Bryan Ewald doesn’t talk much about where he goes, or with whom he tours, plays, or brushes elbows with, but if you check out his website, you’ll see many familiar names on snapshot photos: Rachel Yamagata, the Temptations, Jeff Beck, David Cassidy, Judd & Maggie, Bob Schneider, Pat Dinizio of the Smithereens, Shane Gamble, Stephen Bishop, oh, and of course that’s before any mention of his involvement with that fellow, Paul Reed Smith. One might be under the impression that this alone keeps Bryan hopping, but as you’ll find in the following interview, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. As a staple of our ‘naptown music scene, Bryan wears many hats - and manages to do so exceptionally well.
Where did you come from? What brought you to this point?
Well, I came from right around here. I’ve lived in Arnold, Severna Park and Annapolis since I was 3 or 4 years old. In my sophomore year of high school, I got a job with the now-defunct Master Musicians, teaching guitar (which I was probably not qualified to do, but maybe they needed someone to fill in, and I thought I knew more than I did.)
It was a great experience because I was learning as I was going, figuring it all out. That’s where I met Greg Phillips, Dave Glaser, and got started, playing the scene. I never sought out playing, it just happened that I was in the right place at the right time. Bill Pettaway gave my name to Mama Jama, for a fill-in gig. Since then, it’s been a little of everything: less teaching now, but bar gigs, traveling, recording, and with this type of business, you take the work that comes. You learn to adapt. The planets align and when something stops, another thing takes its place. My children were born and I was looking to play out less. Eventually, an opportunity at the School of Rock came along, which I did for a couple of years; it was a big part of my life that was my primary focus. Then another touring gig came up. I’ve been very lucky. It all has a cycle, a lifespan and I think a lot of it is because of the area. There’s a lot of talent here, but also a lot of opportunity. For the past couple of years, I’ve been working with PRS (Paul Reed Smith Guitars), a local brand, a huge brand, that happens to be from our hometown. In the early 2000s, I started doing some beta testing for them, field-testing prototypes. In the past several years, it’s been product demos. I’ll be leaving in a few days to head to NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) where I’ll do vendor training.
So, locally, I play with the Jarflys and Starbelly, my main two projects as far as writing music, and Meg Murray and I have been playing together forever. I’ve also been playing with Dan Haas and Doug Segree, Eric Scott, (also Technicolor Motorhome, Second Hand News), a lot lately with Higher Hands. At one point or another, I’ve probably played with just about everyone.
What has music given you? What do you take from it?
Well, it’s given me lots of toys to play with. Knock on wood, I’ve been able to squeak a living out without having to be a complete adult. Music would be a huge part of my life, whether I played it for a living or not, and I’m lucky that I love what I do. I grew up in a household that was not terribly musical - there wasn’t even a lot of music around - and I’ve always been envious of friends and people that I know who grew up in these households where it was around all the time. That’s what I want for my kids, to start with the next generation, giving them instruments to play with, making it work, not giving them lessons - just have fun with it. Music is, in some way, shape or form, part of everything that I do, whether through my home life, work life, walking down the street, driving a car, it’s there, all the time.
What would be your perfect gig, who would be there with you?
One thing would be if I didn’t have to move any equipment at all, that’s a big start! I’ve had a few gigs and tours where there’s been a road crew, but not many. At one point in my life, I’d like to just show up and play.
As far as the music that I like to play, I like it to be all over the place. That’s why I play in a lot of different bands. I wouldn’t ever want one band to be everything. And musically, I like to sing, but really, I’m a guitar player. That’s my love, that’s my passion. I really love the gigs where I can show up and be a guitar player.
As far as whom would be with me, that’s tough. I’ve played with a lot of people that I absolutely adore - there are no gigs that I don’t enjoy, but I would say my perfect band would have to be doing a little trio with my kids, which I’ve done once or twice. They sit in with me, but only once has it been the three of us. (I don’t think I could talk my wife into singing with us, although she is beautiful at it!) Yeah, that would be just fine in my book - oh, and some place close to home so that I didn’t have a three-hour drive afterwards!
What would you recommend to visitors that they should not miss?
As far as what goes on in town night by night, I would tell somebody, check out Naptownmusic. Look for Pressing Strings, Skribe, Swampcandy, Meg - you’re not going to go wrong. Look for residency gigs - they were always a big part of this town to me, when I was spending most of my time in downtown Annapolis, 5 to 7 nights a week. The weekends would always rotate, but the weekdays would all be residencies. I miss that. I don’t have the time to take part in that now, but it was always great because people knew that, oh if it’s a Wednesday, then this is what’s happening here and this is what’s happening there. I know that some things have changed around a bit, but that’s a cycle. Nothing can ever last forever. I think it’s a great idea. When the venue gets behind it, there’s no better way to do a successful weekday gig in this town, because it’s the service industry staff that comes out, those are the folks that go out on the weekdays, the younger generation, people who work at the restaurants and bars and they get off from work. I would say that’s a good place to start if you’re coming from out of town. If someone is playing somewhere every week, he’s doing it because the venue knows he has a draw and it’s definitely going to be a place to check out.
Where would you like to see our scene go? What do we need?
Obviously, I would love to see friends and people succeed. There’s a great original music scene happening now. That’s a hard thing, in any town, to make money at. If you go to New York, Philly, there are original scenes all over the place, but it’s a lot tougher to do that than to play covers, if you’re trying to make all or most of your money at it. And I’m glad that that is happening - the fact that people are supporting original music around here is fantastic. I’d love to see more of that. That helps to inspire me to want to write again. A lot of good things are happening for some local bands and that is great, it brings attention to the scene. But as much as one wants success for everybody, I don’t know if I would want it to blow up so big that it changed things, where suddenly, people are just flooding in, or musicians are trying too hard to jump on a bandwagon of some sort. There have been successful bands from this town, Good Charlotte, Jimmie’s Chicken Shack, back in the 80s, you had Starpoint, there have been successful bands that have come out of Annapolis for a long time. I’d love to see that continue. More venues could never hurt. More proper original music venues. There are some great ones. But I know, there’s no easy answer to it - the real estate around here is not cheap and businesses have to make money. I would like to see another Whiskey-style place open, doing the multiple-band nights, to cultivate a local young scene. I would love to see more of that.
How would you like to be remembered? What would you like to be remembered for?
If I were to put my finger on anything to be remembered for, it almost feels like it would be taking away from all these other things that I do because I think that these are all just an equal slice of what makes me “me.” I just want to make music, make all kinds of different music, and make a little money to where I can take a little time off and spend it with family, not work 7 days a week (as I usually do).
Actually… if I had one thing that I’d want people to know me as, it would be, if one of my kids made it famous, I’d be like, “that famous kid’s dad.” That’d be fine. I’d be cool with that!