Bicoastal Roots: 5 Qs with Bryan Titus
It was less than two months ago that the Bryan Titus Trio played his last gig in town as a Santa Barbara resident, the last in a series of shows that had established the organic roots rocker/Americana artist as a true local sensation, capable of exciting the crowd whether jamming in a bar’s outdoor patio during Fiesta or on stage at the Lobero. After that, Titus – who honed his sound via a nearly year-long trek on the Appalachian Trail in 2014 – left behind upright bassist Jeff Kranzler and cajon-drummer/vocalist Dustin Janson to hit the road for a cross-country drive to Connecticut, and a new life back near his actual roots.
But Titus is headed back our way for shows at the Maverick Saloon in Santa Ynez on January 3 and at the Alcazar Theatre in Carpinteria on January 6, the latter actually a variety show featuring fellow singer-songwriters: Chris Pierce, Shane Alexander, Jamie Drake, and The Brambles. He contrasted the coasts, and the gigs, over the phone recently.
Q. You seemed like you were going to stick around Santa Barbara for a good long while. What happened?
A. Actually, it was always supposed to be just for five years. I’m originally from central Connecticut and I moved back to be closer to my family. I missed the changing of the seasons, the cold and the snow, like we have right now. But I also get to come back and visit Santa Barbara, too. So I feel like I’m living the dream.
So how is the local music scene?
I’m developing some different opportunities out here, a few live venues and other connections. It’s a fun challenge to use the same process that was successful out there in a new market for me. But it’s also a challenge to be playing by myself without the rest of the trio. There are some dudes here that I used to play with whom I might get together again. But it won’t be the same. There’s something about the power of threes.
You’ll be playing with the boys in your shows here in January, though.
Yeah, but they’ll be very different. At the Maverick, we usually play a three-hour show with lots of covers, upbeat dance music, and an emphasis on fun. But actually I really enjoy what I’m doing at the Alcazar, where I get to collaborate with each of the other artists. They each play three to four songs, maybe fifteen minutes, and then I join each of them for a song together. You get to hear me do stuff with people I don’t usually do with people I’ve never played with before. And then at the end the BTT will do a full set, mostly focusing on my original music. It’s much more of a singer-songwriter kind of show.
Speaking of that, how goes the songwriting in your new digs?
That’s partly also why I moved. We were playing so much, which was wonderful, but I wanted a little bit more of a retreat, hermit-style life, where it’s quiet enough for me to focus. We’ve spent the whole two months so far making our new house a home, but we got three bedrooms here as opposed to just one in Santa Barbara. I’m setting up a project studio for my music and (wife) Katie’s yoga. It will be great to have space to be creative. I co-wrote a bit out there. But my intention is to get back into writing songs for myself. I need to shut out the world and really focus and let the creative juices marinate and the inspiration come through.
Once in a (Blue) Lit Moon
Last year, Lit Moon Theatre Company reached its 25th anniversary, the kind of milestone that might call for a special celebration. So it might seem strange that the company founded and still run by Westmont Theater professor John Blondell is only now getting around to a reunion show. Then again, Lit Moon has always been a company that is more than a little avant garde, one just as likely to fracture a classic or feature puppets as characters (as in its holiday show, Scrooge) or cast cross-gender or age-blind as it is to do something relatively straight. But no matter what, the story is always at the heart.
Story, heart, and an unusual approach will all be on display on January 5, when Lit Moon mounts its first-ever reunion show, a production of The Nina Variations, Steven Dietz’s homage to Chekhov’s The Seagull. As if the play itself – which consists of 44 short variations on Nina and Treplev’s final scene in the classic – wasn’t enough of a twist, the cast is comprised of 38 actors, all current or former Lit Moon Company members in a one-time only show.
“I was thinking of doing The Seagull, but then the idea of The Nina Variations just came up and I thought that it would be great if we could do it with 44 different actors, all people who have been a part of Lit Moon over the years,” said Blondell, who realized he had the time to try to put it together after recently stepping away from both chairing the department and directing at Westmont. “We only got 38, but they’re coming from all over, LA, New York, Minnesota, Chicago, Dallas, Boston, Portland, Honolulu. It’s a play about love and loss, the daily heartaches of life, unrequited love – but also about the theater itself, so it made sense.”
That inside approach, which has included both in-person and Skype-based rehearsals, has been fun, Blondell said, comparing the production to “a destination wedding. I’m going to be back in the room with all of these people, some of whom don’t even know each other, and it’s incredibly exciting, a one-of-a-kind experience with a real celebratory energy.”
In the runup to Variations, Blondell has been busy taking a trip down memory lane, revisiting every show in Lit Moon’s history and posting photographs of the productions every day until show time. “It’s been great to think about the shows and the people who were involved, and remember cherished moments. It’s a real deep memory experience for me that is proving incredibly valuable and moving.”
But what about those coming to Variations who have never seen The Seagull?
“There’s definitely more richness if you know the play,” Blondell said. “But it’s a rich story that’s just about these two people. And it’s a big theatrical event, with lots of music, including from our original composer, Michael Mortilla. And the play itself is a big fragmented thing. The challenge is to make it coherent, relevant, and understandable, irrespective of whether you have the underpinning of knowing Chekhov. No matter what, it will still be a very valuable experience.”