Hired Gun to Headliner

Former Dwight Yoakam sideman Brian Whelan headlines his own show at T. Boyle’s Saturday night

By Bliss 02/19/2015

Some people spend years charting their life’s direction; others shift course midway — or multiple times — through their careers. Not Brian Whelan. From the time he was in kindergarten, when he fashioned a guitar out of cardboard and asked his teacher if he could perform for class, he was intent on making music.

That’s what he’s done since arriving in LA at age 18 to study music. Four years at USC; four years with pop band the Broken West (aka the Brokedown); four years as multi-instrumental sideman with Dwight Yoakam (“the gold standard” of gigs). Now, finally, the genial Highland Park resident’s focusing on what he’s wanted to make priority one all along: his own music. He’s “juggling monkeys” in hectic preparation for a solo tour that includes a set with drummer Mitch Marine and bassist Brett Simons Saturday at T. Boyle’s Tavern. 

Whelan’s shows generally include material from his 2012 solo debut “Decider,” a sturdily crafted, rhythmically diverse showcase for his fretboard brio and observant wit, and “covers that surprise people.” (By way of example, his interpretation of “O Holy Night” is the most slamming Christmas carol you’re likely to hear.) He’ll also play songs from his yet-to-be-titled new album, which includes spirited co-writes with Broken West bandmate Ross Flournoy and Phoebe Bridgers.

“On ‘Decider’ there were some songs that were roots/Americana and some that were power pop,” he explains. “This record created more of a fusion, where the songs were not so much one or the other but both simultaneously.”

He wonders what early hero Buddy Holly might be doing if alive.

“I think he would have been like Dion,” he suggests, “but cooler — like Dion meets David Byrne. Listen to Buddy and you get a sense of how into music and how weird he was. The same guy who wrote pop ditties could be really into outer space sounds. You’ve gotta get weird sometimes.

And unpredictable. Peers and fans respect Whelan as a hotshot guitarist who swivels heads whether tossing off country chicken-pickin’ or bluesy slide. When asked if he considers himself a musician or songwriter first, his initial answer surprises.

“I’m a singer. I connect to vocals and melody and lyrics. So, closer to being a songwriter. As I get older these things all start to run together. 

“Performing and singing and playing an instrument and running a business — all that shit is easier than writing a good song. That’s the thing that impresses me most when I see an act or hear a record, is if I can remember one hook or one line. … It’s not for me to decide who’s good and who isn’t. But that’s what I care about: a really great song, a timeless song, a song that can be done in any arrangement or style. Songwriting is the hardest thing for sure.”

California Roots Union presents Brian Whelan at T. Boyle’s Tavern, 37 N. Catalina Ave., Pasadena, 9 p.m. Saturday. $5. Yours Truly, Michele opens. Info: (626) 578-0957. Twitter.com/WhelanMusic

HOUSTONTONIGHTLIFE.COM FEATURE

DWIGHT YOAKAM SIDEMAN TAKES CENTER STAGE WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM HIS HOUSTON FRIENDS

Brian Whelan barely looks old enough to be shaving, but don’t let the boyish looks fool you: This Seattle native is a battle-hardened veteran of the music wars. Whelan has been around the block more than once working as a side man for the likes of Ted Russell Kamp, Randy Weeks, Tony Gilkyson, Mike Stinson, and, most recently, as a multi-instrument utility man for Dwight Yoakam’s red hot band.

But late last year Whelan, who began singing onstage at eight years old, stepped off the bus long enough to record his first solo LP, “Decider,” and it’s a twangy, power pop rocker that brings nothing but smiles and tapping toes. The album showcases Whelan’s triple threat musical abilities; he has a rare and tasty singing voice (all the better to sing harmonies in the Yoakam band), plays any damn instrument he decides to well, and he writes smart songs for , as Nick Lowe says, “Now People.” In fact, to get a handle on what Whelan sounds like, think no further than Lowe pop masterpieces like “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” or “Cracking Up.”

Whelan wrote 80% of “Decider,” but he also harkened back to his days with Stinson in the joints in L.A., laying down an aching version of Stinson’s “Brand New Love Song.” When Whelan informs his lady “I’ve got a brand new love song just for you / And the worst thing about it is it’s true,” the deed is done and done well. He also rocks hard on Gilkyson’s “Mohave High,” and just stomps the rocking “Sharp Teeth of Love,” making it sound like something Lowe himself might cover.

Whelan, who is flying into Houston on the way to meet up with Yoakam in Austin for two gigs this weekend, will be backed by Mike Stinson’s rode-hard, put-up-wet bunch of road dog Houston hardcases. And Stinson, who was a longtime L.A. session drummer before picking up his songwriter pen and moving to the spotlight, will make a rare appearance on drums. This should be a roaring barnburner of a show in the intimate confines of Under the Volcano.

– William Michael Smith

Read the full feature here

HOUSTON CHRONICLE FEATURE

Singer’s musical versatility sets him apart from crowd
By Andrew Dansby

March 21, 2013

Brian Whelan‘s most visible gig these days is playing guitar, keys, pedal steel and accordion in Dwight Yoakam’s band, which meant he had a busy 2012 playing on and touring behind Yoakam’s excellent “3 Pears.” But Whelan’s new album, “Decider,” makes a strong case for him stepping out on his own whenever his job permits. There’s an underlying rootsiness to Whelan’s songs but he often steers them into interesting and hooky directions that reveal a deep historical affinity for thoughtful pop. He’s an expressive and versatile singer, able to touch on twang and stir in some soul. His is a sophisticated sort of power pop that nevertheless invites listeners to occasionally shake a leg. “Decider” spills forth with an energy that suggests the live show should be a corker.

Read the full Houston Chronicle Feature here.

POPMATTERS REVIEWS DECIDER

Brian Whelan: Decider
By Steven Spoerl

Former Broken West member steps out on his own and delivers.

After spending time in both the Broken West and in Dwight Yoakam’s band, that Decider would sound like it does shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s gorgeously textured powerpop that carries a great deal of vintage Americana influences with it. That the two complement each other to the extent they do is the real achievement here, which is something that posits Whelan, once again, as a songwriter to watch. While the lyrics on Decider don’t take the spotlight, they’re strong enough to indicate that Whelan’s secret weapon may be his understated lyricism, which is evident in songs like “High and Lonesome”.

While Decider is still a few steps away from being a classic powerpop record, it should certainly be in prime position for genre fans to be discussing it as a lost gem 20 years down the line due to its timeless sound and nature.

Check it out here!

NEW REVIEW!

From The Shamrock Connection

It’s Delightful, It’s De-Lovely, It’s Decider.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 By Mikayla Khramov

It’s hard folk and rock and roll. It’s that feeling you get when you’re on the road, and you roll down the windows, and you turn up the stereo. That free-spirit sensation-that’s what you get when you put in Brian Whelan’s Decider

Whelan is currently touring in country-star Dwight Yoakam’s band, playing keyboard, rhythm guitar, accordion, and anything else Dwight hands him. With Dwight, he has performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and David Letterman. This multi-instrumentalist has performed with many other talented musical artists, but now, it’s Whelan’s turn to take the spotlight.

Synchronistic with its release date on Election Day, the album will win you over at the start with the title track. “Decider” packs a powerful punch. We’re talking Black Keys meets Mumford and Sons. But it also takes you back to a neo-classic sound of Plimsouls meets Wilco, some Zeppelin, and a certain Nick Lowe influence.

One of the most refreshing songs is “Everything.” It’s a song of gratitude, appreciation, and confidence. Whelan sings, “There’s so much that I got,just some lucky breaks I caught”. He transmits a humble yet powerful message about loving what you have and living in the world you make for yourself.

“’Everything’ was written with my friend Ross Flournoy – he had that first verse and chorus and I wrote the rest. It’s basically a positive message, because I do feel like I have a great life,” Whelan said.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, check out “Brand New Love Song.”. With female vocal accompaniment, it’s got love, it’s got heartbreak, it’s got cool, “…And the only saving grace is that it rhymes”. But if you have a taste for bass, turn up “Who’s Fooling Who”. It’s almost unreal how silky the beat sounds. This combo of twang and crash will rattle your head sets.

“’Who’s Fooling Who’ was definitely inspired by Yoakam, musically speaking. The lyric is just a plain old-fashioned breakup story,” Whelan said.

For a real rock jolt, check out “Mojave High”. It’s a countrified Chuck Berry-style jam. And before you can cool down, Whelan jumps into “Sharp Teeth”, a highly energetic, but oh-so-clearly catchy tune. The acoustic guitar and tambourine add rootsy juice to this clever and quick-sped percussion concoction. Every song, every melody is a breath of fresh air, but it’s his voice that truly sets him apart from artists of today-a voice like smooth glass, like cool rain.

You can buy Brian Whelan’s Decider on iTunes or order it on Amazon.com. You’ll be glad you did. It will make an epic addition to your music collection.

Whelan was recently interviewed by Moheak Radio. You can also read more about him and Decider on Whenyouawake.com, Buzzbands.com,  and at his website. He also has an upcoming show on Tuesday, February 12 at Amplifi in Los Angeles. Tickets are $8. He will be joining Phoebe Bridgers for an acoustic set at 8:00pm. Visit the event on Facebook at  Phoebe Bridgers / Brian Whelan !!! Solo Acoustic Show @ Amplyfi. Don’t miss this opportunity to see Brian Whelan live.

DAILY VAULT REVIEWS DECIDER

“Decider—Los Angeles singer-songwriter Brian Whelan’s solo debut after making a couple of records with Brokedown (a.k.a. the Broken West) and playing in Dwight Yoakam’s touring band—is classicist guitar rock with country-rock and rockabilly shadings, confidently occupying similar musical space to guys like Brendan Benson and Marshall Crenshaw. The opening title track is a muscular, hooky tune with nice drive that adds a 12-string behind the chunky main riff that later feeds into a dreamy, almost psychedelic solo at the bridge. That loose, sunny vibe immediately gets more play on “Everything,” a gentle, soaring tune that feels like if might have fallen off the back of a Roy Orbison/Jeff Lynne collaboration. “High And Lonesome” moves a little closer to the ground, a funky little guitar boogie that chugs along under falsetto vocals that give the whole thing a playful, slightly unhinged edge. Here and throughout, Whelan’s songs are concise statements, carefully carved little jewels that make their case in two and a half to three and a half minutes and then move on down the line… like Buddy Holly reimagined by the Byrds… Brian Whelan knows where he came from, and I like where he’s going.”

Read the full review here!

VINTAGE GUITAR REVIEWS DECIDER

“Brian Whelan, Decider
(Three Moves Equals a Fire)
This is good power pop, a 21st century version of the feel-good California pop music of the ’70’s. “High And Lonesome” is one of several spots Whelan and Ross Flournoy on guitar sound like Keith Richards and Brian Jones might if they’d grown up as West Coast surfer boys. – RA”

Check out Vintage Guitar Magazine’s website here.