My first interview of 2023 is very special to me. This year marks a 30-year friendship with pianist/composer Spencer Brewer and on 1/20/2023, Spencer is releasing his first album in fourteen years, Behind the Veil
. This wonderful album, Spencer's fifteenth, is a mix of new versions of some of his older works and some new pieces as well. I had the pleasure of proof-reading the companion sheet music for Behind the Veil
, so I'm really excited to see the project released into the world! It also seemed like the perfect time to do a new interview with one of my favorite people on the planet.
If you have been following the so-called new age piano scene for a long time, Spencer's name is undoubtedly very familiar. He was one of the prominent artists on the Narada Records label along with notable piano artists such as David Lanz, Wayne Gratz, Michael Gettel, Kostia, and David Arkenstone. As soon as sheet music started coming out (in the later 1980s) for this music, I started working on it with my piano students. Spencer lived about two hours from me in CA, and made regular visits to Hercules to work with my students as well as to perform for them - an amazing experience (especially for the kids!)!
We won't cover too much past history in this interview since we have done that previously. If you are interested in Spencer's evolution over the past 30 or so years, you can find links to those interviews on his Artist Page
here on MainlyPiano.com
KP: Hey Spencer! How are things in Northern California? I hope you aren't getting too much flooding!
Hi Kathy, everything is doing well up here even though the ground is somewhat all soup. We are up on a plateau in the valley so we don't have any issues with flooding. Thanks for asking.
That's good! We did our first interview in May 1993
and met in person later that year when you came and did a workshop with my piano students in Hercules, CA. Were you old enough to drive then? (laughing!)
SB: Yes, I was old enough to drive in '93 - I was 39. Better 39 than 93.
KP: After that first meeting, you came to Hercules almost every other year and worked with and performed for my piano students. I will be eternally grateful for that as it meant so much to the kids and made music really come alive for them! One of those workshops was particularly noteworthy because Kevin Kern came over from San Francisco and you two improvised a couple of breathtaking duets even though you'd never met before that. Thanks so much for those experiences!
SB: I always loved coming to your place and doing the workshops, concerts with you and your students. You are a rare bird in that you gave 150% to all of your students, exposing them not only to new music, but having the composers and players come to your home and play for them, meet them, answer questions. It was a gift to us all.
Thank you! That means so much to me!
This is actually our sixth interview, with the last one
being when you released Cinematic
in 2008. That was your first album in sixteen years and it's been almost fifteen since Cinematic
. I know you are not someone who sits around and does nothing. What have you been up to since 2008?
In 2008/2009 the economy crashed globally and the music industry completely collapsed and did a paradigm shift. In '09, I lost five companies in the music business including the studio, a music store, a performance hall, and a production company. It was a giant sucking sound of money. At that time, I needed to find work other than being in the music business, which had completely gone south, so via a close friend who owned wineries, I found myself in the wine business managing and releasing large brands. I had a good stint in the wine business for 12 years bringing some wonderful brands and labels to market with the company Wines That Rock out of New York. There were only a handful of us in the company yet we moved with stealth in and out of the wine industry creating, releasing and managing wines, websites, brands for Cirque du Soleil, Fifty Shades of Grey, Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones, Sting, Hallmark, Star Trek, NPR wine club, TCM wine club, Virgin wine club, Downton Abbey, WWE, Elvis and 50 more. My job was brand creation and development, COO as well as research and development. For four years I was the DTC manager for Mendocino Wine Co. and Parducci Vineyards.
Spencer and Kathy in Hercules, CA 1993.
Spencer and Kevin Kern in Hercules, CA May 2001
KP: You've mentioned Star Trek wines when we've chatted. Tell us about that.
SB: We created and run Star Trek Wines. It was one of my more fun and a deep dive project for many years. I championed and did all the development and historical work on bottles and brands that had been on the shows since the 60’s. Some of the bottles had not been made since the 60’s or 70’s so it took years to find three or four globally so we could recreate them exactly how they were on the original shows. I still go to the Star Trek conventions and man the booth, do interviews, etc. It is quite a lot of fun. All this time I was working on pianos as a piano technician as well as still promoting and putting on concerts and festivals. It wasn't until I retired from the wine business in 2022 and Covid hit almost the same time that I started diving deep into new music and wanting to create another record.
KP: Wow! I didn't realize you'd gone through so many changes!
Let's talk about your new album, Behind the Veil, which is releasing January 20, 2023. First, tell us about the title.
SB: The best way to talk about this is to quote what the back of the CD says – "Over my lifetime, I have had the blessing to create and produce ideas across a wide spectrum of genres. In every event, windows of knowledge, understanding and letting go occurred. This collection of music is me getting out of my own way, listening quietly, allowing what was ‘Behind the Veil’ to come forth…"
KP: Wasn't it originally going to be a double album that included more of your bluesy, up-tempo music?
SB: Yes it was. The bluesy, funky stuff will be coming out later this year or early next year. The working title for now is Gypsophelia and that too can change. Keep the two very different projects in their own lanes.
KP: Behind the Veil includes new recordings of some of your older pieces such as "Where We Used to Play," "Eden," Portraits," and "Walls That Move." Are those some of your favorites or are they pieces you get a lot of requests for?
SB: I wanted on this record to feature the actual compositions and piano performances more than the arrangements and orchestrations that have usually surrounded my music on past records. The original nature behind the thoughts or compositions were what was important and these few songs seemed to fit nicely within all the newer pieces, especially featured as solos.
KP: I completely agree and was delighted to find them included. The only cover tune on the album is a great arrangement of "Summertime" as a sax (Paul McCandless) and piano duet. What made you decide to include that classic piece?
SB: "Summertime" is the only track on the record that I had Paul McCandless play on as a cover. For many years and records, Paul played on and/or helped arrange a number of my works. This song is one that I wanted to do as an unusual treatment or arrangement and then have Paul play over the top of it with his fantastic way of hearing melody and arranging solos. It's the first and only time that I've ever done someone else's music on one of my records other than one Beatle tune that Paul and I did on our duet record Torches on the Lake (1996).
KP: You've worked with Paul McCandless a lot over the years, both in live performances and on your recordings. I remember taking a good-sized group of students to Santa Rosa, CA to see the two of you perform together. What a great experience that was! Must have been in the later 90s?
SB: I would imagine that could be correct. He and I were a duet for over ten years doing quite a number of records together and playing around, as well as vacationing with our wives at the time.
KP: One of my favorite pieces on the album is "Parasols in Paris." What inspired that beautiful piece?
Picture yourself 120 years ago in Paris. It's dusk and it's springtime, and what did people do during that period of time at that time of day? They put on their fine clothes - women with their parasols, men in their top hats - and they went out and walked to be seen and to see other people. It was a much slower time of life. If you wrap yourself in this scene, this place in time, you have "Parasols in Paris."
KP: You have a video for that one, right?
KP: Are more videos in the works?
SB: Yes. We have one for "And So it Goes…" that will be released soon. We also have a video of a weird collection I have been doing for decades and the live record release concert.
KP: Those should all be lots of fun! What inspired "Myths and Legends"?
SB: "Myths and Legends" is really like an old myth. Throughout life, stories and tales have been told around campfires and in gatherings before recorded sound, and over time, they became myths. Give even more time away from the actual occurrence of the tale, they eventually became legends that happened a long time ago. In this song, you can hear the beginnings of the gentle myth being created which then turns into the heroic legend that people will imbue the story with. It comes back eventually to being a myth in time. I heard a lot of orchestration around this track but wanted to keep it just the raw composition.
KP: Another really interesting piece is "Legend of Rene Anguiano." I'm not familiar with his name. Who is he?
SB: Rene was a dear friend of mine in my days in Austin Texas. He was an outrageously creative soul who truly made a big impression on me in many ways. He had died during the time that this song coming to me, so I decided to honor him with the title of the song since his life was such a dynamic one.
KP: "Walls That Move" is one of the older pieces that you re-recorded for the album and has an interesting story. What inspired that?
SB: "Walls that Move" was written at Skywalker Sound in Novato, CA when I was doing a production there. We put two concert grand pianos in the middle of the gigantic sound stage and with the room completely opened up, there was a 4 1/2 to 5 second delay - hence the expansiveness of the composition. The room itself is the size of almost two gyms with very tall ceilings and all the walls move so that you can deaden the room or make a completely live hall, hence the term "walls that move." That piece and "Behind the Veil" are compositionally the most reflective pieces on the record.
I love them both!
The solo piano sheet music for eleven of the twelve pieces on Behind the Veil is available from SheetMusicPlus.com
("Summertime" is not included). Will printed books become available at some point?
SB: Yes they are available now in a full book form if someone writes to me that they want one. Hopefully soon they will be available via the website.
KP: In addition to composing new music, you have been creating quite a body of assemblage art pieces, often from old piano parts and other musical instruments. Tell us a bit about that.
SB: We have a passion… creating quirky and fantastical pieces of assemblage sculptures out of re-purposed or "found art" materials. From the whimsical and humorous to the punk and dark, each piece is one of a kind. Creating "new compositions" from vintage or unusual objects inspires viewers with a sense of delight, surprise and sometimes awe.
KP: I've really loved seeing some of these creations in photos and videos you've posted!
My wife, Esther Siegel, and I recently released a book called Lost and Found – Assemblage Artists of Northern California
. Lost & Found
is a collection of extraordinary sculptures crafted by eight Northern California assemblage artists. The artists featured in this book have embarked on the strange and risky path where they never quite know what they are making until it is finished. In treating us to their personal artistic visions, they throw off old societal rules regarding what art should be. They create pieces that might remind you of something you had once yourself imagined. Everyone came from a variety of locations to settle in northern California where inspiration and a culture of individuality and creativity are a way of life and is rich with artists, musicians, authors, and visionaries.
KP: I just ordered a copy of the book and look forward to both reading and reviewing it!
Are you planning any live performances in the near-future?
SB: I have one next weekend, the 30th Professional Pianist Concert series in Ukiah, CA. I have one happening in April in Carmel, CA and hope to be doing more once the new record gets some traction.
KP: What kind of impact on your career has Covid had?
SB: Like so many others, I hunkered down, did not go far, became somewhat of a hermit on the property, which in and of itself is fine as we have a lot of projects and creative outlets here. I also got off all the boards I was on and stopped being the promoter of the largest festival I helped create 30 years ago.
KP: What kinds of projects are you working on now?
SB: Working on the marketing of the Lost and Found book as well as the new record. Helping develop a tour video series around "Finding Mendocino," somewhat like Stanley Tucci’s series on food and Italy, making new art and working on a lot of pianos….a LOT of pianos.
KP: If you could have any three wishes, what would they be?
SB: That our current projects gain traction and enjoy a long life, that my family’s health stays good and that what is happening in our country today politically wakes up and finds some sanity and common ground while seeing the big picture that we all just want peace, health, love and decent food for our families.
KP: Great wishes, as always! Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?
SB: When am I coming up to do another concert with you?
KP: Hopefully very soon!
Many thanks to Spencer Brewer for taking the time to chat with us! For more information about Spencer and his music, be sure to visit his website
and Artist Page
here on MainlyPiano.com.