If you walk down South Commerce Avenue in downtown Russellville, you’ll find a number of new shops that have popped up within the past year. One of those quaint little shops is Brother Down Sound. Garrett Brolund, 27-year-old luthier from Alabama, opened Brother Down Sound in February.
He said only one person has understood the reference to the name of the shop. Garrett first heard the song Brother Down by Sam Roberts when he started learning to play guitar.”I’m not even entirely sure why I picked it,” he said. “I remember hearing it when I first started playing guitar, and he was an artist I really looked up to. It just always came back to me.”
Though Garrett likes to jam more than anything else, he listens to all types of music. He said he can find inspiration in anything. “There aren’t many genres that I don’t listen to,” he said. “I used to be pretty elitist, but what I’ve found over the years is that you can find merit in anything, and just because I don’t like it, doesn’t mean nobody else does. I try to give everything a chance. I feel like it makes me a better musician.”
Garrett formed his first band, Dirt Filled Hole, when he was 13. “We were a band in the way that we all got together and played together,” Garrett said, laughing.
Growing up in Dothan, Alabama fueled Garrett’s interest in music. “I was in the right window of time in Dothan where the music scene was very strong and there was stuff going on all the time,” he said. “I was always playing in at least one band.”
He was a part of at least five or six bands at a time throughout his secondary education. Some of them went further than Dothan and even recorded and toured. “I think that’s what you should do in high school,” he said. “Figure out what you like, play as much as you can. Once you get out into the real world, then you get struck with the problems of money and time. In high school, that’s not really a big problem. You’re just playing for fun. I think kids need to take advantage of that time. Those are the years where you develop your love for it. Had I not had that experience, it would be a lot easier for me to get dejected by the way things are for musicians today.”
Garrett said his primary goal is to share music with people with hopes of bringing joy to someone.
Garrett moved to Russellville a year and a half ago from Shreveport, LA. He said the music community attracted him. “Music brought me here,” he said. “There aren’t many places in the country that have as strong of a local community as here.”
Currently, Brother Down Sound sells records and tapes, but Garrett said it’s moving out of that and more toward focusing on “reinvigorating the local music bug.” He plans to work with the local community to put on events, book artists, and work with venues in town and surrounding areas. He said he wants to get the word out that people love live music in Russellville. “I call it artist relations,” he said. “There are people that are phenomenal that need to be heard. It’s a neat pocket of the country. We want to not only enrich it here, but bring that feeling about music to the rest of the country.”
Garrett said he can play anything with frets, including guitar, bass, mandolin and banjo. He received his first guitar for Christmas when he was 11 and immediately started teaching himself how to play. “When I first started playing, one of the first things I did was take the guitar apart because I just wanted to know how it worked,” he said. “I wanted to go all the way and build it. I’m not just a guitar player. I want to know everything I can about this instrument. It’s a respect for the guitar.”
After attending college to study music for a bit, Garrett realized he didn’t need a degree in music if he wasn’t going to teach in a classroom setting. But when he heard about the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery in Phoenix, Arizona, and saw a chance to learn how to build guitars, he took that opportunity.
The process of building a guitar is time consuming because of the precision involved. Garrett said the average time can be anywhere from two weeks to two months, though some can take up to a year. “You’re measuring thousandths of an inch,” Garrett said. “It’s got to be dead on. It takes a lot of patience. I’m not the best at that; I like to hurry up and get done. But it’s a really therapeutic process bringing it to life.”
According to Garret, no two guitars will be the same. ”No matter how many you carve, they’re all going to be different,” he said. “You could have a shape you are going for but, with human error, there’s always going to be slight differences. That’s what makes custom-built guitars so cool. You really get a one of a kind.”
One of the main drawbacks for luthiers is the competition with household name brands like Fender. Because of their factories and bulk supplies, they’re able to sell their products for less than $400. Most custom guitars sell for over $1,000. “I might want a custom guitar, but I might not have two grand to drop on it,” Garrett explained. “So I’m wanting to find ways for someone to get a custom guitar for under $1,000.” Soon, he hopes to offer repairs and customization. He describes his custom work as “hot rodding.” “I like to put things on guitars that aren’t supposed to be on guitars or that you can’t couldn’t just buy off the shelf,” he said.
Garrett has a design and list of supplies for a guitar that would cost $600 to create. He has tried to build guitars since he’s gotten his certification, but hasn’t been able to fund his passion. “It’s pretty expensive to get into, and on a musician’s salary it’s kind of tough,” he said. This is one reason he recently took a job at Arkansas Nuclear One. He works at ANO six days a week, sometimes 12 hours at a time, setting money aside to invest in his shop.
Although Garrett can’t build guitars right now, he tries to keep music the number one goal in his life.
“They always talk about the starving artist and how it’s hard to make money as a musician, but for me it’s all about waking up and doing something that I want to do and that I enjoy, which is one reason I went to school for building,” he said. “If I’m not able to be a famous musician, I can at least have my day job having to do with music. I get to mess with guitars all day.”
Garrett said that wherever he lives, the first thing he does is find a band to join. When he moved to Russellville, he was already a part of Magnolia Brown, and shortly after he joined Jamie Lou and the Hullaballoo. His fiancé, Jamie Connolly, is the lead singer and helps him run Brother Down Sound.
Garrett said Magnolia Brown and Jamie Lou and the Hullabaloo are the favorite bands he’s been a part of. “I’m the proudest of the music we’re making,” he said. “I feel like what these bands are able to do is far beyond what I could do two or three years ago. They’re very musically driven bands and we all get along.”
While the members in Jamie Lou and the Hullaballoo practice and perform songs the same way, Garrett said that Magnolia Brown improvises. “We like the 20 minute songs that we just make up,” he said, laughing. “I can have fun playing any type of music, but there’s just something about jamming that feels the most real and authentic because you’re going purely on the strength on your ability to just play. You don’t have six months to sit down and plan it out.”
Part of the lack of practice is due to members being scattered across the region, but it’s also because they don’t need to. “We kind of have this language on stage where we might be playing a funky groove and then a little cue might happen from someone, and we will all together go into something different,” he said. “It’s weird because after the show, I don’t know what we did. It’s just this connection that we have. To me, that’s the most rewarding to play, and that’s what I really like to play.”
“Everything I do, I try to bring music into it in some way,” Garrett said. “I’m sure I’ll do it for the rest of my life.”