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Q&A: Singer, Songwriter and Professor Brian Seymour

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Photo By Tessa Marie Images

It’s getting harder and harder for Wayne’s Brian Seymour to remember a time when music didn’t play an integral role in his life. Now in his early 50s, Seymour began writing songs as a teenager growing up in Paterson, N.J., as he nursed his infatuation for such enigmatic singer/songwriters as Tom Waits. After graduating from Villanova University in 1989, he logged significant mileage touring behind the seven albums he’s recorded since 1996. He also developed a lingering reputation for his well-chosen cover tunes, churning out hundreds of them at venues throughout the region. In between, he earned two post-graduate degrees from Temple University. Seymour is currently an associate professor of art history at the Community College of Philadelphia. He’s also a fixture at 118 North in Wayne, where he hosts a songwriters-in-the-round series on the last Tuesday of the month.

MLT: How did a 118 North residency come about?

BS: I made it a point to return to performing when my son turned 5 about two years ago and I finished my Ph.D. One reason I started the songwriters circle was to get back into the groove of writing. We’ve done it almost 20 times with 45 writers coming through since it was founded in February 2018. It takes a long time for these things to build a reputation, and it’s getting better.

I rebranded it “Cheap Essential Scenery,” which, in a funny way, represents what music is in a lot of bars. I get heavy hitters like Ben Arnold, Lauren Hart and John Faye because they know me from the old days. They trust that I’m not going to waste their time.

MLT: Tell us about “the endless co-write.”

BS: The idea was to write a song to bring us all together in a deliberate way to end the night as a unit. I co-wrote “What Love Is” in the summer of 2019 with Jim Shirey. To date, over a dozen songwriters have contributed verses, so the song continues to grow as each new writer who joins the circle contributes a verse.

MLT: What are you working on?

BS: These days, if I’m recording, I want to make sure it’s four or five songs that are going to move the needle. I’m courting four or five different producer relationships. It’s not a big project, but it’s important to me; I want to reintroduce people to my music. I already have a large catalog that I’m proud of, and I’m always flattered when people cover my music.

MLT: Does it ever worry you that some people only know you as a guy who plays covers?

BS: That’s fine. I paid my way through grad school playing covers. When I was coming out of college, it was some guy in the corner playing Jim Croce covers, and suddenly I was playing Echo and the Bunnymen and the Smiths. One thing I learned back then was that it doesn’t matter how much a cover sounds like the original—what matters is how it feels. But it also takes a long time to shed your influences. I think I’m there now.