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The Core: Brett Dennen

Mike Greenhaus | April 18, 2011

On recording his album Loverboy, being a jamband singer/songwriter and texting with Mike Gordon

Aspiring to Dive Bars
[With Loverboy ], I wanted to make an album that could make me stand outside of the singer/songwriter crowd a little bit. The singer/songwriter scene is a great community, but I have a strong desire to play music that can get people all sweaty, dancing and spilling beer in a rock club or dive bar – not necessarily music that you have to focus on to hear all the nuances. I wanted to look out from the stage and see people losing their minds instead of what I’m used to in the singer/songwriter clubs.

Yearlong Demo
Producers like to work within their level of comfort and ability – with their musicians – and I didn’t want a producer to change the direction of this record, so I decided to self-produce it. Before we made the album, I made an elaborate record of demos. I had musicians come in from time to time and play [on the demos], but mostly it’s just me and an engineer [playing]. Then I gave it to all the players I wanted involved so it was circulating within my community for about a year before we went into the studio and tracked it as a band. There was some crossover with my live band and my studio band, too – like [drummer Pete McNeal]. He and I started a funk band side project called Apples & Lemons. So when we finally went into the studio, everybody knew what the songs needed and had their own ideas about how to make the songs better. It felt like we were remaking a record.

A Little Extra Love
In order to get the edgy sound that we wanted, we had to record mostly live. So we jammed together and picked our favorite take – vocals included. Then my manager and I figured out what songs would be the singles. We narrowed it down to four songs and I gave them a little extra love and attention with a great producer over in London named Martin Terefe [Jason Mraz, James Morrison, KT Tunstall]. I put a little extra guitar on, treble on some of the vocals, gave it some drum treatments, added a little synthesizer and that’s pretty much all we did. Then we got a really great mix from [engineer] Michael Brauer.

Passport to High Sierra
This album is probably the album that’s going to be the most true to the nature of the Relix community as a jamband record. Even though there’s not a lot of jamming on the record, if you were to hear the outtakes, you would think it’s a jam record because of how we tracked it. I think this record will make people say, “Oh, this makes sense as to why Brett Dennen’s always playing at the High Sierra Music Festival and how he exists in this jam world, even though usually he’s a singer/songwriter.” I might not play ten minute guitar solos, but this music has the same chemistry that jam music has. Now that I’m a little more financially stable, I’m expanding into a bigger rock and roll, jammy sound. But I still feel like I’m holding true to my initial belief that everything starts with the song.

Texting with Mike Gordon
Mike Gordon and I [became friendly], and he’d text me a lyric idea that he had on random nights. Then I would text him something back and he would be like, “Oh, that’s good – how about this?” And I would text him back. Maybe it would just be a rhyme scheme or maybe it would be in response to his song idea. We were just kind of bouncing ideas off each other.