UP CLOSE & PERSONAL WITH ALAN K. STOUT
Bret Alexander is the owner and operator of Saturation Acres Recording Studio in Dupont. He is also a former member of national recording artists The Badlees and is a current member of the group Gentleman East. He has produced hundreds of projects by regional artists and in 2015 he was presented with the “Lifetime Achievement Award” at The Steamtown Music Awards, which were a part of The Electric City Music Conference. Alexander, 50, is a graduate of Bucknell University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics. He and his wife, Kelly, have two daughters: Harlow, 18 and Scarlet, 16. Their home is also in Dupont.
Meet Bret Alexander …
You opened Saturation Acres 16 years ago. When did you first realize that, in addition to being a musician, you also wanted to be a producer?
I actually started more as a producer than a musician. I mean, I was in bands in high school and I started playing guitar and piano when I was 14 or 15, but I ended up taking a course at a local studio while I was in college. And once I got out of college, my first professional music job was engineering in a recording studio.
Were you always, as you were growing up, interested in the production value of recordings? What was it about production that interested you?
When I was a kid, a lot of people learning how to play guitar wanted to play like Eddie Van Halen. I never cared about playing like Eddie Van Halen. I cared more about how The Beatles put their records together. I was more of a song person. I was always more interested in great songs, no matter what the genre and a lot of what really made the songs speak wasn’t the guitar solo. It was more of the song itself and the setting that you put it in. Everything for me, from the beginning, came first and foremost from the song itself.
What do you enjoy the most about producing an album for an artist?
It depends. Back when we first started Saturation Acres, people would come in the door and it would be more like, “Oh man, this stuff has a lot of potential.” Or, “This could get a record deal.” Or, “This could be a big success.” That was part of the excitement. We just thought we had to pull it all into focus and then we would go out and shop it. Nowadays, a record deal doesn’t mean what it used to mean. People are doing things on their own. And so you’re really just trying to help somebody be the best of what they’re capable of being. Everybody’s got a different level of interest and commitment to what they do. And just because you have somebody that isn’t going to be a supermodel doesn’t mean they’re not interested in fashion. There are people that just love music and they wrote some songs and they want them to be the best they can be and I approach it that way. When you’re with a person, you kind of get a sense of what they like and what they value and what they want and they just don’t know how to pull that into focus and make it happen. And I do.
What are some of the more memorable projects that you’ve produced?
There’s been so many. We produced all of The Badlees records. And that was very exciting to get those records done. They were all fun to produce and see them come to light. And obviously with the success of Breaking Benjamin, it was exciting to see that take off and become what it became. In my case, in most cases, once I do a record with somebody once or twice, we become friends. And then if they branch off with other projects, they’ll come to me with those projects. And so it’s really hard for me to answer what was the most exciting project I ever did. There’s just been so many.
Is it really true that, from your own work as an artist, you don’t even own a copy of most of your own albums?
I don’t have most of them. I have a couple. The problem is when they come out, I get a handful of copies and then people will say, “I’d really like to hear that,” and I’m like, “Well, here.” And then I give them my last one. That’s what happens every time. I should save the one. But someone will say, “Man, I’d really like to hear ‘Love Is Rain,’ and I’ll say, “I think I have a copy of that.” And I think, “I’ll get another one sometime.” And I never do.
You were a core member of The Badlees for more than 20 years and wrote most of the band’s songs. It’s now been almost two years since you left the group. How do you now look back on your time with the band?
It was great. We had a lot of fun. Some years were better than others. But we made a lot of really good music. The funny thing is, when you’re in it and you’re playing the shows and you’re trying to make another record and you’re playing a gig and playing a gig and playing a gig, you’re thinking, “Man, I really thought this was a good band. And I really thought it could be so much more.” And that’s not the way it happened. And then you get out of it and out of nowhere, things start coming to you, where people say, “I loved you guys,” and “This album did ‘this’ for me. And honestly, nobody ever told me those things until after I left. Someone would say, “I played your song at my father’s funeral.” And I really didn’t hear a lot of that when I was in the band. I hear a lot of it now. And I don’t know why.
You had two national record deals. You wrote a song, “Fear of Falling,” that received considerable national airplay and was used by NBC during the Winter Olympics broadcast. You were in a music video that appeared on VH1 and featured an Emmy Award-winning actress. You shared the stage with the Allman Brothers, Bob Seger and Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. And though the sale of your record label certainly derailed some things, you’ve still sold more than a quarter of a million records. What is your favorite Badlees memory?
I know other musicians also say this, but by the time you get to that level, the work is done. The songs are written. The record’s been made. The rehearsals are over. You’re just kind of playing at that point. So as long as everything works, you’re going to be all right. So I can’t really name a moment. The thing that still gets me the most excited is having a good group of songs. It’s still that. The only guy that ever worked with us on producing some our records said to me once, “It never gets any better than when you write it.” And that’s the truth.
Who are some of your all-time favorite musical artist?
It’s kind of the usual. Tom Waits. Bruce Springsteen. The Beatles. The Stones. Van Morrison. Johnny Cash. Nobody’s really topped any of those.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I really just try to spend time with the family. I don’t really have any hobbies. I work and hang with the family and that’s about it.
Do you follow sports? Do you have any favorite teams?
No. Nobody in particular. I’ve had different ones over the years. And I have a couple that I can’t stand. I played high school and college football. I was about 22 when I quit playing and when I quit playing, I didn’t watch a football game for about 15 years. I missed a whole generation of great players. I don’t think I ever saw Emmitt Smith play. I missed his entire career by not watching football.
I didn’t want to watch it. I was done.
But at one time, you must have loved it.
I did love it. But by the time I was done with school, I didn’t want anything to do with it.
Do you remember your first car?
A maroon 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.
You’ve toured the whole country a few times. What’s your favorite city?
It’s a toss-up between New Orleans and San Francisco.
Favorite thing about NEPA?
All of the little neighborhoods. You’ve got the Polish, the Italians, the Irish, the Lithuanians … it’s everybody. And they all have their own little set of traditions and their own little quirks. And I love that. It’s awesome. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
All-time favorite movie?
Favorite TV show?
Game of Thrones.
You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe.
Biggest pet peeve?
People with a sense of entitlement.
I don’t really feel guilty about much.
Is there anything about you that might surprise even your friends?
I played football with Gregory Schiano, who was the head coach at Rutgers for a while and the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Defining personal moment?
During my last semester at college, I created an independent study course working in a recording studio. So 3/4 of my credits for my last semester came from interning at a studio. I did the internship, finished school and went home for the summer. I played for a month or two and said “I’ve got to get a job.” So I got the newspaper and found a sales position and I called and set up an interview. On my way there, I stopped by the studio, just to say hello, because I hadn’t been there in a couple of months. Besides having a recording studio, they also designed studios and the day I walked in the door, they got the gig to build a studio for Whitney Houston at her house. So everybody that worked at the place was leaving and they needed somebody to run it right then. And I was standing there. And that’s how I got my first job. And that was basically what set me on my path. I wanted to do music, but I had no connections whatsoever. And that’s how I got my first gig. And from there, I’ve never been on an interview.
UP CLOSE & PERSONAL with ALAN K. STOUT is a regular feature in electric city, profiling people from all walks of life throughout NEPA. Reach Alan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
photos by tom bonomo