Returning to Baeble (this time in Brooklyn), the tall and lanky, laid back Californian brought three tunes from his newest album, Por Favor. They are songs once again influenced by the landscape. It's not difficult to imagine Dennen perched on some rock, looking down into the valley below, writing a song like "Tengboche". Or casually jamming on "Bonfire" on a moon-lit night on the beach. The great outdoors lives in Dennen's music.
Por Favor was just released earlier this week. While there are some quieter, somber moments, a lot of the record is upbeat, sampling elements of calypso, reggae, and other Caribbean treats as it cycles through. "But the upbeat songs have a depth to them," Dennen told us. "I think there's layers. You can listen to it and tap your foot and sing along. Or you can listen to the lyrics and feel something".
watercolor. Do you paint? - You try? - I try a lot. - Well, so, I mostly do watercolor because it's the easiest to travel with, but there's something special about watercolor, also. With watercolor, it doesn't necessarily go everywhere you put it. It's, like, chaotic. Color just kind of goes everywhere because you work with wet paper and you work with a lot of water, and you can control it a little bit but if you try to control it completely, then it's not true essence of watercolor. The best thing I could say in terms of how it's influenced my music is that watercolor's supposed to be a little chaotic. That's why I like it, because it teaches me to let go and just try to make something out of whatever happens. Cassidy, is reggae music playing on the beach Blue moon tonight, and there isn't a cloud in the sky Grab your Swiss Army Knife and the blanket and meet me outside Yeah, come on Cassidy, the things I lean on are slippery But I know I love you And you make it so hard to leave But I'll keep loving you 'til I'm only a memory We spend our whole lives moving on Reaching out for loving arms The night is young come out with me Cassidy, with the ocean in your hair Come out with me, Cassidy! I'll be tangled up tonight but tomorrow I'll be up in the air Come on, county line These crazy waves down from Caroline And all the smoke hung in the air while the sun was setting You said it looked just like an oil spill in heaven Don't say fair thee well You got that anxious feeling I can tell You're getting antsy let's go up to Neptune's Net and have a drink And plan a trip somewhere to a beach in a magazine Spend my whole life moving on Reaching out for loving arms The night is young come out with me Cassidy, with the ocean in your hair Come out with me, Cassidy! I'll be tangled up tonight but tomorrow I'll be up in the air Cassidy, I love the feeling of sand on my feet With salt on my skin, You say you'd never wear clothes again if you didn't have to You know that I can't really be that free but I sure would like to Show me, show me, show me love No one else can make me open up The way you do I was living in my own little prison I used to decorate the walls that kept me in We spend our whole lives moving on Reaching out for loving arms The night is young, come out with me Cassidy, with the ocean in your hair Come out with me, Cassidy! With the ocean in your hair come out with me Cassidy, with the ocean up in your hair Come out with me, Cassidy! I'll be tangled up tonight but tomorrow I'll be up in the air - You grew up in California, right? - I did. - What part of California? - Oakdale, Central Valley. - How has that inspired your music or helped you learn about what you want to do? - Well, it's a beautiful place with lots of weather, but really it's farmland. They raise cattle there and grow almonds and dairy, and I don't, like, the best thing I could say in terms of how it's influenced my music is that it must just be something about the landscape because it's not I come from a multicultural place. But there is a strong connection to the land there. I think people understand that because it's beautiful and it's, again, I said before this, that's where all, like, the food comes from. So I get a lot of inspiration from nature, I do. Even if I'm writing songs about people, I still like to go up into the mountains or go to the beach or go to the desert or something and be in a place where there's a lot of pristine beauty, just to help me look inward, tap into whatever I'm going through emotionally, to write, and so I think that's probably the biggest thing that's influenced me from where I come from is just a lover of landscape. Tell me the way to Tengboche Tell me the way to Tengboche Tell me the way to Tengboche Tell me the way to Tengboche One thing I learned from all my travels People with the least can give the most Here is a desert for the roses Here's a window for the ghost Sit beside the door On a bed of stars Under the mantel of the mother's arms With her palms up As I wander Just to be among the stars Where we are Tell me the way to Tengboche Tell me the way to Tengboche Tell me the way to Tengboche Tell me the way to Tengboche Ooh. Ooh. Meditators on the mountain Rainbows frozen in the ice The screaming swept across the morning The certain innocence sparkles in the sky Sit between the sun And your shadow long Temples falling down And a tremble shakes the ground Tell me the way to Tengboche Tell me the way to Tengboche Tell me the way to Tengboche Tell me the way to Tengboche Tell me the way to Tengboche Tell me the way to Tengboche Tell me the way to Tengboche Tell me the way to, the way to, the way to Won't you tell me the way Orion is on his head And my love is out on the ledge Get to the bonfire And get undressed My boots are caked with clay These clothes are loose and my appetite's gone Throw them in the bonfire where we belong Our love is sacred Wounded and naked Like a sunburned kiss We are changing Fighting for the same thing Where the lightning lives And I want to love you For the way you are The way I am So let's go now Back to the bonfire Where we began I slow back into my tent To shake out the vertigo You know The only who guided in sleep last night Was that grumpy volcano But before the drunks come home Let's sleep still in our rags To see another bonfire Bleeding the sky Our love is sacred Wounded and naked Like a sunburned kiss We are changing Fighting for the same thing Where the lightning lives And I want to love you For the way you are Not the way I am So let's go now Back to the bonfire Where we began Back to the bonfire Where we began I remember you there Holding up the universe I watched the wind playing with your hair And then love had run its course Why is there only one worthful love And all of these beautiful curses Our love is sacred Wounded and naked Like a sunburned kiss We are changing Fighting for the same thing Where the lightning lives And I want to love you For the way you are Not the way I am So let's go now Back to the bonfire Where we began Back to the bonfire Where we began Back to the bonfire Where we began - And so you have an album coming out, right? Por Favor. - Yup. - Want to tell us about that? - Yeah. It's...well I played three songs from it, so there's seven more and they're similar but some are more somber, slow, and sad. But there's a lot of really upbeat songs, but again, the upbeat songs have a...they have a depth to them. So I think there's, like, layers. Like you could listen to it and just tap your foot and sing along, or you could pay attention to the lyrics and feel something. But it's mostly centered around the acoustic guitar and my voice, that's like the most present thing and then everything else kind of supports it. And there are times where it feels like it could be Calypso or something from the Caribbean or Reggae, and there are times where it just seems like more folky, I guess. - The album sounds great. Thank you so much for talking to us. - Thank you! - It was a pleasure. - All right. Hey, it's Brett Dennen and you're watching Baeble Music. ...to the bonfire Where we began Back to the bonfire Where we began
"It was time to get back to basics." Brett Dennen says of his fifth record, Smoke & Mirrors, out October 22th, 2013. "I wanted to return to the folk and acoustic music I loved when I began writing. I decided to tap into my memories and explore new emotional territory as honestly as I could."
Brett Dennen's music career began humbly around the camps of the Sierra Nevada mountain rangea retreat to which he would eventually return for inspiration on Smoke and Mirrors. "Being in the mountains, aside from the inspiration, was so crucial to me, because as a kid I used to spend so much time in the mountains. And just being there helped me regain that self-confidence. I remembered who I was."
Brett's 2006 release, So Much More, officially launched him as a discovery artist and drew frequent comparisons to troubadours like Paul Simon and Tom Petty. In 2008 his Hope for the Hopeless didn't stray too far from the songwriter's comfort zone, though a partnership with producer John Alagia (Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer) led to a high level of production not yet heard on any of his albums. In 2011, Dennen's Loverboy was his biggest departure to date: a danceable collection of songs influenced by the road and recorded by a studio filled with friends and imperfect takes.
"After several years of consistent recording and touring, some real time off was necessary. I bought a house in the mountains and reconnected with my roots as a songwriter. I walked through the hills, enjoying the solitude, and only wrote when I was inspired."
Returning from his retreat into the mountains, Dennen looked for a collaborator to elevate the songs he'd brought back and landed on renowned producer Charlie Peacock. "Charlie had recently made a beautiful record for The Civil Wars, so he seemed like an ideal producer. We spoke on the phone for just a few minutes and instantly connected. He wanted the recordings to focus on my vocals and acoustic elements. Our goal was to simply enhance the demo and bring them to life."
Dennen and Peacock chose Nashville as a home base, eschewing Brett's L.A. comfort zone to work with virtual strangers. "It was exciting to record with musicians I'd never met. Charlie brought in Mark Hill (Reba McEntire's bass player), Jerry McPherson (guitarist for Faith Hill and Martina McBride), drummer Aaron Sterling who recently worked with Charlie on The Civil Wars record, and Ruby Amanfu (a vocalist in the all-girl Jack White ensemble). Working with new people allows you to explore parts of yourself that might not come out with people you know. You have to stretch a bit, so I let Charlie create an atmosphere that allowed me to be my best self."
Peacock's understated production places Dennen's fervent vocals upfront, while the session players bring their low-key power to the proceedings, adding their own ideas to flesh out the arrangements. Peacock explains, "Brett and I spent a lot of time just building out the arrangements. From the production side, he encouraged me to make every song uniquely its own while keeping it cohesive - and I think we did it."
"Wild Child," the album's lead single, is packed with hooks including a sing-a-long chorus augmented by a bit of George Harrison-style slide guitar. "When We Were Young" has a driving single note rhythm guitar track and a steady backbeat that gives the song a sense of urgency comparable to the work of Don Henley's Building the Perfect Beast. An R&B flavored acoustic guitar hook introduces "Don't Mess With Karma," a topical song about the right to marriage, which condenses the ups-and-downs of a human life into five concise verses interspersed with jazzy electric guitar and Peacock's church organ amplifying its soulful message. "Only Want You" is a love song about going through a rough patch in a relationship; acoustic guitar, subtle mandolin, an almost whispered vocal and a hint of reggae give the tune a gentle lilt. It has a simple message: remember why you're in love and don't get caught up in the things that can distract you from that strong connection.
"Charlie had a master plan and assured me the music would sound good if I just relaxed and became myself. He told me to have faith in the process and let things unfold beautifully, and they did."
"I called the album Smoke and Mirrors, because one of the major themes of the album, lyrically, is that things aren't exactly as they appear to be. If you focus on how you think things should be, then you can't see them for what they really are."