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Interview with Songwriter Riley Bria

by Dan Reifsnyder, GSC Reporter

Dan Reifsnyder: So tell me about how you got into music

Riley Bria: So my dad always played guitar. He’s played in some bands back in Jersey in the day. At a really young age – like 4 – I showed interest. I got lessons at 8 and took lessons until I was 14. We had a family band that started when I was about 12, and that was huge for me. That was really, really big. My dad was the musical director and he wrote the tunes. We had a standard – we all wrote tunes but we never played any of the songs that the kids wrote because they just literally weren’t good enough. Which is cool, because from a young age you have a standard set for what your show needs to be. So we did that, he wrote the songs, mom booked the shows. My older brother, Jaden, on drums, my younger brother, Spencer, on bass. I was on guitar and we all sang harmonies. We did that for about five years, and then moved here when I was 17.

DR: Who are some of your musical influences?

RB: Kieth Urban, for sure. This band called The 1975 has been real real big for me. I had an ex-girlfriend introduce them to me a few years ago, and that was a game changer listening to their music. I’m sure everyone has that kind of moment, but it just really opened my eyes. Like instead of using genres as boxes, using them as kind of a palette to paint your picture with. They kind of broke that mold. So Keith, them, I love 80’s hair metal so like Skid Row, Motley Crue, Def Leppard, and all that good stuff. Randy Rhoads was one of my favorite guitarists growing up. I don’t really play much like him, but I love his playing so much.

DR: So who do you play like?

RB: I probably play more like Keith. I really like his melodic picks. He doesn’t play fast, I get the fast stuff from the 80’s dudes and the melodic stuff from like the Keith vibe.

DR: How did you get hooked up with GSC?

RB: Actually through a friend from back home in Pennsylvania, Riley Roth.

DR: Oh I know Riley! She’s great! We’ve actually interviewed her!

RB: Yeah, she’s great. I’ve known Riley for so long. Like I know the first songs that she wrote and watched her perform it for one of the first times. Yeah, she told me about Sheree!

DR: The Rileys!

RB: Yes, the Rileys! Seriously, that’s good. I just wrote with her the other day! We had a great write! She’s amazingly talented.

DR: For sure. Great voice, great personality. How do you like Nashville verses Pennsylvania?

RB: I really like it here. The pollen sucks so hard. But the people are great, and obviously this is where the business is. I didn’t stay long enough in Pennsylvania to start hating it. You know, as a teenager you kind of start hating your home town. I left when I was 17 so I didn’t start resenting my home town. I still really like it!

DR: Weren’t you on American Idol too?

RB: Yeah! That was like 3 years ago. I was 17, we had just moved here, and my mom was like “Why don’t you go audition?” When I was 16, I played guitar with Keith Urban at a country awards show. I thought “Man, that’s a dope story to tell!” So I made it to the top 24 and got sent home. I met a lot of great people, and it was a cool thing. Sometimes people get worried about getting stuck with the brand, but 5 years down the road it’s not gonna matter. That’s something a friend of mine actually opened up my mind to recently. She was on The Voice. She was like “It was a great thing, it gave me confidence, and the stuff after that is going to be the best”. And I think that’s just a really healthy way of looking at it.

DR: So you got to play with Keith? How did that happen?

RB: The Keith thing was really cool. I was 15 when I went to this summer camp in Nashville called Grammy Camp. It’s set up for high school students who want to do music for a living and it gives them a glimpse into what that looks like. My dad drove down here, like a 14-hour drive. I was here as a session guitar player at Black River for a week. And then a few months later, they said “Hey, do you want to come play the American Country Awards with Keith Urban in Vegas?” I was like “Nah, I’ll pass!” * laughs * They didn’t know I was a huge Keith Urban fan and I was super honored to get the call. I loved that, really cool. It was actually a whole student band. I got to meet Rascall Flatts and Carrie Underwood and stuff. Rascall Flatts signed my guitar before I went on stage. It was a dope experience, and one of my favorite things I’ve gotten to do.

DR: So are you a studio musician these days?

RB: Yeah, I am. I do a lot of remote work. I can do demos for people in San Francisco or Germany. That’s mostly vocal work, but most of the guitar stuff is in town.

DR: Awesome! What are some songs you wish you’d written?

RB: I’ve never gotten that question before! I like that! “Cruise” by Florida Georgia line…cuz I’d be rich as hell. For the artistry though, I probably wish I wrote “Til Summer Comes Around”. “Somebody Else” by the 1975. That was one of the songs that converted me to like them. I was like “I actively don’t like this band!” But then I heard “Sex” which is their only rock song in their entire discography and I was like “Oh they’re a rock band!” and then I heard “Somebody Else” and I was like “Oh, they’re a rock band that’s a dope ass pop band!”

DR: How would you describe your music?

RB: Like Keith Urban with a little more edge. I’m really diving into the 80’s thing right now, I’ve always loved those sounds of chorus. There are aspects of the 80’s that make it cheesy and I’m trying to make it not sound dated and still cool. Keith Urban meets Bryan Adams, meets Def Leppard, sprinkle a little bit of pop in there. And at that point, isn’t it just music?

DR: Totally. Genre is so fluid. Country is not today what it was 30 years ago.

RB: Exactly! Which is cool in a way. Just write a dope song that is catchy and working and then put a slide guitar or a banjo and it’s ready for country market.

DR: I believe I’ve done that before * laughs * So what projects are you working on right now?

RB: Honestly right now, I’m just doing this cover band thing that’s paying my bills. I’m not playing any solo shows at the moment. I’m just focused on writing, and my sound. Development is not happening anymore, so you need to do it yourself and surround yourself with people that can help you do it. Sheree being one of those people. She’s so awesome. It’s been a lot of writing and tracking and grinding on that kind of stuff. I’m in no rush! I’ve had some great mentors that told me not to be in a rush to put out music, to make it great and say what I want to say.

DR: Nice. Well, thanks for taking the time to talk with us!

RB: Thanks!