Artists get their inspiration from all sorts of life experiences, from the bitter breakup of a relationship to drug experimentation or spiritual enlightenment.
Almost anything goes.
John Brinton, lead singer-guitarist of San Diego rock quartet Rust, got his muse for the band’s full-length debut album “Bar Chord Ritual” (Atlantic) from a source we all know and hate: the Department of Motor Vehicles.
“The entire thing was spawned and conceived while waiting in line at the DMV,” Brinton said recently from Atlantic’s headquarters in New York. “You see, the ‘Bar Chord Ritual’ is a title that has a lot of meaning to me. I play guitar on this record, the first time I’ve ever played on a recording. My whole last year has been spent trying to formulate songs and learning how to write songs. I didn’t have the confidence; I didn’t think I could write a song.
“One morning I was in line at the DMV and the song ‘Prisoner,’ which is the second song on the album, came to me in my head and I started making up stories about the people standing in line with me. When I got home – I have a four-track and I was daunted by it – I got my guitar out and wrote that song. That right from there started me playing my guitar.”
It also tested his girlfriend’s patience. She would return from work finding Brinton in the same spot as when she left.
“I would be on my back looking up at the ceiling, playing my guitar,” Brinton said, laughing at his obsession. “That was every day for about three or four months. It sounds so cheeseball, but I was channeling music. That was my bar chord ritual, my primitive guitar playing.”
It worked like a charm. “Bar Chord Ritual,” produced by Dave Jerden (Jane’s Addiction, Alice In Chains), is full of quick-bite choruses and intelligent verses and holds a melodic yet aggressive tone throughout.
And it doesn’t hurt that Brinton and band members Michael Suzick (guitar), Tim Blankenship (bass) and Pat Hogan (drum) have a keen wit.
The blistering opening track, “Five More Minutes,” has all the earmarks of an anthem for the weary workforce, those who have trouble waking up even to a snooze button in the morning and facing another grueling day at the salt mines.
“I wrote that for my girlfriend,” Brinton said. “She and I both are chronically sleepy. I guess we have a problem actually getting up, and we tend to sleep really, really late all the time. She has a job and I have a job and we think, ‘Let’s lie in bed here and we’ll call in (sick) again,’ and we’re looking at how many sick days we have left.
“Some people might call it laziness, but I just like to dream. I like that feeling of being in dreamland.”
On another highlight, “Perhaps?,” Brinton mocks rock artists who take themselves too seriously. “I grew up after the days when kids were forced to fight in wars,” he sings, “maybe that’s why we’re so restless, we had a purpose but now we’re bored. Perhaps it’s something to think about, I’m not sure, I’m just in a band.”
“So many people talk down to musicians,” Brinton said. “I got some of that here in New York. I got invited to hang out with some people who were movers and shakers in the art world, and it was kind of like a novelty to have me along. It’s like, ‘Don’t ask him anything because he can’t talk. Look at him, he’s kind of cute, but he’s so sweaty and greasy, and look at those clothes.’
“Whenever there was a deep conversation, I wasn’t solicited to participate, but on the other hand, there are a lot of musicians who take themselves superseriously and try to get these deep thoughts out and express them through their music. And I thought, ‘It’s true, you’re only in rock ‘n’ roll.’ It’s not that great of an art form.
“Get over yourselves.”
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