by Gayle Richardson
After taking an almost 10-year hiatus, a move that would signal the end of most careers, Bryan White is boldly reappearing on the country music scene. Releasing his latest studio album, 'Dustbowl Dreams' this week, Bryan explains what took him so long, and why now is the time to come back.
"After a decade of building my career and being on the road so much, I was spent, mentally and physically," he says. "I knew I needed to get away and take some time to breathe and do some of the other things I had always dreamed of."
Those things include marrying actress Erika Page and becoming father to two boys. Now, with the long respite behind him, Bryan is ready to step back into the music scene, assuring fans the music will be worth the wait.
"I found my true identity, not only as an artist and a songwriter, but as a human being," Bryan says."I realize now that life is an incredible gift and it's meant to be lived on purpose. Music is a gift and a great vehicle, but it's really about what happens beyond the music for me. What kind of legacy did I leave as a husband, as a father, and a friend?"
The album centers around Bryan's journey away from home, which in many ways took him right back to where he started. "The song 'Dustbowl Dreams' was inspired by my pride as an Oklahoman, my fascination with my lineage and history, and identifying with the grit, soul and spirit of Oklahomans, especially during the Great American Dustbowl. I love to think of myself as a product of their perseverance. 'Dustbowl Dreams' is, in essence, the American dream."
Even though there are plenty of new faces on the country scene now, Bryan, who scored four No. 1 singles, isn't worried about achieving any of his earlier success again. "I've already swung the bat hard and put the ball out of the park. I have nothing left to prove but I have a lot more to say,"
Bryan's 'Dustbowl Dreams' is available now.
Limewire By: Chuck Dauphin
The year was 1990. Bryan White was a junior in high school, and one Tuesday early in the school year, he decided that he would take a few minutes and disappear from school during his lunch break. Was it a romantic rendezvous or a chance for some wild and reckless living while his friends were in class? Actually, it was neither. Steve Wariner, one of White’s musical heroes, was releasing a new album that day, entitled Laredo, and the teenager just couldn’t wait to tear off the cellophane. “I was so passionate about music, especially about Steve’s music,” White tells LimeWire. “I would get the breakdown on a new record. I would ask the store owner when a new record was coming in and they would tell me. I would literally get the breakdown and find out when the shipment was coming in. I remember one specific day skipping my lunch break, and driving way out of my school zone to get Laredo.”
“You become a better songwriter because life makes you a better songwriter, and I think this record is a great example of that. I really didn’t hold anything back. In records past, I think that I was always more focused on writing hits, but on this one, I wanted to do something honest and real.”
Though close to two decades have passed since then, White’s passion for music remains intact, and it comes through loud and clear on his new album, Dustbowl Dreams, his first full-length release in a decade (since 1999’s How Lucky I Am). White says the time away from the spotlight has been a good thing for him, stating that “the end of the ’90s was a good time for me because I stepped away to take a break, which was a bit longer than I anticipated, but it was all good. It was kind of a soul-searching time, about getting in touch with who I was.” With marriage to actress Erika Page and fatherhood with two sons, Justin and Jackson, other changes also came into play. “I became a dad and pursued some things I always wanted to do, like becoming a parent.” The life experiences gave him plenty of creative juice. “In turn, there’s a lot of great inspiration that happened along the way. I just started writing about my life, and the next thing I knew I had a group of songs together that I was really proud of. I thought ‘Well, let’s get back in here and start doing this’, and a few years later…here we are!”
With the first new single released to country radio being “The Little Things,” White is telling the world about his happy state of mind right now. After listening to the whole album, one notices that Dustbowl Dreams is more true to Bryan White as a person than any other album he has released. Though many artists have used that quote to talk about an album in the past, he says that “While it may be cliché, when an artist isn’t saying something like that, it kind of isn’t a good thing. That’s what you do when you start to make records — to keep learning and doing something that is more honest each time. There’s a lot of heavier subjects here. You become a better songwriter because life makes you a better songwriter, and I think this record is a great example of that. I really didn’t hold anything back. In records past, I think that I was always more focused on writing hits, but on this one, I wanted to do something honest and real.”
The title cut, which kicks off the album, definitely fits that description. “That’s a really personal song for me,” he admits. “It’s probably the most autobiographical thing I’ve ever written. All the time off for me was good, but a lot of it came from some struggles that I was having. I needed to get away. I went through a small depression in the early part of this decade. I lost my grandpa, who was dear to me and kind of like my father figure. A lot of those struggles inspired me to write about it, and that caused me to look at who I was. I really identified again with the struggles that Oklahomans went through with the Dustbowl [and] the Oklahoma City bombing. I started digging into that history and going back. That’s what I did with this song, which is a real badge of honor for me.”
White has always made great songs, whether from his own pen or from other writers. One tunesmith that he feels a special kinship with is Skip Ewing. The vastly-underrated balladeer released several albums for MCA and Capitol in the ’80s and ’90s, but is primarily known for the songs he has written for other artists. Three of those hits belong to White. “Skip and I have a history with each other. A great part of my career I credit to him. I had three number ones in a row that he wrote (”Someone Else’s Star,” “Rebecca Lynn,” and “I’m Not Supposed To Love You Anymore”). I guess there was just something about my voice and what I wanted to sing about, that Skip seemed to be doing that for a long time. I heard those songs, and thought ‘I really want to sing that.’ You can’t explain it…it’s like something to do with divinity or something. Needless to say, I’m grateful that our paths crossed!”
No doubt familiar with Ewing’s original recordings of some of the aforementioned songs, White admits to being very much into liner notes on albums. “That’s what it was about to me as a kid. I was just excited about music, and when something was new from an artist admired, I couldn’t wait to get it. I love seeing who played on what track, and who wrote what. I think that should never go away — although you can go completely digital and buy all the music online, I think it’s really important to hang on to that.”
As the singer gets ready to launch another phase of his career, LimeWire asked him about his initial burst of stardom. Not more than two years after graduating, White was on the roster of Asylum Records, where he began charting with “Eugene (You Genius).” Of his quick rise, which also included the 1996 CMA Horizon Award, he said, “I think it was really amazing, and I take time to be grateful for it. Everything did happen fast. I don’t have a sob story like a lot of people have, and I still can’t explain how it all happened. I believe it was one of those divine moments where I was put in the right place at the right time and met the right people, and for whatever reason my sound was whatever was needed at that time in the marketplace, and people got excited about it.”
Having seen the top of the Music City mountain, White feels that takes some of the pressure off at this point in his career. “I do believe it happened fast, which is kind of a blessing, because jumping back in, I don’t feel an immense amount of pressure. I’ve swung the bat a few times and done pretty well with it. Some people might look at it like ‘You’re starting over again’, but I don’t look it like that. Yes, we’ve got our hurdles to jump over, but having been able to do that kind of stuff at a young age, that’s a blessing — especially now.”
Launching the album for White is exciting for sure, but it’s something he feels he has a little bit of experience with. “It’s kind of like riding a bike,” he says, admitting that some things have changed within himself. “I guess the thing that’s different this time around is that I’m way more grateful than I have ever been. Every opportunity I get, I’m overly thankful. I’m so much more a people person than I was when I got started. I just got out of high school, and didn’t really know who I was…and you’re touring the country, talking to radio stations and you don’t know how to talk, because you haven’t found you yet. I really value people and relationships, and that’s a difference.
“I really identified again with the struggles that Oklahomans went through with the Dustbowl [and] the Oklahoma City bombing. I started digging into that history and going back. That’s what I did with this song, which is a real badge of honor for me.”
In this writer’s opinion, the highlight of the album is the emotional “When You Come Around.” It’s definitely the type of song that shows White’s growth as a writer, and not one that you probably would have found on any of his discs in the 1990s. Talking about the song, he says that “I have had that idea for a really long time, and I wanted to say something like that.” The song is based on first-hand experience. “A lot of people don’t know, but I have a father who has dealt with alcoholism for most of my life. I finally got to a place where I wanted to write a song about that — but when you do that, it’s so easy to come across as judgmental or like you’re pointing a finger, and I didn’t want to do that. If I was going to write something about that, it had to be hopeful, and it had to have grace, and it had to have a redemptive outlook. I wrote it with two other guys who have had the same situation in their family, as well. We all had a common ground, and they helped me say what I wanted to say…but in the right way. I don’t perform it a whole lot live, because I haven’t gotten to the point that I can. It’s really personal, and knowing my father has heard that song — that kills me as well. That’s a real issue in life and history. Many people are dealing with that, and I realize now, looking back, how great it was that we did write a song like that, and hopefully that will be a song that will help people in their lives, as well.”
A lot has changed since White went to the record store to pick up Laredo, but he’s glad to be back with new music, and equally proud that Dustbowl Dreams includes a duet with Wariner: “Hands Of Time,” a song the pair penned together for Steve’s 1998 album, Two Teardrops. When asked about recording with the singer he has so long admired, he said that “I always tell people he’s one of those people that you’re just grateful to know him — even if he had nothing to do with music. If he had no musical talent, he’d be the kind of person you’d just want to be around. He’s that kind of guy, you know.”