Guitar whisperer Brett Dennen
Remember that scene in Cameron Crowe’s "almost famous" where character William Miller, “The Enemy”, walks backstage for his first rock-n-roll interview and finds himself in a hubbub of emotion, being bombarded by rock stars, band aides and the forces of good and evil. Every wanna-be rock-n-roll journalist has this moment of truth in their career. As romantic as Cameron Crow painted it… well that’s exactly as it is!
My moment occurred the other night at a nearly sold out show at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach where I made my way backstage to sit down over some Maker’s Mark with buzz artist, singer/songwriter Brett Dennen. If you want to know who the stars themselves are coming out to see, this is the guy. Waiting, I stood there in the dim lights, quiet in the corner, paranoid not to disturb the creative energy that we imagine floats and flutters and stings like a bee backstage as a “rockstar” preps before the big gig. One pictures smoke and kisses and rock-n-roll ghosts sitting around tuning their guitars and talking about lost love and broken dreams right. Frankly, it all seems like a blur and although I didn’t see any ghosts I could feel them. I do remember looking up and being greeted with a “hello kiss on the cheek” by San Diego singer/songwriter sensation Tristan Prettyman who was there supporting her dear friend Brett. I glanced to the right and caught a glimpse of “Mr. A to Z” himself, Jason Mraz, back in town, high-fiving some cat lounging on the couch. The spell was broken with what seemed to be a lifetime by Matt, Brett’s Tour Manager, who explained I was to meet Brett back in his cross country camper. Up three steps and the world started to slow, slow, slow down and there he was.
Standing about 6 foot 4, if not more, a smile like the sun and the reddest, blaze of glory hair you’ve ever seen. Mr. Brett Dennen then in the softest, most sensitive voice you’ve ever heard said “hey Sean, I’m Brett.” And just like a flex capacitor I was transcended from the mountains of rock-n-roll fascination to the depths of a moment reminiscent of hanging out with your best friend in the back of a RV camper off some beaten down highway. For those of you not familiar with Brett’s music, this tall, beautiful, redheaded spirit, at just 26 years of age, has a magical aura about him that can turn a room of sorrow into the glowing dreams of a moonlit sky. I had felt this presence playing his records in my own living room and now was awarded the honor of witnessing this bloom straight from its pollinating core.
Q: Brett, you’ve arrived on the doorstep of San Diego a number of times with your guitar in hand, most recently on New Year’s Eve with guitar slinger Donavon Frankenreiter and a little bird told me that you camped on the cliffs of Cardiff last night. I know San Diego is close to your heart, can you share one of your inspirations of this town?
Ya know, growing up in California, I’ve been blessed to be able to spend quite of bit of time down here, just road trippin and what not… One of my favorite things to do is ride my bike around down here, just everywhere. Unless I have to hall my equipment around, which is the case all the time these days, I try to ride my bike everywhere… or walk. It just gives you time and space in your head to think and see things. San Diego is so beautiful and mellow. Have you ever biked over to Coronado Island? I’ve always wanted to do that.
Q: Success has been happening pretty quick for you, can you share a moment where you stopped, looked around and we’re like “holy sh*t!” This is really happening?
(A soft grin enters his face) Are you familiar with tabs?
Q: Guitar tablature? Sure!
Yeah sheet music.
Being a musician, I grew up searching for this stuff from my favorite artists and then I was online one day and I saw a blog where someone had posted the question, “Does anyone know how to get any Brett Dennen tablature? So I did a search… and all this sh*t came up dude! I couldn’t believe it. It was crazy. That was definitely one of those moments.
Q: Since March was women’s history month… Let’s salute a woman in your life or perhaps from history that has affected you in some personal way?
Well no one compares to my mom. I owe everything to her. Pauses! (I can tell from the way Brett glances up into the sky in a moment of deep thought that I’ve entered a very sacred place in his heart.)
As far as historically I’d like to talk about someone in the present that’s changing the guard right now. Are you familiar with Medea Benjamin? She’s an activist, politician that’s been standing up against this recent administration and just recently returned from the fray in Iraq. She’s heavily organized with “Code Pink.” She basically asks that we all meet in the alter of resolve. She does it all out of love. She’s the sh*t dude. Straight from the heart. Righteousness, ya know what I mean!
(I await for Brett’s demeanor to change. I expect his temperature to rise like when you’ve touched the right button on someone or get them started on a passionate topic, but Brett’s poise never changes, he remains a smiling, soft spoken silhouette across the table.)
Q: Have you ever met her?
Yeah, but just in one of those buffet lines where you walk through, smile and shake their hand.
Q: I was watching the ABC television hit series “Grey’s Anatomy” the other night. McDreamy and the boys were all off on a fishing trip on the hillsides of Seattle searching for solace and there in the background was your song, There Is So Much More, do you do any fishing yourself or were you able to relate to the scene at all?
Yeah, I like to camp and fish, but the scene that got me most was later on in that episode towards the end, they played another clip of my song during a moment where this couple was giving a still birth. It was a powerful moment.
Q: As I’m sure your aware Brett, critics and fans refer to your beautiful red hair quite a bit. In fact, the first time a friend introduced me to you his description was, "Dude, you gotta check this cat out… he's this tall, kind of offbeat looking kid and then all of sudden he opens his mouth and your like whooah, where did that voice come from?" Do you think in some weird way your hair has affected your music?
(His grin and his giggle is relentless and gets larger with each and every question. You can feel the room expanding.)
Ya know, I try not to pay too much attention to my image if you can’t tell. (Grins & giggles) Neil Young is my fav of all time. If there’s anybody I try to model myself after its Neil. He’s the man! I kind of picture myself as a scraggly, red head cross between Neil Young and Willie Nelson.
Q: Ok, the swaying crowd outside is calling your name. Just a couple of quick Q&A’s:
Last book you read?
I just received this as a gift… Paulo Coelho's Warrior of the Light.
Q: Favorite movie line right now?
“That just happens,” Talladega Nights.
- Venue: Belly Up Tavern, 143 S Cedros Ave, Solana Beach, CA 92075