Photo by Alysse Gafkjen
The lead track on Doyle Bramhall II’s forthcoming album, Shades (out on October 5th), is a psychedelic stomper that was born out of inspiration, collaboration, and tragedy. The track, “Love and Pain,” was co-written with Akie Bermiss, a soulful singer/songwriter who can be heard in the genre-busting group Lake Street Dive. Bramhall contacted Bermiss and set up a writing session in Brooklyn. The focus of the sessions was simple: Create a vibe and make some art.
With Bermiss on keyboards, Bramhall hopped on the drums and soon the bones of the arrangement were set. After a few guitar and bass overdubs, Bramhall returned to his home in Los Angeles to flesh out the vocal melodies and lyric ideas. “When I came up with the melodies for it, I was phonetically saying lines here and there,” says Bramhall. During the writing of this song, the tragic shooting happened at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas. “It seems like [shootings] have become so commonplace and a lot of things were happening at the same time,” mentions Bramhall. “It just weighed heavy on everyone collectively. What do you do?”
During the tracking sessions for the album at L.A.’s Vox Studios, Bramhall threw out a Hail Mary for the solo. “The reverse guitar thing is funny to me because I always seem to do that when I can’t find anything else to play,” says Bramhall. The ear-grabbing solo was played with a Heritage 535 through a Zonk Machine and a Selmer amp cranked all the way up that was just about to blow. At first listen, the obvious decay and attack of a reversed solo were there, but the note choices had an engaging forward momentum to them. Thankfully, recording technology has come far enough that the days of manually reversing the tape are behind us. Bramhall had the solo section played backwards over the headphones while he took a run at the solo. “It took about six or seven passes before I figured out the movement that I needed to do on it,” he says l. “Even though it was a bit spontaneous, I would play things that I thought would work better than others.”
Although most of the album was mixed by Cian Riordan, “Love and Pain” is the lone track on Shades that features Tchad Blake’s deft mixing skills. Bramhall sent Blake a few songs from the album and “Love and Pain” was the one that connected with Blake. “I want the people I collaborate with to have the music spark interest in them and have them create something around it,” says Bramhall. “Mixing is a huge part of the record-making process because it gives the song life,” he added. “You can get the song, maybe 50 percent there, but the other 50 percent comes with mixing.”
Even after a cursory look at the tracklist to Shades, it’s clear Bramhall thrives on the magic that happens in working with other musicians. His longtime collaborator Eric Clapton appears on the R&B-tinged “Everything You Need” while country-jazz chanteuse Norah Jones steps in on “Searching for Love.” The lone cover on the album is a slinky rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Going Going Gone” that features the entire Tedeschi Trucks Band.
“I’m back in the flow of things," says Bramhall. “I feel like my music and my style have changed so much. I really want the music that’s out there now to represent that.”