Photo by John Mourlas. Used with permission.
To further reinforce my adamant stance on the things that artists are failing to do — along with the things that they need to do — I have decided to create a working musicians series. In this series I will periodically highlight an independent artist or band that has realized some notoriety and recognizable level of success within this industry.
The bands, artists and musicians in this series exemplify the against-all-odds work ethic that underscores the reality of what it takes to make it in today’s independent music market.
It is my hope that the questions I will be asking the artists in this series, along with the answers that they provide me, will act as a guide and will help empower the emerging musicians reading this.
By giving you a snapshot into the careers of these working bands, perhaps you will obtain an understanding of what they are doing to keep their careers moving forward. Perhaps some of you will implement similar techniques, or at least realize that talk minus action equals nothing, and come to the conclusion that how far you actually go in this industry is entirely up to you.
Today’s article is the first installment of the Working Musicians Series, and highlights Bryan Grantz; The lead singer of Drowning, a Chicago Beatdown Hardcore band that has just recently been signed to Eulogy Records.
Mike: What age were you when you first picked up the Bass Guitar and what made you decide to pursue a career path in music?
Bryan: I was about 12 years old when I picked up my first actual music instrument. I remember my father bringing me home a used bass from a pawn shop near his job. He brought it home as a surprise for me. I was ecstatic at the thought of making my own music or learning songs by other bands.
Finally, instead of just listening to the music that I love, I could actually take part in it. I immediately went on the computer to look up some bass tabs to some classic songs. The first song I learned was ‘Iron Man’ by Ozzy. I ran into the other room to show my father what I had done.
Looking back at it now it’s not that big of a deal, but for a 12 year old; I got a high I have never felt before. I was actually playing something. Making these notes that weren’t coming from the stereo, but from me. Since that moment I have always wanted to pursue a career in music.
Actually, since that moment I have dedicated my whole life to music. There was nothing that could compare to that feeling. At a young age, everyone would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up. The only response that made sense to me was to be a successful musician.
Mike: Tell us about your first band and what kind of challenges you faced trying to put a band together.
Bryan: I started my first band when I was about fourteen. We were a general rock band. I played in it with my brother Michael Grantz and one of our childhood friends named Mario. At that time I was playing drums, and we would meet up a couple times a week and hang out and jam.
Once again, this was another high that was new to me; not only playing music, but creating music of our own, new music that nobody had ever heard before.
As time went on being this consumed me; always thinking about practice, always thinking about the band, and always thinking about what I can do next to further ourselves.
As a fourteen year old kid, realizing that I was more into this than the others was some heavy weight to face. Sure, for a young kid Mario was a great guitarist, and my brother was a good bassist, but I wanted more; I wanted everyone to know who we were, and what we were doing.
The biggest challenge to me was scheduling practice on my own, passing out flyers on my own, and even taking it upon myself to convince the others to play out in public, or even at our schools talent shows. It was from my very first band that I realized not everyone shared the same drive as I did, and it wouldn’t be my last struggle with this fact either. It’s a repeating factor when you play in a band. You have to depend on 3, 4, or even 5 other people. This is possibly the hardest challenge that many will face during their whole music career.
Mike: What kind of responsibilities have you had to take on to make your bands work, and how much help did you get from the other members the bands you were in?
Bryan: In previous bands, I was always the one pushing. I would be the one to make the calls to schedule practice, reply to emails, promote the band, and to book our shows. I was the main source of our networking. What I like to call it nowadays, is the papa role.
Every band has a driving force, or a “papa;” which is somebody who makes sure the band is on track and set up for success, someone who ensures that whatever has to get done is going to get done.
Most of the time it would be me doing the deed. Of course I would ask others for help, but if there is a situation where if you want something to get done, you have to do it yourself.
I’m glad that it worked out like that with my previous bands though, it is what made me who I am today, and showed me all of the ins and outs. In reality, I didn’t get any help from my previous bands other than them showing up to practice and playing, and if I did it was minimal and a miracle at the same time.
I’m lucky that with Drowning I have found a great group of guys where this isn’t all up to me anymore. I have a very driven group with heart, and that is why we have accomplished what we have today.
Mike: In your eyes, and for the benefit of aspiring musicians; what qualities must one possess if they want to be successful as musician in today’s industry?
Bryan: I believe a musician cannot have the proper upkeep with their band if it is not in their blood first of all. It takes a lot to stay on top in this industry. The three qualities one must have, as I said before is; passion, heart, and drive. If you don’t have the passion for this you won’t make it far.
I’ve went on a couple tours, and a lot of times have played shows to empty rooms. This business is not as glorious as everyone thinks it is. It’s very easy for someone to give up, and say I’m over this if things aren’t going their way.
“It takes strength to keep pushing when you get knocked down, and believe me it happens a lot.”
Secondly, you have to have heart. This goes along with what I just said. If you are a boxer and somebody knocks you out cold, are you going to get back up and train harder for your next fight or are you going to throw in the towel and say you are done?
Many times things happen that are unexpected. For example; if you are setting up a tour, and two days before you leave 5 out of the 12 shows get cancelled. Are you going to fight through it and get what you need to be done or cancel it?
Another example is that you need to have a solid lineup of great dudes that you think you can succeed with. Not everyone shares the same views or dreams as you. If one of those members leaves you high and dry…. are you going to buckle up and throw in the towel and say it was a great run or will you give your all to make up for the void and find someone to take his place who is as good if not better?
The last quality would be drive. Are you going to put in the work? We all want people to listen, but not a lot of people want to put in the work. I’ve spent countless hours promoting and networking. Sometimes it gets frustrating but somebody has to do it.
Do you have the drive to go on tour? It’s not as glorious as everyone thinks it is. Sometimes if things don’t work out as planned you can go days without eating. You have to sacrifice a lot. Do you have that drive to keep going?
“There’s so much that goes into it, and it’s not by chance that all these successful bands share these traits. They all put in countless hours of promotion and have put in months of touring.”
Growing up, my father would always say, “Never Give Up,” and that’s what I lived my life by, and I believe that’s why I am where I am today.
Mike: What are the misconceptions that you see artists having about the music industry?
Bryan: Naming the misconceptions that I see artists’ having about this industry is easy. Some believe that it takes one hit song or CD to send you to the top.
I’ve seen some of the best bands ever that were unsigned and unnoticed. A lot of labels or people don’t care about the music. They want to sell, sell, sell. If you aren’t doing something for them then what is the point? They want to see, before anything; that the band can do things on their own.
With CD sales not as high as they were in the past, why should a label take a chance on a band that is amazing but they aren’t sure if they have the drive to tour or sell themselves? So all in all you won’t get discovered by a random rep at your basement show. You need to go out and be in the face of the industry. If you want to be in the mix of things then go do it.
“I feel a lot of people think [success] will just come to them. Sure you can say you are super hard at work at writing your new CD, BUT if you don’t get it in the hands of your crowd or right demographic then who will listen!?
Your best friends can only listen to your CD so many times.”
These people are just fooling themselves. There is a lot to understand under this category, and I feel a lot of people think it’s sweet when it’s the exact opposite. It’s a war out there, and it’s not in “your manager’s hands” the “future label’s hands” or even in “the promoter’s hands” that throws your shows. IT’S ALL IN YOUR HANDS.
Mike: What is your definition of community, and how important is this concept for an emerging band?
Bryan: My definition of community is a large group of people who come together and support the scene in total.
A lot of places may have a broken community divided into different genres of music, or even a divided community, that is separated by the different bands that they like; which is the worst.
In Chicago, here we have a great community and support. I throw shows at a venue called Grandbar where I book all kinds of genres. It’s a community that has grown into something beautiful.
From Hardcore, to metal, to pop punk, to rap; we all share one thing – and that’s passion for music. Nobody should be close minded to these things if you want growth in your community. It’s important for everyone to have a community backing because this is what keeps you going.
You can’t play better shows if you don’t have support, and you can’t get anyone to listen to your music if you’re not backed.
A lot of the times as I keep saying, it’s up TO YOU as a part of this community to keep it going, to make sure there are shows available for everyone to attend, to making sure everyone is safe and okay in your community.
There is a much larger community outside your hometown, especially with hardcore. The rule is you take care of others to get taken care of yourself.
For example; if there is a band passing through from California and they need a Chicago date. So be the first one to welcome them into your home and community, and later down the line they will do the same for you if needed. It’s not a selfish way through my eyes just to get a favor in return. In all reality it’s a worldwide brotherhood and “Community”
We are all doing this for the same reason, and all share the same passion. We need to take care of each other. Without a supporting community, realistically our whole scene is dead. It’s what hardcore is about. Love and support!
Mike: What is the worst situation you have been in as a musician?
Bryan: The worst situation I have been in is finding new members that share the same drive and passion as me. Being in a band and wanting to further your music career is very harsh when you are also depending on four other people.
It took me years and lots of lineup changes to find the right set. Unlike fighting or even book smarts, you can’t get somewhere on your own in music playing in a band. You can want it as bad as anyone, but if you don’t have the supporting cast then you will not succeed.
Photo by John Mourlas. Used with permission.
Mike: Getting good at anything in life usually involves some trial and error; what critical lesson or lessons have you learned as a musician that you have made it a point to live by.
Bryan: I have made it a point to always have great preparation and patience.
There are always things that pop up, but if you are prepared it lessens the chance of that.
Believe me, being in Drowning and doing a lot of the things we have were not easy, BUT we have always kept our cool and followed through. These traits has also followed through and have helped me in other parts of my life.
Mike: What were the circumstances that surrounded the formation of Drowning?
Bryan: About two years ago I was playing bass with a couple friends jamming around. We decided just to start playing beatdown music to see what was to come of it.
At that time it was only me and Eddy Flores (Drums) out of the lineup we had now, but we decided to pursue it. After writing a four song set, we decided to record the material and to see where it went.
We recorded the four songs, and played a couple shows where I did backup vocals and played bass. Shortly after, our vocalist decided to quit.
We searched for a vocalist for a couple weeks but didn’t have any luck. Frustrated with the standstill, I decided to step up and try my luck. From that moment on we didn’t look back, later down the road joining up with Brandon Tillet (Bass) and Michael Robinson (Guitar); not knowing that this lineup was going to be the one to stay, but we would eventually find that out.
Mike: What is it about this current lineup that makes it work?
Bryan: By far this is the best lineup I have ever come across.
I’m lucky to first off say these are literally my best friends, and have been for a long time. It’s nice to all hang out and kick it outside of practice.
We all have had that guy in the band that we literally just see at practice, and nine times out of ten that just doesn’t work.
Anyway, what I’m getting at is: I believe it’s the chemistry between us that makes us work. We all understand each other and we all communicate well. If somebody is slacking we have no problem telling them because we aren’t afraid to hurt each other’s feelings. More so that we are all on the same page and that is half of making a band work. All being on the same page, and having a complete understanding of your goals and objectives.
Drowning is (from left to right) Eddy Flores – Drums, Brandon Tillet – Bass, Bryan Grantz – Vocals, Michael Robinson – Guitar
Mike: For the benefit of any readers who have not yet heard of Drowning, how would you describe your band to someone “not in the know?”
Bryan: I would describe us as aggressive, real, and heavy. We aren’t trying to be anyone else or jock a certain style. We play whatever we think sounds good to us. I generally say its real music for real people, and they can take it at that. If they were to like it-cool, and if they weren’t to like it-cool. Those are the best words I can choose.
Mike: What sets your band aside from others in your scene?
Bryan: By no means am I putting anyone down from our scene because there are many hard working bands, but I would say it’s our work ethic.
This is our life, where to others it’s a hobby.
We try to go above and beyond, as much as we can to see progress with this band.
Mike: What would you attribute Drowning’s growth to?
Bryan: I would attribute our growth to everyone that has supported us.
Yeah we work hard as a band, but there is a lot more that goes into it.
“We have received a ridiculous amount of support, and without that we are nothing.
A lot of bands get that mixed up.
I don’t care how good you are, if you have no supporters you are nothing.”
Mike: What would you consider as the career highlights of your band?
Bryan: I would say the highlights are the tours and festivals we have been on.
We have been lucky enough to experience both the east and west coasts. We have toured with some awesome bands, and met some awesome people. We got to see other scenes, and just have the total overall experience.
That’s something that I will never take for granted. Every time we go out it still leaves a warm feeling in my stomach. It’s a level of appreciation we have for the worldwide community.
Photo by John Mourlas. Used with permission.
Mike: When were you made aware that Eulogy was looking at you?
Bryan: We were aware we had the attention of Eulogy when we went on an east coast run with one of their bands named No Second Chance from the United Kingdom.
Mike: What was the driving factor that made you decide to go with Eulogy?
Bryan: I have had a couple conversations with John Wylie from Eulogy previously to signing the contract. We had a couple other options, but I felt that he was the most real out of those options. We had conversations about music and life which the others didn’t even attempt to touch. It was all about number crunching, contracts, and what we can do for them, and how much money we can make. Eulogy and John Wylie really care about the bands they put on their roster.
Sure it’s a label, so they have to do what they have to do, but they share the same passion for music. Not a passion to make money off of a hardworking band. Not only that, but John Wylie is still active in the hardcore community. He can really relate to a band such as ourselves and what we are striving for. They back us in whatever direction we want to go, and will not try to alter our sound or appearance. For that I give them nothing but respect, and am proud to be under such a label whose bands I have listened to for many years.
Mike: Has the label made any concrete plans for Drowning that you can share at this time?
Bryan: The only plans that I can share at this time is that they will be releasing our debut full length when we put it out this year.
Be on the lookout for that as I believe it will be a very strong upcoming Eulogy release that many can put to their collection of great bands off of this label.
Mike: What are your immediate short term goals for Drowning?
Bryan: My immediate short term goals are to get this album done, and to release a product that we are proud of and to set up a couple more tours and festivals soon so we can promote it.
Mike: What can you tell me about the new music video?
Bryan: The music video coming out is Drowning at its most natural state.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe in hurting somebody for no reason, but I do believe in real natural aggression, and I feel that’s what you get with this.
Nothing was planned and nothing was stunted. This is our community letting out the aggression that they have built within.
After our set everyone hugged it out and smiled about having a good time. People need to understand there is a time and place for everything. Hardcore is my escape from life and it is for many others.
By all means, hit someone with a chair, your fist, a garbage can, or a table, BUT; if they get hurt, help them, or if they don’t; pat them on the back.
Everyone gets roughed up once in a while at a hardcore show, its expected. This is what gets us by, and this is who we are.
If you are sensitive and don’t agree with it, then with all due respect; don’t listen to us or come to our shows. People know what we are about and what we do. Big-ups to the homie’s who do know the real.
Mike: What advice would you give to a young emerging musician that wanted to follow a career path in music?
Bryan: The piece of advice I would give a young musician is to follow your heart. Your heart will lead you to the right places and eventually your head will pick up on what to do.
Everyone knows what needs to be done but will they do it?
Will they have the heart to fight the good fight?
Both have to be in the right place to make it somewhere.
With passion, heart, and drive, you can accomplish ANYTHING in life. This just doesn’t apply to music, but anything else that you would like to do.
People tell me if you put half of your effort into (whatever they may bring up) as you do in your band you would be gold. A lot of it is you either have it, or you don’t.
It’s something that can be learned but not everyone is born with. Just keep going, and follow your own dreams.
Like I always say it’s up to you to CREATE YOUR OWN REALITY!!!!
Mike: Now, about that video…