When it comes to song writing, Jeff Brisbin has always looked on the darker side of life.
“I think it’s easier — it’s hard to write a song like ‘Walking on Sunshine’ for me,” Brisbin said recently from his home in Saratoga Springs. “Those are great songs, but … things that touch people is what’s easier for me to write about.”
His divorce 12 years ago got him to start performing live again, after a 20-plus year hiatus. The songs that make up his debut solo album, 2009’s “Uncharted Waters,” more often than not deal with heartbreak and loss — and not always his own, either.
“I’m getting ready to work on my next album, and for example, I was driving by a cemetery and there was this little old guy sitting by a gravestone, his hands going up and down it,” Brisbin said recently from his home in Saratoga Springs. “I made a note of where he was, and I became him when I wrote the song — he was 84 years old, and talking to his wife. I like going deep, if I can; I like it to be relatable for people. It’s very important that it is.”
In June of this year, Brisbin’s 18-year-old son died. Brisbin’s response was to write a song, “Falling Timber,” which may or may not be on his next album. For Brisbin, music holds a healing power — in his words, it’s medicinal.
“I think we all can recall a certain song at a certain time in our life, where we look back on it now and think, ‘Man, that really helped me get through that stretch,’ ” Brisbin said.
“There’s a song [on ‘Uncharted Waters’] called ‘Sometimes’ that I wrote for a friend of mine going through a tough patch — the lyrics go, ‘Sometimes it hurts; it can double you over,’ ” Brisbin said. “But there’s always a positive vein, in the chorus: ‘You can make it, but only if you try.’ ”
Though Brisbin is primarily a songwriter, when he performs next at the Irish Times on Friday night he will be playing mostly covers. His repertoire includes everything from The Beatles and Johnny Cash to more modern fare such as Coldplay or Five for Fighting.
The bar scene in Saratoga can be tough for original musicians. But Brisbin still manages to work his own songs into his sets.
“It’s not a listening room, not like Caffe Lena,” Brisbin said. “I work very hard to get people to listen, and it means a lot to me when somebody does. I usually get them at some point — I played Gaffney’s a couple nights ago, the night Elton John was in town, and it was all 25, 30-year-olds, and they were all singing right along. They had a great time, but they appreciate the originals too.”
Brisbin first started playing guitar and writing songs at age 13, and performed in a rock band in high school. After raising a family, and the divorce, he was able to pick up performing again, and has since logged more than 700 shows in the area.
“It was exciting,” Brisbin said. “Depending on where you’re playing — I did a gig at Proctors one night; I’ve done Vapor at Saratoga. Depending on where you play, I’ve played in front of just six people before. I just enjoy it so much. I’d do it for free every night — I just love music.”
“Uncharted Waters,” recorded with Vince Arpey in Saratoga, moves between acoustic, folksy ballads and full-throttle rockers, mixing influences ranging from Neil Finn, Radiohead and, of course, The Beatles.
But these 15 songs only scratch the surface of Brisbin’s output — he currently has about 120 songs that he’s trying to whittle down into his next album. He hopes to have the album out by February, and has been working with a couple of different producers in Saratoga (he didn’t want to reveal who they were just yet).
“A producer is like the director of a movie, and I’m the actor, though I also wrote the screenplay,” Brisbin said. “They help you put it in a good form, sequencing the record in a way that sounds really good. You have to have someone with good ears.”
“I’m very excited about it,” Brisbin continued. “I was very happy with the results of the first one, but I think this one is going to be even better, hopefully.”