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  • Writer's pictureDavid Ullman

FAMILY ALBUM Backstory Part 6: Circles & Synthesis

Updated: Aug 5, 2022

Photo by Chris Metcalf

Other than contributing music to two family weddings and a funeral, I haven't played or sang much since the Furious Light tour—though I did do a few quarantine performances from home in 2020. Brian worked on three records that came out in 2015 and has kept busy with mixing and mastering work in the years leading up to Family Album, most of which can be heard on our Dreaming Out Loud Records website. He also lent his audio engineering expertise to—and regularly appeared on—the Long Walk Short Drink podcast I co-created in 2016. Around this time, Dad and Uncle Jack had been getting together on Wednesday nights for weekly jam sessions with a rotating crew of Rittman-area musicians. This routine inspired what would ultimately become Jack's Friends & Family album, a project recorded, mixed, and mastered by his nephew Brian.

Midway through that production, Brian went into the hospital with heart failure. "I really fucked myself up pretty bad," he shares on Long Walk Short Drink episode 50. "The doctors basically said, 'if you keep drinking [alcohol], you're going to die.' When [you're given] an ultimatum like that, I think it's easier to make a choice because it's not much of a choice. All in all, I spent about a week in the hospital—or six days, but it felt like a week." In addition to working on the Friends & Family project, Brian was also helping me with the 10th Anniversary remixed and expanded edition of our Dog Days record. These unfinished projects weighed on him while also contributing to a mounting sense of purpose.

BRIAN: I was sitting in the hospital and [the] Dog Days album was not mixed, and Jack's album was not done, and I had never published any [of my own] music. Those were things I was thinking about in the hospital bed at dark hours like, "I haven't done this, I haven't done that, [and] I'm going to fucking die!"

Although he had been writing, performing, and recording in both professional studios, as well as in his ever-improving home set-up for some twenty years, Brian's original music had never been commercially available beyond a couple of Circle Of Willis tracks appearing on limited edition compilations sold in Akron-area Best Buys.

BRIAN: There was definitely a time where I took a break from music. I [wrote] maybe a song a year, and that was a trend for a long time. But definitely, once it was threatened to be taken away from me, then I got really serious about it.

In 2019 Dreaming Out Loud Records released not one but two collections of Brian's music on all the digital platforms under his Fascist Puppeteer moniker: Mix Tape and Practicing Synthesis.

Our Dad also struggled mightily with his heath in the decades leading up to the recording of Family Album. He's survived two heart attacks (and the quadruple bypass operations that went with them), a stroke, and five neck surgeries—the last of which left him with a paralyzed vocal cord. This made it difficult to breathe comfortably without coughing and definitely made singing a challenge.

Seeing his brother struggling at the Wednesday night jams and his nephew fighting to regain his physical and spiritual strength, Jack took decisive action— just as he had in the 1970s when he mailed that 12-string guitar he'd bought in Germany to his then-guitarless brother Jimmy back home.

JACK: We was out there playing music, and one of the guys rudely took my guitar away from me to play [a song]. And then I said, "Well, I'll accompany. I'll just play the drums while you're doing your thing." I was trying to be the nice guy, and the guy says, "No, I don't need your help." I decided right then, "Okay, this guy doesn't need help. Brian needs more help than anybody in this room." So I packed up that drum kit, I drove it straight over [to Brian]. I said, "here's the first thing that's going to start your studio. Next thing is, we're going to start recording music. Next thing we're going to do, we're going to expand this." And we've done those things quite well, I think, and his health has gotten better.

BRIAN: He's like, "I'm giving you this Martin guitar and I'm giving you this drum set." And I'd just torn down my queen-size bed. So I gained this space in my room. And then it was like, "Whoa, I guess things are changing. I guess there's a nine-piece drum set coming to the house!" But just as he gave the [guitar] to dad, he did the same gift to me in his Martin guitar, and his drums, and his microphones, and allowed us to start making these full-band recordings. And yeah, it's just amazing how it's all come around as individual gifts to each other through different circles of time.


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