Community Spotlight - Brian Downton

Brian Downton has been making musical waves in St. Johns and beyond since the early 1990s. He's been the drummer for numerous alternative and punk bands and if you spent even a small amount of your time engaged in the local music scene as a player or a lover of live music then it's extremely likely you would have seen Brian play. 

If you were coming up in the 90s and early millennium you’d likely be familiar with his work in bands such as Potatobug, JKW, Lizband and as the front man for A Boy Named Tragedy and Wheadeater. Brian has toured Canada and the United States with Calgary based bands Chupacabra and Second Floor Daycare and has recorded and performed as a session drummer for many different artists over the past 20 years. In 2018 Brian began endorsing Murat Diril Cymbals and Headhunters Sticks & Creations. In addition to having his name listed on far too many albums to count he has released 17 solo albums, mostly improvisational, under the moniker Personal Space Invaders, often as a part of the annual RPM Challenge in which artists write and record an album during the month of February.

Lizband, CBTG's, 2005

Lizband, CBTG's, 2005

PotatoBug, Press Shoot, 2018

PotatoBug, Press Shoot, 2018 

Brian has undoubtedly established himself as one of the best and most sought after drummers in the province due to his ability to master all genres of music but is also a multi-instrumentalist and recording engineer.

What many people may not know is that Brian has created a life changing music therapy program here in our vibrant little city. After a multi year struggle with addiction and a successful recovery, Brian became a Child and Youth Care Practitioner but he wanted to use his talents and his knowledge of music as a healing tool to create something that could truly benefit the disadvantaged children and youth that he worked with each day. With the help of his amazing employers Key Assets he formed what would become one of the province's first and certainly most diverse music therapy/recording and multi-media production program for youth in care, Youth on Track. We sat down with Brian to chat about what he has been up to in the community and what's next for him. 

Brian can you talk to us about how you started your musical career?

I started off playing drums in my basement with a couple of kids in my neighbourhood. In junior high, I started my first official band with friends who attended the school with me. We would practice nearly every day after school. That led to us playing "Battle of the Bands" at all the different schools in the metro area. From there I met other musicians from different schools (high schools) and started a new band with them, although I was still in Junior High. I was always the youngest member. When I moved on to high school, I joined a band with my older sister's friends who attended the school. Again I was the youngest member of the group. That is where it all started. Through connections made while playing with these fine folks. 

Peace-A-Chord, 1994

Peace-A-Chord, 1994


You have worked on and been involved with so many interesting productions and events. Can you tell us about some of the things you have worked on over the years? What were some of your favourite projects and why?

The last few years, during the COVID pandemic, I took part in and helped create the CO-VIDEO COLLECTIVE with my long-time music partner and collaborator, Ritche Perez.  While in isolation, we worked together with many other artists, all virtually, to create over 50 recordings and videos that we released online.  I never met 70% of the other participants before. It was both rewarding and well-received.  We also created an off-shoot project called 709 Rewind that focused on local Newfoundland bands from the 90’s. It kept me busy during the Covid days, and how it was all done was so interesting and incredible.  

Besides that, I would have to say this year's East Coast Music Awards in Halifax with XIA-3,(an emerging instrumental fusion band that blends traditional Chinese influences with Western post-rock and the number of Dunefest performances I did in St. Pierre et Miquelon over the years were very fun experiences.

But!  The favorite?  Touring Canada and the U.S. in a van with my bands when I lived in Calgary.  Nothing will top traveling both countries from the seat of a van with your close peers. 

I should also mention the Alderwood Retirement Centre videos. I did the video/audio editing and production for those. They are always fun. I love seeing what the residents of the seniors home send me to put together. They're so funny and creative. 

Watch the Alderwood Retirement Centre videos here

What bands or projects are you involved with now?

I currently play drums/keyboards in XIA-3, and drums for the local hardcore band Of the Black.  I also am involved in session work with a few different artists, both in the studio and live on stage. Personal Space Invaders is an ongoing solo project of mine in which I write and record an album each February as part of RPM, so that will always be an active project of mine until I decide to retire. I reconnected with my old bandmate from Calgary in the past year who I played in the skate punk rock/pop punk band, Second Floor Daycare with.  We have not spoken to one another in 20 years.  He now lives in Vancouver.  We have been using Dropbox to send files back and forth to each other, and have 3 albums worth of new material to release.  Our first new one was released earlier this year on all streaming platforms, and the second one is scheduled to release at the end of July.



Of the Black

You are endorsed through Murat Diril Cymbals. Can you tell us what that means and how it came about?

Yes, I connected with the Canadian distributor of Murat Diril Cymbals and they offered me an endorsement contract. What that means is I get an artist discount on their top of the line handcrafted cymbals. As long as I play only their brand and advertise their brand, I will get all the benefits as an official endorser: discounts, advertisement on their multimedia platforms, and everything else that comes with endorsing a brand. 

I also endorse Headhunters Sticks and Creations, a Canadian company, and Attack Drumheads is in the future. 

Can you tell us what you love about Johnny Ruth?

Love that you are a local company, independent, and you sell local creations. 

Newfoundland has a vibrant art community, from musicians and songwriters, to dancers and painters, authors and actors, and every form of craft in between. Johnny Ruth tries to show continued support by carrying numerous pieces and forms of art designed and/or manufactured by both local and Canadian artists and has monthly pop ups that often showcase the arts in our shop window. Do you have any suggestions for a popup that could be interesting and beneficial to the community?

A puppet show musical? That's a good question. 

You openly talk about your struggle with addiction. Can you share with us how that progressed, when you realized you needed to seek treatment, and what treatment looked like?

It started with alcohol. That progressed to the hard drugs.  I felt I couldn’t write or perform without having assistance from substance.  I soon progressed to not being able to do anything without assistance from substance.  I’d do anything to get my drugs.  I was broke, I was neglecting my job, my family… I hurt those closest to me and everyone around me. Most of all, I was hurting myself.  I got to the point where I didn’t want to live anymore. When I finally hit rock bottom, it was either continue and die, or fight to survive.  I decided I wanted to fight to live another day.  I attended treatment.  It reprogrammed me to find healthy coping skills and the tools needed to fight my addiction.  In early recovery, I did relapse; but I got myself back up and started my recovery again.  I attended meetings (NA), worked the program, and cut out the people, places, and things that I associated with using.  It’s an ongoing process. I may be clean today, but no matter how long I have been clean and stay clean I must remind myself that I am an addict, I am vulnerable, and I must continue to be cognizant of my recovery.  One step at a time.  However, through addiction and into recovery I discovered my calling in life… while in rehab I figured out I wanted to help others who are fighting this battle. So that’s how I got where I am today.  I help youth who suffer from complex mental behavioral and addictions issues.  And by the way? The best songs I ever wrote and performances I ever gave have been while clean and sober. 

What steps or advice do you have for any youth today or any person struggling with addiction?

Reach out. You are not alone.  It’s ok to not be ok, and if you are struggling? There is help.  Be gentle with yourself and kind to yourself.  Don’t be afraid to tell on yourself and know how brave you are for having the courage to ask for help. It’s here for you. Recovery is a gift that you deserve, and believe me: it’s worth it. You are worth it. 

You married your love for music and your skills as an instrumentalist with your CYC-P designation to create the first music therapy program for youth in care in the province. Why did you choose to do this?

When I was doing my final work term (for school) at the Tuckamore Youth Treatment Centre, I mentioned that I was a musician.  In the centre, they have a school with a gym and music room.  So of course I frequently visited the music room and met the music therapist who came once a week.  They had drums, guitars, and other instruments there…. But they also had a digital 8 track recorder which no one knew how to operate.  I was asked if I knew how to use it, and of course I said yes.  From there, I started jamming with a few of the kids and recording our sessions.  I did individual sessions with a couple of them, and group sessions with a few.  I showed them how to use the recorder, how to perform songs, etc.  We ended up recording a few different albums together.  It got to the point where I was told that we had to limit the time in the music room because all the kids wanted to do was make music and record, which interrupted all the other programming they were required to do at the centre.  I saw how beneficial it was… so I created Youth on Track from it.  After starting my position with Key Assets as a Child and Youth Worker, then registering as a certified  Child and Youth Practitioner, I brought my music program idea to the directors of Key Assets. They gave me the chance to start it, and it was successful from the get-go.  I’ve been doing it as my full-time gig now for the past 4 years.  It’s my dream job.  

Can you talk to us about Youth on Track? What is the program?

Youth on Track is a multi-platform, multimedia, recording studio, music lesson and jam space for Key Assets’ youth at the Barter’s Hill Learning Centre. Complete with drums, guitars, keyboard, microphones, and DJ equipment, the Youth on Track studio is a place of music and visual art creation. Youth come to learn an instrument, sing their favourite song, write music, learn how to DJ, and shoot music videos. Using audio and video recording and editing software, youth can record anything and everything they perform, create, and envision. I am the creator and co-ordinator of the Youth on Track program. I assist participants with every aspect of the program, from jamming along, to shooting a music video, to recording and editing songs the youth perform. They even create album artwork, posters, stickers, t-shirt designs, and much, much more. There are no limits to what can be done at Youth on Track!

QUICK! You are on a deserted island, what 3 items do you have?

  1. A sailboat
  2. A filtering water bottle
  3. A guitar

What are the benefits of music therapy on disadvantaged youth?

Many youth have no healthy outlet to express what they're going through or how they are feeling. Many do not want to talk about it. So many have opened up about their life through music they make in my studio. I've heard so many life stories through song and art  that no one else ever has before because the young person never wanted to talk about it before, they didn't have a comfortable way to communicate it. Music gives them a voice, and it's so beneficial! 

How do you think other musicians and artists can use their skill sets to foster love and compassion for those members of our community that may be struggling through mental illness, addictions or trauma?

If you have the ability to help someone find their voice or give them an avenue that can help them express themselves, you could help save a life. 

Last but definitely not least, what's the most rewarding part of your career path?

Being able to provide this service that gives a voice to our youth who have difficulty expressing their struggles and their feelings in any other way. I hear their struggles, stories, accomplishments, feelings… I hear their life through art on a daily basis. Giving them an outlet and experiencing what they are putting out there through their artistic creations is the most rewarding part of my career.

Make sure you check out Brian’s linktree for more info, check out his music on all streaming platforms and reach out to him if you are interested in contacting him for session work.


Visit for all Brian's links and information.