Q&A with Odds Lane (Doug Byrkit and Brian Zielie), uniquely blended mix of driving blues-rock riffs and solid grooves

"Blues music is in everything not just music, but everyday life. It was the first American musical art form to develop and the first real world music developed in a new country by immigrants and slaves struggling to improvise and survive but also make a life."

Odds Lane: The Tower of Blues Rock

Odds Lane is a uniquely blended mix of driving blues-rock riffs and solid grooves with an overall pop sensibility. They create music that fuses diverse influences from a wide range of styles but maintains the integrity of what has become their own original sound. The band is the musical outlet of the songwriters Doug Byrkit and longtime musical partner Brian Zielie. Doug and Brian have been friends since 8th grade and their music partnership goes back with their first band while still in high school. They have maintained a close working relationship that has lasted through college and a host of musical projects. In the last 25 years, they have toured both with various artists. Fresh out of college Doug Byrkit and Brian Zielie met Mike Zito who was looking for a rhythm section to form his band. They were a perfect match. The trio began playing clubs around the St. Louis area and in no time they were working 7 nights a week. In the late ’90s, they recorded Blue Room which celebrated it’s 20th Anniversary and was recently remastered and released on Ruf Records.

Odds Lane was formed in 2003 and they began recording and playing live to a steadily growing fan base. As part of an effort to promote emerging artists, they were invited to record at legendary Sun Studios, after which they released the first of several projects as independent songwriters in 2004. In 2012 their release Dark Matters garnered Byrkit an ASCAP Plus Songwriting Award. LOST & FOUND (Release Date: June 7, 2019), Odds Lane’s newest release on Gulf Coast Records was inspired by the re-mastered release of Mike Zito’s Blue Room. They have come full circle with a collection of eleven songs that are influenced by their South St. Louis blues rock/funk roots and recorded at MARZ Studio in Texas and mixed by Grammy Award-winning producer David Z.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Rock music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Doug: Not only Blues music and Rock music, but also music in general has influenced every aspect of my life since I was 12 yrs old. Growing up in a conservative suburban household, most of the things I learned about the outside world were through learning more about music. When I went to college and really dove into blues, jazz, and the roots of rock and American music, my worldview changed completely. Also, just about every aspect of my life has been influenced by music and the bands I have played with, most of my close friends are fellow musicians. So many people I’ve met in my life and most of the relationships I’ve had being women have I owe to music, including my ex-wife I meet at a gig.

Brian: I think all music influences my perception of the world by allowing me to gain insight into other cultures and experiences in a visceral way. The reverse is also true. Learning about cultures helps you understand the music.

How do you describe band's songbook and sound? What is the story behind 'Odds Lane' name?

Doug: It’s hard to pin down our sound exactly because we have so many influences from varying genres and time periods. With our last two records, we've gotten back to our true roots of what we love to play, which is a lot of old blues, funk, and R&B. However, we both went to school for jazz and have played in rock bands for years. All of that is in there too. I think a good anecdote to help describe it is when we play on a bill with all rock bands, they call us the “blues band” and when we play on a bill with more traditional blues groups, they call us the “rock band”. The story behind our name is a bit of long one that goes back to when we first started doing our own original tunes as a writing duo and picked the name of the band from a Stephen King series, we were both into at the time. The first name we had was “The Breakers”. That name is also a reference to the same books. Back in 2004, I checked MySpace and only one other band from Denmark had the name. We actually talked and decided there was no way it would ever be a problem that both of us had the same name. Well, a few years later they ended up being signed by Lil Steven Van Zandt’s label, and they called to try and purchase the US trademark from me. Well, when Silvio from The Sopranos calls and offers you good money for the name you go ahead and sell. So, we had to come up with another name, which is never, been a big thrill for us. We decided to keep it within the Stephen King series and found Odds Lane. Odds Lane is a street that the characters from the Dark Tower series find themselves, and we felt the name fit us as. We are an odd pair anyway and our music oddly not fitting easily into one category.

Brian: On the surface I'd say Odds Lane is a pretty rocking blues band, a pretty funky rock band, and a pretty bluesy song-oriented band. Of course, a band's sound is deeper than that. Doug and I started off in rock bands together. We studied jazz in college together. We played disco at weddings together. We really became ourselves when we joined in a band with Mike Zito in 1998. The years spent with him were when we really cut our teeth. We played well over 325 nights a year. We were a blues band with an attitude. I approached it like I was John Bonham playing with Tower of Power or James Brown. We each had our own take on it. After Zito disbanded, Doug and I wasted a lot of years TRYING to sound like what we thought we should. We tried to suppress that identity. In recent years our sound has changed because we decided to just be us. As a result, all of that old sound came back. But we aren't denying any of our other influences anymore either. We may play a 12/8 blues song and it might have some King's X in there. Maybe there's an R&B tune but its got some Police in it. The sound is just honestly what we are. The name Odds Lane is a reference to Stephen King's Dark Tower novels. Odds Lane was a place where you might see one thing and get another without noticing it. Pretty odd. Like us.

"I think all music influences my perception of the world by allowing me to gain insight into other cultures and experiences in a visceral way. The reverse is also true. Learning about cultures helps you understand the music." (Photo: Doug Byrkit and Brian Zielie.)

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you? 

Doug: The most important experiences I’ve had have been with those closest to me including family and friends. I always try to learn a little something from everyone I know. Musically speaking the most important experiences I’ve had have also been playing and working with people far better at what they do then I am. Working on this last record was no exception, as I learned so much especially from Zito and was also able to have a great time making music with old friends! The best advice I was ever given concerning music was from one of my favorite music professors in college who said “Loud and wrong is better than quiet and right any day.” However, the best music career advice I ever heard comes from the old film “This is Spinal Tap”, which says “Have a good time, All the time!”

Brian: My most important acquaintances are my family. Musically speaking I can't separate. Every musician I've known, worked with, or seen has made an impact on me. Doug Byrkit has been around for a while now. He's okay. The best advice I ever got about music was "don't listen to yourself when you play, listen to the song."

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Doug: One memory that definitely sticks out was our recent trip to Texas to record this new album. We have been talking about working with Zito again for years since the last time we worked on an album together 20 years ago with “Blue Room” which was recently re-released on Ruf Records as a special 20th Anniversary edition. The chance to really do something again came when Mike started his own studio, MARZ Studio and later his own label, Gulf Coast Records. This record is something we’ve been talking about doing together for years and it finally has happened and we couldn’t be more thrilled. We had not really worked with a producer before on our own material and Mike was fantastic. He has a great ear for what might be possible with a song and giving you the confidence to try something new. Plus, getting to stay at the studio for a week and live the album every day was truly an experience to remember. I think you can hear some of that experience in the record, as it was truly a labor of love.

Brian: One night Doug, Mike Zito, and I were playing a place in St. Louis we used to play three or four nights a week. A gentleman came to the stage and informed us Davey Jones of the Monkees was there and would like to sit in if we knew in Monkees songs. We said we didn't and the man thanked us to please not mention that Mr. Jones was in the house. After a while, Mr. Jones walked in front of the stage and out the door. Mike stopped the song we were playing and immediately launched us into "Daydream Believer." Davey Jones ran back in and flipped us off. That was fun. 

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Doug: I think the one thing I miss from music of the past was the trip to the record store to get that highly anticipated new record. There was something magical about being a kid and having that experience of physically going to buy an album or cassette or CD and then bringing it home and listening on your home stereo for the first time, especially if it was with a friend. My hopes with the recent revival in vinyl sales is that people today are longing for that physical relationship with the music again and want to have that experience but in a 21st century way. My kids recently bought me a new turntable for my birthday and we gathered around to take the first listen together like we were sitting around a campfire. It was a new experience for them and they loved it. The Beatles became a new artist for them in a new way. My fear is that the connection you can have to an artist by owning a physical copy of the music will be completely lost with the ease in which we can listen to anything we want at the speed of light. 

Brian: What I miss is the sound of the older records, the recognizable individuality, and the song craft. My hope for the future is that people will seek out new music with those qualities. My fear is that they won't. For me, I'm glad there is so much great old music I've not yet heard. There's always another Son Seals or somebody I missed.

"I think the one thing I miss from music of the past was the trip to the record store to get that highly anticipated new record. There was something magical about being a kid and having that experience of physically going to buy an album or cassette or CD and then bringing it home and listening on your home stereo for the first time, especially if it was with a friend."

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?  

Doug: To me, Blues music is in everything not just music, but everyday life. It was the first American musical art form to develop and the first real world music developed in a new country by immigrants and slaves struggling to improvise and survive but also make a life. That aspect of blues was baked into the music from the beginning. Also, blues is the basis for most of the popular music around the world from rock to country to hip hop. I feel like the more people learn about the origins of the music they love and discover the blues, the more they can learn how blues is the glue that binds more people together.

Brian: I'm sure Doug have a very scholarly answer for that. I'll just say that we all get the blues, and playing the blues makes you feel better. 

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

Doug: There’s so many places and people in the past I’d love to visit or experience in person. But I guess if I had to choose one, I’d go back to New Orleans around 1917 during the heyday of Storyville. That’s when so much music finally all came together for the first time to give us the first truly recognizable forms of modern American music, such as blues and jazz, that would go on to change the world. Unfortunately, this period is well written about but there are no actual recordings of the music. Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, and Buddy Bolden’s original sounds that sparked a musical revolution have never been actually heard by anyone that wasn’t alive then. I think that would be an incredible experience to hear those pioneers in person! 

Brian: Let's go to the future. June 7, 2119. I want to see what is happening then.

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