The Popdose Interview: Brent Bourgeois

Written by Music, Popdose Interviews

The singer/songwriter/producer discusses entering the world of the 100% independent artist, as well as the friends who have come along for the ride for his return album, Don’t Look Back.

You know Brent Bourgeois, even if you don’t by name. Primarily you would know him from the group Bourgeois Tagg (with Larry Tagg) and the hit single “I Don’t Mind At All.” He is also a producer and has been behind the boards for several artists and recordings. He is a once-and-future solo artist with the upcoming release of his first album since 1995’s Come Join The Living World. Titled Don’t Look Back, it is slated to come out on June 2 and Bourgeois has been having fun teasing the date on Facebook. Don’t Look Back represents his first foray into being a completely independent artist. Popdose discussed this and several other topics. Bourgeois was incredibly forthcoming, enthusiastic, and at the same time, cautious about this new ‘Wild West’ where the artist is responsible for every aspect of a record’s creation, distribution, and promotion.

Popdose: The music you’re putting together now is your first as a wholly independent artist. What are some of the challenges of moving from the label system to one where you are in charge of every aspect? What are some of the upsides and downsides?

Brent Bourgeois: There are so many changes and challenges from the last time I made a record in 1994 that I feel like Rip Van Winkle. 1994 was very nearly the end of one era of the music business; computers were starting to play a role, but we were still recording to tape; the Internet was still in its infancy and not considered a threat to the way we did business;  budgets were large, record companies were many, and artists kept little if any of the profits. Fast forward to 2014–I am completely financing this record on my own. The budgets for every album I made previously exceeded $100,000, and in most cases $200,000, but I am making this record for under $5000. The good news is that it sounds every bit as good as those much more expensive records, and I should actually make a profit. But being the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer of the operation, I’m figuring out the cover, trying to make a video, and most importantly, trying to find a way to get this record into the public consciousness, which are all things a record company would normally do. Quality control is an issue…

Who are some of the people making guest appearances on your new music and how did you come to have them as part of the project?

This whole record is like a walk through my musical career. First of all, one song on the record “Psycho,” features a reunion of the members of Bourgeois Tagg. That wasn’t difficult, as we all remain good friends and are in contact with one another on a semi-regular basis. I also had David Holman mix that one. David produced and engineered Bourgeois Tagg’s first album, and half of my first solo record.

DontBackGoing back even farther than Bourgeois Tagg, I had John Lee Sanders, who was my bandmate in Uncle Rainbow, sing a couple of verses and play sax on “Don’t Look Back.” He perfectly captured the New Orleans spirit of the song, and I ended up going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras to film revelers singing lines from the song for an upcoming video. Also from the Uncle Rainbow days, drummer George Lawrence, currently of Poco, played on “You & I.”

As I was writing the song, “Poor Me,” I kept thinking it sounded “Rundgren-esque.” The thought stayed with me while recording and singing it. So I decided to make it truly “Rundgren-esque” by asking Todd to sing on it and Kasim Sulton to play bass. My relations with Todd are in good standing, but I wasn’t sure that he would do it, as I don’t recall him singing on records he didn’t produce. But he agreed, and I sent him the files and a wish list, and he exceeded expectations. He is all over the song. And Kasim was most graciously willing and perfectly captured the bass part. Producer/engineer John Fields is a friend and Todd-freak, so he jumped at the chance to mix this one.

I met Julian Lennon while we were touring the first Bourgeois Tagg record. We ended up playing a few dates together, and hung out quite a bit. But I had lost touch with him over the years. Lo and behold, he started “liking” posts of mine on Facebook! And not just a few. So I asked him to sing on the record, having the perfect song for his voice in “The High Road.” He quickly agreed, and we are doing that tomorrow in LA. Engineering and mixing “The High Road” is Ross Hogarth, who engineered the other half of my first solo record.

The rest of the folks on the record are friends and peers. Chris Rodriguez has been a great buddy of mine, and I signed him to Word Records and produced his solo record. I signed Rachael Lampa as well when she was 14, and co-produced her first two records; now she’s all grown up and married and singing as wonderfully as ever. I’ve known drummer Aaron Smith for as long as I’ve known Charlie–we are all part of the Sacramento/Nashville connection. Jerry McPherson played on my last record and on many records I produced during my time in Nashville, as did drummer Steve Brewster. Molly Felder was my “go-to” girl on background vocals, and she came through again. Percussionist Vicki Randle, who played and sang on my first two solo records, is back playing percussion on two songs.

Most people will recognize your name from the song “I Don’t Mind At All” from the 1980s and the group Bourgeois Tagg. Yet I think quite a few know of your extensive and varied solo career as well. My question is: what is the relationship an artist has with such a song as they move forward, particularly with a song that has that kind of longevity? Do you come to a place of acceptance, or do you stipulate, “Yeah, I don’t associate with that anymore!”

1BE465B8C04E1A423627611529011950While many people do know that song, it certainly never reached the level of notoriety that many other iconic songs have. Plus, I am not a perennial performer, so the times in which that song gets performed by me is not many. I’m just happy that anyone remembers anything I have done. I suppose it creates an entreé for me with people of a certain age, especially in the biz, as it was a critically acclaimed song more than a huge commercial success.

One of my favorite albums from the 1980s was the “Island album” from Charlie Peacock. A lot of people now know him as the producer for The Civil Wars. How did you both get together for that record?

I have known Charlie since we both played in bars in Sacramento in the late-70s and early 80s. He has been a close friend and mentor of mine for thirty years, as well as he co-produced my last record, Come Join the Living World, twenty years ago. So sit made perfect sense for him to be involved in this one. I asked Charlie to pick a song to produce, and he chose “All She Ever Wanted.” We recorded it at his studio in Nashville. And the co-producer of the other two songs on that record, Wayne Kirkpatrick, played acoustic guitar and provided a mountain of background vocals on “Without You.”

He underwent a spiritual conversion in about 1983 and started making records out of the Warehouse Christian Ministries studio.  They had a small label out of the church called Exit Records, and I believe they were the first Christian label to get a major deal, which happened to be with the same company as Bourgeois Tagg, Island Records. He invited me between records to help him out on his Island Records release. We also went to England to work on it there with the producer, Nigel Gray.

Has the process (not the business) of making music changed for you over the years? You’ve been in possibly every dynamic I can think of: group member, solo, as part of an artistic community, in studio with analog equipment, out of the studio with digital equipment…do you approach the act of writing the music any differently than you once did, or is it fundamentally the same, with different trappings surrounding the making?

In one way, the process of writing music hasn’t changed for me. I still generally start with a beat or a hook line. The beat used to come out of a drum machine, now it most likely is a loop. I was kind of on the cutting edge in the mid-to-late 80s and early 90s using computers as tape recorders and samplers as instrumentsBB-Julian-LennonHigh-Road-1024x768, but as I became more of a producer using live players (and orchestras) and then an A & R person, I did less and less programming, until one day I realized that I was way behind and a good deal of it had passed me by. This album really started with me making instrumental music by way of getting to know the Logic program and mushroomed out from there. As for recording studios, let me just say that I wouldn’t want to be a studio owner at this moment on history. It’s kind of like being a stock broker or travel agent.

In your Facebook communications, you have been discussing a “Kick-finisher” project where you’re involving your fanbase to act as what would once have been called a “street team.” This is a new concept, at least to me. Could you discuss it and how people can get involved with it?

Kick-finisher is exactly a “street team.” The “street team” concept was originated in the hip-hop world–they used to get people to stand on street corners in urban areas and throw 2-song sampler cassettes into cars as they passed by. It came from the understanding that they didn’t have the budget for advertising that the big boys did. I’m facing the same dilemma. I need to find a way to get the word out beyond the first couple of thousand people that doesn’t involve massive amounts of spending. Who better to do the job than my most vocal supporters? Empower them to become the sales force. People have been expressing a desire to help, and this is the best way. Give them an outlet to sell the record themselves, with incentives for doing so. The funny thing is, most people don’t want the incentives, at least not for themselves. So we turned the incentive into a donation to Julian Lennon’s White Feather Foundation, which is dedicated to delivering safe, clean drinking water to those in need in Africa. For each record that someone sells, 13 liters of drinking water will go to a family in need. And there will be more incentives as people sell more–that is like Kickstarter. People can sign up at www.kick-finisher.com

Finally, Don’t Look Back is coming out on June 2. How will people be able to find and buy it?

There are going to be a couple of launches. June 2 will be the launch for the Kick-finisher people. (They actually might get a head start from that date.) For a week, the record will only be available through Kick-finisher affiliates. Then the record will be available to the general public at www.brentbourgeois.com. Later in the summer, it will be for sale on iTunes and Amazon.com. There will also be special CD collector’s packages available on the website.

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Thanks to Brent for spending time with Popdose to talk about the album. As mentioned, more information about Don’t Look Back can be found at his website www.brentbourgeois.com.