What is it about music that remains so powerful? That fills us so completely our entire outlook on life can change, if only for just a moment? A couple of bars from your favorite song brightens a dark day; your favorite artist who seems to speak directly to you, making the rough times in life seem somehow more bearable. Sometimes that special song, the nostalgia-riddled childhood classic, or just a familiar melody can make everything okay.
Is it because, as science tells us, music imprints deeper on our brains than anything else? Because songs are engineered to make us feel one way or another?
(Read more: What makes a song ‘catchy’ – science explains)
Or is it because it’s something that can be so honest; something that comes straight from the heart to share with another?
This is certainly what Brian Cooper, better known by his stage name Bryan Cee, believes.
Drawn to the diversity of the Twin Cities’ music scene, Brian made the long trek from the sunny shores of the Bahamas to the cobblestone streets and harsh winters of St. Paul to follow his dream of becoming a musician.
A trek one might call a labor of love – and the labor and the love certainly go hand in hand.
“It wasn’t easy at all,” he laughs. “It was a long journey. But it was what I needed to do.”
He recently completed his Master’s Degree at renowned McNally Smith College of Music in downtown St. Paul, and hopes to pave his own way through the local music scene one venue at a time.
And from there?
That remains to be seen.
Born in Foxhill, the oldest slave village in Nassau, on the east side of the Bahamas, Brian was wooed early by the sounds of both local reggae and European classical music. He knew there was only so far he could go in his hometown, and, after forming a few bands and putting out plenty of music on his own, he decided it was time to move on.
(Not before recording a video for his single, “Trixie Love.” Watch the video above.)
Is it the old mantra of not dying five miles from where you were born?
“Something like that,” Brian says. “The world was calling. I knew there was more for me than just my homeland.”
Minnesota may not seem like the obvious choice, what with LA and NYC still known as the places to “make it” and cities like Austin and Nashville known as US music capitals. At first he didn’t even know where Minnesota was.
He laughs, “I thought it was in Europe.”
But, with a full scholarship, he became a full-time student at St. John’s University in Collegeville and the seeds were sewn. He completed a bachelors degree at St. John’s, but after finishing school he then returned home. He spent a few years teaching music, and even became a pilot, before realizing he needed to continue his dream of becoming a musician here.
“I knew I would come back [to Minnesota],” he says.
Brian talks about an energy, a feeling that this was the right place to be.
“I knew I had more to do here.”
His passion lies in music; Brian knows that he can put up with anything, even drastic changes in weather and lack of sunlight (“That was hard. I had to get a vitamin D lamp”) to chase his dream.
He enrolled and was accepted to McNally Smith College of Music in 2014. There, he finally had the opportunity not only to meet other musicians (some of whom became part of his first Minnesota band, the Wibesmen), but focus solely on honing his skills, continuing to make progress in a notoriously tough industry.
The music world today is a volatile place. Bryan is aware not only of the pitfalls, but also of the hard work needed to book consistent, and paying, gigs.
“But I wouldn’t be doing anything else,” he say. “I couldn’t be doing anything else. This is what I love.”
Bryan Cee, and the Wibesmen, have already made a splash in Minnesota, and you can be sure that the smooth sounds, the warm melodies, R&B-tinged, hip-shaking island grooves will make a smooth transition from the Caribbean to the Twin Cities.
But this is a world dominated by music that, at the very least, lacks the soul that once made the airwaves so special. Who doesn’t want to get rich and fly in private jets with bottles of thousand-dollar champagne brought to us by coat-tailed servants?
It has to be about more than that. Right?
“Really, I just want the world to hear my music. The money, the fame, that comes after. I just want to inspire others.”
And doesn’t this speak to the music world as a whole? Music has always been influenced organically and by those who respond to it. While the pop star, multi-million dollar signing bonus type gigs clearly smack of favoritism, commercialism, and a general lack of originality, it’s clear that we also have the opportunity to find local music scenes that can produce experiences that go so far beyond on what you’ll hear on the radio and see on one of the countless screens surrounding you.
“Sold-out shows, riches, fame… those are the reward for making good music. They shouldn’t be the goal. Good music comes first.”
Music State Minnesota
And what is the state of music in a music state like Minnesota?
“There are a lot of opportunities in Minnesota,” Brian says. “That’s why I came here. The Twin Cities have been a special place, from hip hop and punk rock to international figures like Prince. People who know music know Minnesota’s role in shaping it.”
The commercialization of music has led many aspiring stars scratching their heads. What do you do to get exposure in this overexposed world? Well, in Minnesota at least, you build it from the ground up.
As Brian’s manager, Eric King, says, “It’s all about diversity. There’s not a huge pop scene in Minnesota, sure. This isn’t LA. But what we do have is music scene that has been built from the ground up. There’s a lot of support here for local artists. That’s what sets us apart.”
“People have realized they can be happy. They don’t have to put up with a mediocre job just because they have to. This is the generation of idealists, maybe, but also those unwilling to settle.” As Brian says, “It was calling to me… and I wasn’t willing to settle for less.”
So the risk is worth it.
“Well because what else is there, really?”
Being happy is as important as following the “traditional” model of working hard for the weekend. We’ve seen a shift towards this trend for more than a few years now. That doesn’t mean, thought, the struggle isn’t real.
Brian, who recently welcomed his first child, a baby girl named Zoe, with his wife Jennifer, knows that aspirations can only take you so far. That hard work, the long hours, the shows that don’t pay as well as hoped or at all, the spats with band members, all take their toll.
The Wibesmen broke up in 2016, allowing Brian to focus his energies on a solo career. And, as fortune would have it, his next single “Going Home” was selected as a semifinalist for best song at the Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival of 2017. Not only did this come with a healthy monetary sum, it offered validation after years of hard work.
(Listen to his nominated “Going Home” below)
“It’s been a long journey,” Brian says. “And it’s not over yet. That’s the wibe, though. You never stop working.”
(Wibe: a Bahamian term that captures something otherwise indescribable; something important or memorable or serious, a certain situation, a feeling you can’t ignore, or even that special certain someone who inspires your music.)
Not everyone is lucky enough to find like-minded individuals as quickly as Brian did, and it’s clear that he is in good company: There would be no wibe without the stage, the instruments, or the inspiration. But, more importantly, it’s about the friends, the family, and the fans who come out to support the music.
And who benefit equally from being a part of it.
“You give and you get,” Brian says.
When it comes to a passion, especially one as all-consuming as music, for Brian, and for many other musicians working to get their talents heard in Minnesota and beyond, it’s clear where their priorities lie.
Brian nods. “It’s about the music. Always.”
And this is how he lives his dream.
For more information on local Minnesota music, read this article next: MnSpin is your new source for free music by local artists