Music Designer Janica Quach had a chance to interview singer-songwriter, pianist Brendan James as he tours in support of his self-titled new album. He released his first album,The Day is Brave, in June 2008, which debuted in the Top 10 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart. Several of its songs were featured on various television shows including Private Practice, Bones, So You Think You Can Dance, and Army Wives.
Janica Quach: Which musicians inspire you?
Brendan James: I think the singer-songwriters from the ‘60s and ‘70s seem to be my greatest inspiration. I feel like that classic sound and the way they would write lyrics back then and play their instruments has always been what has inspired me the most. But if I think about today’s artists and the artists that I grew up listening to, as in artists who are my contemporaries, I really like Beck, I really like Radiohead, and I like The Shins. So those kind of artists kind of influenced me in a way and maybe my sound is representative of all of that.
JQ: We were actually doing a little research on you and that is where the next question comes from, which I think is my favorite question. Can you tell us a little bit about your interesting history with hotel pianos?
BJ: (laughs) It’s funny; the farther I get away from that part of my life, the more it cracks me up. I was really desperate when I moved to New York City right out of college and I only had a crappy old keyboard in my apartment. I was just learning to play the piano then and I was craving real piano. I realized there were really nice pianos in the really nice hotels in New York City; it was just a matter of sneaking in at odd hours. You can’t play in the lobby at 12 in the afternoon; you have to kind of wait until it is 11 p.m. or midnight for nobody to care. So, I would kind of dress up sometimes like I was a guest at these fancy hotels and talk to the guy at the front desk a little bit and just be like: “Hey, do you mind if I play the piano a little?” and I would play for hours and that’s kind of how I really learned to play the piano and wrote some of my early songs.
JQ: You mentioned living in New York. We know that you also previously lived in North Carolina and are currently living in Los Angeles. Do you think that your musical style is affected by the region of the country that you live in at the time?
BJ: That’s a good question. I think to some degree, but I really think the sound, especially for a singer-songwriter or folk artist or whatever…when your lyrics are really important to you…I think a lot of it comes from where you grew up. I still pull ideas and references from growing up in New Hampshire. The people that I grew up around kind of shaped me into the person that I am, so I think that kind of influences the sound more than anything else, probably.
JQ: How would you describe your sound?
BJ: Oohhh, that question. That’s a good one and such a hard one at the same time. I was just talking to somebody about that this week, my sound, and how this album is a little bit different sounding than my first album. What’s my next album going to sound like? I feel like my sound is defined by my voice and my piano playing and the lyrics that I choose to write. Other than that, I feel like it is probably going to have to withstand a lot of different production things the sound goes through and the musicians that I play with and record with, and that will probably all affect the sound, but I think at the root of it is those three things.
JQ: Does your musical style change as your career progresses and does that change your creative process, as well?
BJ: Yeah, I think my musical style has changed and will continue to change. That’s kind of what I hope for, at least. As I become a better musician, as I tour more, as I meet more people and hear more music out there in the world, I think it is inevitably going to change me a bit, which I welcome.
JQ: Do you enjoy playing to live audiences?
BJ: Yeah, yeah, I enjoy the smallest of rooms, where you can hear a pin drop, and I also enjoy… I haven’t really played for more than 2,000 people at a time, but I do remember really enjoying those shows. It’s a whole different type of performing that you have to do. I enjoy both, actually, and they are both very different.
JQ: Do you have a favorite place to perform?
BJ: Well, immediately what comes to my mind is performing at Joe’s Pub in New York City. I think that’s my favorite place, and if I had a second favorite place, it would be The Tupelo in Londonderry, New Hampshire, because it is so close to my hometown and I love the people who come to the show so much. But Joe’s Pub in New York City… I just have a lot of history there and I remember getting my first gig there several years ago and Man, it was such a big deal to book JOE’S PUB. So anyway, I always love going back there now.
JQ: Who are you listening to at the moment?
BJ: At the moment, I am listening to a lot of things, because we are in a tour van with so many hours and I’ve just been kind of letting my bandmates expose me to new things. But my staples are Neil Young; I listen to The Shins a lot, I listen to Nick Drake, I listen to The Streets, I don’t know if you’ve heard of The Streets, but they’re kind of a hip hop, spoken-word type of thing out of England; they are pretty big in the UK. I just got into Future of Forestry, I love them. Bon Iver as well; I think everyone has a different way of pronouncing their name.
JQ: Can you describe your new album, Brendan James, and the creative process that you took on to put this together?
BM: My new album I really started writing immediately after touring my first album. I thought in the back of my head that I would take a few months off after so much touring and then get back into writing and going into the studio, but that’s not how this business works. So, I just ended up jumping right into it and it ended up being a result of spreading my wings so much on the road. I wanted to write songs that had bigger foundations and that let me and my band on the road really fly and really bring our talents to new levels. The songs that I was trying to write were just a little bigger and the production I was aiming for was just a little more full and I think that’s the result of the album. I’m really proud of it; it’s a different direction for me in a way but I hope people hear the same guy behind the microphone and talking about the same things in his songs.
– Submitted by Janica Quach, Music Design