- Courtesy of Lyle Brewer
- Lyle Brewer with son Elliott
What follows are selections from my recent conversation with Boston-based guitarist and educator Lyle Brewer. Brewer has been playing live in Burlington for many years, first as a member of the Ryan Montbleau Band and more recently in solo shows at the Light Club Lamp Shop, which he considers one of his musical homes.
I spoke with Lyle about how he's staying afloat as a working musician; parenting his 9-year-old son, Elliott, with his ex-partner; and finding a new perspective in the age of COVID-19.
On adapting to changes at home
We've had to set boundaries in the house. We sit around the breakfast table and make a schedule for the whole day. I'll say, "This is the work environment for the next hour, and then we can have a wrestling match!" We've had to develop a structure on our own.
On helping Elliott understand safety protocols
One of the hardest things to explain to him is that everyone's supposed to be wearing masks, and a lot of people aren't. It's a drag, because we can look out our window and there's kids playing but not wearing masks. It's gotten rid of that illusion that all parents think the same. Instead, it's our family. I tell him, "Even though you're a kid and I'm an adult, we always have to be on the same page. We have to do certain things even if other people aren't doing them."
On the unexpected benefits of being home together
I was able to see how really independent he's become, because he had to do all his homeschooling on the computer. I was shocked at how on top of it he was. You can only gain so much understanding of how your kid is when they're at school.
On exposing Elliott to the guitar in a natural way
I want him to feel what it feels like to be really good at something. Excelling at an activity allows you to have a deeper connection with what you're doing. But the fact that I do it makes it so much less cool! The hardest thing is knowing when to cut him some slack and when not to. I'm very relaxed most of the time, but if I see him try something and give up right away, it's not good to develop that relationship with the world.
On what it felt like when music venues started closing
It was definitely disappointing. I've put a lot of work into trying to be able to travel in a way that worked with my schedule with Elliott. I had plans to go to Nashville. I was going to go to Chicago. I was going to do a show at [jazz guitarist] Charlie Hunter's place in Greensboro [N.C.]. I was going to go to Montréal. That all got canceled. I was pretty disappointed at first, and then the whole world shut down.
On teaching guitar online to earn extra money
I started a Patreon [online teaching] site in 2018, and when the pandemic hit, I made an effort to pay more attention to that. I promoted it a lot more and was able to earn more money from it, so that's a way of getting by.
On making his pandemic album Hold On
I didn't really have plans to make a record. But I realized I could just get a home recording setup, record at home, make the discs, promote through Instagram, and do all the orders through direct messaging and PayPal. Getting that system in place to supplement gigs took a little bit of work at first, but I've figured out how it works. The value is investing in things that you care about artistically. I'm able to play the music that I want, and it still makes financial sense for me, which is all I've ever really wanted.
On what the pandemic might mean for musicians going forward
I hope that it's a humbling experience for everyone. It could be this thing that brings us together and makes us feel like we're all trying to do the same thing. I think that, [moving forward,] musicians won't overlook the importance of making money in other ways besides live shows. You'll see people finding more value in their interactions with fans. It's made people aware of the value of things like Instagram and Twitter and YouTube.
Social media has a reputation as something that only makes people feel bad and stifles creativity, but that hasn't been my experience at all. I've gotten to meet a lot of my childhood heroes. It's given me a voice that I wouldn't have had otherwise.