Solo road trip

Tara Bradbury
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Andrew James O’Brien heads out on tour, sans band

Andrew James O'Brien

He’s about to embark on his first-ever tour, but Andrew James O’Brien is more nervous about his GPS system failing than playing gigs in new cities.

“It’s just going to be me in the car and I’m a bit nervous about driving in the big cities, like Montreal. I hope it’ll be OK,” O’Brien told The Telegram.

O’Brien will be alone on stage as well as in the car. Although he normally performs with his band, The Searchers, this is a solo tour in every sense, meaning he’s been working to cut his tunes from six-person group arrangements to songs meant for one person with an acoustic guitar. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been a fun challenge to strip down some of his record’s more raucous tunes as bare as some of the most quiet ones.

Although the fleshed-out sound of a band is great, there are some benefits to playing solo, he said.

“When I play solo I feel like I have a little bit more room to move in terms of arrangements or if I want to take a bit of extra time in a section,” he explained. “I can read the audience and play certain tunes depending on the mood of the room, whereas when we play at The Rock House, we know people are going to want to be rocking out and having a good time and we gear our sets towards that.”

O’Brien’s as sensitive on disc as he is in real life, writing pop-rock and folky songs with a depth that seems more experienced than what his 26 years might allow.

“Hearts are like windows/soon they all crack/spent too many nights with my face at your back,” he sings in “We Were a Boat.”

A year ago, O’Brien was trying his best to get his name and his music out; these days, he’s got a definite buzz about him. He has a debut CD “Songs for Searchers” on which Juno-winning songstress Amelia Curran is featured; was one of this province’s most talked-about performers during East Coast Music Award week in P.E.I. last spring; and is invited to perform somewhere practically every weekend, most recently as the opener for singer/songwriter/former professional skateboarder Matt Costa’s two shows at The Ship in St. John’s earlier this week.

“It’s just going to be me in the car and I’m a bit nervous about driving in the big cities, like Montreal. I hope it’ll be OK.” Andrew James O’Brien

The attention is all pretty exciting, O’Brien admits, but adds he’s not so confident that he’ll let it slow him down.

“I appreciate it, but at the same time, I think it’s pretty important to not take any time to rest,” he said. “I just want to keep going forward and expanding the crowds and getting the album into as many ears as I can.”

O’Brien credits The Searchers — Allan Brake, Mark Allan, Gerald Coleman, Jon Allan and O’Brien’s girlfriend, Catherine Allan — for helping him achieve the popularity he enjoys so far, as well as a network of friends in the local music industry for their support. Being a hard worker has also paid off, he said.

“We really took a lot of time to be thoughtful with the way we wanted it to sound, and I think, hopefully, the people are latching on to the honesty of it all. That’s all I can really do, go out and try and be myself and it seems so far that people are digging it.”

O’Brien’s leaving today and will play shows in Grand Falls-Windsor, Corner Brook and Stephenville with Chris Kirby before heading to the Maritimes for some shows. After that it’s on to Ontario for a dozen shows around the province before coming back to St. John’s Oct. 10.

His gig plans for the tour are simple: an emphasis on the CD music with a couple new tunes thrown in, a few old songs that never made it on the album, and one or two cover songs, either by Tom Waits, Bob Dylan or Paul Simon — “just to break the ice,” O’Brien said.

“I’m just hoping people who come out will enjoy what they hear,” he said. “It’d be nice to have some people around, but ultimately if I have one person or 500 or 10,000 show up, it’s going to be people who’ve never heard me. I’m basically playing for anyone who wants to listen.”

Organizations: The Rock House, The Ship

Geographic location: Montreal, P.E.I., Grand Falls-Windsor Corner Brook Stephenville Ontario

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