Working with Three Days Grace changed Gavin Brown’s life. Until the release of the Norwood, Ont., band’s self-titled debut in 2003, the Toronto-based Brown was regarded as a talented triple threat here in Canada: ace session musician, producer and songwriter.
A former member of Phleg Camp, he had worked on projects by Skydiggers, Danko Jones, Spookey Ruben, Mia Sheard, Big Sugar, Alexandra Slate, Great Big Sea and Canadian contemporary Christian rockers A Thousand Foot Krutch before solidifying his production work on the self-titled Billy Talent album the same year.
But if Billy Talent placed Brown on the international radar with its European success, it was his co-writing and production for Three Days Grace that established him in the desirable U.S. market. Brown co-wrote “I Hate Everything About You,” “Home” and “Just Like You,” which dominated active rock, modern rock and mainstream rock radio formats, further buoyed by the band’s One-X follow-up in 2006 that supplied “Animal I Have Become,” “Pain,” “Riot” and “Never Too Late,” helping sell more than four million albums in the U.S. alone.
“The Three Days Grace stuff that I did still has legs in America,” said Brown, shortly before departing on a two-week trip to North Carolina and Boca Raton to write with My Darkest Days and Christian rockers Decipher Down. “They were the most played band on rock radio in America in 2007, the most played band on active and mainstream, and No. 2 on modern. The six big singles we had did very, very well, so that’s the stuff that people know me for in America. I still do a lot of that kind of stuff.”
Case in point: Brown’s collaboration with Memphis contemporary Christian band Skillet resulted in another 2009 gold monster U.S. hit named, aptly enough, “Monster.” In fact, Brown has made significant inroads into the U.S. $500-million contemporary Christian and alt-Christian music scenes (2008 figures, according to the Christian Music Trade Association). He recently worked with Denver’s Everfound and says there’s a considerable market south of the border that’s barely registered with Canadians. “It’s unbelievably huge,” says Brown of the U.S. Christian rock market. “It’s not only big, it’s also consistent. There’s a whole area in the South—the non-coastal United States—that’s very Christian and very powerful. People buy records and they support artists. It’s a good thing.”
However, it’s his Three Days Grace association that has brought Brown the greatest dividends. He recently co-wrote a song for My Darkest Days (co-founded by Matt Walst, brother of Three Days Grace’s Brad Walst) called “Can’t Forget You” with Chad Kroeger, among others. He’s co-written with Simmons Records rockers The Envy (which Brown also produced). And he’s teamed up with Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba to work with new Motown singer-songwriter Cara Salimando, whom he describes as “an acoustic pop” artist, “not as generic as a Colbie Caillat or a Sara Bareilles—a little more Arcade Fire and Sigur Ros.
“It’s amazing, when you have a hit song, what that does for you,” says the 37-year-old Brown, who estimates he’s sold 10 to 12 million records as a songwriter/producer. “Then if you have two hit songs, three hit songs or four, there’s a history of success. So people seek you out—because everyone’s looking for a hit song—and if you deliver for people, they keep coming back.”
He’s talking with Hoobastank, working here at home with Dan Hill, Down With Webster, Stereos and Windsor-based Christian rockers The Brilliancy, and has just signed with U.S. management firm The Collective, embarking on a collaborative partnership with former Evanescence member and co-writer David Hodges (Kelly Clarkson, Céline Dion, Daughtry) to write for specific artists who he expects will take him frequently to Los Angeles in the future. “Writing is definitely starting to be more of my life, as opposed to writing with just the bands I produce,” says Brown. “The idea is that David and I would walk into a project that’s already got momentum and legs, and we’d just write some songs for it.”
Brown says the song has always been of crucial importance in whatever capacity he’s delivered it, but admits that as a writer, his approach is much more spontaneous—as long as there is a purpose to the outcome. “Some people like to have a lot of preparation,” he says. “I’ve gotten together with people and they have lists of titles, or lyric ideas, a stanza, the verse or some music that’s half-done. I show up with nothing and I like it that way. The conversation is this: ‘What are we trying to do? Who are you and what’s your voice? As a singer, why should anyone pay attention to you and what’s the context from which you’re speaking?’
“There’s a branding element that has to be there, a self-awareness, a knowledge of who the artist is. Just writing a song—I don’t do that, I can’t do that. It doesn’t make sense to me.”