Bryan Estepa is one of the quiet successes of Sydney music. It’s very clear why: Estepa has always had a knack for an insistent sweetly-voiced melody, and for blending his eclectic musical tastes (from classic singer-songwriter fare to California country-rock to guitar pop) into a distinctive, attractive-sounding brew. Estepa’s previous Laughing Outlaw album, Vessels, was a gritty live-sounding album; you could almost hear the sweat dripping off the walls. In contrast, Heart vs Mind is a smoother-sounding thing, full of the echoes of seventies California rock that you’d expect from a boy from Western Sydney who grew up listening to classic hits radio playlists. “I get to celebrate my love for AM radio like songs on this record,” says Estepa. “It’s pretty much ingrained in me.”
And like the The Beatles and Eagles albums Estepa grew up with, Heart vs Mind is getting released on vinyl. “There’s something really special about owning a vinyl record of your favourite artists and the listening experience that comes with it. It is a beautiful, tangible thing in your hands, that sounds fantastic out of your speakers,” says Estepa. To fund the costs of finishing up the album and releasing it on vinyl, Bryan asked his fans to support the album on indie ‘crowdfunding’ website Pozible, and was delighted at how quickly he reached his funding goal. “To be honest, I was and still am in shock at the instant success of my crowdfunding project! It’s really quite amazing and beautiful to me.”
Estepa’s talents are on full display on lead single ‘Seachange’, a song with the coastal, breezy feel you’d expect from the title (and a song that is going to sound great when his crowdfunding fans lower their needles onto the spinning black circles). “I wanted to write a song about the feeling of getting away from it all, travelling and starting over,” he says “I sometimes get these feelings when I’m in foreign lands and discovering the quirks and characters of small towns. You often wonder whether you can live their life.”
Considering song titles like ‘She vs Him’ and ‘Restless’, Heart vs Mind is very often about competing desires, with making choices between what you want and what you need. “Halfway through the songwriting stage, I realised that I was writing about the experiences of a fictional couple on some sort of crossroads in their relationship and life as individuals,” says Estepa. “Heart Vs Mind seemed like the best title that summed up where these two people’s heads were at.” For example, Estepa says that the song ‘If You Follow’ “is a conversation between the couple; they realise that a change is needed, but there’s always the fear of failure and of getting out of their comfort zone.”
Asked why he chose Adrian Deutsch as a producer, Bryan says, “I normally come into the recording of any of any new album with some sort of vision of how I want it to sound or what direction it’s going to have. But this time around, I wanted to take off the producer’s hat and let someone else take charge.” Bryan had long been a fan of Deutsch’s musical endeavours – “I’ve always been a big fan of Adrian’s songs during his Red Rider Days and his solo albums floored me” – but apparently sealing the deal with Adrian “was a purely instinctive decision, sealed over a Chinese meal and a Sydney Kings basketball game!”
Estepa says that Deutsch understood his music, coming from a similar musical background, but that “it was exciting hearing his ideas for each song and the unexpected references he would be making. I mean, we listened and talked about everything from Jimmy Webb & Elvis Costello to the production of today’s R&B and hip hop songs. He wanted me to look at my songs and be open to production ideas I normally would avoid or not even see. The other thing he brought to my music is ‘space’. Everything just seemed to be more open sounding but still quite cohesive. All the instruments found its rightful place in the mix.”
A good example of Deutsch’s influence is ‘Overnight’. Bryan says that “I envisioned ‘Overnight’ to be the big jangly guitar pop song…like a cross between Teenage Fanclub and The Byrds.” But Deutsch “started playing a piano groove over my chords and a funky bass line, which pretty much sealed its fate as a ‘yacht rock’ like song.
Mind you, there’s still a fair bit of rock on the album. “‘Them Fighting Words’ reflects some of the classic guitar pop I grew up with as a teen in the 90s”, says Estepa. “I was always drawn to bands like You Am I, Sloan, The Lemonheads, Teenage Fanclub, and Weezer.” ‘In A Minute’, too, has a nervy punky feel to it. “In my head, I was hearing early Elvis Costello & The Attractions, but the song started its life on a much cruisier, slower mode, more jangle and less bite,” says Estepa. “I actually started recording this song for Sunday Best (Estepa’s 2nd album) but forgot about the tune until Dan Nash, who produced Sunday Best, reminded me of it.” When Deutsch got a hold of it, “he was insistent on making it more urgent and snappy. He was right.” Which is fair enough on a song about how things never last.
The album ends with the beautiful ‘Nobody Has To Know’, a haunting piano-based ballad reminiscent of ‘Edible Flowers’ by the Finn Brothers or ‘Holocaust’ by Big Star. “I wanted to end the album on a gentle note. I love albums that finish in this way. Gives you a chance to take in all that you have heard. I also like how this song doesn’t really tell you whether this couple has pulled through or have crumbled. Like that final scene in a movie where the ending is not fully explained and left to your imagination.”