Brian London: Manning the microKEYS on the Big Stage!
Brian London began his musical odyssey in his native North Carolina at an early age. A gifted and dedicated performer, Brian polished his art in North Carolina and Chicago before heading to Los Angeles. One in LA, his talents brought him to the forefront, lending his talents to artists such as Salt-N-Pepa; Katy Perry; Hurricane Chris; Lupe Fiasco; and Lady Gaga. When we spoke with Brian, he was getting ready for rehearsals with Rihanna, whose fourth album Rated R was just released.
KORG: Tell us about your musical background?
BL: My technique and background is all Classical training and the different eras, Baroque, Romantic, New Age and Classical, not in its respective order of time. I have been playing for 20 years, so since I was four, I began lessons under one of the greatest pianists I've ever had the opportunity to train under. After every lesson, I would ask him to play the piece for the next week. He found out that I would never read the music and play exactly what he played so I would never practice, until he found out that I was doing that a month later!
KORG: So you were simply remembering what he played, and doing it all by ear? How did he react?
BL: When I was 13, he weaned me into playing a various churches, so he gave me 2 churches to play per month, plus rehearsals, this was totally new for me. So after breaking me from playing by ear, I had to completely learn to rely on my ear again, after years of not playing by ear. Switching genres of music, especially from classical to gospel is probably one of the hardest things any musician will have to encounter. So I started playing for churches until I was 21, and had 3-4 churches a month that I was playing for.
KORG: So did you continue your musical training after high school?
BL: After high school, I attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and double majored in Piano and Vocal Classical performance. I ended up testing out of every music theory and sight singing and ear training piece, that they just stuck me in some random classes, but with an added benefit of private vocal and piano lessons, which was unheard of from any freshman. I eventually transferred from there to Columbia College Chicago and majored in Musical Theater with a concentration in music and stayed in the private lessons there as well.
KORG: How did you come to be in L.A.?
BL: Three years later I moved to Los Angeles to pursue dreams of touring, producing and writing. The first artist I played for was Hurricane Chris "A Bay Bay." We did one TV show. I thought that was the best thing ever! Then I kept working, paying dues and taking any gig I could to get my name out trying to refrain from playing at church, because I felt that playing at churches would put a label on you, that you can only play that music and any deviation from it which would be R&B and Hip/Hop. I thought I was better than just two genres of music so I stopped playing for churches when I moved to LA.
KORG: Brian, when we last spoke you were touring with Lady Gaga. Now you are about to head out with Rihanna. What else have you been up to?
BL: Well before I landed the Rihanna gig I was playing for Lady Gaga, and before that Katy Perry, so I feel very blessed to have had consistent work. On my down time I have been creating sounds for some of my work on the production side as well as working with a couple of new up and coming artists and producers like Bruno and Phil also known as the Smeezingtons, or just Bruno Mars.
KORG: How would you describe your role in Rihanna’s band?
BL: I am the secondary keyboard player, which means most of the stuff I would normally play on a gig is already covered by Kevin [Hastings], the other keyboard player. So it was a challenge for me to hear and listen for other parts in the record.
KORG: Does that make it easier or harder for you?
BL: Secondary keyboards are often more work because you have to learn your parts - and the primary parts, in case something happens to their gear during the show.
KORG: How is your live rig shaping up for the Rihanna tour?
BL: I am using the [Korg] RADIAS (my all in one synth), the [Korg] R3 and the [Korg] microSAMPLER – which makes it easy because the sound editors have the same interface for every keyboard, so loading sounds into rented gear a breeze.
KORG: You were one of the 1st artists to get your hands on the KORG microSAMPLER. Can you share with us a few favorite features?
BL: First off, I absolutely love this new instrument. It's small and compact but the way the keys are designed gives you the ability to play it live. My favorite feature on it is the ability to time stretch the sample without having to change the pitch, or changing pitch without having to change the tempo of the sample. A lot of producers and DJs will appreciate both of those features.
KORG: And how does the microSAMPLER help you on this tour?
BL: The microSAMPLER really helps because some songs require the use of sampling parts from the record. With the microSAMPLER, I can basically plug my iPod to the gear and hit record. From there using the microSAMPLER, I can trim both ends of the sample, loop it, add effects, change the pitch, and if it's a percussive instrument, I can change the tempo depending on how I want to use the sample.
Great stuff, Brian, and good luck with the tour! Hope to catch up with you again soon.