You’ll sell Brian Chartrand short trying to put him in a box. Listen to the Phoenix singer/songwriter and you’ll hear whispers of everyone from the Eagles to the Grateful Dead to the Zac Brown Band. You might hear actual songs from those artists, too — Chartrand’s impressive range allows him to cover a broad repertoire of classics. But he’s nobody’s tribute band, with five albums and a folk-rock storytelling style all his own.
We spoke to him recently about The Brian Chartrand Quartet, his upcoming outdoor gig in Prescott Valley, and what it’s like with a live crowd after a pandemic.
Q: Are you Phoenix-born? What made you decide to make Phoenix your base of operations?
BC: I grew up in Massachusetts, and moved out here in 2003. I’ve been a musician all my life, playing in bands and bars since grade school. I came out to Phoenix because of the cost of living and the amount of work. There’s a wide range of venues to play — resorts and patio gigs and listening rooms. I have options here. Seattle is a two-hour flight away; I can be back East in five. In the meantime, I love the weather, and the community of musicians has been very welcoming.
Q: Who got you into music and songwriting?
BC: I was very fortunate to be exposed to a lot of different styles growing up. James Taylor had a huge influence on me. I definitely attribute how I play guitar to him. I loved all the music and the harmony singing of that late ‘60s-’70s scene: Crosby, Stills and Nash, Simon and Garfunkel, Jackson Browne, the Eagles.
Q: But your original music doesn’t slot easily into a single category.
BC: As a songwriter, you’re always synthesizing various influences and hopefully your style continues to evolve. I’ve been inspired by everyone from Prince to Miles Davis to Gerry Rafferty to the Grateful Dead. I went through phases where I wanted to sound like Jeff Buckley or Coldplay. It all informs you on some level.
Q: You work in a lot of ensembles — The Project, The Sweet Remains, Live from Laurel Canyon. What should we expect from the Brian Chartrand Quartet on June 27?
BC: With the Quartet we’ll do a mix of original songs and covers from previous bands. A lot of early ‘70s singer/songwriter songs; some rock‘n’roll, some stuff with a jazzier feel. We cover a lot of great artists and songs, and one leads to pretty easily to the other.
Q: You’ve performed everywhere from bars to spaces like Phoenix’s Crescent Ballroom to Scottsdale’s Musical Instrument Museum. Do you have a preferred style of venue?
BC: MIM is a favorite. The Kennedy Center was a favorite. I think as long as the sound is good and the atmosphere is kind of a listening environment, that’s what I prefer. Bars are good — I learned by playing in bars — but there’s different approach. You want to make a statement and have a certain level of energy. In a listening-room environment, the audience is tuned in. You can talk a little about the songs, give some context and guide people through.
Q: As a lifelong performer, what was your lockdown like?
BC: I won’t lie, it was a challenging time. I felt a degree of loss of identity. So much of how I see myself is as a performer. I had to creatively refocus. I did a series of livestreams from my house. I wanted to record my favorite Steely Dan songs; I’m finishing the second volume of that. I did a podcast, interviewing local creatives on their processes. So, I was able to shift some energy.
Q: Sounds like you really missed being onstage, though.
BC: (Laughs) Nothing will replace performing live with a band. I’ve been happy to play a little in Phoenix the past few weeks. I think people are more appreciative. There’s still an underlying nervousness because we’re not out of the woods yet. But people are psyched to hear live music and they really appreciate it.
The Brian Chartrand Quartet performs at 7pm Sunday June 27 at Prescott Valley’s Theater on the Green (Civic Center Amphitheater), 7501 East Skoog Blvd. Tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for kids 9 to 17. Children 8 and under are free. The event is part of Yavapai College Performing Arts Center’s “Concerts on the Green” series. For tickets or more information, please call the YCPAC Ticket Office at 928-776-2000 or visit ycpac.com.