Not Just Another Brick

Spend an evening listening to Tim Brick perform, either fronting his band “The Gypsy Highway” or playing acoustically from atop a solitary bar stool and it’s not hard to pick out some of his musical influences. Outlaw Country artists like Waylon Jennings and David Allan Coe are there, and definitely a hint of Steve Earle. You might not realize though as he works his way through some of his original tunes (songs like “Beautiful Disaster” or “All You Leave With”) that the majority of his early career in music was spent as the front man for the Heavy Metal band Cellblock One. Brick carries over that showmanship and attitude to a much different audience these days.

Tim’s time in Cellblock One spanned from 2001 until 2008, playing mostly in Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire where there was a more active Metal scene. The band released three albums, the self-titled third disc hit shelves in 2006 and contained tracks like “Gravedigger” and “War Inside My Head” – straight kick your teeth down your throat rockers. Brick was the chief song writer for the band and grew disillusioned with the cut-throat attitude in the genre. He also developed some issues with his voice from the constant abuse, often finding himself unable to even speak at the end of a busy week. So, Tim found himself where he never imagined that he would….as a country musician.

He instantly enjoyed the freedoms that the change allowed him as a songwriter; heavy metal songs always come from a place of despair, anger, or frustration. Country songs are not confined to only one side of the emotional scale. You are equally able to express love as well as heartache. When talking about the success of some young performers, Tim’s view is clear. “I don’t believe that you can sing country unless you’ve got some stuff under your belt!”

One thing that Brick has under his belt is his experience as a contestant in the 2008 Colgate Country Showdown sponsored by local radio station Froggy 100.9. Tim was just getting comfortable in his transition to country when he competed in a Battle of the Bands among central Vermont musicians. As fate would have it (and fate does play a big role as you’ll see) one of the judges was Charilyn Williams, then a receptionist in the front office at Froggy. After the contest, she approached Tim and encouraged him to enter the Showdown. He accepted, even though he had never heard of it. When the event’s host (and Charilyn’s boyfriend) JD Green called him ahead of the competition and mentioned that he was looking for someone to go first, Tim jumped at the chance. “That’s a chance for me to set the bar,” he says. He acknowledges that one of the things that set him apart from other competitors was another happy accident. He performed two original songs while other participants approached it more like karaoke, singing over a background track to a popular song. “I didn’t know that was what was expected,” he says. “I was just ignorant.”

When people ask if he won that day his reply is indicative of his outlook on life. “No, but I came out a winner.” Many of the relationships that are most important to Tim now began that day. How often does someone meet five different people who will end up playing a huge part in their career all on the same day? JD Green, the Master of Ceremonies that day, is the morning host for Froggy. It is through Green’s show that many people have become better acquainted with Tim as he has become a fairly regular guest. Other connections made that day included fellow musicians Keeghan Nolan, Andre Maquera, Wayne Warner and Tracy Lord. All have made significant impacts on the music scene in Vermont. All are relationships that continue and grow.

“Just last night I was up in Burlington at Parima and on one side of me was Tracy Lord playing guitar and Gary Spaulding was on the other playing the cajon. Had you told me that day that I was in the Colgate Country Showdown in 2008 that those guys would be playing with me I would have told you that you were out of your mind!” Brick was chuckling as he said it, but it was the laugh of the cat that ate the canary.

Tim is very forthcoming when asked what his biggest fear is. “Not fulfilling my potential. I don’t care if I fail but I couldn’t live with not trying.” He’s also quick with his reply about the possibilities of reaching that potential here in Vermont. “NO! I say that emphatically. There’s a wealth of talent here, but exposure wise it’s just not happening. There have been a few artists that have broken out….Phish, Grace Potter and on the country side, Jamie Lee Thurston. But Nashville is always a beacon calling in the night.”

With that in mind, Brick’s plans include a trip (extended, he hopes) to “Music City” in the Fall of 2011. Whether he can live there full time or just to splash around in the kiddy pool, he needs to set foot in that town. “As much as I love Vermont, I’ve been here my whole life and I want to see other places. My father is a long distance truck driver. He’s driven 48 States and 7 Provinces in Canada and seen pretty much everything. I haven’t.”

Life on the road, is not an easy one. “It’s tough when you play because there are always people who want to give you anything you want. You have to be your own warden, so to speak.” Tim understands that he is a businessman, and somewhat reluctantly fills that role. “If a fan comes up to me after a show and invites me back to their place to party, I’d love to do it! But if you do that all the time, you’re not taken seriously as an artist anymore. It becomes a detriment.” Tim acknowledges that the more this has turned into a business, the harder it is to fulfill the all-important networking aspect. “Spending countless hours in the studio, playing out; I’m my own booking agent, I create my own show posters. I’m my own manager. Sometimes I have to separate myself from myself.”

Tim’s first album, “Borderline“, was released in July of 2009. As an unsigned artist, distribution was achieved by personal visits to country stores and small record shops hoping to find places willing to sell it. It was a huge learning experience as well. “When I came out with “Borderline”, I had a lot of old friends who have known that I did music for years and years and that this is my life. Different old friends would come up and be like ‘Come on, can’t you just give me a free cd?’ From an artist’s standpoint, you spend so much time working on that, and in the studio and paying for it that it’s kind of like ‘Well, if it’s not worth even $10 to you that’s kind of like all my work is not worth anything?’”

It’s this same self-awareness that moved Tim from being a part of a band to fronting one. “I realized that no one is going to work harder for me than I am. At the end of the day there is no one to blame but me, and I like that. If the ship is going to sink I want to be at the helm!”

If hard work can help keep a ship afloat, Brick has nothing to worry about anytime soon. This year he returned to the Colgate Country Showdown as a Judge. Is this the definition of “making it?” Not by a long shot. Tim’s currently working with Tracy Lord, whom he met that August day in 2008, on his second album at Lord’s MIDIMate Studios. Unlike “Borderline” which was basically a live representation of the band, this album is being “built,” with instruments being recorded separately and then layered onto a foundation. The process has been a little tough for Tim, who admits that he lacks patience sometimes. He proudly acknowledges, “It’s the best work I’ve ever done! These are the first recordings that I can listen to and kind of lose track that I’m listening to myself.”

Another change from the first album comes in the form of guest musicians. Gary Spaulding will appear on drums, Tracy Lord does some lead guitar work on a couple songs. Todd Wells will handle most of the duties on bass and TJ Powers, Tim’s lead guitarist in the Gypsy Highway will appear on selected tracks. There will also be a couple petal steel guitar players, a fiddle player, dobro players….it’s going to be more country than the Country/Rock mixture on “Borderline.”

“Remember, an audience has just as much responsibility in a show as the entertainer. It’s a big circle – the energy that they are giving each other.” Next time you see Tim’s name appearing near you, take the opportunity to go see him. I guarantee that he will leave the crowd with no choice but to complete the circle.

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