Before Tim Brantley became consumed with music, playing baseball occupied a lot of his time. And even though his primary tools these days are guitars and pianos, not bats and spikes, he still makes baseball comparisons when talking about his music career.
One important lesson Brantley says he learned while making his debut album, Goldtop Heights (Blackledge Records), was discovering “what you’re really going to get out of every guy on the team” while recording.
“It’s almost like making a batting order,” the Georgia-based singer says. “When you go into the studio to make a record, you have to know that you can’t push this guy too hard, and this guy is going to give you exactly this — the balance of all that can really make or break a record.”
Goldtop Heights (released in April) is a record that was a long time in the making, and the same can be said about Brantley’s decision to pursue music professionally.
Brantley played piano as a child but says he never really harbored a serious interest in being a musician, nor did he want to spend his adult life working a 9-to-5 job. But during his early 20s, while attending a community college in Georgia, Brantley says he caught the music bug and chose to leave academics behind.
When asked if there was a specific moment that influenced his decision to become a musician, Brantley sheepishly recalls seeing a David Gray video around 2001 for the song “Babylon.”
“I just loved his voice; he was one of my favorite artists at the time,” Brantley says. “And I said, ‘Man, I’d love to do that.’
“It’s just as simple as that,” the 29-year-old adds. “I’d love to tell you that I was listening to a bunch of [Bruce] Springsteen records or Led Zeppelin and started playing guitar and figuring it out that way, but really, it’s not that cool.”
While working plumbing and construction jobs for his father’s company, Brantley studied old albums, rediscovered the piano, began to learn the guitar and eventually wrote songs and played gigs around Georgia.
A turning point came when his de facto manager at the time – “a local guy who helped me to get going in the beginning,” Brantley recalls – pressured him into playing a band competition around 2005.
“I didn’t want to do it – [mostly] because I was scared,” Brantley says.
He won the competition, and that led to recording an album of material with Russ T. Cobb, whose studio credits include Avril Lavigne and Bowling for Soup.
When that project was finished, there was a period of about two years during which Brantley says he “sat back and tried to understand how I made that, how I went about it and what would it take to do it again – and how much of that record was really because of me.”
Brantley came to the conclusion that for his next project, he should be the primary producer.
“I did consider other producers,” he says, “but in the end, I knew that I had to have a period of time where I could just, by trial and error, make this record. And I knew nobody was breathing down my neck to get this finished.”
Brantley built a studio in an artsy district called Castleberry Hill in downtown Atlanta, and he, his regular backing band and select “specialists” spent about a year working on Goldtop Heights, which he likened to an obsession.
“It was a beautiful girl I could never have, so I treated it that way,” he says. “Day and night, it’s all I lived and breathed. Thank god I had my friends around me who at least knew I wasn’t crazy so they could tell other people, ‘No, it’s OK. He’s fine. He’s going to be OK.’ ”
Brantley often went with the fourth and fifth versions of songs, and there was lots of overdubbing. He had “notebooks full of lyrics for individual songs,” and in some cases, he would finish a track and then decide to rewrite the lyrics for the entire tune.
“I’m a pretty good judge [when it comes to] overproducing something and also overthinking something, and I really only got into a spot maybe twice where my head was spinning,” Brantley recalls. “[When that happened], I just put it away for a little while.”
There is an element of spontaneity throughout Goldtop Heights, a dynamic, mature collection that conjures up thoughts of the best rock singer/songwriters of the 1970s. Brantley cites the process behind the song “Brooklyn” as the way he often worked.
“I sat down with my drummer to work that song out,” he says. “I always push ‘record’ when we’re working something out, and I almost exclusively work on my songs with him in the beginning because that’s the foundation for everything.
“We played one take through … and I [took] that recording and put it in a safe place. And when we went back to actually track the song after I worked everything [else] out, I made him play exactly what he did [the first time], note for note.
“So in a sense, you capture that freshness, but you have to know when it feels right.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Tim Brantley on tour (schedule subject to change):
* June 21: Stubbs Jr. — Austin, Texas
* June 22: The Prophet Bar — Dallas
* June 24: Workplay Theatre — Birmingham, Ala.
* June 25: Vinyl — Atlanta
* June 30: The Social — Orlando, Fla.
* July 1: Jack Rabbit — Jacksonville, Fla.
* July 4: Evening Muse — Charlotte, N.C.
* July 6: The Canal Club — Richmond, Va.
* July 7: Jammin Java — Vienna, Va.
* July 9: 8×10 — Baltimore, Md.
* July 10: The Canal Room — New York
* July 13: Middle East Upstairs — Cambridge, Mass.
* July 15: House of Blues — Cleveland
* July 16: The Space — Evanston, Ill.
* July 17: Intersection — Grand Rapids, Mich.
* July 19: Birdy’s — Indianapolis
* Aug. 1: 12th & Porter — Nashville, Tenn.