It’s not easy combining a career as a musical artist with a career as a touring performer in the road company of a Broadway show. The schedule can be grueling, with eight shows a week and a different city every week. And the off-day is usually spent traveling, so you don’t get much time to relax, let alone work. To find the time to write, record, and do your own live shows can be tough.
But sometimes, when it’s in your blood, you have to somehow make it work, and that’s what Bryan Fenkart has done. In the midst of a national tour starring in the Tony Award winning show Memphis, he is releasing a new album that showcases his abilities as a writer and singer in his own right. The new release is called Simple & Grey, the title of which refers to the struggle Bryan sees between standing out by virtue of being different, and simply wanted to blend in and be just like everyone else.
Bryan actually hails from just across the river from Trenton, NJ, in the small town of Langhorne, PA, known mostly for a large mall and the many car dealerships that line the main thoroughfare. But he grew up in Midland Park, NJ, and now the road is his home, as he visits a different city every week.
Bryan started his musical journey in the usual way. “I used to play in the obligatory high school bands,” he says. “We had one called Three Bryans And A Sean, for reasons that should be obvious, then I played in one for a while called Sans, but as someone who sees himself as primarily a writer, I suppose I needed a bit more creative control, so now it’s just under my name. I do, however, have a handful of people I usually play live with that I consider ‘my band.’ As far as how I got started, I used to watch my grandfather play piano, and I grew up listening to guys like Billy Joel and learning how to play his tunes on the piano by ear. I’ve never had a proper piano lesson; I just tried to figure it all out on my own. I guess sometimes stubbornness pays off.”
The usual stops along the career path of a New Jersey-bred musician became his stomping grounds, as Bryan hit such venerable New York clubs as The Bitter End, The Canal Room, Sullivan Hall, The Lion’s Den, The Baggot Inn, and the National Underground. “And the odd coffee shop here and there,” he adds.
The singer/songwriter’s melodic pop that Bryan writes stems from his influences, ranging from the aforementioned Billy Joel along with other classic artists such as Paul Simon, Elton John, and Bruce Springsteen, to more modern artists such as John Mayer, Guster, The Fray, Ari Hest, Martin Sexton, and Sara Bareilles.
Bryan doesn’t have any particular method of writing his songs. “It really varies. I wait for inspiration to hit, but a lot of things inspire me,” he relates. “I just have to stay open to it, pay attention. Sometimes a set of lyrics will come first, a rhyming quatrain on a cocktail napkin that I mess around with again later. Sometimes, I’ll just be playing a chord progression and start humming along with it, seeing what comes out. The Rolling Stones used to call it ‘vowel movements.’ Those sounds eventually become lyrics, and it’s almost as if the song told you what to write. Like it was already out in the ether somewhere, waiting for you to hear it, even though it’s never really existed before.”
Some of the songs getting a strong response include “Empty Handed” and “I Miss You,” fromBryan’s first album, while the new album has brought out accolades for “New World,” Simple & Grey,” and “OK.”
Some great area musicians were able to lend a hand on the new album, including drummer extraordinaire Nir Z, who had played on John Mayer’s Room For Squares album. “The first cut on that particular record, which happened to be a huge hit, was ‘No Such Thing,’” Bryan muses. “Well, not only do I reference that exact song lyrically on my album, but on my album the first song is called ‘OK.’ Upon listening back, Nir does the same exact drum fill at the same exact part of the song as he does on Mayer’s track. As a music nerd, it made me giggle. But then again, so did the fact that he played almost every song on the album with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth!”
Bryan’s goals have more to do with touching people and relating to the world we live in, rather than any stardom or financial aspirations. “To reach as many people as I can with my art,” he says. “To tell relatable stories, to be accessible, to make people, myself included, feel less alone. I want to be a successful crossover between music and acting, and tell as many stories as I can about the human experience before my human experience ends as abruptly as it started.”
You can find out more information aboutBryan, as well as his touring endeavors, his new CD release, and upcoming live shows, at bryanfenkart.com, facebook.com/bryanfenkart, and twitter.com/steinway7.