Musician Interview: Brandon Bell / Summon the Moon

Brandon Bell

Summon the Moon on Facebook

Brandon Bell on Facebook

Summon the Moon and the new album “Gemini Ascension” can be found on Spotify, Amazon Music, iTunes, Apple Music, and YouTube.

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Music has been a part of my life since I was a child. I come from a musical family on both my Mom and my Dad’s side. I grew up singing in choir at both school and church. When I was around 8 years old my Mom enrolled me in piano lessons, which I continued until I was 12. At that point I started taking lessons on the bass guitar, and taught myself how to play acoustic and electric guitar a few years later. I also studied musical theory and composition in college, along with taking private vocal and piano lessons as part of my curriculum. I played in my first rock band when I was 14. I’ve been in several bands since then, serving various roles, including bassist, guitarist, and vocalist. Notable projects I’ve been a part of include Summon The Moon, Lobo, Killing Grace, River Hollow, Stigma Strain, Voodoo Prophet, Hybris, and Driven. Almost all of these bands produced one or more albums that I was able to lend my talents to.

Would you say that music is a hobby, a passion or something else? What does it mean to you?

Music has been many things to me over the years. Like most kids that grew up watching music videos on MTV, my initial goal was to be a rich, famous, globe-trotting rock star. Over the course of my time in the music industry, as well as that industry’s evolution, my vision for what I would do with music has changed since then. I’m fortunate to be able to say that I have been signed to a record label, I’ve done some touring, and even made a little money through recording and performance. But these days music is more of a hobby that I’m passionate about. I create and perform music for fun now, but I still like to do it in a professional way. I enjoy the aspects of promoting, marketing, networking, booking, and merchandising a band almost as much as I do the musical side of it.

What’s your instrument of choice and why that instrument?

That is kind of a hard choice, honestly. I think the instrument I enjoy playing in a band depends on the band and what kind of music we’re making. When it comes to challenging, progressive music, I prefer the bass guitar. I have more years of study and practice on the bass, so it comes more naturally to me. This gives me more confidence when it comes to creating out-of-the-box ideas that are usually associated with genres like prog rock/metal. In projects that are more akin to conventional composition, I prefer the guitar. But either way, I like to sing. I usually end up with lead or backing vocal duties, regardless of who I’m playing with.

Tell me about your favorite part of the music writing process?

Again, this depends on the project. When I’m writing in a collaborative effort with other people, I enjoy seeing ideas from multiple viewpoints come together to make something truly unique. There’s something special about people with differing backgrounds coming to an agreement on what makes a good song. In contrast, what I enjoy about Summon The Moon is that every idea is my own. I can hear what I think the song should sound like in my head, then I make it come to life. Either way, you’re creating something from nothing, which I think artists of all medium find fulfilling.

Brandon Bell playing for Lobo

…the hardest part?
This is the reverse side of the answers I gave to the preceding question. Collaborative efforts can be difficult sometimes, because everyone involved has to be willing to compromise when it comes to writing a song. More often than not, a band will be comprised of multiple songwriters, all having their own ideas of what a good song should be. Sometimes talent comes with ego, and that can bring a halt to writing collaboratively altogether. When writing for my solo project, I don’t have another set of ears to tell me if I’m on the right track, or another set of ideas to fill in the missing pieces of an incomplete song. If writer’s block sets in, there’s no one else to keep the momentum going until I find my muse again.

Tell me about some of the songs in your new album. Any particular favorites or ones that stand out above the rest? 

That’s kind of like asking a parent who their favorite child is lol. Each song serves its own purpose on the album, as well as being an outlet for what I wanted to convey via the lyrical content. I usually try to compose my lyrics in a way that people can apply the words to whatever they’re going through at the time. But the  original themes of the songs range from love, heartbreak, self-realization, to just having fun. For instance, “Stronger Every Day” is about not depending on other people to reach your goals; which is why I made it the opening track on the album, since this is my first solo outing. I also have songs like “Reaching Out To You”, which is about love and how vulnerable that can make someone when they put themself out there to another person. But then there’s “Burn You Down”, which is just a fun drinking song. The album ranges song to song, depending on what I was feeling when I wrote each one.

Gemini Ascension by Summon the Moon

What is something you learned with your most recent music project?

I learned that with enough time, patience, and YouTube videos, I can do anything I set my mind to lol. To write and record an album by myself, I had to familiarize myself with a lot of new computer software and techniques. There was a fairly big learning curve I had to overcome. But I feel like it was worth the effort.

What was it like collaborating with your featured musicians each song?

It was a lot of fun. It was different from collaborations I’ve done in the past. In previous bands, I’ve collaborated with other musicians on the song writing itself. As you can imagine, trying to pool multiple viewpoints into one song can really drag that process out, making it take a long time to produce a finished product. On the Gemini Ascension album, I did all of the song writing myself, so that part was complete before I reached out to my guest performers. I gave them some general direction on what I wanted them to do for their part of the performance, but I largely let them decide what to play or sing. I wanted to have their unique voice/sound on the album, which is why I chose them specifically. Once they felt like they were ready to record, we got together for a few hours and tracked them over what I had already recorded for the rest of the song. It was a pretty smooth process overall. Everyone on the album is a pro, so the studio time ended up being a lot of fun.

The process varied from person to person. Everyone featured on the album has their own lives and responsibilities, so I tried to work around their schedules. Some of them came to my place to track their voice or guitar parts. Some of them have their own home studio, so they just recorded their part on their own and emailed me the file when they were done. A few of them came to SoundForge Studios and recorded there.

What does it look like to work with someone on mixing and mastering?

The mixing and mastering process is where the real work for the album happened. Writing, recording, and collaborating are all fun activities. Mixing and mastering is more of a tedious process, but it’s essential to having a professional finished product. I’m a song writer, not an audio engineer. I’ve learned a lot about that side of recording, but it’s not something I felt confident in doing for myself for this album. Luckily, my friend Mike Sanders at SoundForge Studios has an extensive recording background, and understood the kind of music I was trying to make. I enjoyed working with him on the Gemini Ascension album. I think he did a great job.

What’s the difference or similarities for you between writing lyrics and writing the instrumentation?

Most of the bands I’ve played in have always written the instrumentation first, then the lyrics would come afterwards. This can produce songs that have strong instrumentation, but can sometimes make writing the vocals difficult. Almost every song I’ve written for Summon The Moon started with a vocal idea that I then wrote the music around. In a lot of ways, I think this makes for a more cohesive song. The lyrics and melody can be genuine, with the music written to fit the mood of what you’re trying to say. When you write the instrumentation first, you have to find a subject that matches the energy of the music, which can feel forced sometimes. Or you end up with lyrics that don’t match the tone of the song at all, which can be off-putting, as well.

How have people responded to your album? 

Reception to the album has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve had several people who have heard me perform before tell me that they think this is the best music I’ve put out so far. I’ve also had a lot of people who don’t usually listen to this style of music say that they enjoyed it anyway. I’ve received a few critical comments from some people, but I just plan to use that feedback to make the next album even better. Overall, I’m very happy with how Gemini Ascension has been received.

Were there any themes or ideas that were central to the album or was every song a different “story”

This was just a rock album. Every song is its own self-contained story. There are some common themes among some of the songs, but that’s really more of a coincidence than anything. I just wrote what I was feeling with each song. There were a few topics that I wanted an outlet for before writing this album, so I was able to use this project for those. I am considering doing something more conceptual for my next album, but I haven’t decided yet.

Tell me about a couple of albums that have been impactful for your music life.

It’s probably more artists than albums for me. I usually end up celebrating a band’s entire catalog once I really get into them. Guns N Roses, P.O.D, American Head Charge, Clutch, Tool, My Chemical Romance, Sevendust; just to name a few.

If there was one thing you could go back and tell yourself before you worked on your first album, what would it be?

Stop over-thinking the music, and stop dragging people behind you. If you’re willing to put in a little more work, you can make your own music, build your own momentum, and put your art into the world without having to convince other people to come with you.

What are you currently listening to on repeat?

Over the past year I’ve really gotten into a band called Memphis May Fire. I can’t stop listening to them. I think I might have a problem lol.

What is it about Memphis May Fire really draws you in?

They toe a certain line in their song writing between being heavy and catchy. A lot of my friends who consider themselves metal purists typically hate that sort of thing, but that’s where I live most of the time musically. It’s kind of hard to describe, other than the obvious aspects of their songs. Good beats, good grooves, strong guitar riffs and progressions. I also really enjoy their singers voice and the lyrical composition. They’re just a band right now, that when one of their songs comes on the radio, I feel compelled to turn it up.

What music are you currently working on?

After I finished the Gemini Ascension album, I took some time off from writing. I really wanted to let that album have some time to breathe before I started working on the next one. But in the very near future, I plan on working on a song for the soundtrack to your Kinetics book series.

I really appreciate that you’re working on music for me! When I offered the opportunity what considerations did you have to make to create a song for someone else? 

Since the assignment wasn’t genre-specific, I knew I wanted to write something that had my sound or signature on it. I expect that there will be a variety of musical styles represented, so I wanted to make sure that when people heard my song on the soundtrack that they were able to recognize it was me. Beyond that, it involved delving into the books to find something I felt that I could write a compelling song about. I tend to write lyrics more in themes than direct storytelling. There are a lot of great characters and moments in your books, so I had plenty of material to work with. At some point I had a few lines of lyrics and melody come to me that I thought would work well as a theme. After that, it was a matter of analyzing the characters in your books, and deciding which one fit that theme the best, in order to build a song around them. The song is still in the early phases, but it’s been a fun process so far. I don’t usually come up with my lyrics this way. But it’s given me a lot of ideas for future pieces of music, as well.

Have anything in the pipeline for your next project?

Along with some live performances, I’m going to start working on the next Summon The Moon album soon. Given what I learned about writing and recording on my own with the first album, I think the next one is going to be even better. As long as inspiration continues to strike, I plan on putting out a new album every year to year and a half.

What are you doing for fun (not including work and music?)

I’m a big nerd. When I’m not working or playing music I enjoy relaxing with a video game or watching a movie. With all of the music stuff that I post on social media, a lot of people probably think that I’m some kind of party monster. I’m really kind of boring lol.

Do you get writer’s block with music? How do you deal with it or work with it?

For me, I think it’s less a case of writer’s block, and more of a lack of inspiration. I’m not on a label, or having to meet any deadlines though. So if no ideas are coming to me, I don’t force it. I just put it aside and come back to it another day when I’m in the right headspace.

What does your process look like from conception to distribution?

Everything starts with a vocal melody and a guitar. Once I figure out where those two parts are going, I structure the song and write the rest of the instrumentation to fill it out. Then it’s revisions and fine-tuning before trying to get the perfect take of each instrument for the final recording. At that point, I take what I’ve recorded and give it to a true audio engineer for mixing and mastering. When I get the mastered song files back from them I get everything registered and copyrighted online. Then I usually reach out to a friend to help me with the visual art for the album before ordering hard copies and publishing the music to digital streaming and purchasing formats. After that, I like to have an album release party where I can perform the songs live. Then, it’s out in the world, and what happens next depends on how people respond to all of it. So far, the response from my latest album has been very positive.

In conclusion, what do the next few years look like for music? 

Probably more of the same. Music is something I’m passionate about, but ultimately it’s something I make time for around everything else in my life that has to take priority. Given my available time and inspiration, I plan to put out a new album every year to year and a half. Writing an album is fulfilling, but can be very draining in some ways. After I completed the Gemini Ascension album, I felt like all of my creativity was used up at the moment. This was fine, because it gave me some time to promote the album and work on the business side of it. But I’m starting to feel creative again. I’m getting excited about working on my next album, so I know I’m going to start writing it soon. Enough time has passed since I completed my last album, and my creative energy has “refilled”, so to speak. So, very soon, I’ll start the process over and probably have another album ready to release around the end of the year.

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