Dan Bryk may have called one of his early recordings Dan Bryk, Asshole. But, he volunteers, an ex-girlfriend actually nailed him better. She observed that when it comes to his searingly frank pop, Bryk "walks the fine line between self-loathing and complete megalomania."
Jerk or navel-gazer or both, Bryk is fearless. The most intimate details of his personal life -- his nagging insecurities, peccadillos, peeves and nasty exchanges with former lovers -- are the spine of his deceptively breezy songs, each delivered in an almost conversational warble.
So sleep with him (forgive me, Dan) at your peril.
With Bryk, if anyone is the butt of a joke it's usually him, which is why he gets away with murder on his brilliantly offbeat Lover's Leap disc (out Tuesday).
Like some kind of keyboard-smashing masochist with a chip on his shoulder, Bryk -- bangs perennially draped across his eyes -- lays his life bare with disarming candour, inviting you to laugh along with him or even at him, as the case may be.
He's a character offstage, too. Prone to leaving side-splitting voice-mail rants, frequently apropos of nothing, Bryk the guy is exactly like Bryk the songwriter. Only chattier.
As long as Bryk is in the house -- or living in his parents' suburban basement while he works as a graphic designer, as is currently the case -- the music industry will have an astute critic wryly pointing out its flaws.
"A mid-level Canadian music-industry person who shall remain unnamed once said to me, 'Yeah, your CD is really good, but it's for music lovers.'"
Long pause with eyebrow cocked. "I was, like, 'Uh, OK. Thanks.' Like, can you fathom that?"
If ever there was a guy who speaks in italics, it's Bryk.
"My music is pop, I guess. What is alternative? Is Coal Chamber alternative? Limp Bizkit? Randy Newman's last record was the most alternative thing I've heard lately because it flies in the face of everything else in the market.
"He's an artist. He doesn't give a shit about the market. But the industry says, 'Let's go over and see what that 14-year-old girl has to add to the canon of human knowledge.'"
Bryk's on a roll now. "Soundscan has fucked everything up. Elliott Smith's Figure 8 isn't approached as a piece of art. It's 'Did he live up to his potential following the surprise success of the Good Will Hunting soundtrack?'
"Someone in the Dan Bryk camp suggested I'd have to sleep with Christina Aguilera before Rolling Stone would review my record. I mean, ouch."
But do you want to be successful or not? "Well," Bryk pauses, "is Lisa Loeb taken?"
For all his self-effacement, Bryk is also strangely confident that his square-peg compositions are accessible, though he does admit that "nobody's going to have dollar signs flashing in their eyes after listening to my stuff."
Still, past attempts to put his music into the hands of his songwriting heroes are not only legendary, they're gutsy as hell.
Bryk admits that both E of the Eels and Mark Eitzel of American Music Club were targets of his guerrilla demo-forwarding tactics. Eitzel never called back; E rang the next day from the tour bus, raving.
But it was a brush with Fountains of Wayne member Adam Schlesinger that led to Bryk's current deal with Scratchie, a small imprint operated by Schlesinger and former Smashing Pumpkins James Iha and D'arcy Wretzky.
As Bryk explains it, he didn't make it to the Horseshoe in time to see the Fountains of Wayne gig, but he ambushed Schlesinger afterwards. While it's been a long time coming, Scratchie will deliver Lover's Leap to Americans while Teenage USA takes care of business at home.
"But that story was kind of blown out of proportion," Bryk argues. "People were, like, 'Yeah, Bryk fobs his CD onto every rock star who comes to town.' Not true. Only to people whose work I really like. I mean, I worship at the altar of Eitzel, and he probably thought my music was a piece of shit."
Nevertheless, the almighty CBC dug Asshole and offered Bryk recording sessions in their studios. "They said, 'Go ahead and work on a record and then buy it and make it your own.' I took that in good faith and spent a fair bit of my own time and money on recording. Then when I went to buy the record back, I was told I could only license it. But it was still an awesome experience."
So began the story of Lover's Leap, which would eventually take three years to arrive, despite reprising some songs found on Asshole.
"I have no formal training," Bryk continues, "so while I kind of know what I'm doing, I don't always know what I'm doing, which is maybe why the record is as broad as it is."
Sure, he's got some self-esteem issues, but he's also got the songs to attract accomplished sidekicks like Maury LaFoy, Jeff Macpherson, Kurt Swinghammer, Danny Michel, Howie Beck and Möxy Früvous, all of whom guested on Lover's Leap.
"I don't have that Rufus Wainwright thing going on. And because of that, I think the people who play with me are happy to play with me, which is going to make me sound like an obnoxious jerk in print.
"But honestly, those musicians can play with anyone, and the fact that they want to play with this totally weird guy -- me -- is, like, amazing."
DAN BRYK, with BODEGA and LEE FELDMAN, at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Wednesday (October 4). $6. 532-1598.
by kim hughes