I interviewed a good friend of mine, Andy Carper, a while back on a Russian martial art called Systema. It was an interesting talk, I thought, because I'm typically judging him in the corner for doing it. The conversation we had, though, was not only engaging, but entertaining, as well. I've interviewed several people, some multiple times, over the course of my time at Odyssey, and Mr. Carper picked up on that.
So, in response, he wanted to interview me.
I thought it was an interesting idea, given I've been asking all the questions. But, in all honesty, I'm not good with answers. Either way, it happened, and we did it. It may seem a little self-involved, maybe even a little pretentious. But, come on guys, when you don't have an idea for an article, you interview someone. If that doesn't pan out, have someone interview you.
There's a lot to squeeze out of this thing. I even learned things about myself that I wouldn't have known if it weren't for Andy. He's an empathetic interviewer, to say the least. He listens to you and reacts. I have been known to doze and drift. Of course, those things never make it into my articles.
It's an extraordinary feeling having someone ask you questions, like you're an important element in this large world. It's strange being on the other side of things, but now I know what it's like. I can only hope to make the experience this great for other people.
All credit goes to Andy.
Brandon: Alright, man. Lay ‘em on me.
Andy: Are you recording?
I’ve been recording.
Oh, my; this is embarrassing. Guess I should put my dick away, then. I’m not really sure how to do this. When you do an interview with someone, how do you usually delve into it?
Oh, is that how we’re doing this? That’s your lead in? I mean, I interviewed you before, and that didn’t go that well. See, I fix it all in post. I listen to it, add a couple words in there to make it flow better. People don’t know that. I say this is the exact transcript. Well, I used to, then I realized I was just lying to them.
All the interviews you’ve got have such good rhythm. It’s difficult when you’re interviewing someone that’s not a professional who’s used to being interviewed; they aren’t necessarily good with rhythm.
It’s hard because people aren’t themselves when they’re being interviewed, you know? Like my dad, for instance. I could tell in the inflection in his voice that he felt like he was being cornered in a way. It was more of an interrogation than a conversation. I don’t like to interview that way. I also don’t prepare much.
I feel like if you prepare too much, it loses that spontaneity and honesty.
The thing about that, if you ask one question, then it flows into the next one, and the three after that. You’ll see that half your questions are answered and it’s only been a minute or two. Then you’ll get flustered and spiral. Talking points are a better way to go.
So, you and I first met in high school. I feel like we’re about to cross that edge and it’s going to get uncomfortable. They call it the Hawthorne Effect. I remember studying that in sociology. People perform and behave differently when they’re under observation.
It’s fine; I like being uncomfortable.
So, a mutual friend of ours introduced us and we started playing music together. How old were you at the time? Sixteen?
Sixteen, seventeen, yeah.
I was right around seventeen and, dude, I remember that first day we jammed together like it was yesterday. It’s funny. I think we exchanged a total of four words that entire time.
And we were playing for three or four hours. When we were playing music, everything had such a great flow to it. When we stopped, everything died and it was uncomfortable.
Yeah, I try not to think about that day too much, unless you bring it up.
It’s not something to be embarrassed of. I’ve just noticed a change in you over the years. And it’s not that you were a weird guy; it’s that you were more observant than you were vocal.
And I’m still that way, but a little more outspoken.
That’s what I’ve noticed. The number of interviews you’ve done, you’ve got the podcast out now…I feel like we’re starting to see the true Brandon Berry.
It’s very interesting. I believe you have a unique outlook on life.
Okay, what’s my outlook? Just curious.
You’re just inquisitive. I really dig that in people, the ones who ask questions and want to know more, rather than just accepting things at face value. People that want to delve in and understand more.
A couple years ago, I don’t think I would have had the balls to ask. Now, I think I do.
A couple years ago, I don’t think you would’ve had the balls to get up on stage and lead a band. Now you do that with ease. When did you first start playing guitar?
Seventh grade, I think. First guitar was a New York Pro. Dad got it for me. Shitty, sixty dollar one. And, I mean, I played with people when I was first starting out. “Iron Man,” “Good Riddance,” the basics, you know? And I’m still not great, but I like where I’m at right now. People don’t expect too much out of me. But, I love music. It’s a universal thing.
Oh, I can tell you’re passionate about it. You’ve always got a different band you’re listening to all the time, different genres; a diverse taste, especially when you play.
Everything from folk to ska. Not much rap, though. 90s hip hop is OK with me.
At what point did music start to click with you? I feel like, as a fellow musician, there’s a point where it becomes something different. There’s a door and you start to see more than just a song. When did you understand it?
Early, I’d say. My dad always listened to sixties stuff when we were driving. And, thinking back, it feels like every time we listened to it, it was a nice day out. For some reason, that’s my memory of it. The Beatles, Beach Boys, you know, surface stuff. He wasn’t a B-side, back-catalogue guy. I think I’ve always had an appreciation for it. I don’t regret much, but I do wish I would’ve been in band in elementary school. I always wanted to be a drummer. And I’m picking it up a little bit now, so it’s okay. It’s always been a big part of me, though. Music equates to happiness.
Why didn’t you do band?
I think I was too scared. But, that same year, I committed to taking tennis lessons. I came downstairs and told my parents I wanted to try it out. They couldn’t have been more elated. They were so proud of me. I was never involved with much. So, showing interest in something made them happy.
I think I know the answer to this next question, given how many instruments you have, but do you think your parents were supportive of your music
I think so! When you’re a kid with fourteen guitars who knows just a couple songs in their entirety, yeah, that’s encouraging.
Every kid’s dream, man. That music room at your house to this day, I am still jealous of.
I mean, I’ve downsized a little. I’ve realized you can only play one guitar at a time, but I have a hard time giving some of them up. Twelve-strings, even basses, and I hardly play bass, really. I just can’t get rid of them. If I do, I know that I’ll never get something like that back. Because that happened with…no, never mind; that’s stupid.
No, no, what? I mean, I’ve got a shit-load of guitars, too. What are you thinking?
Alright. Well, I was big into video games as a kid; N64, Super Nintendo, Gameboy, whatever. I loved them. Some of my best memories, as sad as it is, were playing Smash Bros. with my friends while my mom would be downstairs cooking us hamburgers or something. Anyway, around eighth grade, I had an existential moment and thought to myself this is stupid, why am I wasting my time with this crap? So, I gave them all to my dad, and he sold them. Every single one of them. That’s another regret of mine. I thought it was time to grow up. But, fuck that. Now, I’m spending most my adulthood searching for those games. I’m big into them now. They’re special to me.
That’s interesting. So, you had fourteen guitars at one point, some sweet stuff. That Dan Electro twelve-string is by far my favorite piece of your collection.
Yeah, well, I’m keeping it.
What are you down to now?
I’m not sure. I don’t bother changing the strings on a lot of them; too many to mess with. Change ‘em, and it’ll just sit there. It’s a waste. I primarily play my 70s Fender Telecaster, like Springsteen.
God, alright, well, let’s glaze over that. We won’t go there. Again, as a fellow musician, I think every kid who has had a guitar goes through a phase thinking that will be their life
That they’re going to make it. Yeah.
Was that the case for you?
Oh, yeah, of course it was. I have this lyric notebook from way back, that I just looked at, funny enough. The very last page, I wrote myself a note, saying wow, you’ve made it! It’s so sad to look at.
Hahaha, that’s awesome!
And, I mean, I’ve written so many songs. You know that.
That was one of my questions. How many songs do you think you’ve written over the years? Since you first started writing melodies.
Full songs and tid-bits combined, I’d say around seventy. I mean, none of them are good.
I would disagree with that. Are there any out of the bunch that you’re really proud of?
A couple recently because I focus more on the lyrics than chords. We just played one together. I’m not sure what I’m calling it yet. Something about the atom bomb, I don’t know.
At what point did you make that transition, then? When it comes to me, I suck at writing music. I just can’t do it.
Soloing-wise, you’re ten times better than me.
I think I have a good ear at what sounds good – musically, melodically – but lyrics are not my bag. So, when did the lyrics start taking precedence?
I think, originally, I just did what sounded good. A lot of major chord stuff. After coming to college, I realized that you need good lyrics to have a good song. Otherwise, you’re gonna come up with guilty of innocence, committed no crime, guilty of innocence…
It wasn’t a bad song, don’t put yourself down. Dude, you were in eighth grade when you wrote that. Not many eighth-graders can do what you did.
I guess so. It is somewhat of an achievement, but it’s behind me.
Did you take any music classes?
Uh, I took a couple lessons. I learned “Ode to Joy” for twenty-four dollars. Worth every penny, still know it to this day. Then, I took another guy who taught me all the basic chords, which I’m grateful for; we’re still good friends. Then, a third, who was a friend of my dad’s, let me play things I wanted to play. We just jammed for a couple hours a day. I think a few of his original songs were featured in some movie. The second guy almost had an original in a movie, but Phil Collins beat him to it.
Was it The Lion King?
Ha, probably. Mostly self-taught, though. Definitely song writing-wise.
As long as I’ve known you, you’ve always been a songwriter. When did you make the transition into other areas of creative writing.
In high school, we did a lot of video projects. We never wrote scripts, you know, just flew by the seat of our pants. Then, I thought wouldn’t it be great if this was organized? So, I got into script writing for a little bit, there. I wrote a couple short film scripts, um, The Typewriter, another one called The Farm, which was pretty good. A lot of Twilight Zone kind of things. Dark, amusing, etc. Before all that, humorist Dave Barry caught my attention. He was a big influence on me writing humorous stuff. That started around junior year of high school. Then I wrote a book, inspired by him called, When I Don’t Know the Speed Limit (I Go 40). I thought it was a sweet title, but the content sucks.
I liked that title and honestly, man, I go by that rule when I’m driving. How would you define the book?
Sporadic is a good word for it. You can tell that my writing got a little better towards the end. It was a learning experience, for sure. Me going into it thinking, my god, I’m gonna get this published and get another book deal, then write whatever, whenever I want! I actually sent that piece of shit out to publishers with that mindset. Obviously, you’re not supposed to be humorous in your query letters but, thinking I was hilarious, dismissed that rule. See how that worked out for me. But, I am glad nothing came of that thing. My writing has improved tremendously since that fucking book.
That was another one of my questions, how your perspective changed. I remember you were obsessed with it, putting in a lot of time into it. In one of your other articles, you wrote about how it was this euphoric thing, something you were so proud of. But, looking back, I’m glad you view it as a learning experience. That shows real maturity, man. You learned from it, and moved on. Your writing has improved drastically, and has such depth.
You know, even in these six or so months I’ve been writing for Odyssey, I look back on my first couple articles, and I can definitely tell. And yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of interviews, but that’s still writing. I’ve taken out quite a bit of the humor, but it’s still there, obviously. Those are my roots. So, that’s always going to be a part of my thing. But, there’s a whole other level of sincerity that has taken over.
Something that I’ve noticed about you is that you’re a funny guy. You’re one of the few people that I know that can legitimately make me laugh without trying.
I don’t like telling jokes.
You don’t tell jokes, and that’s the thing. The way you present things, the way you tell stories, makes me laugh.
The thing is, I envy the people who can tell jokes. When I contemplate telling a joke, I know, in the back of my mind, that I’m going to fuck it up. I know it won’t be funny.
Back when we were dicking around in that initial interview of Coffee with Idiots, we were talking about how the conversation needed to be organic. It’s the same thing with comedy. There’s a bunch of different styles, but at the end of the day, it’s not only reading people and understanding timing, but dismissing the planning of a joke. The way your writing has changed, you were like I’m going to leave a space for a laugh here. Now, it just has such an eloquent flow to it that not only am I laughing, but, man, dude, you have an interesting perspective on life; it’s definitely changing the way I see things. Do you feel as though that’s something you learned in writing classes? Or was it trial and error – editing, reading your own stuff, etc.
I say I didn’t learn anything in my writing classes, but they gave me discipline, you know, kept me writing, even though it was shit I didn’t give a fuck about. But, I think the things I do on my own are more beneficial than being in a classroom. On a side note, I have something I want to talk to you about; I don’t know how many more questions you have for me.
We can go in whatever direction you want.
These past couple of years, I’ve had this looming, horrendous feeling that I’m never going to laugh again.
What do you mean? Like, you’ve reached the funniest point?
I’ve reached the funniest point, and I’m never going to pass that. It’s terrifying.
Like, you yourself aren’t going to laugh or make other people laugh?
I think a little bit of both, but more so me laughing. I write for myself. I want other people to read it, of course, but I want to make myself laugh first. Have you ever experienced anything like that?
I mean, I think that kind of translates to everything in life. Eventually, we’re going to peak. Some of that comes from taking ourselves too seriously. For me, after I went skydiving for the first time, I thought to myself I’m not going to enjoy rollercoasters, sex, or all these other things that produce the same kind of stimuli.
It’s kind of like visiting an old family member. You don’t know the last time you’re going to see them. Same thing, almost.
There have been times where I think holy shit, that is the funniest thing I have ever seen. Like, nothing would ever top that. But, I enjoy laughing, and I know you do, too. You wouldn’t watch half the movies, nor make me watch that shit with you, if you didn’t enjoy humor. I feel like a lot of the shit you’ve shown me wasn’t to show me, but for you to get my reaction.
It is! That’s why I watch movies over and over! I want to see how other people like them. Watching a movie by myself is not enjoyable. I want to experience it with someone else.
I understand that. You had said before that you write to make yourself laugh, but what else do you get out of writing? Why do you do it? And, I know that’s kind of a big question, but everyone has a reason for everything. I’m big into Systema and martial arts because of this drive that not only makes me feel good, but benefits me as an outlet. Writing is something I see you most passionate about. What is it that keeps bringing you back?
It’s a catharsis. I like the fact that you can edit what you’ve written as opposed to what you’ve said, because you can’t take back what you’ve said. With writing, you can edit forever, if you want to, change the entire fucking thing or delete it. I think that’s special. I like that.
Was there ever a point as a kid that you thought you wanted to be a writer? Aside from music, what were some things that you wanted to do as an adult?
In high school, I took a psychology class. That interested me, especially the weirder side of things. But, as far back as I can remember, I never really wanted to do anything. I felt like I wasn’t good enough to do anything special. It’s kind of scary to think about. But, here I am, doing something I like now.
We get pressured as kids. They make us think we should know what the hell we want to do. But, how many college professors have you had that said I didn’t get my PhD until I was in my mid-forties!
So, I’m a huge Trey Parker & Matt Stone fan. They made their…ugh, I know you’re not supposed to compare yourself to other people, but so many of my friends are doing great things. They’re working on TV shows. They’re in California. They’re everywhere. But, here I am in Dayton, Ohio. I mean, yeah, it’s a step forward that I’m not living with my parents, but I’m not doing anything, you know? I mean, I’m writing, and that’s okay.
Did you ever consider that it’s happening for a reason? And I’m not talking religiously, but do you ever consider that there’s a job opportunity that’s going to open, or that this is the time when you’re supposed to hone your skills and abilities?
I think so. I don’t think I’m not supposed to be here. At least for the time being. But, I think it’s about time to move on. Real quick, back to the Matt and Trey thing. They made their first feature film when they were twenty-one or twenty-two. I’m that age now. It’s tough to think about. What do I have to show for it?
You’ve got a book, you’ve got seventy songs, multiple publications. Yeah, you don’t work for the New York Times, but you still have a following. You still have people who are interested in reading the things you have to say. You’re moving along, dude. You are so far ahead of other people. All these people say oh, man, I’m gonna be a writer! but they keep it all stashed away. I think you’re on a good path. Yeah, it’s easy to compare yourself to others; we’re all guilty of it. Every now and then, we have to take a step back and look at where we are.
I think I mentioned to you earlier that I want to quit my job. At least within the next couple of months after everything I must do is done. And I told my mom that, which was a bad choice. But, she’s not going to stop me; let me just say that. I just go into work every day and see all these sad people, you know? And maybe they’re not sad, but to me they are. I can’t just see myself doing that forever. And I know it won’t be; it’s a temporary job, anyway. But, I need to do something. I need a story to tell. Thirty years from now, I want to look back and tell a story. I want something memorable to happen. I want to do something.
I don’t know if it’s a post-college thing or an age thing, but our generation is different. We watched our parents as we grew up, working their asses off. Not just our parents, the generation ahead of us, in general. I don’t know about you, man, but it scares the shit out of me. I don’t want to be one of those people chained to my desk, and it seems like that’s what I’m hearing from you. You don’t want to go to a job every day that feels like work. Is that kinda what you’re getting at?
Yeah. I don’t want to work for the rest of my life. But, I have to. And if that’s the case, I want to do something that I love.
And is that writing? Could you see yourself doing that? Realistically, not financially or with all the assholes that say agh, you’ll never make it as a writer! Is that the direction you want to go? Do you see yourself sustaining happiness, writing?
I can see it. There’s nothing else that I want to do. I think it’s comforting, but lonely. Sometimes loneliness is okay.
Well, as one of your close friends, man, who has watched the transition of you coming into yourself over the years, all I can say is keep doing what you’re doing. I’m really happy for you. I’ve seen the evolution. I can tell you’re truly passionate, and head over heels in love with it. I guess, my advice to you, not with a worldly view, but someone who is a close friend, is to keep doing what you’re doing, man. It will take you. That passion is not something that a lot of people have. I guarantee you’ll find a way. Whether it’s writing for a magazine, an online website, or whatever, you’ll find a way to get your views out there. Maybe not to push your views on other people, but just to make them laugh, make their day. I’m truly impressed, and very happy for you.
I appreciate that, man.