With four albums under his belt, Brett Dennen feels like he can finally relax and enjoy being an artist and making music for the people.
On a day off from touring in Nebraska – his only plans for the afternoon to relax and play tennis – the California musician (who comes to the Knitting Factory on Saturday) talked about his latest record, “Loverboy,” plans for taking it slow with his next album and keeping an upbeat attitude.
Q: You’ve said that you feel like “Loverboy” is your first album. In what way?
A: When you make your first album, it’s your chance to try to get your name out there and establish yourself and there’s a lot of pressure. When you make your second album, there’s even more pressure. And even so, the third album you make is the record that determines if you’re here to stay.
With the fourth record, I’ve been through all of those different phases. Now I’m just having fun being on stage and traveling with friends and being an artist.
Q: What’s the biggest shift you’ve made as an artist over the years?
A: When I first starting writing songs I was making albums for myself. And now, being on the road with “Loverboy,” I’m noticing changes. It’s not so much about me now. I just want to make music that feels good for the people. I’m not so much a singer-songwriter; I’m more of the people’s musician now. I want to make people happy playing music.
Q: Are you worried about that notion of making music for the people affecting your artistic integrity?
A: I’m never going to jeopardize that. If the music the people wanted to hear was music I didn’t like, I would never do that. But with the music I want to play, now I think about the bigger picture.
Another part of me wants to make a folky album in a log cabin in the woods, that obscure – that nobody would understand – but most of me wants to make a record that everyone gets.
Q: What’s different about the recording process of this new record?
A: I didn’t work with a producer. In the past, I’d demo songs and show them to a producer. I didn’t do that this go-around. I made the record at my house and gave it to all my friends who played on it, and we knew what we needed to accomplish. Then we cranked it out in eight days.
Q: Now that you’ve had more experience in the music industry, what’s your advice to up-and-coming bands?
A: There’s a lot of crappy music out there, but it’s a great time to be an authentic artist and make something with integrity. Make sure it’s something you’re going to take with you to the grave. Put your complete heart and soul into it and make sure it matters. That’s what the world needs a lot more of, not phony music.
We need truth in music. Be passionate and know you’re lucky to be making a living as a musician and that it’s a privilege. And be yourself. Remember we’re lucky to be able to do what we do and not everybody gets to do what they love.
Q: How do you stay focused and positive despite all of the pitfalls in the music industry?
A: You gotta be yourself and not get caught up with all of that. I surround myself with good people who are going to be honest with me and not let me get caught up. Keep it realistic and don’t do anything beyond your needs. Be smart with business decisions and accept that wherever you are in your career, that is enough.
Control what’s within your control. I can’t control if people are going to like it, or if I’m going to be famous or make a lot of money. But I do have control over the people I hire and the songs I write and how I perform.
Q: What’s the forecast for your next album?
A: It’s not like I have writers block, I just haven’t been writing. I write a lot more when I go in to record an album. I’m in a different phase. When I’m in performer mode I don’t write as much.
But I do have ideas. With “Loverboy” I wanted an album that was upbeat and that would make people dance. For the next album, I want to have a really good groove, where you can dance if you want to, but a little more laid-back and easy to listen to, the way really good reggae is easy to listen to: upbeat but with a slower groove and easy melodies. Sweet, mellow and laid-back.