Brett Dennen Returns: New Band, New Songs
Thérèse LaGamma: What can fans expect from this show, when you will be playing with a band?
Brett Dennen: When I perform with a band, it is a much more energetic show. The band creates a celebration. It’s about being lively, connecting with the audience, and having fun.
TLG: Your two most recent albums, Smoke and Mirrors and Por Favor, were recorded in Nashville using an analog recording process. What is it about this recording method that appeals to you?
BD: For me, this was a new exploration and a new process. I like the fact that you get the recording done and move on. Not having the ability to go back and change your work saves a lot of time. But while I’m having fun with analog recording, I’m not locked into it forever. I’m always looking into new processes.
TLG: Tell us about your songwriting process. Does it start with lyrics or music?
BD: It’s different every time. Usually an idea comes to me in the form of a lyric, or an idea for a lyric, with a melody attached. I’ll have 100 of these ideas milling around in my head, waiting for the right time to work on them. My mind wanders back to potential songs a lot. Eventually I find chords that feel new and fresh to me, to go with the melody.
TLG: What do you like best about being a singer-songwriter? What other singer-songwriters are on your playlist?
BD: I’m a singer songwriter because I love the idea that every song is my own personal interpretation. All my favorite artists are singer songwriters for the same reason—every song is a personal windowpane for how they look at the world. Some of favorites are Amos Lee, Ray LaMontagne, and Paolo Nutini.
TLG: You live part time in Pinecrest, California, where you go to write. What is it about the mountains that inspire you?
BD: When I’m on the road, I’m too busy to write. I can get stuff done up in the mountains without distractions. And the added bonus of being in nature creates a quiet, profound energy that is very productive.
TLG: What do you do to prepare for a tour?
BD: Early on, we spend hours and hours rehearsing. After that, we can take three to four weeks off and spend just a few hours to break through the rust before we go back out on the road. For me personally, I make sure to take care of everything in my life at home, so I’ll be relaxed on tour. These days I’m so comfortable on stage that if something goes wrong, I know it will still be a great show.
TLG: When you last visited us, you were getting ready to hike Mount Kilimanjaro. What inspired that trip? How did it influence your music?
BD: It was a really exciting trip and it inspired many songs on Por Favor. The hike was one of several I’ve participated in with Love Hope Strength, a rock and roll cancer foundation. We raise money that goes to cancer treatment centers in the remote places where we are hiking. The experience is about teamwork, relationships, self-exploration, and learning your personal limits. It’s as much of an inside journey as an outside journey, and it was the internal experience—the mental journey—that inspired my music.
TLG: You have also gotten into winemaking. What’s the backstory on that?
BD: We have two varietals produced in Sonoma, a sparkling rosé and a still rosé. It’s a small production that we’re starting to shop out to wine shops around the country. I fell into this with some friends, and it’s a fun collaborative effort—unlike my songwriting, which is a solo endeavor because it is personal to me. My winemaking and my music have similar goals, though—creating a good vibe that enhances whatever else people are doing, celebrating life, having fun, and making life more precious.
TLG: How do you feel about returning to The Music Hall?
BD: I’m looking forward to it. Going back with a full band feels exciting—just what the doctor ordered!