Brett Dennen Q&A
By Megan Hoff
Which part of California are you from?
I grew up in the Central Valley. San Joaquin Valley, we call it the Central Valley. Lotta dairy, almonds, and cowboys. When I say cowboys, I don’t mean colloquial, I mean rodeo guys… like competitive cowboys.
How did you first discover music?
Well, I don’t know if I ever discovered it; it was kind of always around… I fell in love with the idea of playing music when I was a little kid going to summer camp… My favorite camp counselors would gather around the fire at night and pull out guitars and sing songs. I just idolized them, and I loved being at camp. It was like the first time I ever really identified with something profound… deeper than like, baseball or toys.
How old were you when that happened?
11 years old.
Did you start taking guitar lessons after that, or did you just learn on your own?
No, I didn’t, but I just thought guitar was so cool… so I came home from camp, and I told everybody like, “I love guitar, I’m a guitar player,” and my grandmother actually gave my sister and I a guitar to share, and I would play around on that, but I didn’t know really how to play. I just kinda fooled around. But then eventually I got guitar lessons which I subsequently quit because I would never practice. I was homeschooled, and... I was always like, “No, I gotta do this myself, I can do it myself.” So I think I just didn’t like the idea of having a teacher to tell me to practice. So when I quit taking lessons, I started teaching myself how to play and things moved along much faster.
You came out with a two-part EP this summer. Why not just one record?
I wanted it just to change... touring in two halves would make the whole experience of touring for the music… fresher, keep giving people a reason to come out and see the show.
What’s the story behind the name of your new EP, “Here’s Looking at You, Kid?”
It’s the name of one of the songs, also, kinda like the title track. It’s a line from the movie “Casablanca.”
This summer, you joined Jason Mraz on his Good Vibes Tour. What was that like?
That was a lot of fun. It’s a big lovefest. Jason’s a really happy guy with a lot of great people in his band and crew. Everybody loved each other, and there was lot of warm weather, a lot sunshine… just a lot of goofing around. It was fun. I wish touring could always be like that, have like your own little city.
Is touring not always like that?
No, I mean I’m on tour right now, and it’s much less people, and we’re inside all the time. Where that was several bands and crew, and it was like a little city everywhere we went. It was like a... travelling circus or something… but it was always outside. I mean I still have fun, and I’m happy always. But I love being outside.
What is the best show you’ve ever played?
Best show I’ve ever played? Holy moly... It’s hard to narrow down. I’ll narrow it down in Minnesota... 2008, I think, or maybe it was 2009, I was on tour with OAR. We were on tour, and we were playing outdoors theaters... we played the Minnesota State Fair. It was really great because this band Slightly Stoopid was on the bill… at the time I thought they were the nicest guys ever. They were just very humble and warm and generous. And so it was really fun to meet them and hang out with them, but earlier in the day, we walked around the State Fair and made a music video with our own cameras and our own phones and we edited it together. It was just a perfect day. And I like that stage a lot at the Minnesota State Fair. It’s a good place to play music.
Have you ever played the Cedar Cultural Center before?
I have, and I had a great time there. Yeah, it’s got a really fun backstage, with records and a record player and a bunch of memorabilia. Fun place.
What does your songwriting process look like?
It’s always different, and it’s always changing. One thing that stays the same is that I walk around the world with little ideas in my head... sometimes I pick up a guitar and work them out, and sometimes they kind of stay in my head, bouncing around… it comes in the shape of a melody. I kind of sing to myself for a long time. Then I pick up a guitar and see what it is and see where it might go.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
I love that question. My biggest hero is Paul Simon, but I also really love Cat Stevens and Van Morrison.
Did you listen to a lot of them growing up?
Oh yeah. Growing up, growing down, growing old, all day, always.
Who would you love to collaborate with?
I’d love to collaborate with some kind of a hip-hop, rapper-type popstar, like Post Malone. I think that would be really fun.
What kind of music would you make?
Something with a good groove, kind of reggae-ish, maybe.
I heard that you’ve made your own wine before. How did you get into winemaking?
I do, I still do. A friend and I have a wine company, a wine label. It’s a rosé. I have a friend who used to be in the music business, I guess he still is in the music business, but… he’s just always been a big fan of wine… it was his idea… he said, “We should invest in a wine company.” I said, “I don’t know how to do that, but I’m down.” And so we did. We met some people in Napa and started working with them, we bought grapes… we had to hire a bunch of people to do everything for us. I think it’s good, and it’s a fun business… it seems like, certainly in America, if you can grow grapes somewhere, you can make wine… it’s such a desirable business for people to get into. It’s glamorous.
Have you ever helped out with the grape harvest?
Do you have any upcoming projects?
Yeah. I’m gonna do some recording in December. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.