May 2004

By Mike Doktorski

Most local musicians can rattle off long lists of past collaborators…a guitarist you played with in 1994, a drummer who played on your 1999 demo, etc. Indeed, sometimes it seems like there's only a degree or two that seperates everyone in New Jersey who's ever picked up an instrument.

New Brunswick's Tom Brislin, however, takes this concept to a whole new level. During the late 90s and early 00s, Brislin traversed the globe as keyboardist for Meat Loaf and Yes, respectively, performing the classic hits of Bat Out of Hell and Fragile on some of the world's best-known stages. These days, Brislin fronts his own band, Spiraling, who in 2002 released their debut CD Transmitter, an intelligent, sophisticated collection of synth-laced rock songs about love and irony in the 21st century.

Since the release of Transmitter, Spiraling has opened for seminal modern rock acts They Might Be Giants and Violent Femmes, and the band recently completed a string of dates with OK Go.

Night & Day: How did the members of Spiraling meet each other and form the band?
Tom Brislin: I met Bob (Hart, bassist) at a jam session, and we've played together for years since. I went to college with Paul (Wells, drummer), and met Marty (O'Kane, guitarist) through the New Brunswick music scene. [Marty] used to have a band called Cooper Green, and after that group broke up, he joined Spiraling. There was an earlier version of our band called You Were Spiraling. Bob and I had done some freelance stuff too, with various pick-up groups around town.

N&D: Tom, you've done stints as a touring keyboardist for Meat Loaf and Yes, respectively. How did those gigs come about for you?
TB: I started playing keyboards for Glen Burtnik a few years ago. He collaborates with Kasim Sulton, who plays bass for Todd Rundgren and was also Meat Loaf's bassist and musical director. Glen connected me with Kasim and I quickly went to work learning all these Meat Loaf tunes, which, to be honest, I wasn't all that familiar with. Next thing I knew, we were playing on VH-1 Storytellers. From that point, I toured and recorded with Meat Loaf for about three years. I was called to audition for Yes around the time I was finishing up piano tracks on the latest Meat Loaf album. Now there was a band that I listened to a lot as a kid. They wanted someone to tour for a year until Rick Wakeman was to return to the band. That was pretty surreal. We recorded one of the concerts, in Amsterdam, and they released a DVD of it (Yes Symphonic Live), so I was happy to get a document of the whole experience.

N&D: How did your experiences with those veteran acts shape your approach to Spiraling?
TB: I'd have to say it all comes down to the live show. Both groups had pretty high standards, so it definitely made me want to work harder with my own band.

N&D: Do you plan on doing any more gigs in a supporting role?
TB: I've since done a few things as a sideman (Camel, and back with Glen Burtnik), and I still get called to do some tours, but I'm pretty focused on Spiraling right now. We have much to do.

N&D: What do you think of the music scene here in NJ?
TB: I used to have a darker attitude towards the NJ scene than I do now. It seems like it's getting better all the time. I'm really into a lot of bands from around here. Bands are putting on great shows, they're coming out to support each other, and just generally making "going out to see bands" the thing to do around here. We just need more clubs, more that cater to original music fans who are under 21.

N&D: Your songwriting seems to delve into love affairs and relationships (both successful and not so) quite a bit. Is this a result of music you've been influenced by, or just what comes naturally?
TB: I'm all over the map on that one. I enjoy a good love song, but when I started writing songs for Spiraling, I decided that I would never use the words "love" or "baby" in the lyrics. I might someday, I just wanted to avoid the cliches. I think I'm going to add "run away" and "it's alright" to the no-no list. Around the time I started writing lyrics, Tori Amos and Nine Inch Nails were pretty popular. Although different, I was interested in how they went into a more detailed picture of the struggle- the struggle to relate, to be happy, to be ok. Most of what I'm compelled to write about stems from that struggle, either from my experiences, things I've seen, or a combination of those things plus some pure fiction.

N&D: There's definitely an 80s vibe that runs through Transmitter in terms of instrumentation and song structure. Is that a conscious thing?
TB: I do have an affinity for 80's music. You could probably replace "80's" in that last sentence with every decade from the 1940s through the 90's. And though I love some albums from this decade (mostly from local acts), I think we're due for a big shakeup, like what Nirvana did to the scene in 1991. I have trouble listening to the radio now. But about the 80s, I think that was the last decade where there was prominent synthesizer playing in rock. So maybe since the synths are upfront in Spiraling music, one can draw that connection. My favorite 80s record is Business As Usual by Men At Work. I know that's not the hip thing to say, but I am always happy when I listen to that record. Purple Rain by Prince…that's a desert-island disc for me. I'm still into The Police, Duran Duran, Tears For Fears, The Cars, XTC, and a ton of other bands.

N&D: So what's next for Spiraling?
TB: We're demoing tracks for our next album, while at the same time gigging as much as possible. §

This interview originally appeared in the February 2004 issue of Night & Day Magazine.

For more info, click over to Spiraling's' official website.

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