Sunday, October 10, 2010

Artist Interview: Brendan Hogan

I met Brendan Hogan when we shared a gig outside of Philadelphia a few months ago. He impressed me with his resolute stage presence, strong voice & clear articulation of the songwriting craft. I caught up with Brendan a recently as he prepared for a full month of gigging on the East Coast.
Q You were a DJ a long time- Were you actively playing during that time? What characterized your radio shows and does that inform your live show at all?
BH: I was a music radio host and producer for about 10 years in Boston first at WERS and then at WGBH. I listened to and absorbed a lot of old blues recordings during that time. There is an unassuming poetic spirit to those records that is rarely found today, and that approach to making music is very appealing to me. There is no bullshit involved. The players I admire had no option but to hustle a living making music. Half the time they didn't seem to care if the wheels were about to fall off, or if anything made sense. That's the problem with a lot of modern blues for me. It's so slick you could comb your hair in it, and some people do. With this in mind I was honing my chops as a performer and songwriter in bars and venues around Boston while keeping myself anchored on weekends with the radio program for about two years. I decided early on that I am not a blues player and that confuses some people given the context in which they might be familiar with me. I am influenced by blues music. I admire some of the players immensely, and have a great respect for those who can play it well and add to it. But I'm not comfortable claiming any right to it. I hold my relationship to the music it at arms length because it's too potent a thing to hold close. The radio gig ended at precisely the same time my CD, 'Long Night Coming', was released. I've hit the ground running with consistent touring, promotion, and songwriting since then. I haven't really looked back.

Q Who are you currently listening to now? Anybody obsessing you, that you think is just GREAT?
BH: I can't get enough of Kris Delmhorst, especially her latest release which came out in 2008, called 'Shotgun Singer'.' The record is a masterpiece and something I didn't realize I was looking for until I found it. I opened a show for Kris in April of 2010 and during her set was mesmerized by her approach to melodies, lyrics, and chords as a solo performer. Then I listened to 'Shotgun Singer' and was swept away by the production on the record, which she recorded for the most part by herself in a home studio in Maine. I admire the way Kris is capable of conjuring moods whether performing solo or with a whole palette of sounds on a record.
Jesca Hoop also has a great new record called 'Hunting My Dress' that has been inspiring me in some of the same ways Kris Delmhorst has. (As a side note, Jesca was a nanny for Tom Waits' children at one time). And The Beatles' new mono remasters have been on steady rotation in the car, where I do most of my listening. The availability of the mono mixes on CD has given me another excuse to dig into their recordings all over again. I just read a book called 'The Complete Beatles Recordings' that goes into detail about every Abbey Road session of theirs from 1962-1970. It's a unique account of the creativity that blossomed in just a few short years among all of those guys. They broke just about every rule of the time for writing and recording and could have failed just as handily as they succeeded.

Q How did you first get into songwriting? Can you remember your first song?
BH: My first song was written on my family's upright piano when I was 17. I was very into The Beatles at the time (still am) and remember wanting to write a song that sounded like the solo White Album tracks; jangly, surreal, and Beatle-y. I recorded it on a crummy portable tape deck, but the tape has since disappeared and my memory has faded. Some day I should try to sit down and remember it.
The first song I wrote that I still play on occasion was written in the span of a couple hours during a plane ride to Chicago. It's called 'Borderline'. I wanted to tap the shoulder of the person sitting next to me to show them what I had done. I was proud of it and people seem to like it.

Q Please talk about how you write? Do you wait for inspiration or do you sit down and write regularly?
BH: I don't look at songwriting as something you do like washing the dishes or mowing the lawn. It's too mystical a thing to treat like a chore, although I do think there is a benefit to having some kind of regimen to help keep the channels open and clean. The songwriters I admire are great at telling stories in their songs, whether they're like short story prose writers, or like poets. I've always liked using imagery and poetry, melody, and sound textures to help tell that story; moody things that could turn around and bite you without warning. The songs I write tend to convey an attitude or a feeling that requires a listener to work a bit. I probably ask a lot from people in that way. But the inspiration for me to write is always there, so I just go with it. I'm always jotting down phrases and ideas or working out melodies.

Q What's the plan for 2011? Will you be doing more recording and touring?
BH: The plan for 2011 is to keep playing, writing, developing and trying to offer something worth listening to. I'm predominantly a solo performer so it's a little more work for me to keep up with the business side of things, but it has to be done. Whether it's the best way or not, I've approached it like being on a raft on the sea. I wanted to see how far out I can go, and now there's no going back. Every now and then there's a gust of wind and a strong current pushing me. Sometimes there are lulls. But I know there's got to be land out there somewhere.
Currently I'm working on a record of new songs and constantly performing. Check out a show sometime.

Brendan Hogan is appearing at venues throughout MA, PA, NY, MD & beyond. Check his for a list of dates.

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