We’re bringing you a really great interview today with Billy Moran! If you don’t know Billy, he’s a musician, writer and member of the bands Louden Swain and The Station Breaks. He regularly travels the world with the bands doing shows or performing at conventions for thousands of fans.
Louden Swain is about to release their next album, an acoustic album titled Splitting the Seams on Friday, October 26, so what better way to celebrate the album release than an interview with Billy! We got the chance to ask Billy all about music, his influences, writing, and threw in a few nerdy questions as well!
Nerds and Beyond: According to the biography on your website, you picked up your brother’s guitar and started to play when you were eleven. Can you tell us more about how you got started playing music?
Billy: For as long as I can remember I’ve always had an obsession with music. My Dad would rock out to bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin & The Beatles through our home stereo all the time. It was so loud that the neighbors would often complain. I was always drawn to the loud guitars and vocal melodies. One day my brother, who is 10 years older than me, brought a guitar home and I was immediately drawn to it. I remember the smell of the wood and the old strings that were left on it from the previous owner. It wasn’t an expensive guitar by any means but it felt expensive to me. I remember there only being 5 strings on it. I just picked it up and starting strumming away and that was that, I couldn’t put it down. As soon as I could play a few chords I was looking for a band to play with.
Nerds and Beyond: What was the first song you ever learned to play?
Billy: The first song I learned to play on guitar was “Sweet Child O’ Mine“. That opening guitar riff just sent me through the roof when I first heard it.
Nerds and Beyond: What was the very first guitar you owned?
Billy: The first guitar I owned was by a company called Memphis. It came with a tiny Gorilla amp. One day I was making my bed and unknowingly draped the covers over the guitar and my friend walked in and sat down on it and broke the neck right in half. I was devastated. I think I still have pieces of that guitar floating around somewhere.
Nerds and Beyond: How many guitars do you own now? Which one is your favorite to play?
Billy: I have about 10 or so right now. My favorite guitar to play is probably my Fender “Troublemaker” Telecaster. It’s a limited edition Tele that Fender released this year and Fender was able to get me one of the first ones. It’s one of the best sounding guitars I’ve ever played.
Nerds and Beyond: Who are your musical influences? Who do you look up to?
Billy: My earliest influence would be Randy Rhoads. He performed with Ozzy Osbourne. He was such an amazing player. After Randy I discovered Stevie Ray Vaughn, Slash, Joe Satriani, Nuno Bettencourt, Steve Vai, & later Eric Johnson. Each of those players has a very unique voice that really drove me to want to play better. Today, I’m really inspired by guys like Michael Landau, Doyle Bramhall II, Marcus King & Gary Clark Jr., just to name a few.
Nerds and Beyond: Which artist, album or song had the biggest impact on you as musician?
Billy: Hands down Guns N Roses, Appetite for Destruction. That album really launched the dream of one day becoming a full-time guitar player. During that time in the 80’s, there was a bunch of hair metal bands doing flashy stuff that I could never see myself doing. When “Appetite” came out it really broke the mold for me. They just looked like five dudes you’d see in a small club driven by the love of their craft and nothing else.
Nerds and Beyond: What’s one song you’re proud you mastered or one you’ve always wanted to master?
Billy: Joe Satriani has the song called “A Day At The Beach” off of one of his earlier records, Flying In A Blue Dream. That was one of the first times where I felt I was able to push my own abilities.
Nerds and Beyond: Did you start writing songs when you were younger? Or did you get more into writing as your career progressed?
Billy: I’ve always enjoyed writing melodies and song arrangements. In most cases, I’ll get a feeling when I’m playing the music that usually inspires what the subject matter of the song will be. In the case of the song “Honey Bee”, I was playing my daughter’s toy ukulele while she was randomly dancing around the living room. I then recorded the music with the melody I heard and immediately sent it off to Rob [Benedict] to put words to it. I really love how the lyrics came out. It perfectly captured what I was feeling at that moment.
Nerds and Beyond: You’re currently part of two bands: Louden Swain and The Station Breaks. Can you talk about each of those? We’ve had interviews before with Louden Swain as a group, and Jason/Rob about Station Breaks, so wanting to hear it from your perspective, what is the songwriting process with both of those bands?
Billy: With Swain we typically would get a song idea from Rob that we all work on in rehearsal or studio and add our own spin on it. Or, in some cases it’s just something we stumble on while jamming during a rehearsal. Other times I’d bring in some music that I composed and would have the melody and a story I wanna tell hashed out. Like with “Honey Bee”, I’d send the idea off to Rob for him to write lyrics. I always feel it’s important for the words to come from the person who is singing the song, and there’s no one better at word crafting than Rob. He always has a knack for finding the perfect words to match the emotion. Another example of this would be with the song “Too Far Away” off the Splitting The Seams album. I was going through a hard time after losing someone very close to me. I sat down one day and just started playing that song. I think I played it and sent it off to Rob with the note on what inspired it. He then took it and tapped into his own experiences with loss and made it something personal to him. I vividly remember the moment when we recorded that track where his vocals had this tender vulnerability to it that came through. We all looked at each other and didn’t even need to say a word. That was the take. It was pretty moving. I don’t think that would have happened if they weren’t his own words.
For The Station Breaks, Jason [Manns], Rob and I just got together and started working on these little nuggets that each of us had. I’d brought in a few tunes and helped assemble a few others. We all kinda knew what we wanted to achieve with that band so it all came together really quickly. The key was to make it sound different from a Swain or Manns album. I really wanted every tune to have a second vocal part that accompanied the main melody line throughout. After all, there were two amazing lead singers in the band, right? I naturally heard Jason’s voice taking the lower parts on a majority of the tunes while Rob took the higher parts. When Rob brought in the tune “Gone”, I suggested that he and Jason mix it up where Jason took the lower part. It was fun to experiment with stuff like that. We just started working on a few new songs for the next SB record. I’m pretty stoked for that. No timeline set though.
Nerds and Beyond: What’s your favorite Louden Swain song to perform live and why? Favorite Station Breaks song to perform?
Billy: It changes often, but right now I’d have to go with “Wave” for Louden and “The Rest” for SB.
Nerds and Beyond: What was your favorite song to re-imagine musically on Louden Swain’s new album, Splitting the Seams? Which do you think was the most challenging?
Billy: I think “Rock Song” is probably the most different on the album. It is definitely one of my favorites too. Each song had it’s own set of challenges though. I’m not sure any one song stood out as more challenging than another. It was just a blast to put a new spin on these songs. I really enjoyed working with a string section on this album. They really elevated the tunes.
Nerds and Beyond: What do you enjoy most about the smaller Louden Swain shows or The Station Breaks tour?
Billy: I love being able to play our own material for the audiences. It’s also really nice to see the fans outside of the convention shows and get to chat with them a little more than we normally get to.
Nerds and Beyond: What’s one of your favorite memories from performing?
Billy: There are so many great memories I have from performing. It’s so hard to pinpoint just one. The first time I joined Swain at their album release party for “Suit and Tie” is certainly up there. Getting the chance to open up for John Entwistle from The Who is one for sure. But if I had to pick a favorite memory, it would probably be the time Louden Swain played our first convention in front of the SPN family. It was such a wild moment. From the second we walked out on stage, we were embraced but this incredible warmth from the audience that I still find hard to describe. Prior to that show, we were busting our butts for years, playing countless shows just trying to get ahead.
Nerds and Beyond: What do you find most challenging about playing music?
Billy: For me it’s dealing with my own form of “the butterflies” just before going out on stage. I get this overwhelming desire where I just want to be sitting at home on my couch watching a movie or playing a video game. As soon as I walk out on stage that feeling disappears though.
Nerds and Beyond: Who would your dream collaboration be with?
Billy: I’d love to work with Quincy Jones on just about anything. He’s a genius in the purest sense of the word and he just seems like one of the coolest dudes.
Nerds and Beyond: You’ve worked on music for artists like Briana Buckmaster and Gil McKinney. Can you share what your favorite part is about doing that work?
Billy: When Jason Manns approached me to add guitars to those albums I said yes without hesitation. Jason has a great ear and he just asked me to do whatever comes naturally. He really give the musicians he works with a freedom to explore the songs. Both Briana and Gil are both amazing artists with incredible voices, so the bar was already really high. My approach was to track my guitars but consciously stay out of the way of the song and the vocal performance. One of the things I enjoy most about these types of projects is listening to raw tracks of the song and then finding my place within it and coming up with something cool to support it.
Nerds and Beyond: So, we at Nerds and Beyond always ask nerdy questions. So along those lines, asking some of our traditional questions, who is your favorite superhero?
Billy: Gonna have to go with Spider-Man. I’ve been playing that on PS4 lately and I just think he’s super rad. He’s kind of a loner and a lot of people don’t really understand him. He has this amazing ability to just ignore all the noise around him all the while busting his butt to make the world a better place.
Nerds and Beyond: What do you nerd out to, what are you a fan of?
Billy: If it’s not video games, it has to be guitar effects pedals. I’ve recently traveled down the Fuzz Pedal rabbit hole. It’s a massive universe down there.
Nerds and Beyond: When we talked last, you said you were really into playing Star Wars: Battlefront. Is that still a game you’re playing? Or is there another game you’re loving right now?
Billy: Ha! Every now and again I’ll fire up Battlefront. Right now I’m really into that Spider-Man game & the new Assassins Creed.
Nerds and Beyond: If you were going to introduce the Star Wars universe to your kids, would you introduce the movies to them in chronological order, or film release order?
Billy: I have two daughters, so we started with “The Force Awakens”. I know it’s out of order but I just think Rey is such a bad-ass and wanted my kids to be introduced to the franchise with a kick-ass strong female lead. Now my 5 year old loves to play Battlefront with me. She’s totally into it. She constantly reminds me when I lose. I think the first word she learned to read was “Defeated”. Hearing her say it takes a little bit of the sting out of the loss.
Nerds and Beyond: A lot of people have comfort food, do you have a comfort song?
Billy: If Fettuccine Alfredo were a song, that’d be it. I’d have to say, U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name” is it. That album was one my Dad would frequently listen to when I was younger. I fondly remember walking past the living room and catching him reclined in his Lazy Boy chair listening to that track with his eyes closed. He just got lost in it.
Nerds and Beyond: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Billy: I just wanted to thank anyone who takes the time to read this. This fandom and this show have really changed my life and I feel really lucky to be a part of it. Thanks so much for all the love and support you’ve shown the boys and me. XO
Thank you again to Billy for doing this interview! Louden Swain’s Splitting the Seams is available October 26! You can order your copy here.