Music Interview: Bryan Porter Hinkley’s “99 Shots” — Trusting His Gut

By Scott McLennan

This month, the veteran guitarist, singer, and songwriter released his first solo album, 99 Shots, and found himself leaning in a direction he had spent decades avoiding.

Cover art for Bryan Porter Hinkley’s 99 Shots

Bryan Porter Hinkley has good instincts when it comes to music — even when he’s not so sure at the moment.

“I have a tendency to appreciate my stuff more if I haven’t heard it in a long time. I’ll go back to something and say, ‘That was pretty good,’” Hinkley said during a recent interview. “I don’t ever want to get to a point, though, where I think, ‘Oh, this is perfect.’ It’s OK for an artist to be self-critical.”

This month the veteran guitarist, singer, and songwriter released his first solo album, 99 Shots, and found himself leaning in a direction he had spent decades avoiding. But he trusted his gut.

“When I was writing the songs, a lot of them sounded like classic rock music,” Hinkley said in a recent interview. “I love classic rock; I have a pretty eclectic taste in music. But I have always tried to avoid — or was hesitant — to make something that sounded like regular old rock ’n’ roll. I always felt some obligation to do something different all the time. For this one, I removed that hesitation and let it be what it was.”

And 99 Shots, which is available on streaming services, came out really well. The songs are as scrappy as they are catchy. Hinkley infuses rambunctious vim and vigor into stories, lessons, and anecdotes from a life lived around making music.

Hinkley first came to prominence as the guitar player in Tree, a Boston band that delivered antiestablishment protest songs wrapped in hardcore punk and heavy metal. From the late ’80s until its 2001 break up, Tree toured heavily and was one of Boston’s top draws.

Following his tenure in Tree (which recently reunited with new members joining singer Dave Tree), Hinkley found work with the bands Gang Green and Clutch, and also started the band Never Got Caught with his brother, drummer Billy Hinkley. And a decade ago the guitarist also launched Gratitude Sound, a company that supplies music for commercial uses.

99 Shots is Hinkley’s first album under his own name. It arrives on the heels of a handful of singles he recorded and released over the past couple of years.

With 99 Shots, though, Hinkley pulled together an impressive band to bring this new project to life. Clutch drummer Jean-Paul Gaster is on the record; he coproduced the project with Hinkley. They recorded in Maryland’s Doom Saloon, a Clutch hangout, and brought in organ and Fender Rhodes player Chris Brooks and bass player Jay Turner.

Hinkley says he wanted to piece together something that had a cohesive vibe but did not necessarily reflect the expanse of his musical tastes. He pulled this intent off: 99 Shots contains seven songs that don’t all sound alike — yet sound as if they at least come from the same neighborhood. By moving away from the heavier styles of Tree and Never Got Caught, Hinkley gave himself the freedom to stitch together the primal drive of punk rock with some of the more dramatic flair of classic rock.

The song “99 Shots,” for instance, makes good use of its wide sweep; detailed vignettes, detached from larger narrative, are interwoven with a boisterous chorus. The result: an air of mystery hangs over the track.

Veteran guitarist, singer, and songwriter Bryan Porter Hinkley. Photo: courtesy of the artist

Hinkley said the tune came to him in a dream. He heard the catchy refrain “99 shots rang from my pistol” and wondered what song it came from. Once he realized it wasn’t someone else’s song, he made it into his own, sketching out scenes vaguely familiar to him.“Everything is an amalgamation of different experiences. Nothing is super specific,” he explained.

“Bird” is a full-throated alt-pop song, while “Diamond Eyes” buzzes with blues-rock swagger. “Idiot” boasts a jagged funk groove, and it sits alongside the vulnerable folk tune “Live That Down.”

Hinkley says that he holds onto ideas for a long time — in some cases years — before feeling they are ready to release. “Waitress,” for example, started out featuring a Spanish guitar and reggae beat. On 99 Shots, the tune is transformed into more of a punk rock song, though bits of that Spanish guitar pop up in the song’s bridge. “I love starting songs. I am continually inspired by that creative process,” Hinkley says, noting that he probably has about 100 unfinished songs in the can, ready to be finished up. “But the act of completing songs is something else. Finishing songs is a lot harder.”

Hinkley still performs sporadically as a solo artist as well as in different heavy-music and experimental settings. At the moment he is putting together a band to play the 99 Shots new material for a show at the Koto in Salem on Aug 23.

“I’ll never stop writing and recording music. It’s what I love to do,” Hinkley says. “And I’ve come to realize I don’t need to reinvent everything. I just need to try and write good songs and let it be what it is.”

Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to the Boston Globe, Providence Journal, Portland Press Herald, and WGBH, as well as to the Arts Fuse. He also operated the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene.

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