Brett Dennen Talks Music, Paul Simon, & Giant Pickles [Interview]

Jason Mraz sure knows how to pick em’

Pictured: Brett Dennen / Photo by Chris Schorn, Christine Photography

Tuesday night was planned as one to remember. Jason Mraz was bringing his Good Vibes tour to the Minnesota State Fair, and tagging along was Californian singer-songwriter Brett Dennen.

Brett Dennen with Music in Minnesota photojournalist Chris Schorn at the Minnesota State Fair

I had the opportunity to sit down with Dennen to discuss his recently released EPs. Last Friday, (8/24), Brett released a collection of songs titled, Here’s Looking At You Kid; the second EP of his two-part collaboration with Dan Wilson. 

As a continuation of Let’s… The first EP in the series released back in February was made in the same fashion, including the same musicians. The love that is flowing through both his recent EPs fits well into the love Jason Mraz is spreading on this current tour

With watercolor paints on the table beside him, I sat down to talk with Brett Dennen about his 2018 releases, state fair food, and his journey thus far.

MIM: To start with can you give us a little background; Where do you come from, how did you get your start?

Brett Dennen: I grew up in Central Valley, California, not a big city, probably an hour and half, two hours from San Francisco, close to the mountains. And I’ve just been playing music all my life, but never started writing music until I was jamming with friends in college and just really liked playing and started paying attention to songs and you know, what makes a verse and what makes a chorus and all that.

I started writing songs in college and really fell in love with it after I graduated and started going to LA to perform a lot and then started just crashing people’s places down there and just kinda put my time in down there for a number of years and then worked my way outward from there.

MIM: When were those college years?

Dennen: I graduated in 2002, I spent a year just kinda goofin’ around and after that working odd jobs and then the following like Christmas of 2003 and early 2004 I started making my first album. Didn’t really know what to do with it though because I had no idea so I just started playing, performing, playing those songs and then I got a small record deal and made another album in 2006. Toured. Did a real tour. Had a label behind me. And I worked with it, actually sent music to radio stations, did the whole deal, went and followed up.

MIM: You’ve been here in Minnesota before, right?

Dennen: Lots of times.

MIM: We’re known for being “Minnesota Nice” here. Are we living up to that?

Dennen: Yeaaaaah, I didn’t know that was a Minnesota thing, but I’ve certainly felt it in lots of parts of the Midwest. I’ve always thought that the Midwesterners are the nicest Americans.

MIM: Where you born in California?

Dennen: Yeah, I’ve only lived in California, nothing else.

MIM: Have you had a chance to try any food here at the Minnesota State Fair?

Dennen: I only ate a giant pickle, on a stick, and every bite you take, it dribbles down your arm. And I couldn’t finish it. It was a LOT of pickle. But I do love pickles. When I was a kid, my dad made jars and jars and jars of them. I think my dad’s pickles probably shaped my whole palate that I have now because I love briny food. I love bitter, earthy, umami, briny food, you name it, I’ll eat it. All sorts of peppercorns and grape leaves and things in there.

MIM: Someone suggested I should bring you a bucket of Sweet Martha’s Cookies

Dennen: I saw some folks walking around with buckets of cookies! I mean who doesn’t love a cookie? But then it’s just like an endless thing, it’s like you have the cookie, then you have the milk to go with the cookie and then you’re not satisfied cause it perks your appetite, and then you start like, water’s not good enough and then you have to put ice in your water, and it’s just like it never ends, ya know? I like to eat foods that like, no one gorges on pickles.

MIM: If you had a 5 disk changer, just driving down the open road by yourself, which albums would be in those spots?

Dennen: I love Paul Simon’s Graceland that’s just banger all the way through, I love Tom Petty’s Wildflowers that’s pretty banger all the way through, Van Morrison Veedon Fleece is great, it’s probably my favorite Van Morrison album, the first Crosby Stills and Nash album, Cat Stevens Buddha and the Chocolate Box.

Brett Dennan Live 2009
Brett Dennan | Photo by Wigan Ang

MIM: If you could attend any concert, who would you see?

Dennen: If I could attend any concert tonight? Oooo, it would probably be a Paul Simon concert. Yeah, he’s the greatest of everything there ever was, in my book. There’s nobody better than him, for my taste.

MIM: Tell me a little more about your recent releases and what’s ahead.

Dennen: I just released an EP late last week and then earlier this year I released a completely different EP so I have two EPs out there that are very fresh and new that I’m promoting on this tour.  For me, it’s a collaboration.

Some might not say it’s a collaboration some might say it’s just the way they make albums but usually when I make an album I disappear for a while and I write a bunch of songs and then I find a studio and some people to work with and I say this is what I want. Let’s make it.

But this time on these two EPs I went to a great artist and producer a guy who’s from Minneapolis named Dan Wilson and I went and just hung out with him and I said let’s make something. Here are my ideas, but the songs aren’t written yet but these are the ideas I have and so together he and I wrote and played and did the stuff and called musicians in and we made it piece-by-piece at his house. So yes, for me that’s the most collaborative I’ve ever been.

Pictured: Brett Dennen / Photo by Chris Schorn, Christine Photography

MIM: How did that feel? Did you like it?

Dennen: It’s great! Because when you write alone in a room by yourself, you can’t really be objective until maybe a couple months go by and you’re not necessarily attached to a song or a part of a song. Or maybe just think of it differently.

Whereas if you have somebody in the room that you’re working with you immediately have an objective, but it has to go both ways and you have to be open to it. So it can be hard. And I would say the reason that I’ve never done it in the past is because I don’t like most situations like that that I’ve tried to put myself in, it never worked. But with Dan it works cuz I like being around him. Sometimes you like people and you don’t like being creative with them also.

MIM: So then you’ve got another tour coming up, right after this one?

Dennen: Yeah, I get a little time off and then a tour in the Fall

MIM: At the end of the music video for the song Already Gone, you say “Go do something you’ve always wanted to do before you run out of time to do it.” What’s something you’ve always wanted to do and haven’t yet?

Dennen: That I would love to do? Well, the first thing I think of would be traveling to places I’ve never been. I’ve never been to Indonesia and I would like to do that.

MIM: Are you excited for the show tonight?

Dennen: Yeah! I’ve played on this stage before. Yeah, ten years ago. I was on tour with a band called OAR.

MIM: My favorite band of all time! And I know that’s a big statement but it’s true. I was at that show.

Dennen: Well, they’re all nice guys, I can tell you that. They’re super nice guys. When I toured with them, we did a cover together, we did a Paul Simon song, so I don’t know if you remember that at all. Are they coming through this year?

MIM: They are. Sept 7th so coming up in a couple weeks.

Dennen: Yeah, I just hung out with Marc (Roberge) not too long ago, it was like in February, during ski season, in Park City, Utah, for Sundance.

MIM: Fun! Well, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. I’ll see you on stage!

Dennen: Thank YOU.

Catch Brett in November when he headlines on tour w/ Mercury Prize winner Nick Mulvey.

Written by Chris Schorn

Twin Cities Photographer - Always smilin' and enjoyin' the journey! #ilovemusic


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