Brett Dennen is a singer songwriter from California. His 5th album Smoke and Mirrors is out now and he is currently on tour with Paloma Faith. We caught up with him in Hull to find about the album, his views on the industry today and how the tour is going so far. To find out more about Brett and upcoming tour dates check out www.brettdennen.net or follow him on Twitter @brettdennen.
The Alt Entertainer (TAE): Smoke and Mirrors is your latest album and you wrote that up in the mountains with relatively no pressure. How was that?
Brett Dennen (BD): I took some time off, went up to the mountains and it was just what I needed, at least for this record. I don’t know if I will need that for the next record, but having no pressure like you said, and having time to not do anything was great. If I wanted to write one day I’d write, if I didn’t want to write and just wanted to hike that was great too and that would usually lead to writing because I would get inspired.
The Alt Entertainer (TAE): You have Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Do you think the changes in the music industry because of the Internet help you?
Brett Dennen (BD): I think it helps. I see it being more about every artist being their own brand and it’s up to them to get out there, find their audience and keep them close and informed. That’s why I think social media is amazing for musicians because as long as people are following me and interested in what I have to share with the world then I’m going to be able to keep doing this.
I think it’s hard for artists to make money nowadays, but I think it’s easy for them to build a following through social media.
The Alt Entertainer (TAE): You’re the support act on this tour, do you approach the crowd differently and is there more pressure on you?
Brett Dennen (BD): Usually the first week or so of the tour I’m trying to feel it out. I’m trying to figure out Paloma’s audience and what are they going to be into. I’d like to go out and just play whatever but if there’s songs of mine that they would rather hear then that would be great, because it’s not me walking out to a crowd that already loves me, I’m trying to win them over.
The Alt Entertainer (TAE): Have you played in the UK before?
Brett Dennen (BD): I’ve opened here for The Fray, the John Butler Trio, Rodrigo Gabriela and I’ve done my own shows.
The Alt Entertainer (TAE): This is the 3rd concert of the tour, how is it going so far?
Brett Dennen (BD): The first one was an older crowd, it was a sit down theatre, everyone was dead quiet, and I was laughing. I walked away from that show and thought; alright we should play some slower songs, so that was the plan. Then the next show we played was a standing room and everyone was noisy and chatty, so I felt like I was wasting all of the soft songs on them, so I didn’t know what to do.
What I’ve noticed from Paloma’s crowd here though is that it’s mostly women in their 30s who bring some fellas along. They are usually totally in love with Paloma or are begrudgingly coming along. Then there are young girls and some older folks too so I don’t want to go out there and play something I think all the young people are going to think is hip, I’d rather just play something that’s more thought provoking.
The Alt Entertainer (TAE): What do you like and dislike about being a musician and touring?
Brett Dennen (BD): I love touring, that’s my favourite part of being a musician but I don’t like being away. It’s a real hell of a way to try and hold down a relationship. I Skype or Face Time my girlfriend, but it’s not easy. If there was a way I could not feel bad or not feel torn every time I left home then it would be amazing but otherwise I love touring. I love playing music every night, I love seeing new places and I love the process of writing music.
Song writing is the hardest, frustrating and gratifying thing I’ve ever done. I wish I could always be in that state. There are people who write songs for a living but I don’t think that they feel the way I feel when I write a song. They’re pleased with themselves and they’re concise and economical with the way they write but I think when I write a song it’s much more personal and definitely much more emotional.
The great thing about being a musician for me, is writing. I love it and nothing else feels the way writing feels, they’re the best highs and lows I’ve ever had.
The Alt Entertainer (TAE): Do you co-write at all?
Brett Dennen (BD): I have but it’s not the same. When you write a song by yourself, it’s like this is me presenting myself to an audience and that’s the kind of fans I want. I want the fans to be like I’m not interested in people singing other peoples songs; I want to hear an artist bare their soul.
I don’t care if it means I’m going to play to 10 people, I just want to do that. If I could find massive success doing that, that would be great. I just want to evolve and grow as a musician and I want to attract people who want to see that.
Interview and photograph by Helen Parish.