Brick Briscoe, an American songwriter, composer, performer, filmmaker, television and radio producer, chats with Kevin Cooper about his reaction to his cancer diagnosis, his musical influences, touring the UK next year and his latest album My Favorite Los Angeles Restarant.

Brick Briscoe is an American songwriter, composer, performer, filmmaker, television and radio producer. He has spent over thirty years in show business on virtually every level from New York to Los Angeles as well as Petersburg and Indiana to name but a few, doing music, TV and film.

Musically, Briscoe creates songs that paint a picture of restlessness and wonder, sprinkled liberally with a well matured angst. He is a wanderer both physically and artistically. His video and film projects are always filled with raw energy and emotion; always wearing his heart on his sleeve. He continues to work on his new TV show, Any Road and his radio programme, The Song Show, which airs on NPR affiliate WNIN in Evansville, Indiana, is nearing its fourth anniversary.

Despite being diagnosed with Cancer, he continues to work very hard. In the last eighteen months he has created sound design for two public radio documentaries, recorded two albums and six singles, produced sixty hour long radio shows, travelled to France, and produced and directed a TV documentary about WWI, and not forgetting his TV show.

Whilst keeping busy during the Covid-19 lockdown, he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Good morning Brick, how are you?

I’m great Kevin, thank you for calling and just how are you?

I’m very well thanks and before we go on, let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Not at all, I appreciate your interest in what I am up to so thank you.

And I have to ask, just how is life treating you in these strange times?

Well, you may hear me cough a little bit, but I will point out to you that it has absolutely nothing to do with Covid-19. The cough is a reaction to my recent round of chemotherapy, so I am pleased to say that other than the cough I am feeling healthy. The only complaint that I have is that we are not getting out of the house very much. What about you?

(Laughter) you really shouldn’t laugh but personally, I’ve not been out of the house since 10th March when I was photographing Clannad on their farewell tour here in Nottingham.

Oh wow, that sounds like fun.

It was but then, just after that date, the world as we know it, ended.

It did, didn’t it. Being in the business where, as you know I have to travel in order to do what I do, it is proving to be really difficult. What city are you based in?

I’m in Nottingham, Robin Hood country (laughter).

(Laughter) well who knows, maybe he will leave something at your house.

We can but hope (laughter). Anyway, I suppose that we really should talk about your latest album, My Favorite Los Angeles Restaurant, shouldn’t we?

Let’s do.

Well I have to say that I have been playing it for a couple of weeks now and I love it. I think that it is a great piece of work.

Thank you so much; that is great to hear.

Are you happy with the final product?

Yes, I am. I found myself in a situation where I got to spend more time on this record than almost any other record that I have previously made, and that is purely down to the current situation with Covid-19. In fact, I must come clean and say that I was really over anal about it (laughter). I wanted the album to take a certain route and to sound a certain way, but believe it or not, it really does take extra work to be as messy sounding as I do sound (laughter). That is on purpose most of the time (laughter). So, I am really pleased with it, and as a matter of fact, it is one of the few records that I have made that I still go back and listen to.

It surprises me sometimes that I put certain things in there, and I am pleased with it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sitting over here listening to it every day all day long. What I mean is that I will put it on a playlist every now and again, simply to see just how it stands up to other things.

Well correct me if I am wrong but I think that the American expression is ‘blowing smoke’ isn’t it?

(Laughter) yes, well that is one of our sayings.

Well believe me when I tell you that I am not trying to blow smoke anywhere, but I have to be totally honest with you and tell you that I absolutely love opening track Cody Jarrett.

Thank you for saying that, and I am really pleased that that particular song caught with you. I really do appreciate that, and I have to tell you, that song means an extra lot to me. I actually wrote that song for my mother who I was with when she passed away. I spent the entire night with her the night before she passed, and she was in a coma. One of the things that she and I had in common was a love of classic cinema and our relationship reminded me, in a far more simple way than Cody Jarrett and his mother, who was the mob boss in the 1949 movie White Heat. So, I kind of imagined in that song that I was James Cagney and she was Cody Jarrett’s mom. That is the movie that would have been made about my mother right there.

Well I have to be honest with you and tell you that when I listened to that track, I felt that it had a Jim Morrison, Nick Cave feel to it.

Wow, that’s good to hear. That really is nice, thank you.

I also feel that it would sit well on the soundtrack to a Quentin Tarantino movie.

That truly is a compliment and I really do appreciate that, thank you.

It grabs you and takes you on a journey.

If you ever get the chance to listen to any of my previous work, you will see that I tend to write about people who I make up who are really me or people that I know in certain locations. I take a lot of inspiration from places and that is certainly the truth here; I think that the term is picturesque. If I were to make a movie about my life it would be picturesque of all the places that I have ever visited, just how they have affected me, and I really do tend to put that into my music.

Well I have to tell you that at this moment in time I have three go to tracks. They are Let’s Get Sick, The Ticker and Oxnard. I think that those three tracks are fantastic.

Thank you, thank you so much.

From writing to recording, just how long did it take you to put the album together?

Thinking about it, that would probably have been around three months. However, you must remember that is probably longer than I would usually spend on putting an album together. I couldn’t travel, I couldn’t do my TV show, I couldn’t go out and play gigs, and I had in fact planned on finishing the album right around now. So, it really was a compressed three months of absolutely working around the clock on the album. So, there you go, three months.

So, in some respects, Covid-19 has actually worked in your favour?

I will tell you, I was intending to come over to the UK in order to work on the TV show and also to play some small gigs, in the UK, France, and in Northern Ireland in particular, but then I realised that I couldn’t go. I had all of this energy, so I decided to put it into the music. So yes, I would say that’s true, although I would hate to say that it worked to my advantage, because it is such an awful situation, but I think that you will see that Covid-19 has worked to the advantage of a lot of artists who have managed to focus, and find that quiet space in order to find their muse.

How difficult was it for you to smile and continue working whilst you were in hospital being treated for cancer?

I recorded more than half of one of my records, IV, whilst I was in my hospital room, while I was in there, undergoing the big chemo for thirty-five days. In fact, I scored a documentary whilst I was in there too. It’s that situation where you sit and think to yourself ‘just what am I going to do?’ You must keep that positive face, and from talking to so many people who have certain forms of cancer I have found that attitude is everything to get you through it; whether you survive it or not. I took that very seriously. I wasn’t going to simply sit around and mope about it. Just like when it came to make this record, I wasn’t going to sit around and mope for too long because I couldn’t be out there doing the work. I had to create the work; hence we got My Favorite Los Angeles Restaurant.

And how is your health at this moment in time?

Right now, I am in remission and I am waiting to be informed just how long I must remain in maintenance chemo. My oncologist keeps telling me that my blood tests are very boring, so I would assume that things are looking good for the future.

When you first found out about your illness, did it change your outlook towards your song writing?

Yes, it did. I no longer wanted to hold back on my thoughts. I didn’t really want to write about having cancer, although there is one song on my previous album, From Lucky Point To Père Lachaise which is actually about that, but I will leave it to everyone else to figure out that it is about that (laughter). It really is about why not say what you really want to say, all the way. Why have regrets about masking something on purpose. You must believe in your treatment and I totally bought into what my oncologist was selling.

I was recently speaking to Walter (Trout) who has been through a similar situation, and I have to say that he really does have a great outlook.

Walter really is a nice man. I interviewed him recently because I cover a lot of music festivals for NPR (National Public Radio) over here in the USA. Walter was supposed to be at a festival which unfortunately got cancelled this year, so I got to call him and talk about that.

I was going along to photograph Walter’s gig here in Nottingham and I said to him “I am coming along to shoot you later this week” to which he replied, “wow, never tell someone from Texas that you are going to shoot them” (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) that is so true and if I am being totally honest with you, that is the same for Indiana too (laughter).

I have to tell you that I am a soulie at heart and when I saw that you were based in Indiana, I immediately thought of R. Dean Taylor and his 1970 hit, Indiana Wants Me.

That’s interesting as I actually do feel that track is the story of my life. I really do love that song.

Do you have a favourite track on the album?

Yes, I do, in fact I have two. The first one is Suitcase, because it was totally unexpected and it is so out of character for me to do that type of song and it was the only time that I sang that song. What you are hearing on the album is the demo vocals. I call that track my Rap Song because I literally made those lyrics up as I sang them. I was basing it on an idea that I had for a film, and I literally made the words up as I went because I didn’t want to break up the melody (laughter). Having said all of that, I would have to say that my favourite song on the album is a song that very few people pick up on and it’s My Americana Lust. That song has a special meaning in my life.

I play a lot of music festivals and gigs with people who are considered to be Americana artists, and I have to say that have never considered myself to be an Americana artist. However, suddenly because I am seen with certain people, people do call me Americana. I always get a kick out of just what Americana is. Adam Duritz who is the writer and lead singer in the Counting Crows invited me to play a number of festivals several times and through that, I got to meet a number of people who gravitate around him and his scene, and a lot of those are Americana kids. They are all young kids and they all kind of want to be The Eagles or something (laughter).

I have to say that I find that very interesting because I never identified with that (laughter). However, they all assume because I am an old guy that I know all about The Eagles (laughter). So, what happens is that I find myself hanging out and talking music with these kids, and I actually learnt a lot about just what they were thinking about music. I just imagined what it would be like to have a relationship with somebody that much younger than me, which seems kind of alien and that is where that song comes from. And I have to say that I just love how that song came out. In fact, I think that was the very first song that was completed for the album.

I have to ask; do you have a favourite Los Angeles restaurant?

Absolutely, it’s was called Fab’s Corner Cucina and it was in Sherman Oaks right off Ventura Boulevard. Unfortunately Fabs has now closed its doors for good. We lived in Los Angeles for several years; my daughter was born there, and I have to say that it is the best Italian restaurant that I can imagine. You are speaking to a guy who has lived in New York several times, and for a long time, so that says a lot for Italian food.

Are you always writing?

Yes, I am, absolutely. I am constantly writing; I pace around for days and then I sit down and vomit it out. Songs form in my head, and then all of a sudden, I have to sit down and do it.

When it’s safe to do so, will we see you playing live over here in the UK?

Yes, you will. The goal at the moment is September but obviously, at this moment in time we simply don’t know. We are currently booking gigs over there for September, October and November. We will be playing gigs throughout Europe but mostly in the UK and France. I don’t know why but it seems to work for us in France (laughter).

Do you think that the music business will ever recover from this pandemic?

It’s funny that you are asking me this because my TV Show is a music show and I am currently working on a documentary to be shown on my music show and it is called Music Is Dead (laughter). It starts out before Covid-19 as I have been working on it and interviewing people for the past three years now. Covid-19 might be an opportunity for us to storm the gates, and maybe have our Punk Rock moment. We all know that Punk Rock shook things up for a bit of time until the guys with the money took it back. This could be an essential moment for all of us. I recently received a cheque, which was my streaming money, and it was for a grand total of $68.

Nothing is more aggravating to somebody who has spent time on something than seeing that. A bunch of guys my age still haven’t worked out just how to monopolise on any of this. We are still living in the past. It has become very apparent to me that the way that I make money in the music business is by playing gigs, and by selling my CD’s to people in person. That is a great part of my income. For that to come back at $68, then that is the real death nail right there. If we can’t get back to playing live and getting out there in front of people, then people like me will disappear and it will be the kids who end up making a living out of music and that might be rightly so.

I recently spoke to Earl Slick and I asked him the same question to which he replied, “there are a lot of noughts on the cheque, but they are on the wrong side”.

(Hysterical laughter) that is exactly right (laughter). I’m not going to put up what I got from them alongside what Earl probably got, but I have to say that he is spot on.

I asked him how can we resolve the current situation and he said “how do we put the shit back into the horse”.

(Laughter) yes, I totally agree. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle. I saw him running over the hill just the other day; we will never see him again. Who knew that Metallica were right. Who knew that Lars (Ulrich) was absolutely right. We all thought that he was a winey little bitch but I have to say that he really was on top of it. He absolutely knew what the heck was coming.

You have mentioned TV but you are also a presenter, producer, performer, and writer. Which one gives you the greatest pleasure?

That’s easy, it has to be music by far; there is simply no doubt. I originally thought that I was going to be François Truffaut but my parents didn’t want me sleeping in a van so they made me go to university. So I studied art which turned into making movies. It takes such a mechanism to make movies and I have been lucky enough to make some really bad movies (laughter). Having said that, I have made some really nice documentaries, but at the same time I realised that the movie industry was not going to be what I thought that it was going to be. Music was always hanging over my head, and every time that I write a song, I feel like, ‘that’s great, I can call Kevin up and I can play it for him over the phone’.

Whereas if I come up with a movie, you have to get all of these people involved and it is just vapour until it happens. Also, financially making a movie is a whole new undertaking. So, I am not complaining, and maybe someday I will make another movie. However, music is the thing that when it is done, I can say, “look I did this” which always moves me into making another thing in a similar vein. So, there really is no doubt, it is music. TV is fun and you can make a quasi living doing TV.

Who has musically influenced you?

That’s easy, Paul Weller and Thelonious Monk, but it was really Paul Weller who was a huge influence on me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that I sound anything like him but from The Jam to The Style Council to back to being solo, I totally admire his diversity. I love the fact that there is always passion in his music. I really admire Graham Coxon and Damon Albarn; I think that they are both just brilliant, but I think that they are far more brilliant whenever they work together. They are most definitely the guys plus Patti Smith too. So, if we are going American then it would have to be Patti Smith.

The good thing is that you are not as grumpy as Paul Weller (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) probably not. But darn it, you can’t deny what he has done.

I was waiting to photograph one of his outdoor gigs and a few minutes before he was due onstage, he came out, grabbed the set list and every song that people had paid good money to hear him perform, he crossed them off the set list and refused to play them (laughter).

(Laughter) really, well that’s funny. I will say this, when he first went solo he came over to the States and played in Los Angeles; he played five nights in a beautiful theatre. My wife and I went to see him and when he came out onto the stage, for us, it was like seeing The Beatles. I think that Stanley Road is a great album but my absolute favourite is Sound Effects.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

That’s easy; it would have to be playing a gig, looking out and seeing people who I admire being there and seemingly enjoying it. I have to say that it’s great when they come up and talk to you after the gig. What you have to remember is that I am a fan first; I think that most artist and musicians are fans first. That’s why most of us find ourselves in the music business.

What was the first record that you bought?

That’s easy, it was Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player by Elton John.

Who did you first see performing live?

That was Foghat who as you probably know were an American based English rock band.

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

The song that always brings a tear to my eyes is Alfie, not the Dionne Warwick version but the Cilla Black version.

How will you be spending Christmas?

My wife and I are going to be spending Christmas at home. This year I am going to fix a steak which is something that is a little unusual. We will have a nice meal, we will be speaking to our son-in-law, daughter and granddaughter on the phone and we will be very happy about it. The sad thing is that my daughter lives about a mile away from me. But because of my situation, they don’t want to get me sick, so that is what we are going to do. My wife and I will most probably watch the movie The Shop Around The Corner, drink a little wine and maybe even a little Tequila.

On that note Brick, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been absolutely delightful. You stay safe and I will see you here in the UK sometime soon.

Thank you so much for your interest Kevin. I tend not to read reviews but I will be reading this one. I look forward to seeing you over there in the UK and I expect you to buy me a whiskey.

A better idea is, why don’t we both have one and put them on Dave Hill’s tab (laughter).

That’s a great idea, you stay safe and we will meet up soon.