Five Records That Changed My Life, Part 77: Brian Stephenson

In the past, he has played bass for Annihilator and sung for Skull Fist. Now Brian Stephenson fronts fierce punk rock band Fore and creates terrific rock music with his own band Old James. Over the years, he has played in numerous bands and projects such as Aggressor, Beehler, Sanctity, Toxicator and Midnight Malice. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson caught up with Brian to hear what albums made him into who he is as an artist.

Pearl Jam “Yield” (1998)

“When I was a kid, I’d started taking guitar lessons in Germany with a guy named Dirk Brille. At that point, I was very into Metallica’s ‘Kill ‘Em All’ and those first few classic metal albums we all know and love. Essentially, the heavier the better was my musical predisposition. And then I learned how to play ‘Given to Fly’. That one song alone opened the floodgates to new sounds and textures, playing and arrangement. I felt free and went home with an intense vigour to perfect the chords and riffs. My heart and mind were wide open. And of course, like any kid buying an album for THAT ONE SONG I ended up falling in love with the entire album, discography and band. Everything didn’t need to be a million miles a second anymore.”

Metallica “Metallica” (aka “The Black Album”) (1991)

“By the mid to late 90s, everything was baggy skate pants, rap metal, Adidas kicks, low slung guitars and hating your parents was the Nu Kool. I was very much in the Limp Bizkit and Korn camp. It was heavy, aggressive, angry…. What wouldn’t a nine-year-old kid love more than listening to break stuff whilst…breaking…stuff? Doing stone-cold stunners and flipping birds to younger siblings and neighbourhood kids…. This was the soundtrack. BUT, then came the guitar into a young and bushy-tailed Brian’s life. I felt very limited in what nu metal was offering me in terms of riffs and musical complexity after a point. Watching (Canadian TV station) Much LOUD, I waited to see the usual nu metal suspects with anticipation, wrestling toys in hand. What I saw, what I heard, that classic ‘Enter Sandman’ riff we all know, the kid in the bed, that first symphony of wah was heaven. THE GUITAR SOLO. It changed EVERYTHING. All of this to say… I can’t say that “The Black Album” is my all-time favourite, not even my top five. BUT it was the gateway drug that led me down the path to those early Metallica albums, Cliff Burton, bell bottoms and beer. It also led me to seek out new bands and sounds. It created this sense of needing more, fiending more and more heaviness, riffs, badass vocals. I can solely attribute this album to all of the rest of the metal albums I love, which is why it remains here on this list. It also led me to….”

Pantera “Reinventing the Steel” (2000)

“AAAAH…. Pantera. Dime, Vinnie, Rex and Phil. The Van Halen of my generation. Brothers Abbott playing drums and guitar was the beginning for my brother Chris and I. It inspired my brother to pick up the drums and for us to start our musical journey together and many musical projects have come of it. To me, this is the very best Pantera album. One of my desert island albums. ‘Reinventing the Steel’ widened my scope to Philip’s side projects, making ‘Down II’ and Superjoint Ritual’s ‘A Lethal Dose of American Hatred’ – two of my other all -time favourite records. The songs, the playing, the feel…. ‘REVOLUTION IS MY NAME’?????? This album is God damn electric. Enough said.”

Jaco Pastorius “Jaco Pastorius” (1976)

“I grew up loving Tchaikovsky and classical music, then graduated to pop, then metal, then southern rock, country, folk music, big band, etc. I was never one for self-indulgent virtuosic guitar music. The Vais, Satrianis, etc. felt boring to me. I just wanted to rock and/or roll and if not that, just chill out with an acoustic guitar and play a few chords. I met Braden and Andy that would eventually join the Old James band. They were into guys like SRV, Hendrix, Flea…. Those guys I shrugged off as boring and not anything like Dimebag or Ronnie Van Zant. In comes Jaco. I was amazed by Braden’s bass playing and Andy’s guitar playing (still to this day the best I’ve ever witnessed) and wondered how the hell they got so good NOT playing endless Skynyrd, Pantera, Cliff Burton or Ritchie Blackmore licks. They introduced me to bands like RHCP (whom before I detested) and players like Jaco, Wooten, The Vais, Satrianis, etc. THE GREATS. The first time I heard the opening notes of ‘Donna Lee’, it was over for me. I had fallen completely in love. Love at first listen. It gave me the same sense of wonderment I’d previously gotten from classical music when I was a young child. That same sense of curiosity I got from trying to figure out Dimebag and Zakk Wylde licks, and that badass feeling I got from listening to early Lynyrd Skynyrd. This was a whole new world of creativity and colours. This album truly taught me musical appreciation and the appreciation of endless practice hours.”

Willie Nelson “Red Headed Stranger” (1975)

“Southern rock, Pantera, and anything chicken fried I appreciate. As a kid growing up in Alabama and on US Army force bases in Europe, these are the sounds of my youth. There’s something deeply mystifying about those southern sounds. I have always leaned toward them, and I don’t know exactly why. Magnetic. I will say right off the bat, my favourite band is Lynyrd Skynyrd, but to appreciate that band fully I had to look backward to Willie Nelson, Outlaw Country and the like. Now, I am not piously devout to the religion of country music, but I do love me some Willie Nelson. I’d call this, like most other albums on my list, a floodgate album. I found a copy of this record at my mom’s house when I was 16, popped it in out of curiosity and then began my Hail Marys and prayers to the gods of outlaw country. Willie led to Waylon, led to the ones who preceded them and then 180 to the newer guys like Isbell, Simpson, Stapleton and Childers. The music I truly identify with most. The stories Willie wrote, the simplicity of it all, the power. This album is in one word, powerful. I have yet to see the accompanying movie, tonight perhaps? Willie Nelson for President!”