A Conversation With Bryan Porter Hinkley: On Playing With Clutch, Advertising, and His New EP, ‘We Live Through It’

Boston-based Bryan Porter Hinkley has had an interesting music career. The founder of bands like Tree and Never Got Caught, Hinkley eventually became a guitar tech for Clutch, a position which led him into a full-time touring guitarist position during Clutch’s From Beale Street to Oblivion era. 

Now the owner and executive producer of Gratitude Sound, Hinkley focuses most of his energy on producing music for advertising campaigns. Despite his busy schedule, Hinkley found time to pen a new three-song EP, We Live Through It.

Don’t let Hinkley’s resume fool you: We Live Through It doesn’t sound like Clutch or Never Got Caught or Tree. Instead, We Live Through It captures Hinkley moving in a new sonic direction to appeal to a different type of audience. 

We took this as an opportunity to talk to Hinkley about his musical past and his current endeavors. 

Bryan Hinkley on Working With Gratitude Sound

Monster Riff: You’ve got a long career in music and writing full-length songs. Advertising has to feel like a different beast when it comes to songwriting, right? 

Hinkley: I sort of deal with the advertising, but they want me to do the music side of it. So sometimes that involves just presenting a song that’s already finished. And sometimes it involves starting from the beginning, sort of discussing what they’re trying to achieve with the music. Is it taking a front role? Or is it taking a backseat? And who’s the target audience? What are the brand values? Stuff like that. I feel like every single job we do is totally different. Sometimes we’re more embedded in the overall campaign. And sometimes we’re just like, “Here’s a few songs and ideas.” But I learned pretty quickly that I can’t write all the music for it. So I work with a lot of other people that help because I think, typically, they want to have a few different options to hear. If it’s just one person writing five options, they’re going to have some similarities in production value and writing style. I think it works better to get different people, and then they can choose. It’s definitely a change. And I don’t particularly think my personal writing style is the kind of music that works well with advertising. So I was forced to sort of take a new approach and make a definite separation between “This is my music that I like to write, and this is music that we’re writing for a client.” 

Monster Riff: I read that your first jingle was for Dunkin’ Donuts. 

Hinkley: That was the first thing I did. I was touring with Clutch back in 2004. I wasn’t really interested in computers, but I ended up buying one because it’s kind of important to have something on the road. This was before smartphones and I needed access. I think Jean-Paul [Gaster] gave me a copy of Reason, which is a recording software, and showed me how to use it. I would sit in my bunk after shows and put my headphones on and make these crazy beats that were almost like video game music. I was just excited. I was amazed at the sort of depth of what you can do with a program like that. I was just making some things and sending them to my friends and saying, “Hey, listen to this thing I made.” And one of the guys just happened to be working at an ad agency and said, “Oh, can I use this for a Dunkin’ commercial?” It was a five second piece of music, but they gave me a check that wasn’t crazy, but it was like $5,000. A thousand dollars a second. I was like, “Yeah, that’s not bad.” I was excited to have my stuff associated with a brand. I sort of thrive on validation. You know, I write music for myself, but I never know if it’s good or not. So the fact that someone was willing to pay for it and use it to represent their brand made me feel good.

"We Live Through It" Cover Art

Bryan Hinkley On the Cover Art for We Live Through It

Monster Riff: Before we even talk about the music on We Live Through It, I want to talk about the cover art. I don’t know if you’re familiar with The Heavy Eyes, but they have a similar art style on their album covers. They’re a really bluesy Stoner Rock band, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I started the EP. Talk about the significance of the lion and the bull. 

Hinkley: Yeah, so the guy who did the artwork, Jimbob, was in a band called Taint. He had another band called Hark from Wales. And I met him while I was touring with Clutch. I’ve seen the art he’s been doing, and he does tattoos and a lot of illustrations. 

The concept behind the artwork is this old Iranian or Mesopotamian image, or maybe in a bunch of different ancient cultures, they have that image of the lion biting the bull. And what I learned was that in a lot of those ancient cultures, the bull represents the moon, because the horns are kind of like a crescent. And the lion represents the sun because of the mane. The idea is sort of like the cycle of life. Things live and die and then come back and live and die. When you die, you go toward another life. If you turn into soil, things grow from it. So, basically, it represents regeneration and is the equivalent of day and night and coming back to life in general.

A lot of the songs that I was writing were kind of about the idea of change, and not really transmutation, but the idea of living and dying in a cycle of life. So I wanted to use that image. 

After another artist didn’t work out, I came across Jimbob’s page, and I was like, “Oh, maybe I can get him to do it!” So, I asked him to do it and he wanted to. He does a lot of artwork for super heavy music. Maybe it doesn’t line up with a typical expectation for what the music that I did sounds like, but I like it.

Bryan Hinkley On Developing the Sound for We Live Through It

Monster Riff: You’ve played in a number of bands: Tree, Never Got Caught, Clutch. Your sound has traditionally been a little harder. But that isn’t the case here. I’ve read a little about when you were growing up, your mom played you a lot of folk music. How did you arrive at the sound for We Live Through It?

Hinkley: I’ve always had a pretty diverse taste in music. When Grandmaster Flash came out, I was like, “Wow, what’s this? This is great!” I’ve always listened to Hip-Hop. I’ve listened to Rock, Classic Rock, Led Zeppelin. I think I was maybe about 11 or 12 when I started listening to bands like Minor Threat, the first Suicidal Tendencies record, and faster stuff like Bad Brains and Circle Jerks. I don’t like the idea of playing just one style of music. It’s nice for the audience to just have some understanding of what the music is going to sound like. I feel like maybe Ween is a good band that has a good variety of sounds. 

Monster Riff: It’s very hard to pigeonhole Ween. 

Hinkley: Yeah, most bands have a style. I wanted to create something new. A lot of my friends don’t like heavy music, and some of them would listen to some of the music I worked on in the past and instantly recognize it as having a loud guitar and being heavy music. For a while, I’ve been wanting to make something that I could play for my mom or, you know, somebody who’s sort of outside of that scene because the heavy underground space is pretty limited. There’s a certain group of people who like it, and the people outside of the box don’t really understand the appeal. If I play something for my wife, she’s like, “Why would you even like that? It’s just sounds.” So, for people like her, I wanted to make something that would be soft enough that they would have an open mind to listen to it.

But I still wanted to give it energy. So, [before I wrote the album], I hadn’t been doing a lot of stuff. And my friends asked me to do an acoustic performance at a show. They asked me to open and I was like, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” It forced me to pick up the guitar and start practicing. I was like, “I gotta get something together for this! It’s coming up in two weeks!” I didn’t really have any songs ready, but the time I took to rehearse reminded me how much I enjoy just playing the guitar. That sort of sparked the desire to sort of write some more songs.

I believe that if a song sounds good just on the guitar, then it’s a good song. But I think a lot of times people get persuaded by the tone or the volume or the sounds that they’re developing, and that tends to overpower the actual song. So I tried to make some songs that would sound good whether you play them on piano or guitar or whatever. 

Monster Riff: I love the title for the opening track, “Red Bull and Gasoline.” 

Hinkley: Yeah, it’s really Rock and Roll. I mean, it started out like more of a Country kind of a song because when I started writing it, it almost sounded like a Country song. And I didn’t really have any lyrics, it was just a melody and the riff and chord progression. I was thinking about touring and when you’re touring in a van or whatever. When you’re with a band, it’s almost like you’re a truck driver. There’s a kinship that you feel with truck drivers because you spend so much time on the highway, and you’re going to truck stops and stuff. I was just kind of thinking about going to fill up for gas and buy a couple Red Bulls and get back and drive another seven hours to try to make the show. That’s what sort of sparked the title.

Bryan Hinkley On Collaborating With Jean-Paul Gaster

Monster Riff: What was it like to record with Jean-Paul Gaster (the drummer for Clutch) again? 

Hinkley: Well, for this one, he did the drums on his own down in Maryland. So I just sent him the music, and he played drums and sent it back to me. And then I kind of redid some things, and sent it back to him, and then he redid the drums. It was a little bit of back and forth there. But there was no energy in that sense of writing together. 

But, you know, we did record together in the past. He’s an incredible drummer, as are all the people in Clutch. They’re all top-level musicians and people. I love the music that they write. It’s a great band, but I feel like a lot of times I when I was playing, I would look to JP to sort of fire up the vibe on stage. Because, you know, drums are loud, drums are physical, and he tends to enjoy himself when he’s playing, so you can kind of look at him and feel what he’s feeling. With the guitar, it’s kind of a delicate instrument. You have to really take it easy on the strings or it’s gonna sound crazy.

In the case of this EP, I just sent it to him, kind of like with the Dunkin’ Donuts thing. I was like, “Hey, check out this stuff I’m making.” And he was like, “Hey, that sounds really good.” And then it was like, “Oh, well, maybe you can play some drums on it.” And he was like, “Alright, I’ll do it.” I think he did one song first as I was still writing the other ones. And then I was like, “You know, here’s two more.” And so he did it. We didn’t talk too much about it. But I was definitely excited that he was willing to play on it because, number one, he’s an amazing drummer. And number two, I like him a lot. And it’s cool to have him associated.

Bryan Hinkley On Clutch

Monster Riff: Speaking of Clutch, you toured with them for four years, is that right?

Hinkley: Something like that. I started in 2004. The first tour I did was Clutch, High on Fire, and Fu Manchu. It was a great tour. And then we did the Sounds of the Underground Festival, so 2004 until I guess 2008 or 2009. I loved it. I never anticipated being out on the road with them. Now, when I used to play in the band Tree, we would do a lot of tours together, opening for them. And I would get up and play with them on stage a lot. And it was fun, you know. And then when I went out, I went out as a guitar tech. Some nights, as I was working, they would say, “Do you want to come and play?” And I started learning more songs. And I started spending more time on stage playing. And then I was working and performing, which I loved. And then after they did the Beale Street record, and we did those tours where they had the organ and harmonica, and I was playing, I think they got to a point where they’re like, “This is too much. We just want to go back to the four original people.” So I went back out with them. And I was just working. And it was difficult for me to not be playing anymore. And so, I think I realized at that point that this isn’t really what I want to do with my life. I don’t want to be a guitar tech for the rest of my life. So I had to make the tough choice of saying, “I don’t think I’m gonna do it anymore.” I definitely miss it. I miss the travel. And I miss the companionship of hanging out with people. It’s like a little family on the road. But I’m very happy with my life the way it is. 

Monster Riff: Clutch has a reputation for having a very persistent touring schedule. Were they touring really hard back then? 

Hinkley: They did a few tours that were pretty lengthy. But normally it would be like you’re out for six weeks, and then some time off. And then you know, maybe three weeks off, and then you’re back out for another six weeks, and then a few more weeks off. Some bands will do a five-month tour, you know, which I feel is a little more rigorous. I loved it, so I wouldn’t really complain about it. Because I enjoyed it. There were certain days when after 10 shows in a row, you’d be in a town that wasn’t your favorite off the beaten path, maybe in a cold, dark down in upstate New York or something, and you might not be that great. It’s difficult. You’ve got to get all the equipment up four flights of stairs or whatever. There’s times when it kind of sucks, but you know, in general, it’s pretty good.

Monster Riff: For a lot of the bands we talk to, the members seem to have at least one or two absolute horror stories about touring.

Hinkley: Yeah. Well, the first one I could think of is when we were on tour with Motörhead in the UK, and they had rented an organ for the organ player, and there was a rumor going around the camp that it used to belong to the Deep Purple organ player, John Lord. This is a really cool organ that we rented. And you know, it was strapped to this like thing and it’s a heavy piece of equipment. And every day we would have to lift it up, you know, if there’s no ramp. We’d get eight people around it and lift it onto the stage. One of the other problems is the weight. It’s got a lot of weight here. And it’s kind of light on the side. There was one day we’re getting it up on the stage, and moving it over, and it started to tip and the whole thing just fell over, and it smashed on the ground. And, basically, we just kind of wrecked this classic piece of equipment. I felt responsible for it. I was the stage manager at the time. It’s my responsibility to get the thing up there safely. I don’t know how it happened, but it toppled over. They sent us a little Nord keyboard to replace it. It was a bummer for me. 

Monster Riff: While we’re talking about Clutch, Neil Fallon is an accomplished vocalist. He’s also contributed vocal tracks to a ton of different artists. Dozer comes to mind, but so does Lionize, Volbeat, and even Never Got Caught’s “Slipping Out.” Did he record that with the band?

Hinkley: The band recorded that in Brooklyn with me at Andrew Snyder’s space, Dumbo. He’s done a bunch of great music for bands like Unsane and Daughters, but he does really well getting a heavier sound than we probably were. And then we were on tour in London, and I brought the music because it still hadn’t been mixed yet. I asked Neil if he would sing on it. And so I think he recorded that in the basement of some club in London between the soundcheck and showtime, and he just kind of did a few takes for me, and then we just kind of put it together afterwards. It was pretty cool. It was just like, “Here’s a mic.” He’s a very talented guy. It would have been great to have him write some lyrics, but I was just happy that he sang on the record.

You can learn more about We Live Through It on Bryan Hinkley’s website. You can also hear Porter play during The Town & The City Festival.

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