Alberta Canada has been unapologetic for quite some time. With a deep rooted music community, family-friendly events, amazing food scene, and a million reasons to have a good time, it’s no wonder the home of some iconic artists and musicians can still keep the vibe going. Brendan Lyons is a perfect example of taking everything about Alberta and putting it into a hard working musician who drummed up a solid career built around an amalgamation of music community awareness and life in Alberta. A typical day can encompass teaching drums, to recording clients, to filming an episode of “Musicians in Basements Drinking Coffee” to jumping on stage with a band performing in front of thousands of people.
We chatted with Brendan and asked him more about how he has become and sustained the Full-Timer status. Brendan Lyons is a full-time session drummer who created a community for musicians in his hometown of Alberta, Canada. His vlog, “Musicians in Basements drinking Coffee” is a growing success and invites fellow, like-minded musicians to gather, drink coffee and have a good time. Brendan shows us that you can indeed make a living and a life by following your path in music.
(Full Timers is an interview series celebrating small-business audio engineers/producers making a career in audio production.)
An Interview with Brendan Lyons
1) Tell us about the Alberta Canada music scene. What’s the vibe like?
Alberta has a fairly diverse music scene. There’s an abundance of country music because of the province’s large farming community. But there is also a thriving folk music scene, a pretty great jazz scene (Edmonton is home to one of Canada’s premiere jazz venues, the Yardbird Suite) and a pretty great metal scene as well. I’ve been fortunate enough to dip my toes into most genres around Alberta and everyone is very supportive and collaborative.
2) You’ve worked with a diverse number of artists. When faced with a decision to either emulate their previous drummers or bring your own vibe to their set, what path do you take? And what do you take into consideration to make that decision?
I find that most times it’s best to emulate their previous drummers at first. It’s a comfort thing for the artist – you don’t want to play anything unexpected or change any signature grooves or fills, at least on the first couple of gigs with them. If I end up playing for an artist for an extended period of time, I tend to throw in a few “Brendan-isms” here or there, but nothing that strays too far from the recorded versions of their songs or the covers that we might play.
I do try to make every effort to sound like their previous drummer tonally as well. But at the end of the day, I play the way I play and thus sound like myself in a lot of ways. Certain tools make it possible to change the way the drum set sounds from song to song though, and I do my best to incorporate them (Snareweights, Big Fat Snare Drums, jingly things, tea towels, etc).
3) How do your duties change from one artist to another? I’m assuming some artists require you to trigger samples, or for you to monitor a click for backing tracks?
My duties definitely change from artist to artist, genre to genre. Most times I’m strictly a side man – show up, play the songs to the best of my ability. Other times I need to “direct traffic” a little more – cue sections of songs, play really obvious fills to end tunes, that kind of thing.
Most artists expect that I play to a click – consistency is key gig to gig, it makes the artist feel more comfortable knowing that they won’t have to try to spit out lyrics if the drummer counts the song in too fast! I typically have an iPad with charts I’ve made for the gig and the click is programmed through the app I use to display the charts.
4) What are some of the most important tools and instruments you’re using currently?
One piece of gear I rarely travel without is my Roland SPD-SX sample pad. It is extremely versatile in that I can trigger simple sample like claps and bass drops easily, or I can actually load full song backing tracks/clicks/count-ins and trigger them using only the pad. It’s extremely stable and has not flaked on me once (knock on wood)! That being said, when it comes to bigger shows with more complex song arrangements involving support tracks, I can use the SPD-SX to trigger Ableton on my laptop and the audio is routed through a MOTU Ultralite MKIII that I also carry with me most everywhere. Being able to work in different DAWs is an extremely valuable asset these days as a good majority of touring bands are using Ableton Live or something like it to run their shows.
I do travel with some other odds and ends that are very important for me to get the sounds that I want out of the drum set itself. Big Fat Snaredrum makes great tools for changing the pitch and tonality of drums on the fly. Snareweight makes great dampeners if you don’t like the residue of Moongels like me! Tea towels, sizzle chains for cymbals, a great set of in-ear monitors from Calgary IEM maker Plunge Audio. Simon at Plunge is a great human – if you need IEMs, hit him up! He’s making monitors for MASSIVE bands around the world.
And of course when I can, I take my Little Blondies with me! They’re a mainstay as room mics in my studio, but I sometimes use them as overheads live if the FOH [front of house] tech doesn’t mind! They’re incredible – open and natural sounding, which is important when I’m on in-ear monitors!
5) Tell us about your studio, please. What were the criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process?
My studio is essentially a soundproof room in the basement of our townhouse in the west end of Edmonton. We purchased our home with an unfinished basement and I had a contractor come in and construct the room: A room within a room, two layers of drywall hung on ISO clips, green glue, two heavy doors, etc. It was meant as a space for me to practice and teach in mostly, but has evolved into a space that I can track drums remotely for people, or have bands come in to track demos, EPs, etc. I would have loved to have constructed a vocal booth, had walls that aren’t parallel and all the extra things that would have made it an outstanding room to track in, but for resale purposes, we had to do a rectangular shaped room. It still sounds surprisingly good, considering!
I’m a fairly particular person in some regards. I like neat, clean spaces with interesting lighting. A place that’s quiet that I can feel comfortable working in for long hours. I’ll be honest, I don’t have a lot of time for creativity down there – I’m mostly woodshedding, learning tunes, recording or teaching. But I do fully intend to write some of my own material and it will be a great place to do it. I have all of the studio essentials – MIDI controller keyboard, guitars, a bass, LOTS of drums, percussion, mics, etc. The room could probably use a little tidying up at this point though.
6) What’s been one of the most memorable gigs you’ve done?
This is a tough one. I’ve been privileged enough to have played quite a few shows that are memorable, all for different reasons. My first “big gig” in 2015 with a band called Hey Romeo was at Big Valley Jamboree just south of Edmonton. We played an early morning slot so there wasn’t a massive crowd, however it was on a HUGE stage that we shared with Reba McEntire, Lady Antebellum and a couple other well known acts. I also unwittingly met Greg Morrow, one of the heaviest studio drummers in the world that day.
Another that stands out is a string of shows I had the opportunity to play with Classic Albums Live. We had four dates around Alberta and Saskatchewan (the province to the east of Alberta) playing the Beatles album Abbey Road in its entirety. I’ve never been a huge Beatles fan, but that string of dates changed my mind in a big way. The last date of the mini tour was at the Jack Singer Concert Hall in Calgary to a nearly sold out audience. It was incredible to see the impact the music had on people – tears, laughter, the whole spectrum of emotions. And the musicians in the band, jeez. They are some of the best musicians in the country. It was an unbelievable experience.
7) You’ve recently started a video series called Musicians in Basements Drinking Coffee. I’m curious, do you consider it a talk show? How did the show come about?
Yes! Music! Coffee! Basements! This project is slowly taking over my life, which is amazing! I would call it a talk show of sorts I suppose. We’re more… appropriating the concept of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee but basing it around freelance/full time working musicians.
It started as a fun creative way to pass time between myself, Ryan Davidson (guitar), Brennan Cameron (keys) and Paul Bergeron (bass). We’d gathered in my basement studio to jam one day early last year and really loved writing short pieces of music. Nothing complicated, no overthinking. The next time we got together we set up our phones to capture some footage. The first few episodes we released received very positive feedback from our friends and colleagues so we figured we would release some more! Some friends of ours that work in the film industry soon approached us and offered their services to help us increase the production value of the series. They saw potential in it and wanted to jump on board! We quickly went from three iPhones capturing footage to 5 excellent camera angles, to recently doing a session with 8 cameras and 5 film crew!
Our process is simple – get together without any preconceived ideas, write three pieces of music and release them! Warts and all. People like to see the behind the scenes aspects of it, the writing process, the filming, the editing. So we’re really trying to play that up. We’re also bringing guests on as well, where we structure our writing around the guest’s musical tendencies and influences.
Other content we plan on releasing as part of MIBDC is behind-the-scenes footage from our daily lives (as we’re all full-time freelance players), interviews with touring musicians, and interviews with coffee roasters and baristas! Because, what musician doesn’t like locally roasted artisan coffee?
8) I guess a follow up and important question would be about the coffee: Have you noticed that certain methods of brewing contribute to tempo speeding up? I’m sure many drummers would love to know!
Oooohhhhhh yes. Not so much the brew method, but the roast! A little known fact is that it’s actually light roast coffee that is more caffeinated! Our current coffee sponsor Transcend is excellent. They roast their coffee beans lightly – enough to bring out the notes in each bean that they source from around the world! So if I have a coffee from Transcend, watch out! The songs might end up a little quicker than normal!
9) What efforts do you make to be known around your community so people know of the services you provide? Do you have to attend live shows and get to know artists face to face? What else do you do to bring attention to your services?
I do try to make it out to live shows when I can, but being a freelance player and teacher myself it’s very difficult to get out to see shows. Most of the time the work that I do get comes from word of mouth. Doing an excellent job playing the music or recording for clients and artists as well as being a good person tends to go a long way towards bringing in new work.
With social media being so easy to use these days, I have found that “advertising” a little on certain platforms brings in work as well. With Musicians In Basements Drinking Coffee, I think it’s a good platform for all of the people involved to advertise their services as well. Videography, lighting, musicianship, everything is top notch with that project and I think people will see that and want to enlist the services of some of the people on screen and behind the scenes.
10) Let’s talk about practicing. What’s your practice routine? What efforts do you make to be able to jump in with a band without any hiccups?
I’ll be honest: There isn’t a lot of time to practice, as in work on the things that I’d like to work on (concepts, chops, etc). I’ve just started working through Dave Elitch’s “Getting Out Of Your Own Way” video lesson series as I’ve been having some trouble with my hands – sore thumbs, sore forearms. My technique has suffered a little due to a pinched nerve in my left arm. So I’m just getting back on the practice train, working on things like touch and phrasing, which has been great!
Typically, when asked to play a gig, I’ll either get the charts from the artist or I’ll chart them out myself. Then I’ll run them on my own a few times, and that’s it! There’s really no secret to it. I just try to know the music as well as I can and play it to the best of my ability. I do think that being flexible and trying to work with the artist as best as I can goes a long way as well. As they say, we spend 90% of our time “hanging” off stage, and 10% on stage. So being a great person and being positive is very important.
11) List 3 Canadian artists you’d like the rest of the Little Blondie community to check out right now.
Oh wow, this is a tough question. There are so many great Canadian artists!! Can I list three and add a short list of others that are worth checking out?!
The Bros. Landreth (Winnipeg, Manitoba). I can’t count the number of times I’ve listened to their album “Let It Lie”. Masterful playing, exceptional engineering, meticulous production. I think what separates them from a lot of Canadian groups and artists is the songwriting and harmony. It’s hard not to feel emotional listening to their music. CHECK THEM OUT.
Tenille Townes (Grande Prairie, Alberta). It’s quite possible that many of our American neighbours have heard of her already – she’s currently on tour with Dierks Bentley! Her breakout song “Somebody’s Daughter” showcases her incredible voice. So happy to see someone from Alberta making huge strides in the American country scene!
Roman Clarke (Winnipeg, Manitoba). To describe him as a phenom doesn’t do him justice. He plays every instrument you can think of proficiently and just released his first solo album “SCORCHER”. We grew up in the same small town and I did production on a couple of his first band’s shows. It’s been incredible watching his journey.
Others to check out:
Aaron Goodvin – Just signed a major deal with an American Label in Nashville and released his new album “V”.
Ken Stead – Just released his new album “Civil War.” I’m a big fan.
Celeigh Cardinal – A powerhouse singer and songwriter whom I’m excited to be playing for.
12) How did you hear about Little Blondie microphones?
I believe it was on the Gearslutz thread comparing them to every other microphone imaginable. I was looking for an inexpensive pair of room mics in my studio, mainly for tracking drums. After doing a bunch of reading and listening to demos, I reached out to get a hold of a pair!
13) What was your first impression about the Blondies after using them? And what are some of your favorite applications for their use?
I immediately loved them on first use. I’ve tried them as room mics, on toms, snare, acoustic guitar, vocals. They remain incredibly honest and transparent. There isn’t anything that pokes out sonically to me in a bad way. I would have to say my favourite application is a heart or crotch mic on the drum kit. Equidistant from the kick, toms and snare, it seems to bring everything together like some sort of “mic glue.”
14) Tell us about a memorable moment using Little Blondies.
There are a couple of memorable moments I suppose. The first time pulling them out of the tin was startling – they’re so small!!!
I took a pair on the road with me for a tour with Merle Haggard and used them as overheads. I’d never used omnidirectional mics as overheads before and loved how the sound stage in my in ears opened up. It was like sitting behind the drum kit with no in-ears! They don’t reproduce some of the harshness in the cymbals like some other small diaphragm condensers of similar price do.
Thanks so much to Brendan Lyons for this great interview! Please check him out on his own pages here: