city, or who haven't lived here for years.
Where do you see the BCN scene evolving over the next 5 years? I really have no idea. There are so many different 'scenes' in the city. I hope that the audiences will start to value the art of live music more, and support concerts like Front Page News which are trying to develop the scene and pay musicians properly.
Who would you like to play with that you haven't had a chance to yet? I’ve been lucky with who I've played with. I want to create a duo project but I haven't found the right person yet...well maybe I have, I'm not sure. I want a chance to express all the musical styles I love to play. It's also better money as a duo ;)
There’s an old saying: The difference between a good band and a great band is the drummer. But don’t take my word for it. Check out a gig with Bryan and you’ll understand...
Get your tickets and see Bryan backing Liam Cloud and playing tag with Joseph Harris on Bass at the next Front Page News Concert Series!