Interview with Brian Hartzog for Palisade Hills



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Palisade Hills Interview Summary

URL of review:
For publication: Palisade Hills
My Comments:

I really appreciated the chance to answer these thoughtful questions. I don't get to do too many interviews...I love what Palisade Hills is doing...


Palisade Hills Interview

Brian Hartzog
One-Way Ticket

How do you describe an artist like Mr. Brian Hartzog? You could call him inspired considering his music reflects the likes of musical geniuses such as Prince, the Beatles, Hendrix, and Bob Dylan. Then again, considering the fact that he played all the instruments and sung all the parts on his debut project “The Smashing of Pictures” you could call him a musician’s musician. Whatever the case Brian Hartzog is one hard-working man.


Your new release “One Way Ticket,” has a strong, solid funk/rock sound. What kind of approach did you take with this project in contrast with your first release?

For the most part on “The Smashing of Pictures”, I wrote the songs bottom-up, starting with drum beats and guitar licks…and building up to the melody and lyrics. For this disc, I made a conscious effort to use a different approach. I wrote all the songs while singing and playing acoustic guitar. I think that helped me write better melodies…and enabled me to re-arrange the songs a lot more before I began recording. I also wanted to write my lyrics more from a third person point-of-view…or from the minds and lives of characters that I imagined…instead of from my perspective. In other words, less “I”. I always tried to include bits of my life in my songs, but this CD is a bit more subtle in that respect than my first one. When it came time to record, the biggest difference with this disc is that I recorded every note of it in my home studio. I’m really proud of that because I had to scrimp and save for several years to buy my basic setup … I actually designed the studio myself.Also, on this disc, I wanted to bring in other musicians instead of playing all the instruments myself. I worked with Doug Albritton, a fabulous drummer, for the entire length of the project. He really stuck by me as I changed and re-arranged the songs…and I think his drumming came out great. I also brought in some really talented horn players, a songwriter friend of mine to play bass on one track, and the most well-known pro engineer in town (Mark Williams) to help out for 2 of the sessions. Mark has worked with tons of major label acts (Joe Walsh, Let’s Active), and it was a personal goal of mine to work with him on my own music.

When did you begin your musical career and what influenced you to produce the type of music you do?

I feel like I’ve been making myself into a songwriter since I was 11 or 12. I remember the very day when I realized it was what I wanted to do. I was listening to Prince’s 1999 album, and I found that I could understand what he was doing to create the groove both musically and production-wise. When I told my friends about it, I realized that they didn’t really understand what I was talking about…and I felt that I had an ability to understand and hear things in music that they didn’t. I was totally hooked. I was like: “Listen to what that drum machine shaker is doing…and they were like “What??”. I quickly found my other main influences: the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Parliament, and spoken word poetry. I go through phases where I get influenced by one thing or another…but I always come back to those main influences.

What all instruments do you play?

I play guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, and I sing. I used to play a little trombone in grade school…I think that helped me when it came time to compose and score the horn section on my songs “Motha Funky” and “Alright to Drive”. On “One-Way Ticket”, I also served as producer and engineer….which got a bit tricky sometimes…I had to leave extra space at the beginning of tracks to give me time to press record, run into the other room, strap on the guitar or whatever instrument, put on the headphones, count-off, and start playing…it would really crack my drummer Doug up sometimes…

I personally have to say that guitar work is amazing. Did you have any former training or teaching available to you, or is it just a God given talent that you pick up.

Thanks for noticing my guitar playing… I actually taught myself how to play…which is probably why my style is a bit peculiar. Guitar players who come to my shows always have trouble figuring out what I’m doing because it doesn’t look like I play very many traditional chords…

How have you handled the business side of being a musical artist?

At first, not very well. But I’m now getting a much better understanding of what it takes to find an audience. I’ve come to realize that there are only 2 choices: 1. you can stay in your bedroom and make music entirely for fun or 2. you can try to make music your career. There’s really no middle ground that makes sense. And if you want a career in today’s music business, you must come to terms with the fact that you must figure out how to “sell” your own creations. For a lot of people that means trying to impress this A&R guy or that DJ…and a lot of musicians and songwriters spend their time trying to mold themselves into what is marketable. I think that is an artistic mistake, a business mistake, and a big waste of time. I’ve decided to take a different approach—I want to find a way to market the music that I feel compelled artistically to create. I’ve become defiantly independent—I’ve stated my sales and music goals on my website ( for everyone to see. I’ve created my own manifesto which says, basically, that I want to create my own personal music industry. That way, I don’t have to answer to anyone else, give up the rights to (or creative control of) my music, or chase any particular fashion. I may never be on MTV or commercial radio, but at least I’ll still have artistic integrity…which, for me, is all I care about.

What are some of the inspirational aspects that helped you to decide and choose the concepts and titles of your songs?

I keep a notebook close by at all times, and I try to write something at least once per day. I try to write down every song idea I get immediately. If I don’t, I’ll forget it within minutes. I compile all these scraps of paper into a database that I created to hold my song ideas…and I go through it when I’m looking for a song to write. A lot of stuff comes from there. Sometimes the title changes as the song develops, but it gives me a good place to start. I get inspiration from music, talk radio, my life, things people say, and stuff that I read.

Do you plan to bring the same type of sentiment to your third release?

I’m just thinking about that now. I think I want to dabble a little more in electronic keyboard and drums sounds…and heavier rock guitar sounds. The next disc will be funkier and mixed with a little new wave…but it will still sound pretty indie. Of course this could all change if I feel pulled in a different direction…

What advice would you give an artist just starting out?

Figure out what inspires you. Then figure out how you are different from that. Find a way to express your own voice musically and don’t be swayed by what anyone says. Find your own vision and stick to it. Never, ever quit.

What are your feelings on the state of today’s music?

Honestly, I dislike most of what’s on commercial radio. I think the bean counters and lawyers at the top of these major media conglomerates think by numbers…and they have never really created anything original in their lives. Therefore, they run their businesses by numbers…not by what makes sense artistically. Therefore, they shotgun new releases to the public via Clear Channel and MTV, drop from their label what doesn’t make a ripple in their test groups, and spoonfeed us what does. If something is successful, they copycat it. They’ve realized that it’s much easier to make money by owning the distribution channels than it is to find great new music. Therefore, they’ve tried to ignore and sue the Internet distribution channels out of existence while keeping tight hold of their connection to commercial radio, MTV, and superstores.

Luckily, the Internet can’t be stopped…and non-music companies have realized that they have an opportunity to jump into the fray…which scares the crap out of the labels.

I think in the next few years, you’ll see the film music, tv music, and advertising music businesses continue to merge…you’ll see the legal file sharing and satellite radio continue to grow exponentially…you’ll see major labels and commercial radio to get more and more predictable and boring…and you’ll see the local or regional indie artists start to be able to make a decent living by making and releasing their own records.

And for my final question, if it rained music, what would grow?

Purple flowers, Hendrix discs, a crowd of peace
Sun fried vegetables covered in grease
Art rock trees,
A chorus of bees,
A garden of Chili Peppers growing to the funk
French horn streams
Guitars and dreams
And cactus-shaped drumsticks on a bed of punk

Thank you again Brian Hartzog for taking to time to answer these questions. I wish you much success in future of your musical career.

Thanks so much for the opportunity. I appreciate all you do for independent artists. Take care.


Sunday, March 21, 2004

Artist’s website:

Palisade Hills

Listen to Brian's music now!