Three Music Thingz with Jesse Brenneman

Three Music Thingz with Jesse Brenneman

Oh shoot, it's another edition of Three Music Thingz, the blogseries where I ask musicians for three thingz that are essential to their musicianship. I am veering into a pattern where this goes up every Tuesday and Thursday but please don't hold me to it just yet.

When Missoula, MT-based musician Jesse Brenneman sent me a link to his latest album, Modern Life, with the pitch that it was "a sort of combination tribute to late 70s European disco producers, and concept album about technology," I was tentatively excited. I love a concept album, I love a late '70s Euro-disco moment. I currently have a photo of Giorgio Moroder in the bathtub as 'visual inspo' for my dream bathroom... I was ready. And I was not disappointed by Modern Life, not one bit. Its technological theme hits with just the right touch of comedy. The groovily bongo-beaten "Celebrities" has a jaunty refrain—"You don't have to be afraaiiiid of celebrities / They're just like you and me"—that hearkens back to those heady times when you'd see a full photoset of Kirsten Dunst eating salad in Us Magazine. The bouncy + deranged "Apps" features a Muppet-y pitch-shifted cheer in response to topics like "house," "fun", and "alone": "There's an app for that!"

The highlight for me is "Brands," which shows up at track 9 out of 10 and starts by masticating another familiar contemporary tagline ("All the brands you love in one place") but turns, over the course of 9 and a half minutes, into a legit, multilayered disco inferno. The undeniable groove of "Brands" solidifies the album into much more than a comedic exercise. Modern life is a joke but the dance floor never is.

I wanted to hear more about what is behind Jesse Brenneman's music process, especially as an artist in multiple audio fields (in addition to making music, he also makes podcasts, hosting the "fake tech show" Tech Talk and working as a podcast editor for Know Your Enemy and Jewish Currents) and so I requested he send three music thingz for the blog, and well here they are...

    I’m a music lover before I’m a music maker and the form of my music love is my record collection, and those records, both the physical items and the music within, completely shape my own music. Structurally, I think of music in terms of albums, discrete collections of songs that capture a moment in time and a moment in a band or artist’s existence. Musically, my records are also the jumping off point for much of my own music.

    Many of my songs begin not with lyrics or concepts or even melodies but with sounds, typically the sounds of previous recordings, whether it’s a specific tone—Carol Kaye’s bass on a Beach Boys record, the drums on a Cerrone album, the guitar on a Television record—or a vibe—the sense of dread on Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, the tape saturated glow of a Mo Troper record—or the composition itself. I hear sounds from other people and think “I want to capture THAT.” And usually I come nowhere close but it starts to lead me in the direction of where I’m eventually going to go.
    Since I play all the instruments on my albums (so far), I literally couldn’t make my music without the multitrack capabilities of software like Logic, but this is just as important for my composition. I’m trying to get better at writing complete songs outside of the studio, but my natural workflow is to write/find songs in the studio, building part by part, layering tracks until it starts to resemble a song, then defining it from there.

    I’m also inspired by the studio’s ability to create sonic spaces that do not, and often could not, exist. And, as someone who is capable with many instruments but not exceptional at any of them, multitrack recording allows me to piece together the sounds I want, however painstakingly and inorganically. (The downside is that infinite tracks and potential synthesized instruments feeds my maximalist sensibilities, but what can you do.)
    I spent most of my life struggling (and failing) to make my own music and one thing that allowed me to break through that block was embracing the idea that the making of music could be an ongoing, messy process of discovery, rather than an exercise in perfection. Once I stopped thinking of each song as its own perfect statement and began to think of them as parts of a whole, chapters on their way to the next chapter, I was able to finish songs and, more importantly, enjoy doing so. I now think of my creative life as a stream that is running from my birth to my eventual death, and each song and album is like dipping a cup into the stream and seeing what the water is like at that moment. It may not be perfect, but it will be the best I could do at that time. The next time I dip the cup, the water will be different and so will I.
Modern Life, by Jesse Brenneman
10 track album

Thanks Jesse! Listen to Modern Life, you won't regret it. And thanks for reading I Enjoy Music. If you like it? Tell a friend.