Where there's Hood Smoke, there's a bass line on fire
Bryan Doherty of the Chicago-based jazz-infused rock band Hood Smoke is quietly becoming a star of the bass world.
But while his thumping bass lines have that jazzy soul groove sound you'd expect from a band that calls the Windy City home, it's the Cream City that Doherty originally called home, growing up in Glendale and attending classes at the High School of the Arts and the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music with the guidance of local jazz icons like Mark Davis and Berkeley Fudge.
Doherty's bringing his band Hood Smoke and its signature blend of jazz, soul and rock up to Milwaukee this weekend with a show at Shank Hall Saturday night alongside local reggae band R.A.S. Movement. Before then, OnMilwaukee got a chance to talk to Doherty about getting into music, growing up in Milwaukee and what the band has got cooking under the hood (spoiler: a new album).
OnMilwaukee.com: When did you get into music and playing bass?
Bryan Doherty: I started playing bass in the fourth grade, so that's going on 20 years now. I would've been ten when I started. When I was three or four, I think the first record that really stuck out to me was a Beatles record. I've just been a Beatles fan my whole life. I still love them, and I think they had a big part in why I chose to try and do it.
But I just always loved music. I played in band in school. I played in orchestra in school. I went to the High School of the Arts, and I just found all of these amazingly talented people that were just huge inspirations to me.
OMC: Why bass when you were a kid?
BD: Well actually at the time, I was playing bass and guitar and piano, and then I picked up the trumpet in band. And then since I could play trumpet, I started playing tuba in band because they needed a tuba player.
But then when I was getting into high school, a teacher told me, "You could be a jack of all trades, but a master of none." And I said that the bass was speaking to me; it seems to be the one. And it's been since then.
OMC: So you grew up in Glendale, correct? What was it like growing up in Milwaukee?
BD: I loved it. I love Milwaukee. I went to the High School of the Arts, and that was a great experience for me. I've been in Chicago, and I visit Milwaukee all of the time. I just love the people up there, I think the city is beautiful and the lake is beautiful. The East Side is usually where I spend most of my time up there, like at Wolski's or other local haunts.
I still visit the Exclusive Co.every time I go back because those places are getting even harder to find in Chicago.
BD: Oh yeah. A place that will still sell you a new CD, for example, those are getting harder to find in Chicago. I always love going back there. I went there as long as I can remember. I used to hop on the 15 bus, the Oakland-Kinnickinnic, and I'd take it from Glendale all the way down to the East Side and just buy tons of Frank Zappa records or anything I could get my hands on.
And I went to the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music when I was a kid for their summer camps, and that's on Prospect Avenue, so I would go to The Exclusive Co. almost every day after the Conservatory. Looking back on that time in my life now, it's really a great time in my life.
OMC: Do you have a follow-up for your debut album "Laid Up in Ordinary" in the works?
BD: We do! It's something that we're extremely proud of and look forward to getting out to our listeners' ears. It's entitled "Regular Neurotic."
OMC: And the motivation behind the title?
BD: Well that might be for another time. (laughs) Yeah, I think that just has to do with being in your late 20s and dealing with things that pop up in your life.
OMC: Do you have release date set on that?
BD: We're looking at July 1.
OMC: What did you kind of learn from the first album that you brought to this one?
BD: Well, I think we really honed in on what it is we're trying to go for here musically. The great thing is that we brought in our friend – Anthony Gravino – to engineer and produce it. The way we did it in the studio was pretty much all live. We didn't use headphones. We used monitors in the room. There's no click track. We just really wanted to capture what we've been doing live in studio, and much to our amazement, I think we did it.
OMC: Where did you grow musically on this album?
BD: I think musically, a big key point to this new album is the progression in the lyrics. I think the lyrics have more depth and more thought. Instead of approaching it as this great band that can play instrumentally well and then trying to fit words into it and make a thing out of it, as a writer, I was focused as much on the music as I was on lyrics, where in the past, I think I may have been more focused on the music than the lyrics.
OMC: I would imagine since you guys started off as an instrumental band and then you moved into lyrical music.
BD: Yeah, they weren't as much the focal point. That is true. And I've been writing lyrics and words my whole life, but I've been playing as a bass player in so many outfits for even longer, and I finally made the decision to not take the lyrics with a grain of salt. I'm happy with where they are on this new album.
OMC: What are the inspirations for your lyrics, both musically and in terms of real life?
BD: Well, I think it's important when writing lyrics not to get too stereotypical and not give up too easily on a phrase or a rhyme. I think it's important to get an idea out while it's fresh, but revisit it and edit it the way you see fitting without selling yourself short to what some people might consider cliché or something like that.
And when it comes to influences for me, Paul Simon is a big influence lyrically. He's just very honest, and it's very descriptive, which I'm a big fan of.
And then, if you go down the route – which I do often – which is sometimes you'll play a melody, and you might hear sounds of syllables in your head. You might not even have an idea of what the song is about, but you might start forming syllables in your head and mouth. And then before you know it, you might have a phrase that you like, and you think, "Okay, this is something I can build off of." Which I think is a helpful way for me, because most of the time, the music comes more immediately than the lyrical content.
OMC: Is it hard to move in that direction? I don't want to say regret, but do you miss that instrumental focus?
BD: No, because we still have it. We can tap into it whenever we want. And I think we've all agreed that where it's going is really using both aspects to their full capabilities. At the end of the day, it is the kind of music that I'm listening to myself. I think the power of music is really great when it's the combination of the voice and the drums and all of the elements.
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