If you don’t know Brett Dennen’s music, then I can only say to you, that I hope after you read this you decide to look him up and listen to him. I don’t think any person who has would tell you anything other than you will feel his passion in every lyric he sings. You will feel soul, you will feel inspired, and you will be able to feel a genuine human being who has a love of so many things in his life help inspire him to be a truly talented singer and songwriter.
To give you the quick low down on him, Brett released his first album, titled “Brett Dennen” in 2004. What transpired from that was Rolling Stone magazine calling him an “Artist to Watch” and opening for John Mayer both in 2008. You may have seen him on the David Letterman show, or not even known you were hearing one of his songs in the numerous tv shows he was featured on. Now, on his 7th album, here he is opening for Jason Mraz and playing his own shows as well. I got the chance to ask him a few questions about his upcoming album and found myself sitting next to someone whose music I find to be heavenly.
When I walk in to do my interview with Brett Dennen, I find him casually sitting in the chair in his green room, with snacks that I myself would have chosen I feel like maybe this will just be a conversation like the one you have with your friend instead of an interview that feels stuffy and boring. I do an internal sigh inside of “thank gosh this is going to be refreshing”. I introduce myself to Brett and probably take on the everyday girl introduction when I tell him that I was first introduced to his music in 2008 when hearing his song “Ain’t Gonna Lose You” on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I figure he might think to himself that this girl it wanting to talk music but is talking about her love of Grey’s anatomy to me. But what I find, is that he respects how some shows are really playing a key role in music and getting artists out there. He says “One of the shows back then, would put a picture of the CD and put the artist on there, and it was a really big deal. They would credit the artist and people would go and look it up, so it was a big deal, and that was when iTunes was really getting started and so that was nice.”
If I mentioned the name Dan Wilson to you, you may not know who he is, but I am POSITIVE you have heard at least one of the many songs he has written on the radio before, my guess would be either “Closing Time” by Semisonic or “Someone Like You” by Adele. Now, you will be able to hear something from Dan as he is part of Brett ’s upcoming EP, “Here’s Looking at you Kid”, a 2 part project that will be released on August 24th. I asked Brett if he could tell me a little bit about this project and working with Dan on it. This is what he had to say, “It’s two friends getting together like we’re doing right now with guitars and talking and me saying ‘well, I’m working’ or ‘I’ve always wanted to this’ or ‘hey, I’ve got an idea for this’ and then he’ll sit down at the piano or drums and I’ll pick up a bass or electric guitar and just jam”. I ask him “Did you guys co-write everything together?” He tells me, “on this EP, yeah. I haven’t always worked that way but this is more kind of very loose and collaborative, and fun first and foremost. I just totally love and respect him as a producer, and a writer, and an artist, and a friend. It was just fun, and jammy, jamming like high school.” I wanted to know if anyone one song was personal on this upcoming album. Brett tells me “they are all very personal, yes, everyone single one of them”, but me being that girl who wants to see another song on taking on a role in my life the way “Ain’t gonna lose you” did for me in 2008, I ask him for more, I wanna know the one that hits him in all the feels. His response is just so concordant when he says, “well I love them all, but they’re all like, I mean in the past 6 records I have hidden behind poetry and my lyrics, where with this EP, a lot of it is very literal. There’s a song called ‘Live in the Moment’ and the first line is ‘I’ve never been to Burning Man but I love Modesto’ and I’ve never been to Burning Man and I’m from Modesto”. And then he smiles and laughs. And I see the heavily proclaimed introvert start to let you in, and in his perfect way, talking about his songs and lyrics.
I decide to talk who is influencing him now, I know he has always said Paul Simon was a big musical influencer to him, but I wanted to know if that still rang true, or was there anyone in 2018 that would be a tastemaker for him. His answer for that was,
“I mean, I like Post Malone a lot. I don’t know how much he is influencing me or not. I love Paolo Nutini. I don’t know how much he is influencing me, but I think it all creeps in somehow. If an artist isn’t able to find inspiration from as broad of a spectrum as Post Malone to Paul Simon, are they really even an artist?
We talk about Instagram for a moment. With the world now so heavily influenced with social media, it does have its benefits of giving you a more inside look to a more private person and what they do in off time. His would show you that just that morning, he sat down and did a bunch of quick sketches, that I must say showed a true talent. I asked how long it took him to sketch them all. “The whole thing, probably 15 minutes. It’s something I forget to do. I love staying at hotels for that reason, cause there’s always like a little pad of paper and a pen and you can just listen to music, or a podcast, or do nothing at all, and drink the little plastic coffee machine coffee and leave it”. I also tell him I notice that he and his crew did the Escape Room yesterday and ask him if they made it out. Brett says, “We did not get out, it was really hard!”. He follows it up with an explanation, “well the one that’s here is called ‘Breakout’ and there’s like 7 different themes and we did the Kidnapping one, and it was, well I had heard and heard and heard so many stories about escape rooms and I expected to walk in, and I thought it was going to be like the Riddler” he turns to me and asks “Are you familiar with the Riddler in Batman?” I say “a little” and he replies back, “well I thought it was going to be like that, like figure out the clues I am leaving in this message”. He lets me know if I do go, to start with something easy. And I feel more and more like I am so at ease with him, and just chilling with a friend, and talking day to day stuff. I wonder if he knows yet, how it’s an honor to sit with such an incredible musician and that a part of me Is fan going back to 2008, and looking up that song from Grey’s and smiling inside so big that I am here interviewing the guy who wrote that song that hit my soul in ways that I am not sure artist are aware of the impact their words can have on strangers.
I don’t want to keep much more of his time, I could probably sit here for hours talking to him and sit in awe of his passion and heart but he does need to go out and perform to a packed crowd and share his music with so many others who came to hear him. So I decide to end it with a question I have been asking myself a lot lately. One I find that I Love hearing the answer from those around me. So I say to Brett, “if you could go back to your 18-year-old self and give a piece of advice to him, what would it be”? He pauses for a moment and replies with one of the most beautiful answers I have heard to my question I love so much. In his melodic tone, he tells me, “Just do stuff that you care about. Make it a habit to do stuff that you care about, and make it a priority, so much so, that it’s the first thing you do in a day. If there is something that you want to do in a day, do it in the morning. Otherwise, the further the day goes on, and the further life goes on, it gets harder and harder to do the things that you really picture yourself doing. Like your version of your best self, that’s the things I wanna do. So just do it, make a habit out of doing things you like, no matter what it is, it doesn’t matter, and everything else will fall into place. I shake his hand, and thank him, and know as I walk out I can leave the interview feeling like I got to know a small piece of Brett Dennen as maybe those close around him know him in his everyday life.
The concert starts and I take my pictures of him singing and notice a man my fathers’ age in the crowd dancing all around the pit going from aisle to aisle. He is high five-ing the crowd as he dances and twirls to each song, singing every note of the entire set. He is happy, he is in the moment, and he is loving Brett Dennen as much as the rest of us are tonight. And I think to myself of Brett’s words from a few hours earlier as I watch the happy dancing man, and I hope that from this interview and all the personal songs you can hear from this extraordinary artist, you take with you his piece of advice and live your life in the best version of yourself! I know I am inspired to.
Photos and review by Cindy Marshall