The Colgate Scene
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The song man
|by John D. Hubbard|
Kevin P. Briody '85 is home from Nashville.
There are kids on the porch. Patches' tail's a-waggin'. In the kitchen, stew is simmering and Lynne has made a pie. There's music on the second floor and love everywhere.
On a quiet street in a quaint New England town, surrounded by the happy chaos of family life, Kevin Briody writes songs about the quiet, the quaint, the chaos and the life he lives and those he loves.
Briody performs his songs, too, but mostly he pitches them, bringing his tunes to Nashville every six weeks for producers to hear. He has been writing and shopping songs for more than seven years, but the genesis stretches back to Colgate. A basketball and baseball player, Kevin discovered he "really got a kick out of writing" and soon was producing verse as well as term papers. "What is this," he wondered, "are they songs?"
It was a natural question for someone with Briody's musical background. His father is a trombone player and Kevin grew up playing trumpet in the family dixieland band. "We were pretty much assigned an instrument at birth."
Despite the new-found passion for writing, Briody plunged into the job search, leaning on classmate Dave Brown, who made interview suggestions. They both took jobs with Prudential, and Kevin spent three years in New Jersey. Once his loans were paid off, he left to travel through the Middle East.
Back home, Briody and Lynne were married. He knew he wanted to write but didn't know what form it would take. Briody coached the high school basketball team and worked for the local newspaper, all the while getting more and more into music.
Miserable on the job, Kevin was urged by Lynne to take a shot at songwriting -- "so it's been `let's try this for a year' for eight years now."
At first the experiment was easy -- Kevin found work as a caretaker which allowed him to write every morning, then tend the grounds of an estate in the afternoon -- but the arrival of kids complicated the routine. Kevin stayed home and his writing was relegated to naptime while he took care of first Tara Lynne, 5, then Casey Jane, 3, and now Cavan, who will be 2 in March.
"By 1 p.m. they had their diapers on and lunch in them and I was going to write for two hours. My kids are all over my songs." It wasn't always as easy as keeping everyone clean and fed. Briody put together his resume at one point but ultimately stuck with music. He augments his songwriting with studio work -- both playing and singing -- and ran Tune-Me-Music out of a small room of his house in Ridgefield, CT, where both he and Lynne grew up.
Early this fall, Briody began creating a studio space in a vacant room at a community center. It will give him vastly more square footage than he had and also allow him to work without the distractions of a busy family.
"Basically, what I try to do is write a song a month -- it doesn't always happen -- but I think hard about what I want to spend my time with. My stuff has a pretty solid idea behind it and the writing process helps me figure out what I'm thinking about. It allows me to think about something for 30 days. Usually what's going to hold my attention is what's going on in my life. There's got to be some of me in every song -- otherwise it's just an exercise."
The first days of the songwriting process are spent looking for the idea, finding an angle and fleshing it out. Briody then works to create something musically that works.
"It takes two weeks to write a song musically and lyrically and most of that time is spent very anally. I remember a professor in a short story course saying, `Look at this line, not a word is wasted.' And I'm thinkin', give me a break, the writer didn't hem and haw over every word. But that's what I do now."
After the initial stage, Briody will try to figure out the instrumentation for the song, most often guitar or mandolin, but he can fill out the sound at the computer if he feels percussion or a drum line is needed. He'll then record the piece and add it to the batch of three or four he'll take with him for the producers in Nashville.
Briody probably has 60 songs finished and he works on a single song agreement with five to ten publishers. "The next big step is a writer's gig -- a publishing deal, where I'm paid a salary." Kevin has taken the hard road, not living in Nashville, but he's doing what works for him personally while trying to make the differences in his approach a plus.
"Country is a very pop place -- ditty driven. That's not what I do. I have a folkier take on things and am considered left of center, not straight country."
Briody has produced a cassette tape that includes 10 of his songs, a no-frills introduction to his work that he also sells at his shows. The tape is testament to Briody's assertion his children -- and his own life -- fill his songs. In "The Mystery" he explores love's changing nature: "I still believe/believe in you and me/but I miss the mystery." He writes of earning "hardly more than pride" but remains confident, "I'll find a way to make dead ends meet."
His philosophy seems clear in "In the Big Leagues": "Don't give up/You got the dream/you got the drive/you got the guts," and sums up his approach to life in "Make the Most of It." "It's a pretty short trip."
When someone calls Briody, a two-time finalist at the Kerrville Folk Festival's writer's competition, a singer/songwriter, it's clear where he places the accent.
"I don't want to be out gigging five nights a week and I'm not trying to do the artist thing -- that's not the thrust," says Briody, who laughs at his performing style and says, "I'm amazed at how unentertaining I am. I just do a song. It's very unstadiumy. I'm more comfortable in coffeehouses. Or living rooms."
Writing is the thing. "I try to be comfortable with where I'm at. That takes work. We just try to be patient more than anything. The idea is to let my writing grow and my contracts grow."
The quiet neighborhood is even quieter. "We're going to live here a long time," says Kevin as Cavan runs circles on the front lawn. "It took us a long time to get here, and someday the house will get painted."
In the meantime, Kevin Briody is writing a song and living a life.
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