It’s not every day you wake up to an email from Great Big Sea frontman Alan Doyle, telling you how awesome you are. Not only did Doyle email local singer/songwriter Andrew James O’Brien, he sent the world a tweet about him, too.
“Andrew O’Brien rockin’ it on ‘Out of the Fog.’ Great singer. Great song,” Doyle posted on Twitter Monday.
“It was pretty cool,” O’Brien said of the recognition. “It was exciting to hear that they were on tour in Seattle, listening to the album on their bus before a show. When I was a little kid, even before I could play guitar, I was listening to Great Big Sea records, and it was amazing to me that you could bump into one of your heroes on Water Street. That’s still amazing to me.”
Doyle’s not O’Brien’s only high-profile fan: Juno-winning singer/songwriter Amelia Curran is, too, and is featured on O’Brien’s debut CD, “Songs for Searchers,” set to be released with a show tonight at The Rock House on George Street.
O’Brien was born and lives in the St. John’s area, but was a staple on the music scene on the province’s west coast for a number of years. Humble and sometimes a little self-deprecating, even O’Brien recognizes there’s a buzz going around about him and his band, The Searchers — Allan Brake on percussion, Mark Allan on bass, Gerald Coleman on drums, Catherine Allan on keys and John Allan on horns. They’ve had to break their original goal of performing one show a month because of it.
“The shows we’ve been offered in the past few months have been the ones that you hope for and can’t really turn down,” said O’Brien, naming opening for Hey Rosetta! during the band’s tour-launching show at The Rock House as an example. “Thankfully, that show spawned a few others. The audiences have steadily increased over the past six to eight months and even though we haven’t been a headlining band yet, our sets have been garnering really good crowds.”
Though “Songs for Searchers” is their debut CD, there’s nothing amateur about it. Sometimes sparse and folky, sometimes pop-rock, O’Brien sings in a voice that’s gentle and authentic.
He also wears his heart on his lyrical sleeve.
“Some say love ain’t built to last/That it, with time, will pass/I’d hate to prove them right/So for now we’ve got to hold on tight/And we’ll prove them wrong, prove them wrong,” O’Brien coos over a single guitar on “Some Say Love Ain’t Built to Last,” a track recorded on the back porch belonging to Corner Brook musician Sherman Downey during hurricane Earl last fall.
O’Brien can’t choose a favourite tune, but says there are a number of special moments on the album, thanks to help from artists like Mike Davis, Kalem Mahoney, Paul Kinsman and Mark Neary.
“It was exciting to hear that they were on tour in Seattle, listening to the album on their bus before a show. When I was a little kid, even before I could play guitar, I was listening to Great Big Sea records, and it was amazing to me that you could bump into one of your heroes on Water Street. That’s still amazing to me.” - Andrew O’Brien
Curran’s participation on the song “Go Easy” was a definite highlight, O’Brien said.
“I wasn’t surprised but I was definitely humbled by her willingness to come in, and she did a really great job,” O’Brien said, adding he felt humility rather than nervousness about having her participate.
The album’s more raucous tunes were arranged with live shows in mind, in an effort to make the CD translate into something more exciting onstage.
“A lot of the folk songs wouldn’t fly at the Rock House. They’d be tunes you’d play at an arts and culture centre, and those gigs are kind of few and far between,” O’Brien explained. “We had to adapt some songs from the album that would be a bit more folky normally, but the tunes that are more upbeat translate perfectly.”
The ability to be able to back up the album on stage was crucial, O’Brien said.
“It’s one thing to have a great record, but if you can’t back it up in live performance, how much credibility do you have? I don’t think there’s any substitute for being at a live show where a band is really on fire.”
And that is something in which O’Brien and The Searchers revel. O’Brien has a reputation on the west coast for giving unique shows and now that he’s fronting a full band, the intensity has only grown.
He’s proud of the energy they produce together onstage — saying it would be the same whether the audience was made up of five people or 500 — and likens it to a family kitchen party “that sounds good.”
“We’re not jumping around, hitting bad chords — we work really hard to make sure the tunes are tight,” he explained.
The release party for “Songs For Searchers,” also featuring The Monday Nights and the Pathological Lovers, will start at 11 tonight. The CD will be available at the show and at Fred’s Records on Duckworth Street.
O’Brien’s next gig, this time solo, will take place in Charlottetown, P.E.I., during next week’s East Coast Music Awards conference. He’ll be performing an acoustic set on the MusicNL stage, alongside local musicians like Jerry Stamp and Ian Foster.
Next year, maybe a nomination?
“That would be amazing and I definitely would be honoured, but basically I just want people to hear the album and enjoy it. Any extra recognition is just icing on the cake.”
See O’Brien performing “Some Say Love Ain’t Built to Last” on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZAuofMyMnA.