Of the numerous striking qualities Brett Dennen has displayed during his ascendance onto the national music scene, it is perhaps simply his own authenticity that accounts for his remarkable rise in popularity and acclaim. With his long red hair, headband and guitar held high on his stocky frame, he may seem like an unlikely front-man for 2008, but the 28 year-old singer/songwriter/musician is the rare performer that radiates confidence and ease in his own skin, a quality that has earned him an increasingly devoted fan-base. And in tandem with constant touring, word-of-mouth buzz, high profile media attention and a successful album, So Much More, Dennen has arrived as a significant new artist to watch.
Raised in Oakdale, California, near the Bay Area, Dennen found inspiration to start playing guitar, in all of all places, summer camp. Dennen recollects, "I went to this summer camp and all of my favorite counselors were the ones that played acoustic guitar around the fire at the end of the day and night. I idolized those counselors." Dennen experimented through high school and college with different styles; informed by his love of acoustic based music, jam bands and harder rock like Pearl Jam and Rage Against The Machine. After a short period of playing in bands, Dennen soon realized that writing his own music was where his passion lay. Upon graduation, he began playing in coffee shops and bars by himself on the west coast, just hoping to be heard. He started writing and recording in his home studio, and the result was his first, self-titled album, which was released in 2004 on the Flagship label.
With an album to support, Brett began touring with increasing frequency, laying the groundwork with the fanbase on the west coast that would ultimately help break him. He recollects, "In the beginning it was really bleak, but also really hopeful. I'd go somewhere where no one who knew who I was. The cool thing about it was that I had the opportunity to win someone over. I'd get their email and talk to them in advance the next time I came through. I just hoped that they'd bring friends to the show." And simultaneously, Dennen began playing late night shows at music festivals, which as he says, "(It) was a big part in creating the buzz. After a couple of smaller festivals I built up enough confidence to start being an opening act for actual club shows."
With over a year of constant touring under his belt, in the spring of 2006, Dennen began recording the songs that would comprise his second album (and first for Dualtone Records). Working quickly at Jackson Browne's studio in Santa Monica, and picking the songs that, as Brett recounts, "were the strongest, and had some DNA in common with the other songs I had written," they recorded the album in five days, mixed it shortly afterwards, and in November of 2006, So Much More was released. As Brett recalls, "Things started slowlySbut then it all started to happen."
What happened has been a confluence of factors. Stations like KMTT in Seattle began playing "She's Mine," with Portland and San Francisco shortly following suit. Television shows "Scrubs," "Grey's Anatomy," "House" and several others have featured Brett's music prominently. The album has earned laudatory reviews for its folk heart, soulfulness, and the exquisite intimacy of Brett's vocals, along with his unusually incisive songwriting. The Washington Post called the album, "A folk rock revelation," and Entertainment Weekly enthused, "He's a Big Talent with a fresh face and an old soul." The buzz helped land the album at the top iTunes' folk chart for several months as well as topping eMusic's chart.
But it's Brett's impact as a live performer, and the undeniable connection he's made with listeners everywhere he's played that's been essential to his rise. Supporting and touring with artists as diverse as John Mayer (a huge Dennen acolyte), the John Butler Trio, Colbie Caillat, Rodrigo y Gabriela and Ben Folds (in addition to headlining such venues as the Bowery Ballroom in New York, the El Rey in Los Angeles and the Fillmore in San Francisco), Dennen has played and won over audiences that have little to do with one another ¬ except for an incredible reaction to his music.
That reaction is undoubtedly due to Dennen's unyielding commitment to be no one other than himself. As he declares, "I make a conscious effort when I'm playing music to stay true to myself. I'm going to do my thing, take my shoes offstage and just be me. Maybe I could have had quicker success if I tried to make myself more poppy. But the success isn't the reason I'm doing it. It's about making people feel good."
Brett's other mission is to connect art with what he calls, "positive change." He's done so by creating Love Speaks, an organization that helps non-profit foundations in every town that Dennen plays in. He explains, "I think every show is an opportunity to make a difference in people's lives and communities. I'd love for people to know what's going on in their communities and hopefully, they may get involved. I'm not looking to push or preach. When we're together at a show, it's bigger than just an audience and a performer in a room, with music and alcohol."
With magazines like Rolling Stone proclaiming Dennen as one of "10 Artists to Watch in 2008" and Brett's joining the Downtown Records roster (Gnarls Barkley, Spank Rock) through a partnership with Dualtone, there is mounting anticipation for Brett's next album, tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2008. Brett has a clear set of ideas in his head regarding the direction of his music. He states, "On the next album I want to get more into the rock side of my music and dive deeper into the politics, mysticism and spirituality that I believe in. I want to make a heavier album thematically and sonically; but with a great groove behind it."
Brett Dennen has proven to be one of the brightest emerging talents in music; an artist through both his records and his performances connects with audiences like very few currently do. In 2008, there are great expectations being laid upon him, but it's obvious that Brett will continue being no one other than Brett Dennen, a fact that so far, has made all the difference.