Kyle Betournay discusses music and upcoming EP


Jacob Greenia

Kyle Betournay

Uncoiling a thick mess of cables snaking around his feet to plug in his microphone, electric acoustic guitar, and amplifier to his looping station equipment, dirty blonde-haired, blue-eyed Kyle Betournay begins another cathartic recording session from his dorm room in Senators Hall between the crease of the two closets facing his wall.

Betournay, a psychology major at Johnson State College, is recording new music for his new five song EP (extended play), slated for release this summer.

Betournay’s journey from a boy from a broken home in a small town to an aspiring do-it-yourself singer/songwriter is almost too cliché to be genuine. It is his sincerity and humility that acts as the adhesive necessary to pull his instrumentals from segments on a laptop screen into cohesive songs.

This formula for his songwriting could also be taken a metaphor for how Betournay arrived at his passion for music: rough segments which are refined by practice and later spilled into an entire body of work. Only Betournay insists that his musical journey was a happy accident.

“What made me want to become a musician . . . this isn’t a magical story. I didn’t have this moment where I said, ‘I need to be a musician,’” said Betournay. “In high school, senior year, I had one more space I needed to fill for a class. And I was like ‘what’s the laziest thing I can think of?’ My teacher at the time [said] ‘we have a guitar class,’ [to which I said] ‘sold!’ So I went to guitar class and quickly became one of the best students just because I became addicted to playing.”

It was not long before Betournay picked up an electric guitar and started practicing incessantly to pass time, only to surprise himself a few months later.

“I used to hang out with the Canadian Border Patrol — it was that bad, I had no one to hang out with,” said Betournay. “Then I picked up a guitar and [woud] just bring a guitar home every day and practice, and practice, and practice. [I was] driving my family nuts, nuts, and nuts. Eventually I just got good, but I still feel like I’m not good enough. I don’t think I’ll ever feel good enough. I just want to get better.”

On his electric guitar, Betournay derives his playing style from the blistering tremolo picking modified by Van Halen guitarist Eddie Van Halen in the late 70s. This is, however, only when he is playing his electric guitar. When he slips his acoustic over his head, the shredding gives way to sweet melodies and harmonized guitars.

“When I pick up an electric guitar it’s completely different than an acoustic,” said Betournay. “When I pick up an electric I feel the need to play metal and just completely shred, and just make death screams. But when I pick up an acoustic guitar, I just want to make something that isn’t [really] intense, but in a mystical kind of way. Just something catchy and something nice.”

Aside from Van Halen, a closer comparison for the music Betournay is writing is fellow singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran, whose use of layered, harmonic guitars distinguish his sound from other artists.

Betournay’s songs are a similar blend of the percussive acoustic guitar work that Sheeran operates with. “Break Me Out” marries bouncing major chords with morose lyricism about a souring relationship.
Meanwhile, “Dreamless” is a slow-burning alt-rock song, backed by a hip-hop beat and spindly lead guitars. Both songs were worked on inside Betournay’s dorm room, a process which has frustrated him.

“It’s hell. It sucks. It’s terrible. My arm just bumps into stuff, I’ve bruised myself a couple times,” Betournay continued. “It’s not a fun time at all. It’s just a nuisance. I accidentally slapped my roommate once [because] he just got in the way.

“It’s hard to really make out the audio when it’s playing outwardly because it’s such a small room,” said Betournay. “And since it’s a small room, what I record and when I record it’s always quiet — it’s overly quiet. I’ve looked into software for bumping up the decibel levels of the songs but it’s hard to do that.”

Using a looping station, Betournay starts his songs by tracking a beat, bassline, and guitar, then channels his emotions into patterns of vocal melodies and lyrics. “It goes into the looper where everything gets built up, and I’ll take one layer off for a chorus and add a layer for a chorus,” said Betournay. “It all goes outward into my amp, or into my computer where I would record it with a program I bought called Mixcraft Pro Studio 7, which is pretty helpful.”

As for lyrics, his inspirations derive organically from circumstance and state of mind. “A lot of my lyrics used to [deal] with heartbreak, but I’ve had a major shift in my life lately,” said Betournay. “Now I don’t feel as sad as I used to feel when this project originally started. So I expect [the songs] to be much more light-hearted. I still try to channel feelings and emotion, it’s just not as easy now that I don’t have as much depression going on. I mean, I could just write about my butt like everybody else does, worst comes to worst.”

The inspiration for many of his songs may stem from heartbreak, but Betournay insists that the daily events in his life are constantly challenging him to create better art and stay productive. “For me making music is less ‘fueled by something’ than [it is] something that’s constantly there,” said Betournay. “Even in the middle of classes I feel like I should be back at my dorm just playing guitar [or] doing something worth my time. I never felt that I could vent my aggression and sadness in a way that is artful or good for society. So when I started doing it musically, it was an easy relief that didn’t put me in jail.”

Betournay’s passion and innovation for crafting and evolving his music is only one piece to getting his material in the ears of listeners, which is something the young artist already has on his mind for his work.

“If you want to be a do-it-yourself musician, don’t be a recluse,” said Betournay. “You’re going to need friends to back you. And don’t expect yourself to just rock it off the planet.”