15 In Philly: Brian McTear

Spend 15 years in Philadelphia and you’ll figure out that things in MAGNET’s native city aren’t always sunny or bursting with brotherly love. But underneath the tough exterior are some pretty sweet sounds. In honor of our anniversary, we pay tribute to our hometown scene.

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When Brian McTear recounts the favorite projects of his decade-plus recording career, the Philly-based producer is evenly split between the well-known (Matt Pond PA, A-Sides) and the lesser-known (Lucys, Bigger Lovers). But they’re favorites for a reason.

“Sincerely, The Last Century” from Bitter Bitter Weeks’ Peace Is Burning Like A River:

“They really encapsulate this excellent balance of learning what I was doing and knowing what I was doing,” says McTear. “A lot of it was the attitude we had, just being cavalier. You can never really relive it.”

McTear grew up in Philly’s adjacent Chester County, attending West Chester University alongside future members of Mazarin, the Azusa Plane and the Bigger Lovers. It was there he founded Miner Street Recordings, named after his address at the time. The studio later moved to the Manayunk section of Philly and merged with the likeminded Cycle Sound, a marriage that yielded nationally known albums by the Capitol Years, Burning Brides and Espers.

He and partner Amy Morrissey have since relocated to the city’s burgeoning Fishtown neighborhood. McTear credits Morrissey’s work ethic and artful placement of microphones for the studio’s redoubled efficiency since she began working there full-time in 2003. Besides working and living together, McTear and Morrissey play in each other’s bands: his Bitter Bitter Weeks and her Novenas. The latter released a self-titled debut in 2007; the former has three albums to its name.

Bitter Bitter Weeks began as a bare-bones return to zero following McTear’s droning, experimental band the Marinernine. Its first two albums, 2003’s Bitter Bitter Weeks and 2004’s Revenge, are acoustic affairs centered on McTear’s well-worn rasp and skeletal guitar. 2007’s Peace Is Burning Like A River found BBW reborn as a tight, sunny six-piece. “I knew I always wanted it to be a [proper] band,” he says. “By the third record, I was ready to come out of my early-R.E.M.-loving shell and not be embarrassed by that.”

Touring and recording with the Weeks hasn’t slowed down McTear’s day job, however. He’s working with co-producer Daniel Smith (Danielson Famile) on upcoming recordings by Woven Hand (a.k.a. 16 Horsepower’s David Eugene Edwards), experimental rock/hip-hop outfit Soul-Junk and avant-hardcore band MeWithoutYou. Besides overseeing his studio and band, McTear has witnessed Philly’s transformation into a robust music mecca.

“When I first moved to Philadelphia, people [weren’t] concerned with making music for any other reason than being big in Philly,” says McTear. “When I was in Mazarin, we played England. No one I knew had done that. Then that second wave hit, with Dr. Dog and Man Man and Spinto Band, and that’s where it is now. It’s really grown up.”

—Doug Wallen

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