The “American Dream” is just as fascinating as it is elusive. Widely sought after, yet falling out of reach for countless Americans. Bryan Greenberg, however, is one of the lucky few that has managed to learn “how to make it in America.”
As an actor, with a penchant for singing, Greenberg befriended Kid Cudi, whose life path was quite similar, yet diametrically opposite to his own. And over the past year, the two have forged a unique bond, which has worked to blur the lines of appreciation associated with musical categorization. Greenberg’s genre-defying sophomore album, We Don’t Have Forever, is a testament to this point. On this effort, Cudi joins in on the fun with a feature on “You Can Run.”
In the midst of a promotional campaign for We Don’t Have Forever, Bryan Greenberg managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on the psychology of music, New York’s influence on his Midwestern mentality, and the delicate “juggling act” of balancing two careers.
Clayton Perry: From the outside looking-in – “We Don’t Have Forever” – stands as a life mantra, as well as the binding thread of your upcoming release. When you hear these words, what immediately comes to mind?
Bryan Greenberg: Well, this title has a lot of meaning for me. I was going through a lot of personal change, and a lot of the songs changed because of my friends and relationships and career, and things I thought would be one way turned out to be another. So that’s one meaning – on a personal level. But then there’s also the meaning of you’ve got to capitalize on your life right now, especially with the music. I’m so busy, and everything in my life has moved into fast forward mode, and I’ve got to capitalize while I can. I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about just living. Putting music out there, putting content out there. Not sitting back and resting on your laurels; just living your life. So, it’s a positive message, as well.
Clayton Perry: I am in complete awe of the way that you have been able to juggle and balance not only one career but two careers. Most people only have the pleasure of dedicating their lives to one particular career. So when you look at your particular experience, what professional lessons have made this juggling act easy for you? And conversely, what has been the hardest aspect to manage?
Bryan Greenberg: You know, I tend not to think of either one as a career, and that kind of helps me get through. They’re more like artistic expressions, and if I approach the work from that mindset, it can carry me through. I think that’s why my fans and people respond to my music. And my acting, it’s because I know for a fact it doesn’t come from a contrived place. I mean, I’m not thinking in terms of career. I just really enjoy both of them, and I try not to over think it too much.
Clayton Perry: Thank you for that insight! In what ways are the acting and music worlds similar, and in what ways are they different? And is there a particular set of rules from the former that have guided the latter?
Bryan Greenberg: Well, they both definitely inform each other. Like doing both, neither one feels like a job. So there’s that. It keeps me fresh. Each time I approach the music, it’s coming off of an acting job. Each time I approach an acting job, it’s coming off of like a tour or being in the studio, so I can approach the work fresh, and I’m not really burnt out. It just keeps recycling my creative energy. So in that way, they help each other. Similarities? When I am acting, I know what words I’m going to say, and I know the guidelines, the parameters of the scene that I’m playing. But when I’m truly in a scene, and I’m truly in a moment, and I don’t know what’s really going to happen, the emotions and the feelings in between are sort of unpredictable to myself, and if I can tap into that, I know I’m doing the right thing. I don’t think it’s either good or bad, but I’m on the right path. Now when I’m on stage and I’m singing a song, if I’m thinking about: “Oh, uh, what’s my song, or what are the lyrics of this song” – then I’m off. But if I’m just in the song, like in the moment, then it’s real. It’s the same sort of thing of like committing to a scene. So I get the same high, almost. They’re completely different in just like as an actor, I don’t really see how it reacts. I mean, now with the help of Twitter and social media…
Clayton Perry: …you can get an immediate response…
Bryan Greenberg: …and I can kind of see what fans are talking about. But to be truthful, I do my job and then there’s like thirty people on set, and then I go home, and it comes out, and I don’t get to see the response or an honest response. Like if I’m in the room, I’m not going to get an honest response from my audience. So with my music, I go on the road, I can see how it reacts. It’s crazy. Like I don’t get that sensation with the acting. That’s different.
Clayton Perry: Yes, and that tends to be the most-rewarding aspect of the touring experience. In your recent tours, what elements of your performance have people really gravitated towards?
Bryan Greenberg: I’ve heard a bunch of different things. My favorite compliment is: “I can’t get your song out of my head.” I love that. I love getting in people’s heads like that. That means I wrote a catchy song, and so to me, that’s a compliment, because I’m a big fan of melodies.
Clayton Perry: Considering the fact that your parents are both psychologists, I find it very interesting that you made that comment! [laughing] Even though your parents did not come from a musical environment, have you found any interesting influences that they had on your career?
Bryan Greenberg: I got really lucky with my parents. They’re great people, and I think they look at the world with open eyes. I think as an artist, you kind of have to be open to different people you come across, different inspirations, and just try not to judge. I mean, there’s not a lot of prejudice within my family and not a lot of judgment. They’re very accepting. When I wanted to become an actor, they were all for it. They had a very diverse group of friends growing up, and I just feel like that’s helped me as an artist. I’m open to life’s experiences and to people that come into my life.
Clayton Perry: Having lived in various cities across America, which city do you think had the most direct influence on your musical style. And on the other hand, as you transitioned to New York City, what new influences have made their way into your songwriting?
Bryan Greenberg: I definitely had some influence early on. On my first album, I had the song called “Small Town” and that was about Omaha, going back to Omaha and what it was like. But in my music, I sort of see myself as a traveler, and like a “rolling stone.” I keep moving. I think it’s pretty diverse. On this record, you’re going to hear a little bit more of an urban, city edge – especially on “You Can Run.” I don’t know. I’m from the Midwest, so there’s an innate rawness. It’s hard to say that I’m terribly influenced by the cities that I have lived in.
Clayton Perry: Was the culture shock of moving to New York overwhelming?
Bryan Greenberg: Yes. I mean, New York was a huge culture shock coming from the Midwest, man. I don’t even think I met a gay person until I was eighteen. And then all of a sudden I go to art school. [laughing]
Clayton Perry: Right! [laughing]
Bryan Greenberg: So, yes, that’s just an example. I lived in somewhat of a bubble in the Midwest. But once I got to New York, I’ve got to be honest, it was the only place I really felt like myself for some reason. I love that I’m from the Midwest. I’ve got so much love for St. Louis. My parents still live there. I’ve got friends still there. I go back a couple of times a year. But once I was eighteen and I moved to New York, I sort of felt like: “Okay, I’m home. I get this city. And it gets me.”
Clayton Perry: As you recorded this album, what memories shine bright from the recording experience?
Bryan Greenberg: A couple of different things. My first record, Waiting For Now, I did that with the limited money that I had from movies and television, and I just sort of pieced it together with spit and glue and favors. I worked for three different producers. Every instrument was recorded separately. It’s very good for what I could do at the time. But on this record, I really wanted to capture a vibe, and a sound, and a moment. I actually sought out this producer Thom Monahan. I’m a big fan of his band called The Rosewood Thieves, which was like a band that came and went. Nobody knows about them, but I became impressed with these guys for like a year-and-a-half, and he produced their record. I sought him out and I told him what I was going for. He said, “Well, let me hear the stuff.” I played it for him, and he was like, “I love it. Let’s do it.” And we just wanted to capture a moment. I want the audience to really feel like they’re part of entering into a world that we’ve created, and a vibe. He got Neal Casal, who was a part of The Cardinals, which was Ryan Adams’ band and Ric Menck, who is a great drummer. He’s played with everybody: Matthew Sweet, Willie Nelson. And we’d get these professional musicians and we recorded a lot of stuff live, which was a lot of fun. Like Girlfriend. “I Sorta Have a Girlfriend.” Recorded that live. “No Kind of Friend.” And I’m really proud of the song “One Too Many” which is one take.
Clayton Perry: Oh, wow! That’s rare!
Bryan Greenberg: Yes, it’s totally rare, and that’s what we were going for. So what you’re hearing is like a live take, the whole song, and I’m really proud of that. And also on this record, I wrote with other people for the first time, collaborated, which I never have done before and I really liked that.
Clayton Perry: Having said that, what tips and tricks did you pull from your fellow collaborators as you worked on this batch of songs?
Bryan Greenberg: Well, I worked with Graham Colton and Michael Tolcher on this record. I had a lot of pride about writing my own songs. That’s always been my thing, and I didn’t want to really collaborate. But when I went on tour with those guys, I realized that they write with everybody. That’s just like what singer/songwriters do. I asked them: “So what do you do? You sit in a room and just like punch a clock and write a song? I don’t get that.” And they’re like: “Well, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.” But what happened was, they came to my house in L.A. individually, and I had some hooks flying around, but I didn’t have any verses or anything applied to them. We just sat down and honestly, both those songs I had an hour later, and that’s what you’re hearing on the record. And they both said this phrase, that I kind of like. They said: “Don’t bore us. Get to the chorus.”
Clayton Perry: Great quote! [laughing]
Bryan Greenberg: My verses could be too long, sometimes! [laughing]
Clayton Perry: And… they just wanted to get to the punch! [laughing continues]
Bryan Greenberg: Right! [laughing continues] “Don’t bore us. Get to the chorus.”
Clayton Perry: Having shared the stage with fellow singer-songwriters, Gavin DeGraw and Michelle Branch, have they given you any career advice, as far as being a musician in the public spotlight?
Bryan Greenberg: Well, nobody’s given me overt advice, verbal advice, but just being around musicians the last couple of years and actually going on tour and seeing how they live and what it takes to really get your music out there. It’s harder and harder to get your music out there, unless you’re like Top 40, which is not the kind of music I’m really striving to create. In the world that I’m in, you’ve got to get out there. And so being around these guys and just seeing that it’s a way of life, you’ve got to tour. Just because you’re an actor doesn’t mean people are going to listen to your music. You’ve got to get out there. You’ve got to prove yourself. And so, it was really humbling for me, in one aspect, because I was getting so much success in my acting world. Offers were coming in, and I was really in demand, and it was something I was striving for my whole life, and things were happening. But then I took a risk and went over into this other world where nobody gave a s**t about my acting ability. I mean, it definitely opens the door. But you’ve got to prove yourself, and that’s what I learned just being around all these people. It’s a way of life.
Clayton Perry: I think it is really ironic that you, as an actor, have now branched off into a singing career. At the same time, you have developed a friendship with Kid Cudi, an up-and-coming rapper, who is now making strides in the acting world. What kind of conversations have the two of you had about your similar – yet different – experiences?
Bryan Greenberg: We’re coming at it from different perspectives and different angles, which I think is interesting. Yes, I mean, it dawned on both of us. Cudi’s become a good friend. I’m there to mentor him in any way I can with the acting world and support him, because I think he’s got natural talent. And I think vice versa with the music for me … He told me, “Let me hear the track. This is my career. I’m not going to just jump on track. I’ve got to hear it.” And I’m like, “Fair enough. I don’t want you to do it unless you want to do it.” And he heard it, and he said: “I f**ks with it,” and I’m like “Cool.”
Clayton Perry: Well, there you have it! [laughing]
Bryan Greenberg: And that’s him, showing a little love on the music end. But I think he’s a lot further along in the…
Clayton Perry: …transition?
Bryan Greenberg: Yes – in the transition than I am. And I also think his goals are a little higher with the acting than mine are with the music. I mean, I really don’t know where the music is going. I just love to do it. And I don’t have an agenda.
Clayton Perry: Well, let the good times roll!
Bryan Greenberg: Totally!
For more information on Bryan Greenberg, visit his official website: http://www.bryangreenberg.com