Sat. Nov 28th, 2020

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Interview – Brett Dennen

6 min read

Since his first album in 2014, Northern Californian folk singer-songwriter Brett Dennen has been making a name for himself on the international stage. With his 5th studio album, Smoke and Mirrors, being unveiled for UK fans on December 1st, Brett is currently in the UK offering fans a chance to hear the new songs in a live setting with a show within the intimate surroundings of London’s St Pancras Old Church on November 26th.

We caught up with Brett ahead of his performance in London to talk about the new studio album and touring with Paloma Faith as well as his influences and his creative process when it comes to the creation of a new collection. Here is what he had to tell us…

Brendon Veevers: Hi Brett – how are you and where in the world does our interview find you?

Brett Dennen: I’m backstage at the Hammersmith Apollo In London. I’m supporting Paloma Faith this evening. I’m okay, thanks for asking. I could be a bit better, but I’m feeling a little sad because this tour has come to an end. It’s been a lot of fun.

Brett Dennen Smoke And MirrorsBV: Things must be quite busy for you these days with the upcoming release of your new album Smoke and Mirrors. How are you feeling knowing the album is soon out?

BD: Yes. Very busy. Lots of press and promotion. I’m excited for the album to come out. I’ve been getting great feedback from Paloma’s fans, and have also been getting great publicity, so that’s encouraging. More importantly though, I really believe in these songs.

BV: Can you tell us a little bit about Smoke and Mirrors? What can fans expect from the release?

BD: Its straight from the heart. No filler. My goal was to be as direct as possible. Half the songs are pretty bare and raw. The other half is more upbeat. More produced. It has an easy feel to it. Even the upbeat songs. It’s all based around the acoustic guitar and vocal. Even the more rocking songs have acoustic origins. It’s more sincere than my last record. Which harkens back to my earlier career.

BV: The new album is the 5th of your career so far. What would you say are the key differences in Smoke and Mirrors compared to previous releases?

BD: It’s a bit more Americana, or American roots music. But predominantly has a laid back feel, that many people have described as “california”. A noticeable difference is my use of harmonies on this record. I hadn’t played much with harmonies in the past and I really love vocal groups like CSN and the Eagles, so I wanted to show my love of group vocals.

BV: Why did you call the record Smoke and Mirrors – what does the title mean to you?

BD: Things aren’t always as they appear. I’ve been believing things to be a certain way because I want them to be that way. I build up illusions in my head. When I was writing this record I was questioning lots of things in my life. Looking for real answers. I want to live the way I choose. It’s all about happiness. I’m a happy person. But to find true happiness, peace within yourself and the world, that is something achieved in the moment. No matter the circumstance. The album circles this theme with a lot of talk about wishing things were different, or being nostalgic but hopefully the inspiration that comes from it for people will be the simplicity of believing in themselves.

BV: You are performing at the beautiful St Pancras Old Church in London tonight for a headline show. How are you feeling?

BD: I’m feeling very encouraged. I don’t get to play here that often, so it’s nice to know that I have fans.

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BV: What’s your songwriting process like? Do you write songs from personal experiences or from a more observational point of view?

BD: Mostly personal. Even my observational material comes from my opinion. Which is based on my own experience. I used to want to be fully observational, but I’m just not that kind of writer. My process always changes depending on how, when, and where inspiration stiles me. It usually starts with a few words that come to me in a melody, and then I build around that. I can’t really write unless I’m full of inspiration. And even then I can’t write unless I have some alone time.

BV: Is songwriting a natural skill for you and something that you have always been confident in doing or does it take a while for a record to be born?

BD: I’ve always been able to do it. I always understood I could do it. Even before I ever tried. It’s still torturous, though. I want to write songs with meaning. I have high standards for my work.

BV: Did you go into the studio knowing how you wanted Smoke and Mirrors to sound or was the end product something that evolved naturally and spontaneously during the recording process?

BD: I knew exactly how I wanted it to sound, but needed someone to get it there. I also needed someone to confide in. That’s why I chose Charlie.

BV: You brought Charlie Peacock on board as producer of Smoke and Mirrors. What was it like working with Charlie and what advice or lessons did you take away from his input?

BD: I was in an unsure place. I had the material, but didn’t know if it was good enough. I was trying to make something that felt personal and vulnerable. Therefore I was. He showed me how to strip a song down but present it in a way that felt full. He does that with the Civil Wars so incredibly.

Brett Dennen

BV: What artists do you look up to? Who has inspired you the most as a musician?

BD: Paul Simon is my absolute hero. He’s one of a kind. He wrote his own ticket in life by being himself. I look up to him because he seems to never compromise. I also love Cat Stevens and Van Morrison. For the same reason.

BV: You have been busy on the road, touring with the amazing Paloma Faith. How has that been and what has been the best part about touring alongside Paloma?

BD: The best part is the constant feeling of love everywhere you go. Her band and crew all feel it for each other and give it to each other. Her fans give it to her. Her show is a love fest. There’s so much positive energy flowing when she and her band are performing. I don’t always watch the headliners when I’m supporting but I always watch Paloma. Everyone is having so much fun. It’s irresistible.

BV: What are the fans like in the UK compared to those back home in the States?

BD: They are more reserved, but also more polite. I can’t really comment beyond that because I just haven’t had enough exposure over here.

BV: Are there plans to head out on a headline tour to bring Smoke and Mirrors to fans?

BD: Yes! We are currently planning a UK tour for April. Hopefully it goes well and I can come back again after that.

BV: Thanks for your time Brett and best of luck with the release! –

BD: I really appreciate this. It’s a wonderful opportunity for me. Thank you.

Brett Dennen’s new album Smoke and Mirrors is out on December 1st in the UK through Atlantic Records.