Many artists struggle to establish their musical identity, laboriously trying on different musical styles like a piece of clothing, looking to find what fits. But there are others that emerge fully formed, in full command of their craft, their identity and their music. Tim Brantley fits firmly in the latter category. His new album, Goldtop Heights, is a captivating and moving debut that heralds the arrival of a gifted and significant new talent, one whose music feels familiar in the best possible way, while striking out on his own territory.
A Georgia boy who grew up in Loganville, near Decatur, Brantley played piano as a child, but didn’t take music seriously until he was in his early 20’s. He explains, “I started writing songs in my head, and it took my interest in music to another level. I had to pick the piano back up so I could cut music to the ideas I heard in my head. Then I started playing guitar to broaden my horizons even more.” Almost immediately, he formed a three-piece band and began playing local coffee shops and bars, going through what he calls, “the typical post-high school lifestyle.” “I wasn’t interested in anything I was doing other than music, and I loved the wide-openness of my life.”
Recording on his laptop and playing the songs he was writing for his friends, Tim saw their genuinely excited reaction. “Two friends heard the songs, and even though we were all broke, they approached me and we pooled our money to buy a microphone and a recording console.” Now recording in earnest, Tim was gathering skill as a songwriter, taking his influences, like David Gray, Elton John, Hall & Oates, Wilco and Fleetwood Mac, and using them to shape his own style. “I grew up with a lot of 70’s rock,” Tim explains, “My mom used to play Carole King all the time. I naturally gravitate to that kind of sound; there’s a warmth and timelessness to it that I’ve always loved.”
As his name grew in and around the Atlanta area, the pieces began to fall into place for Tim. Entering a citywide battle of the bands in Atlanta, Tim and his band won, which earned them some much needed cash and the notoriety to begin playing bigger shows for an ever-increasing local audience. Recording continuously, Tim hooked up with local producer Russ T. Cobb (Avril Lavigne, Hot Hot Heat, MxPx) and the two recorded an album at Butch Walker’s studio in Atlanta. The songs sparked major interest from several labels and in the end, he chose to sign with Ben Goldman’s (Ben Folds Five, Fuel, Chevelle) newly formed, independent Blackledge Records label. “Working with Ben and Blackledge has given me the freedom to be myself and to make the music exactly the way I want to make it,” he declares.
That freedom allowed Tim to self-produce Goldtop Heights, as well the space to experiment while making it. He reflects, “There was a lot of trial and error that went into the album. The songwriting is far more detailed, and that was reflected in how I recorded. We recorded twenty-five songs, and I picked ten. I spent months on certain songs, refining them until I thought they were just right.” With Tim on piano, guitar and various percussion, Brent Kinney on guitar, Robbey Handly on bass and Guy Strauss on drums, the sound they got is a commanding and infectious one, modern in feel, while also hearkening back to the 70’s pop/rock that is embedded in his musical DNA. But as Tim says, “It’s a little grittier than I thought it was going to be in the beginning.”
From the opening notes of “Damage,” the album’s first single, one hears that combination of melodic irresistibility and lyrical incisiveness that are becoming Brantley’s hallmarks. “The song is about a friend of mine – more like a letter to a friend in need,” Tim notes, “But the vibe of it – ‘Joe Jackson meets The Greatest American Hero’ wraps up for me the way it felt standing around a radio when I was growing up.”
Indeed, that feeling of being a kid again is one that’s prevalent on Goldtop Heights. Tim explains, “’Goldtop Heights’ and ‘Northside’ are the album’s bookends and I based everything on the tone of those two songs. Part of it is nostalgic. It’s me seeing things through a kid’s eyes – in that way that everything is big and heightened when you’re a child.” It’s that sense of wonder that sweeps through the album, and with the resounding piano chords, shimmering guitars and the steady, yet propulsive rhythm section, it’s 40 minutes of modern pop rock nirvana, made wondrously alive and new again. Tim doesn’t just sing the songs – he inhabits them and lives them out, making his tales of growing up three dimensional in the most powerful of ways.
Tim is currently on the road, honing his live show playing both acoustic and with a band. “It’s gaining momentum,” Tim says. “With the band, we’re getting exciting – there’s a lot of off the cuff stuff that’s happening on stage. Being on the road all the time is something I’ve always wanted.” And on Goldtop Heights, Tim Brantley is playing his songs precisely the way he’s always wanted, creating a fully realized album that is the culmination of where he’s been and where he’s going, and one that is sure to win him the notoriety that is demanded by the depth and quality of his songs.