By: Victoria Marie Clark
When you think of Washington D.C., music isn’t likely to be the first thing that comes to mind, but after hearing the band Brett, that might all change. Dressing up lyrics that take you on a journey through moments of darkness, innocence, and the reckless abandon of happy youth, it is no surprise that Brett has a natural ability to make a lasting impression in a short amount of time.
With each track reiterating their unique and distinct sound – filled with soft, slightly aquatic, rhythmic and electronic harmony – their self-titled debut album, Brett, released last spring, and their subsequent singles and covers, such as “Golden”, “Dance Hall Days” and “Vacation”, are indicative of the vast potential and success that they have in front of them. Having recently migrated to LA, we caught up with lead singer, Mick Coogan, to discuss where things began, how their music is changing, their new EP out in July, and what makes their sound so golden.
Hear an exclusive track by the band, included below, and read the full interview from Brett. Brett’s latest EP will be released this July on LA based record label, Chill Mega Chill Records.
BRETT | INTERVIEW
1. Can you tell us about Brett’s background and story… How did the bandmates all meet and how did your hometown music scene and upbringing influence your sound?
The members of Brett decided to start the project at the end of 2012 after writing a collection of songs that we felt were going in a new and exciting direction. I have been playing music with Jon Jester (drums) and Dave Kuehl (bass) for a long time and they are dear friends and outstanding musicians. Our guitarist and synth player Scott Dittrich has been a friend for several years and joined the team in the fall. We have all had many great experiences together and that comfort level lends itself to being able to create intuitively and efficiently. We are very fortunate to have made many close friends in DC who–even though we live in LA–invite us to play shows and still support our art. We had a wild and carefree time growing up in DC playing pop songs and we made great friends there. DC will always be our home. But the classic DC punk sound was never in my sphere of reference. Fugazi was a shredding band, but I never really bought into the (DC locally) much-ballyhooed ‘post-Fugazi’ stigma. As a youth, I always thought the whole DC hardcore thing was silly. To me, it was just as much of a clique in high school as the other rich white boys who listened to Wu-Tang Clan or whatever. So that whole phase kind of missed me. Don’t get me wrong, I think the ideas of social service and awareness are important human responsibilities, but not something warranting a ‘brand.’ Like…don’t brand that shit, don’t ‘Tibetan Freedom Concert’ or ‘#BlackLivesMatter’ everything. Don’t commoditize social justice, just fucking do it. I see it as a personal and private effort. I didn’t need X’s on my hands to know if I was making good choices or not.
2. You released your debut self-titled album, Brett, last spring, which has a perfect mix of both downtempo and upbeat songs. Tell me a little about the creative process – and what is the inspiration behind your lyrics and sound?
I always think our debut album is pretty dark. The song ‘Golden’ is the one bright moment of innocence and reckless, happy youth. But the rest of the album explores themes of loss, isolation and disillusion. For instance, the song ‘Inside’ is by far the darkest song I’ve ever written. I conceived it just after the horrible Newtown massacre and the lyric lends to a hopeless and selfish condition of humanity when we become so totally lost within our own sadness that we lash out at the world. The opening lyric goes: ‘What would you come to expect from a louse on a dog/Look like myself but I feel like I’m somebody else…’ Just sad and no fun. But of course, all of the lyrics are dressed up in pretty melodies because that’s just who I am as a writer. I was talking with my friend Sandra who enjoys our music and listens to it very critically and she told me that our album was ‘difficult’ in the sense that the emotional experiences were described in a way that were fairly specific and, unless you had experienced something similarly, it would be hard to connect. Some of the songs do attempt to express complex emotional ideas of loss and of the subtle and sad and slow disconnect that happens in relationships. My goal is to make these specific and sometimes great, sometimes sad moments feel familiar through melody and arrangement.
3. Who are some of your musical influences? How did they inspire you to begin making music?
I dated a girl in college and the first time we made out she lured me into her closet (where she kept her record player on the floor for some reason) and under the coats and dresses and stuff we sat down Indian-style and she played me Pavement’s ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.’ From that point on, I think pop music began to make more sense to me. Growing up outside of DC in PG County, I had been raised on Tribe Called Quest, Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, and Public Enemy–the kind of typical suburban spectrum of pop music that most kids had access to. But looking back, I think those classic rhythms and melodies are still super influential. These days, when I hear records from artists like Joanna Gruesome, I’m reminded of all the rad, melodic dissonance of Pavement. When I hear ‘Yeezus,’ I don’t think, oh, HudMo/Daft Punk, I immediately think of the production work on ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions…’ I am spending more time experimenting with the relationship between dissonance and melody. When it’s done right, I think it’s really impactful.
4. What’s the story behind the name Brett, does it have particular significance to you?
The name was conceived while watching the ‘Homecoming’ music video by The Teenagers. I think ‘Brett’ is a very pretty name for a girl and it popped into my head while watching the video (the girl eating the cupcake). We just took it from there.
5. What hobbies do you like to do on your downtime when not creating music?
Dave and I love to surf. I’ve been surfing for years (still suck at it) and have been to Costa Rica and Rincon, PR several times. Dave, however, is an avid surfer. He’s been surfing LA and Ventura counties (Zuma, Oxnard, County Line, Malibu) since he was 13. He knows all the secret spots and going out with him and his friends is a treat. He has had a pretty huge winter. Nowadays we call him ‘Big Wave Dave.’ He’s a beast.
6. What is your favorite thing about creating music and what is something you are most proud of having achieved as a band thus far?
We are proud of the music that we have released and happy that people enjoy it and relate to it and that it sometimes makes them happy and sometimes sad. We are a very, very small band, but with the help of our label Cascine, we are able to release our art exactly how we’d like to present it and I think that’s all you can hope for as a musician. But we are also pop artists–we embrace the culture of the industry and want to succeed. You want to write songs that everyone can access melodically and lyrically within the context of pop culture, but still somehow mean something to each listener. This is such a difficult musical problem to solve, but it’s so gratifying when it all connects–or even comes close to connecting. I think a highlight for us was opening for Holy Ghost! on NYE eve at the great 9:30 Club in DC a few months back. It was nice to play in a big room, with big sound and lights, and have all of our visuals dialed in and sound how we ideally WANT to sound. A small band doesn’t often get out of a 200 cap room, so to play a room like that and for people to enjoy the show was important because it showed us that if we were ever to command audiences like that, we would definitely belong and thrive.
7. Who are 3 of your favorite artists/albums right now and why? Is there anyone in particular you want to tour with?
Our guitarist Scotty has a real knack for the New Order/Bernard Summer feel, so its been great working with him to try to access that sound on our productions. New Order is a huge influence and their first album ‘Movement’ is one of my favorite albums. Super dark but also hints at ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ which was just around the bend. In terms of new pop stuff, I really think TOPS makes great songs (their guitarist is 100% the real deal as a melody writer). My fave DC band is Teen Mom. I think they’ve been putting out really good records the last few years.
8. You all recently moved to LA from DC, has the move influenced your sound/creative direction since switching coasts?
The main thing is that we’ve been able to become more efficient artists. Now that we’re all together, we can collaborate much easier and get more work done. We’ve produced a large amount of music in the last six months that references the entire spectrum and we’re excited to share. LA also has great art, tacos, and pho options.