One reason Fort Wayne’s music community is so strong is that there is very little attrition. Thanks to opportunities for work, often locally for Sweetwater, and plenty of venues in which to play, there are many musicians who were featured in the early days of Whatzup (that would be the mid-90s for the young whippersnappers who might wonder) who are still delivering great music and performances today.
Brian Lemert is one such performer. With his new release, East of Where You’ve Been, he provides catchy hooks and lyrics of nostalgia and poignancy.
Writing about real life
His decision to record new music reflects how he has changed in the past two decades and how his writing process has evolved along the way.
“My approach has changed a great deal over the years,” Lemert said. “I write about life experiences now, whereas I used to write things that I thought would be cool. Music is much more a place for the song to live, a way to support the story. Back then I would write the music first and the words later.”
Recording as Onionhead in the 1990s, Lemert gained considerable attention for one particular song, “Supersonic Rock and Roll Star.” He compared his approach then to how he approached the recording of East of Where You’ve Been.
“When I was doing Onionhead, I played all the parts,” he said. “But this time I was happy to do the vocals and guitar and let other people come in and bring their talents to it. There are very few artists who can play all the parts. Very few Princes or Lenny Kravitzs. Mike Campbell didn’t have Tom Petty telling him how to play. Keith Richards doesn’t have Mick Jagger telling him how to play. They can still be great without having to play all of it.”
Happily employed at Sweetwater’s retail store, Lemert juggles musical jobs and saw the opportunity to record again as something he was ready to do.
“I wanted to do this,” he said. “There was no reason not to do this. It took about a year. I was much more efficient so if I had a good idea, I’d document it. I’d record tidbits and take good notes when I worked on them. The recording process now is much more professional. Sweetwater is really high quality, and now when I’m recording, it’s the difference between good enough and getting it right. It’s much more about crafting songs now.”
New songs for a new audience
Through his various gigs — be it Onionhead, cover bands, or original music — Lemert feels he was in a good place to focus on new music and recordings.
“Playing in cover bands in bars like I was doing for so long, it’s just a different mindset than when you’re writing,” Lemert said. “It was refreshing to write again, to get in a different head space.”
In an effort to get the music out to more people, he opens for the Yacht Rock Revue at the Sweetwater Performance Pavilion on July 25, a slot he sought out as a way to introduce more people to his new music.
“I asked to open that show,” he said. “I talked to the people booking Yacht Rock Revue and the Sweetwater Pavilion and asked if I could perform the record in an acoustic set. I thought that was a good way to present it since there’s no setup needed for an acoustic set. And I picked that particular show because I think the record appeals to a wide enough variety that it would go well with the Yacht Rock Revue. That show isn’t a band tribute. It’s really a genre tribute, so it’s going to attract a wider audience, too.”
Thankful for the support
Lemert appreciates the support he has received over the years, including the love “Supersonic Rock and Roll Star” brought him in 1996. He credits his many influences including one particular Fort Wayne radio icon.
“I was young when I started playing music and played a lot of small halls then I had some success with Onionhead when I was just 23,” Lemert said. “It was a big deal. It was awesome for me as a local artist to find people who had faith in me. It was great. That song was a product of growing up listening to the Beatles and connecting it to what was going on at that time. I think we’re all a product of what we were listening to when we were kids.
“And sometimes the DJs we listened to were as important as the musicians we were listening to, and Doc [West] is one of those guys. If Doc mentioned your band name on the radio, that was it. It was so big. It sets the bar higher than you could otherwise get to.”
Lemert is also pleased with the response to his new music, appreciating those who have already listened and looking forward to sharing it with new audiences in the months ahead.
“I am so proud of this record,” he said. “People are listening to it as music and not just as my friend. I’m also getting a lot of compliments from non-musicians which means a lot to me, too.”
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