Interview: Teddy Bryant on his musical family, singing like Marvin, and the power of memories
We spoke to soul singer, writer, and producer Teddy Bryant, following the release of his nostalgic album In The Beginning...
Your first solo LP, In The Beginning, is a journey through a range of soul and R&B styles, what was your writing process in conceptualising the album?
My writing process starts with the music honestly. There is music running through my mind 24/7. Conceptualising my ideas comes from the sounds that I hear in my dreams, in nature, and from that pop up these little melodies. I then put these melodies together with little phrase words , I record them quickly on my phone mainly through bebop and humming and then later produce the sounds with instruments. It’s how I made this album, a few songs from my idea folder on my phone, melodies that are completely nostalgic to the true origins of my favourite genres - soul, funk, R&B, and hip hop.
After I have the music, I draw on my inspirations to begin the writing process which is always fun. I use past experiences that I and friends may have gone through; I also think about the kind of feeling I want people to feel while listening to the music, then I begin to write.
You are based in South Carolina, which of your local contemporaries do you admire and what’s the general music scene like there?
It’s mainly just beach music, country music, and swing music. We used to have a small jazz scene here but that fizzled out very quick. My father is a jazz and soul sax player, that’s what I grew up listening to. The musical contemporaries that I admire the most are actually family members: my father Norman “The Storm” Bryant was a saxophone player for his band Just For Fun, my cousin Tom “The Bomb” Rhodes a flute and trumpet player for the same band, my uncle Harvey Lee played tenor sax, and also keyboard player Christopher Cop.
The man that inspired me to go heavy with the keys was my teacher and piano mentor Mr. Ray “Lush Lite” Turner, he was the baddest piano player on the planet. I grew up watching my father and my cousin Tom play on the road every other weekend, watching his band on stage jamming out to Motown music, jazz, and funk, so my family are who I admire.
Sade, Marvin Gaye, Prince and Quincy Jones are cited as influences for this release, what is it that draws you to these artists and their styles?
So this question I will have to break down by artist. Quincy Jones is my favourite producer of all time so he has influenced me when it comes to the way I produce, arrange, and compose and just for the overall sound. The Dude is my favourite album of all time and Back On The Block is my second favourite album. The styles in which he chose to arrange, produce, and compose, were so epic and sonically mind blowing for me as a 5 year old kid - that’s when I knew that, when I make music, I want to feel the way I do when I listen to Quincy. His breaks, his diminishes, his major sevens, his major ninths, they were all perfectly combined with some of my favourite vocalists - James Ingram, Ella Fitzgerald, Patti Austin, Michael Jackson, El DeBarge and Al Jarreau.
Marvin Gaye influenced me with his perfect vocals. He was able to use his adverse range and his soulful overtones to sing some of the most amazing arrangements of harmonies. My father used to always say “if you can sing like Marvin, then you can sing anything”, so my entire childhood was spent on trying my best to have the type of range that Marvin had. That soulful approach and smooth, effortless transitions into high notes are unreal. Marvin truly taught me how to sing.
Sade’s influence on me has been monumental, she’s my favourite female artist of all time. The very first time I heard Sade I was six years old, my mum was listening to the Diamond Life CD, it’s a perfect album. Her sultry voice, deep overtones, it had a romantic yet mysterious feel to it. The music that her band played, everything from the saxophone to the guitar and the keys to drums - a wonderful mixture of latin jazz and new wave soul, it blew my mind. I told myself then that I want to have a band. In my opinion, she’s the only female artist who has had four consecutive classic needle dropping albums (Diamond Life, Love is Stronger Than Pride, Promise, Love Deluxe). My first album Expressions of Love (under the name urbyne) is basically my attempt at a Sade album. I wrote, produced, and composed arranged all those songs the way I thought she would, I did my best to catch her attention. My goal is to get in the studio with Sade for just one day and create a classic.
Prince inspires me to use my imagination when I make music, especially when I make funk music. The imagination that Prince had is off the charts, you can tell by the way he wrote and composed every bit of music - it inspired me to do my best and not be confined to one musical instrument, as well as trying to write, compose, arrange, and produce every song that I play. He also had an amazing sense of cool about him, extremely mysterious, keeping the fans wondering and wanting more. He’s both my favourite guitar player and songwriter. He inspired me to be hands on when it comes to visually giving the fans a wonderful experience. Prince is also one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, so it makes me happy to know I will see my brother again and get to jam with him.
In The Beginning is in touch with your roots, including the artwork from your mother’s old analogue photos, how important do you think it is to both remember and reflect on where you come from? Particularly through your artistic expression?
It means everything to me to use nostalgic memories to make the future even better, especially when it comes to making music. My mother plays a huge role in my artistic abilities, drawing, painting and music. My mum had an acoustic guitar in the house - that was the first instrument I made a song on when I was five years old, the song was called ‘Desire’. My mother was also a wonderful artist when it came to drawing and painting, she used to take pictures with a camera my father bought. So to show how much I love my mother and how much she played a huge role in my artistic upbringing, I wanted to use that picture for the album artwork and dedicate this album to the love that she has for art, for my father, and for music.
As a multi-instrumentalist, composer, singer, songwriter, and producer, how do you balance out these various musical talents and which areas do you enjoy exploring the most in your music?
They all play a vital part when it comes to the creation of a new song. It also depends on why I am creating. For example, if I’m making music as a solo artist then all of these different talents are in play all of the time. If I am making music for my band, I’m focusing on the two instruments that I play - keyboards and vocals. Writing, composing, and arranging music in a way that benefits the other members of my band. I guess true balance comes from making sure I spend the same amount of time on each musical ability, my gift has been that I am able to do that without really thinking, it just kinda happens thanks to Jehovah.
Do you have any live shows planned or further upcoming projects?
I don’t have any plans for live shows but if the album does well overseas that could change in the near future. My goal is to one day move to Europe, so that I can be around the people who enjoy my music the most. As far as projects go, I’ve already finished the first stages of my sophomore album, and I’m in the editing stage now. I am so excited for everyone to hear what I’ve been working on since Covid. I have so much music to give to you guys, be on the lookout for tons of new projects.
Finally, what does the word ‘groove’ mean to you?
Wow, that's a tough question. The best way to explain the word groove to me is through the musical lens. For me the word groove means cool, blissful, tranquil, rhythmic, peaceful, a nostalgic state of mind. Music that takes me to my happy place no matter where I might be.
Songs that describe groove to me are tracks like ‘Maureen’ by Sade, Michael Jackson’s ‘Rock With You’, ‘Sensitivity’ by Ralph Tresvant, or Prince’s ‘Mountains’.