Between golden sands and breathtaking mountain views, California has been a songwriter’s paradise for Brett Dennen. Now he’s feeding his muse on the east coast, where he’ll play the Lowell Summer Music Series Friday, July 15, with Air Traffic Controller.
Dennen’s summer tour follows his sixth studio album released in May, Por Favor — a mix of slow grooves, calypso beats and lyrics that are raw, vulnerable and pull out all the punches.
“All the lyrics (on Por Favor) are inspired by personal experiences — things I need to get off my chest, things that I’m feeling, that I’m going through, or things that I believe in or care about” Dennen says.
Por favor was the singer-songwriter’s go-to saying in the studio — where everything was recording on analog equipment for a more vintage sound — and eventually became the album’s title. The Spanish expression for “please,” Dennen adds, feels like an invitation for someone to come into your life. Putting on headphones and giving Dennen’s album a listen feels like an invitation into a beachy world of sun, sand, surf and softer sounds than his previous albums, all a backdrop for the artist’s thoughtful songwriting.
“Where We Left Off,” is a breezy melody that showcases Brett’s ability to share his experiences on a deep and personal level in lyrics like, “I sit all alone painting pictures that don’t turn out how I’d like…If I’ve been cruel, it’s because I’m insecure and just can’t find my grasp.”
Jumping back and forth between light-fingered chord progressions and rhythms full of bells, whistling, and wailing electric organs (“Cassidy,” “Stand Up For it,” “Burning Spirit.”), the album balances the feel of a carefree summer’s day and the quiet reflection of nighttime storytelling around a campfire.
“Sometimes it’s a struggle for me to find what I want to say or what I want to do, where as in the past, songs would come leaking out of me a little bit more, because I had a lot to say, because it was all brand new — and because maybe, I even had something to prove,” he says.
Since Dennen’s debut album in 2004, his music has been featured on TV shows such as Wizards of Waverley Place, Parenthood and NBC’s About A Boy, in which Dennen’s “Comeback Kid” was chosen as the show’s theme song. He has also appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, Live From Daryl’s House, and was named one of Rolling Stone magazine’s artist’s to watch.
After playing the show in Lowell, Dennen will perform at the Newport Folk Festival on Friday, July 22. He played there in 2009 and looks forward to coming back and seeing one of his personal favorites, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Graham Nash.
“He’s inspired me so much. I actually have one of his guitars. It’s a beautiful instrument. I did a lot of writing, actually, I recorded my whole second record on it,” says Dennen about his prized Martin outfitted with a classic quilted mahogany body and an ebony fingerboard.
While on the road, Dennen keeps himself in check with a routine that balances work and play.
“I wake up, make a tea, listen to some podcasts, do some drawing or painting, go on a quick run or workout, something like that,” he explains. “Then I come back, do sound check, eat some food, take a nap, wake up and play the show, then hang out with friends afterward.”
Some comforts from home are equally as important to clear the mind, which is why Dennen brings along his skateboard for exercise, or hops behind the wheel of a car to go exploring new places.
“It helps break up the monotony, and it helps keep me present and inspired,” Dennen adds.
Finding it hard to sit still in one pace for too long, he credits a restless nature for driving his creativity.
“I just can’t stop my mind from wandering,” he says. “I’m always thinking about something. If I put that to music, then at least I get something productive out of it. Playing music and doing art forces me to get into the moment.”
One of his many side projects includes making his own wine. His latest creation is a rosé called The Vacationer that pairs well with lots of different foods — his personal recommendation for your next summer shindig.
“It’s very likable, very drinkable, goes down easy…it’s great on a hot day, it’s great on a cloudy day, it’s fun,” he says.
The business was easy for Dennen to fall into because, he points out, there are strong similarities between wine making and creating music.
“It’s a form of expression, Dennen says. “It’s kind of got its own personality. But it is a different kind of business altogether, and it excites a different part of me, so it has been a fun endeavor but I couldn’t have done it without my friends.”
Dennen is also an avid painter. If it weren’t for music, chances are you’d find him living in a small ocean front town with his own gallery, spending time making wine and enjoying the surf. Despite being a beach bum, he finds himself missing the snow and slopes too. If he could close his eyes and blink himself anywhere in the world for a day, he and his girlfriend would be in Sierra Nevada in winter.
“It’s about listening to the music,” Dennen says. “Oh yeah, I’m going to have an awesome time.”
Purchase tickets for Brett Dennen and Air Traffic Controller at Lowell Summer Music Series here.