Tyler Bryant and the Present Imperfect

Published January 24, 2013

ABOVE: TYLER BRYANT AND THE SHAKEDOWN. IMAGE COURTESY OF JOSHUA BLACK WILKINS

At first glance, it’s hard to believe that 21-year-old Tyler Bryant toured with Jeff Beck. After hearing any of the guitar riffs or vocals from his debut album Wild Child, however, it’s evident that he was right where he belonged. The Texas native comes across as an old soul, playing with rock legends such as Aerosmith, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Clapton, and Heart. Bryant’s musical education came from an unlikely source: Roosevelt Twitty, a Texas bluesman in his 60s whom Bryant met when he was in elementary school. Wild Child is rough and flawed, but that’s exactly how Bryant likes it.

We spoke with Tyler Bryant while he was in a Nashville studio about re-recording his album, bonding with Jeff Beck, and being a fisherman in another life.

ILANA KAPLAN: Where in the world are you, Tyler?

TYLER BRYANT: Well, I just got back to Nashville last night.  I’m actually just at the studio today working on some new songs.

KAPLAN: Sounds good. I heard that you’ve been called something of a “guitar prodigy,” and I’m not surprised after hearing you play the guitar. What’s it like having that description associated with you?

BRYANT: Honestly, I’m really grateful that people say that about me, but I try and sweep that under the rug and keep making good music. There are so many great guitar players out there. I guess, this year, I did about two months on the road with Jeff Beck. I can’t really accept being called a “guitar prodigy” after watching Jeff Beck every night for two months. I’m just doing the best that I can.

KAPLAN: That must have been amazing.

BRYANT: Oh yeah! The thing is, that’s, like, the cream of the crop. I’m really thankful that people say that, but I’m just trying to make rock-‘n’-roll music.

KAPLAN: Did you and Jeff Beck bond in between shows that you played?

BRYANT: Yeah. It was a really cool experience. A few dates into the tour, he asked me to come out and start doing the encore with them. So, I would actually get to go out and play with his band every night. It was so much fun, and it was a massive learning experience for me.

KAPLAN: Cool. How long has your full-length, Wild Child, been in the works for?

BRYANT: Well, it was in the works for a long time: almost too long. We spent about three months in Oxford, Mississippi, making a record, which I think is a little too long for us, you know? For a lot of bands, it’s the more time, the better; but I feel like, when you’re trying to make a record like we wanted to make when we originally set out to make Wild Child, three months is way too long. We went through a lot of the songs, we tried a bunch of different things, and we ended up choking the cat a little bit. We came back to Nashville and were like, we should re-do this thing. We should do it fast and furious. We should do it all two-inch tape. We should all be in the same room, and we should just make it dirty. So, we did. We tracked the whole thing, 13 songs, 13 days. Mixed. Done. That’s kind of the way we wanted to do it originally. We just had to convince everyone that it was how it was supposed to be.

KAPLAN: That’s pretty incredible. 13 days.

BRYANT: I mean, whenever you hear Wild Child, you don’t want it to sound like really pretty child who has really pretty hair, wearing a nice, pretty dress, carrying nice, pretty flowers. You want it to be like, this is a rock-‘n’-roll band, listen to how big those drums are; it’s two guitarists for majority of the album. It’s just me and Graham Whitford. There was no studio magic that went into it. We didn’t want to make a record that was better than we are as a band. We wanted to make a true representation of us. There’s so much that you can do in the recording studio to make yourself sound absolutely flawless. We wanted the record to be perfectly imperfect.

KAPLAN: I definitely think that the best records are the ones that are flawed and are a little rough around the edges. Are you a self-taught guitarist?

BRYANT: For the most part, I am. I met this guy named Roosevelt Twitty, who was a real-deal Texas bluesman, when I was 11 years old. He’s the guy that inspired me to start making music. I learned early on a lot from him, from watching him play and jamming with him. I took what I learned from him and started doing my own thing with it. I tried to push myself even more.

KAPLAN: What was the first song Mr. Twitty taught you how to play?

BRYANT: I don’t know if it was necessarily a song. It was a 12-bar blues in E. He would just encourage me to try it solo. He pushed me outside of the comfort zone a little bit: to just go for it.

KAPLAN: It seems like there was a lot of hard work involved. If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing?

BRYANT: I’d probably want to be a fisherman. I love to fish. I’m a super outdoorsy type of guy. I love nature. It would be cool to be a fisherman and live on a boat somewhere.

KAPLAN: Like The Old Man and the Sea.

BRYANT: Totally. I’d probably still play guitar. I couldn’t imagine not doing that.

KAPLAN: Do you come from a very musical family?

BRYANT: I don’t, actually. My parents never even really listen to a lot of music. My dad would play country music. I come from a very humble background. My dad has worked at a factory for the past 26 or 27 years, and my mom is a schoolteacher. I would hear country music and the occasional Bryan Adams or Bon Jovi. I would hear the occasional rock-‘n’-roll, but not really. So, the first time I heard Elvis was sort of the turning point for me. That was in first grade, when I was like, “I want to be a rock star.” Then I got into blues, and I was super into these old blues guys. Then I ended up at a Black Crowes concert, and it was downhill from there. Then I was like, “I’m done with high school, and I’m gonna start a band,” after seeing The Black Crowes. No one in my family is really musical. It was one of those things where I heard music and I paid attention to that feeling and followed it.

TYLER BRYANT & THE SHAKEDOWN’S DEBUT LP WILD CHILD IS OUT NOW. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT ITS WEBSITE.