+ By Desiree Smith-Daughety + Photography By Alison Harbaugh
There’s something about an artist at his or her apex: a casual confidence that creates an impression that the most audacious swagger can’t pull off.
Bryan Ewald appears quite comfortable with where he fits in the music industry. He practices his craft for the pure love of music—and it doesn’t hurt that it’s also his full-time job. Ewald started playing guitar at age nine. “I was just obsessed with it,” Ewald says as he recalls sitting around, figuring out songs. This was pre-YouTube tutorial options, when you had to start and pause tapes and record albums until you got down that tricky riff, stringing one line to the next until you could play a whole song. By his sophomore year of high school, he’d gotten a job with Masters Musicians (a now-defunct store located on West Street in Annapolis) teaching others how to play.
Ewald credits that job with providing those all-important breaks, nudging open and firmly wedging his foot in the gig-getting door. “Established musicians hung out and taught there. I got calls to do pick-up jobs. The work has always been there since.” Ewald built his résumé, honed his collaborative capabilities, and cemented his reputation as a dependable musician. He readily acknowledges that the hardest thing for a musician is getting that first break and building from there, and that to earn a living requires having the ability to diversify and remain flexible. “It would be extremely difficult to have one band and play in one town enough to earn a living. You’ll burn out and wear out your welcome.”
In addition to being hired by over 120 bands and artists for live or studio work over the years, he has been a member of about 30 other bands, playing cover songs and originals. Bands in which he’s currently a member include the Jarflys, Mend the Hollow, Meg & Bryan, and Non-Fiction/Majesty Twelve. He regularly works with artists such as Shane Gamble, Higher Hands, Dan Haas Band, and Bens Bones, among others, and has been hired for live or studio work for a slew of artists, including Rachael Yamagata, the Temptations, the Kelly Bell Band, the Supremes, and David Cassidy.
Collaboration is a big part of Ewald’s identity. He and one of his bands, Starbelly, have a new record coming out in the next few months (their last full-length album, Everyday and Then Some, was released in 2002). Ewald became so busy that writing music slipped for a while—and writing his own music had long been part of what he did. But once he became a parent, he needed to juggle his time and went with what paid the bills.
A good slice of Ewald’s world is time spent in his studio. The Internet has made collaboration with people you’ve never met just a day-in-the-life occurrence. Audio files are sent over, and Ewald puts down his parts and sends them back. Gone are the days of packing up guitars and equipment and traveling to a studio booked for a 10-hour block to sit and wait his turn to do his segments of the songs. This time-saver carves out room on Ewald’s plate to juggle more work, such as touring.
Ewald is a brand ambassador and primary demonstrator for PRS Guitars, traveling internationally to perform at trade shows and clinics. He worked there for a year after high school in the finish hall and buffing room, but his music was taking off and he needed to catch that train. About 10 years ago, PRS Guitars started giving him guitars to road test, and it morphed into a gig that took up half of his schedule. While Ewald’s goal isn’t necessarily to be famous, his appearances in demonstration videos and at trade shows have led to his being asked for autograph requests from Kansas City to Kyoto.
Ewald’s two children, Aidan (15) and Julian (12), have inherited the musical obsession from both sides of the family—Ewald met his wife, who is a singer, in Annapolis. Both boys, primarily drummers and singers, attend Priddy Music Academy and have performed with their bands through the Academy as well as with their dad regularly at places like The Point Crab House & Grill in Arnold and at the past few Annapolis Musicians Fund for Musicians shows at Rams Head On Stage. Ewald can see the seeds of the next musical generation—he grew up playing guitar with Priddy Music Academy’s owner, Lee Priddy, and now their children play music together.
His favorite memories have less to do with a band’s or venue’s notoriety or the number of attendees, and more with the synergy of the people he’s playing music with on stage. Especially poignant are some of the gigs with his children, during which he has found himself looking at them and then having a moment of pure self-realization: “Wow, you’re a musician.”
“Even at its worst, it’s a great job,” says Ewald. █