Brain is the nom de guerre of Bryan Mantia, a drummer, composer and producer known for playing drums in Primus and with Tom Waits, Guns N Roses, Buckethead, as well as scoring and recording music for movies and video games. We caught up with Brain to talk about his life behind the kit, the world of electronic music production he’s built, and how he began to grow beyond the role of a drummer with an intense exploration of a wide array of composition techniques.
For starters, who are you and what do you do?
My name is “Brain” and I am a Musician and Composer. As a drummer I’ve played for Guns n’ Roses, Primus, Tom Waits and Buckethead, to name a few. As a composer I’ve composed music which has been used by Sony, Universal, HBO, Showtime, ABC, CBS, NBC and many more.
How did you get started playing music?
I was hooked on music after I saw the film “The Song Remains The Same”!!! When the camera creeped on Jimmy Page and he was effin around with that music box…BOOM, that was it!!! I haven’t stopped since!!!
What have you been up to lately?
I just finished the score for “Bodied”. It’s a film by director Joseph Kahn. It’s about the underground Battle Rap scene set in Oakland CA. It’s like 8 Mile meets Social Network! Should be hitting theaters by the end of the year!
Does your drumming experience influence your electronic music compositions?
Yes, learning all styles of music from Rock to Junkanoo has helped my rhythm programming immensely. Cliff Martinez who is one of my fav composers started as a drummer.
How has new technology changed the way you produce?
I mean, just the fact that I can collaborate with someone across the globe who has a completely different culture, background, musical style, etc. than me. This is amazing when it comes to creating new sounds and feelings.
On top of that, you can find others music through social networks such as Soundcloud, listen to what they have to offer, and then decide to work with them. It’s ridiculous!!
When did you start experimenting with MIDI and electronic percussion? Has much changed since then?
Well I owned one of those Simmons SDS-5 kits back in the day…That formica top on those babies were ridiculous…hahaha…Shit that was a long time ago…Anyway, I was always into electronic percussion…I loved incorporating that stuff with my acoustic drums…I also dug triggering my drums…I was a big fan of that hybrid sound!!!
As far as MIDI…I was effin with it ever since Bruce Forat from Forat Electronics sold me his version of a pimped out Linn 9000…I was so into the feel of that dog…I sequenced everything with that bad boy… The processor was so slow and I think that’s why it had the coolest feel!!! Now with DAW based control systems operating via existing USB/Thunderbolt or wirelessly, whatever the newest connections are…I’m not sure WTF is going on…LOL.
How did you get started doing composition for films and games?
I was being hired by Sony Music to play drums on some movies and video games…We were all hangin’ at the studio one night and I told one of the head producers that I was also interested in composing and had been studying with this bad ass pianist/composer for the last 5 years. He was like “cool, let me hear some of it”!!! So the next day I brought in some stuff to play him and he loved it. He asked me to write some music for the game I was playing drums on and ever since then I’ve been hooked!!!
Tell me more about going back to study composition…
I was on tour with Primus… I think we were in Vienna with Slayer… I was hangin’ backstage watchin’ all these anvil cases coming down the ramp. Slayer’s drum cases started coming down and they looked all beat up and destroyed… They had stickers from every country in the world stuck to them. All I could think about was if I continued playing drums and livin’ on the road my whole life, that I would become like those road cases. So as soon as I got back from that tour I dove right into learning about composing and computers and music. I literally wore out every engineer I knew about sound… I took logic lessons from BT’s head programmer and I learned how to use Pro Tools from this guy Eric Caudieux (he was known around LA as the dude who invented drum editing and for telling the fools over at Digidesign how to run their shit). I was taking piano lessons 5 days a week; three with this jazz pianist- we would sit around for hours listening to Keith Jarrett trying to figure out what the eff he was doin’- the other two days with this classical chamber music gal. We would work out of Slonimsky’s Theaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns. I also was having hour-long conversations with this music professor dude about that book by Hermann von Helmholtz On the Sensations of Tone… This all seems pretty ridiculous now because the only thing I can remember from that time was a quote I read from Jimmy Page. He said, “It’s 99 percent how you look — It’s 99 percent how you look”.
What’s some advice you’d go back and give to yourself when you were just starting out?
Get out of your comfort zone! You settle into routines too much. Break those habits and put yourself in situations where you may not be the most comfortable. It will help you grow. What’s that saying “success is one foot out of your comfort zone”. Lol…Somethin’ like that!!!
Anything exciting coming up? What’s next for Brain?
Yeah man…Working on the new “Tremors 6” movie right now and touring with Buckethead later this year!!!