Behind The Music with John O'Brien on But You're Gone

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Artists: John O'Brien

Song name: But You're Gone

Music Genre: pop/jazz/R&B/rock

I live in... St Augustine Beach, Florida

Link to play:

This song is about when it’s time to move on after a relationship ends. I started writing this some years ago when I lived in a summer resort community and every summer the rich and powerful would come from all over the world. I was playing music in a couple of the nightspots there as a solo and was approached by a beautiful foreign woman who asked if I could play at her summer home for a small party. Of course, I said yes, but when I showed up it was just her and I. We started a relationship and she was very private with her personal life at first, which I thought just went with the territory.


I found out she had a very rich father from southern Europe and slowly found out that she had a boyfriend back home. However, there was a tremendous amount of passion and sincerity in our relationship. When I looked at her deep brown eyes my heart would skip a beat and all I could think about was my vision of us remaining together. We started our relationship in the early summer and went into the early fall when she suddenly started showing up around town and seemed to be just picking up guys on vacation. I was devastated and then her fiancé from Spain (unknown to me) showed up!

It took about three weeks for me to resign myself to the fact that it was over between her and I and that I really needed to move on in my life. It really was “just a fling” for her even if it was very real for me. Interestingly, I finally finished the song about two months before finishing the recording of the new album and we actually put the bridge of the song together in the recording studio while recording the basic tracks. It was my bandmates who said that I should make it clear in the lyric that I got over it and that I wasn’t in love anymore. I do love the song.

The reason I create music is…
because there are deeply held, emotional messages inside of me that I really want to express. In everyday life, one does not really have the opportunity to express emotions so that others can hear them. Songwriters are lucky in that they can do that, and they can express their emotions on such a deeply personal level and hope that they connect with the people who listen to those songs.

It’s that sense of self-expression that is hard to capture, at least for me, outside of writing music and lyrics. In terms of the music, it is the active matching the emotional expressions with the musical progression that carries that forward as an active and real passion. I’ve been writing music since I was a preteen and I recently looked back at my notes which I always keep and I will be putting out an album soon with some of my earliest songs on it the way I wrote them – just me and my guitar and my vocal. Every one of them recalls a very explicit and especially dear adventure in my life.

I recently decided to move towards a full-time career in music which until now escaped me because of the financial burdens. For years I’ve been playing 4-set gigs in bars where, quite frankly, they didn’t want to hear original music and instead wanted to hear covers of their favorite songs. After too many years of complying with that formula, I decided to change what I was doing completely. I bought a really nice Takamine acoustic guitar and started playing my original music at festivals as a solo, added a percussionist for a couple of festivals after that and then added a bass player and a keyboard and lead player.

That all happened over an 18-month span and all I played was original music. The act sounded so good that I decided to record an album. The five of us worked in the studio and remotely to produce the tracks which we then fully mixed and sent to a marvelous mastering shop outside of London for final mastering. The album had over 100,000 Spotify streams in the first week was out and a number of very positive reviews in the web and blogsphere. We’re now scheduling performances and a tour and I think this is exactly what I was hoping would happen when I decided to become a full-time musician.

How do you think this release represents your current direction..
This single “But You’re Gone” reaches to a number of my influences at the same time. I’m a very big fan of R&B, pop, jazz and rock all at the same time. The elements of the song touch on all of those influences in one form or another. My keyboard player, Mark Connolly added a beautiful Fender Rhodes piano piece which sits underneath the R&B style of my bass player, Ray Ploutz who played fretless, my drummer David Matthew plays a tremendous rock beat and my lead guitar player Dwayne “Chubby McG” McGregor sets out a great jazz guitar style. All of these very talented musicians found their own voice in the song and then the harmonies and tags are beautifully set forth by Amy Hendrickson. As a result, the song does exemplify the style of music that I would like to continue producing and performing.

I am very much a believer in collaboration in music production. The way we created this album was that I would bring a song to, what I call the “rhythm section”, which is myself my bass player and my drummer. We would spend hours working out an arrangement for the song that would bring out the intent and beauty of the progression itself. After that we would record the basic tracks in the studio and begin to add vocals and accompaniment. I’m in Florida and my keyboard player is in Rochester, New York and he would record tracks and send them to me, and we would go over them in a live online remote studio setting so we could agree on where the keyboard tracks and synthesizer sounds would go for each song.

After that I would add vocal scratch tracks then circulate those stems to the guitar player who would put them into his own studio and create the lead guitar parts. After that, I would get together with the vocalists I work with and we would develop an approach to the overall vocal piece of the song. In answer to your question, I do work very closely with musicians and listen very intently to what it is that they believe would enhance the song itself and the production and final product. I always listen to advice from great musicians.

What most inspires you?: 
I most inspired by two things. Of course, like all other songwriters I am moved by the subject and feelings of love that people can feel for each other. But I am also moved by peoples’ situations and what pains them outside of the realm of love.

For instance, my song California Wildfire is a song I wrote after reading many news reports of the feelings that the people in Paradise, California had when they were awakened from a deep sleep and in a matter of moments had to run for their lives with nothing but the clothing that they had on. When I saw the news reports of it, I felt I had to do something, and I am strong believer that we must as a people and as humans address climate change which is the cause of those wildfires being so prevalent. Of course, I also wrote the song that you and I discussed in our last interview “By The Throat” about losing a loved one to opioids. It tries to answer the question “what else could I have done to prevent it?” The music video for that song will premier in a couple of weeks

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I create music because I can’t not create music.
In the words of a songwriter friend in Nashville, he tried everything he could not to be a songwriter, but he failed. I guess when you have the capability of expressing yourself in that manner, in a way you don’t have any choice except to express those feelings even if it’s just sitting by yourself with the guitar or piano and putting together the musical expression of your feelings. For anyone who wants to write a song I implore them to just sit down and do it. It’s a real catharsis.

Creating music enriches my life for a number of reasons, but so far it’s not money! I guess the act of performing, particularly if you’re doing your own music, is an incredible experience and there’s really nothing like it. Seeing the reaction of people when you’re performing or when you have feedback about a recording you did that is very positive is sort of an emotional rush that it’s hard to get anywhere else outside of a personal relationship with someone.

I don’t think I will ever stop creating music, basically because I can.

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My favorite instrument is the guitar when it comes to playing, although I do play piano just not very well. I’ve written several songs on the piano, a couple of which became very popular and one of which is on the new album.

My voice is my favorite instrument and on the album I recorded a song I wrote on the piano with a popular female vocal artist in Los Angeles which appears on the album “Leaving In Your Own Time”. She recorded her vocal in LA and we merged with the production here in Florida and it came out very beautifully. Interestingly, it’s a song I almost dropped as I originally wrote it in 1979 and just didn’t think it would go anywhere, but I sent it into Taxi Music for review just to see what they would say and the response was that I would be out of my mind to drop the song – so I didn’t. We just finished recording a bilingual version of the song which we will have out as a single in the next few weeks. I am hopeful that the Hispanic community will embrace the song.

The music business…
it changes so rapidly now that it’s hard to really even say where it goes next. I read Billboard every week just to get a clue about what’s going on, but even that doesn’t really work with all of the music moving over to streaming, the changes in how the charts are calculated with “album equivalency”, the change in popular music as it moves slightly away from traditional rap to hip pop and ultimately to hip pop with strong vocals and it and the rise of adult contemporary as a genre for the listening public including younger demographics. It’s a real jungle out there.

Being a musician today gives you so much more opportunity to create and market music. The one thing that I would caution any musicians out there to avoid is trying to follow the trends. The listening public to music is expanding extremely rapidly and even a small niche can now result in a highly popular type of song and recording including instrumental sounds. Also, I would advise to stick to an instrument. In listening to alternative rock and alternative pop today one rarely hears guitar and in many cases, there are no live instruments on the recording at all.

I don’t think this will last since the creativity in many cases seems to be rooted in coming up with a new sound rather than new music. I don’t think this will last. You have to bring yourself to listen to every kind of music that’s out there and when you least expect it, you are going to fall love with a new type of musical progression or harmony which is largely absent from much of today’s music.

Website & social media links:

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John O’Brien interviews with host Jacqueline Jax on building your musical team, achieving your dreams as a songwriter and keeping the faith even when things get hard. “The day you wake up without feeling inspired is a day you never want to have. “