Detroit Native, Musician Phredley Brown Comes Home to Rock

See the musical director to Bruno Mars perform at the Detroit Music Awards on April 10, 2015

hat's better than living the high-profile lifestyle of a rock star? Being a rock star's right-hand man-you get all the perks, plus the privacy. And as musical director to funky pop/rock superstar Bruno Mars, Detroit native Phredley Brown harmonizes his close-but-no-cigar relationship with fame and relative obscurity like a true maestro.

One day he's writing melodies and lyrics in a cramped studio-yes, Brown was one of the many masterminds behind Bruno's hit song 'Treasure'-the next day he's playing guitar in front of millions at Super Bowl XLVIII.

'It's awesome,' says Brown about the groovy ride that is his life. And he's just getting started.

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Coming back to the Motor City in his own headlining performance at the Detroit Music Awards on April 10, Brown says to expect 'Heavy guitar. Heavy grooves. Heavy passion.' All funk.

So, are you tired of hearing 'Uptown Funk' as much as we are?

I've been doing a lot of recording and listening back to demos, so I haven't heard it all over the radio like I'm sure it is. That song is everywhere.

What's life like being the musical director to Bruno Mars?

I do a lot of traveling and a lot of the work goes in at the beginning of touring to get our show up and running. Or if we are doing TV performances, I write string arrangements; I will write horn arrangements. It really is about making sure the live show arrangements are sounding the way they need to and the TV arrangements are sounding the way they need to.

How does one exactly apply to be a pop star's musical director?

I guess I really didn't decide I wanted to be the musical director. When I got the job, I really didn't know what that meant. I just knew I wanted to play in the band.

You come from a musical family and even went to the University of Michigan for stint to study music properly. But eventually you quit to perform with bands and in nightclubs. Do you think it served you better?

I was a dueling piano player for a little. Then from there, I ended up moving to California. It's that kind of work I guess that makes for a great asset.

Growing up, my understanding of music theory comes from my mom, who is a music teacher. And opposed to having lessons, we would just play through music we liked. It was very like a music home school.

Then, as far as the performance aspect, I feel like that's the only way you learn. A performance degree may work for some lines of work in music. But to me, the best way to get that education and experience is to be onstage all the time.

Tell me about performing at Super Bowl XLVII with Bruno.

My strongest memory of it was standing on the stage, looking up while we are playing "Treasure"-seeing fireworks shooting off of the top of the arena. Just to be in an environment like that playing music that you are really a part of is just something I never imagined.

Do you prefer big venues? Or do you like intimate sets?

I think anybody should be so lucky to get to the point where they can perform and do arena tours. That's a pretty vast thing. With that said, there is something really special about being able to connect with smaller groups of people. It's a different kind of show, and I think it takes a kind of vulnerability as well.

What have you learned about the music business?

It's very much about making good honest interactions with people, more so than being able to play.

So, be nice?

Exactly, be a decent person.

What type of music style can we expect at your Detroit Music Awards performance? Is it as funky as Bruno Mars?

I've got these new, heavy soul songs. It has funk influence, but I think the heart of the music is a revival of the blues trios of the '60s and '70s.

Well we certainly liked the revival feel of 'Treasure.' What was it like for you seeing the success of the song and video?

Surreal. It's so hard to know the impact of something like that because when I see it, I just think, "That's me and my friends." But being a part of that song has changed my life in a lot of ways, so I'm very grateful for it.

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