Jonathan Bryant is sitting in a quiet, empty room on a wooden piano bench, moments before the show begins.
The sound of the crowd outside is creeping through the crack in the door while the ceiling is vibrating with their footsteps.
But the 23-year-old singer-songwriter isn’t showing any signs of anxiety. By the fervent smile on his face, it’s easy to see he’s eager to play his new songs to the 80 or so people filling the upper room at The Open Gate, a coffee house venue in Fall River, Nova Scotia.
Bryant’s journey to this point in his life is almost too good to be true. Earlier this year, he recorded some demo tracks with a friend in a local studio, put them up on a MySpace page and told some friends.
“Within three to four hours, a friend of mine from Calgary, Alberta, who works in a studio called Six Degree Studios contacted me and said, ‘Anytime you are able on a weekend, fly out to Calgary and I’ll give you free recording time,’” said Bryant. “I was blown away.”
The opportunity was too good to resist and so he packed his guitar, boarded a plane and headed out West for two weeks.
“It’s interesting how people from all these parts of my life are starting to come together,” he said.
“Within the two weeks that I had to prepare for my studio time in Calgary, I refined my songs I had already recorded,” he said, adding that he wrote two new songs during his stay there.
His songwriting comes across as brutally honest and he’s not apologetic about it.
“I don’t want to put music up there that’s easy to digest. I like music that makes you think,” he says with a straight face.
Bryant’s unwavering faith in God bleeds throughout his music but he doesn’t sing directly about his Christian faith nor does he preach at his listener. He cites artists like Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Thrice’s Dustin Kensrue as inspiration; people who can portray difficult concepts like grace, love and truth without mentioning those words and still get the message across.
As for the music itself, it is primarily acoustic. Bryant reluctantly describes his sound as acoustic, folk, with a touch of jazz and the blues.
“People say you have to define yourself as a musician but I don’t like to label myself as a pop artist or a folk artist,” he says. “It’s just me.”
Two of his songs, the reflective Outlive and Deaf Need Better Reasons, are based on a six-month journey through Europe he embarked on a couple of years ago.
“It was a phenomenal experience,” he said. “I actually felt like I was figuring things out in relation to who I was and my place in the world and who I was before God.”
The first line of Deaf Need Better Reasons starts with a candid confession.
“I’m still scared of routine/not quite broken in/cause when you’re on the untamed road/days don’t stay the same.”
“I’m scared of falling into the trap of comfort because in the next verse I say I’m still scared of safety and so those two tie together in that I don’t want my life to be typified by a routine Christian,” he says. “Like I’m going to wake up and pray and read my Bible. It’s more than that. It’s living by the Spirit and being in step with the Spirit and sometimes the Spirit calls you to crazy things that some Christians might not think is the coolest thing to do.”
When asked to sum his album in two words, he says tough love.
“A lot of my songs are in a way mocking the way we perceive love and truth. Love isn’t just making people feel good. Sometimes love is tough, sometimes truth is tough,” he says. “This what I’m singing about.”
Bryant, who is also studying design at NSCAD, plans to release the self-titled and self-designed album commercially by July through iTunes, CD Baby and the fair-trade music website called Noisetrade, where artists can make their album available for free download or for a reasonable price.
Getting exposure through any means necessary is vital to Bryant and wants to turn this experience into a life long career. He’s performed in pubs and coffee houses across the country and established contacts in cites such as Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, Thunder Bay and Vancouver. A couple of weeks ago, he played The Company House on Gottingen St. and was asked to come back and open for another artist.
“After I played, a guy from Edmonton came up to me and said if I’m ever playing out West to call him and he can book some shows for me,” he said. “Things are really lining up.”
As the conversation draws to a close, the voices in the hallway have ceased, the ceiling has stopped shaking and the crowd is eagerly awaiting this talented young man who is pursuing his dream and not looking back.
By Sean D. McMullen