Brett Dennen

“In many ways this is my first album,” Brett Dennen says of his fourth record, Loverboy, released in 2011. “On my previous albums I said what I needed to say. I evoked every different mood and sentiment and emotion. Now I don’t really have anything to prove. I’ve been the new kid on the block and now that phase is over. I get to start all over again, relax, and refocus.” He pauses and flashes a laidback grin. “And what I’m focused on is having fun.”

Dennen’s wunderkind rise has been impressive. In 2004 Dennen released his self-titled debut, followed quickly by his sophomore LP So Much More (2006,) which spent months on the Billboard Heatseeker chart. The release drew the attention of John Mayer, for whom Dennen opened in 2006 and 2007. In 2008 the artist released his follow-up, Hope for the Hopeless, which debuted at #41 on the Billboard Top 200 and firmly established Dennen as a definitive new voice in modern songwriting. He’s worked with Femi Kuti, Natalie Merchant, and Jason Mraz; he’s toured with Dave Matthews, Rodrigo y Gabriela, and The John Butler Trio; and he’s played Bonarroo, Austin City Limits, Coachella, Outside Lands, and Newport Folk Festival. He’s also become the go-to guy for some of the best and most artfully soundtracked contemporary TV shows. His songs have appeared on Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy, Parenthood, Brothers & Sisters, and House among others.

Considering his bold-name collaborators, association with hot TV shows, and impressive early chart and radio success, Brett Dennen could be living in the Hollywood hills, gallivanting around with starlets and hanging out in hotel bars. Nope. The bohemian artist, whose major in college was Community Studies for Social Change, lives with a roommate in Santa Monica and rides his bike to the grocery store. Dennen has never been into the ephemeral thrills of the rock star life, he’s after something else: a real career, and with the release of Loverboy, he’s ready to ascend to his rightful place as one his generation’s most inspired, authentic, artists. “Neil Young, Paul Simon, Van Morrison, they’re artists, you know? True artists,” he explains. “And even when they have ups and downs, which is inevitable over a long career, they’re still playing with passion. They’re still chasing greatness. They’ve let their craft change over time. Let it evolve. That’s what I want to do.”

Dennen first started playing guitar and mandolin to amuse the kids while working as a camp counselor. Once Dennen got the feel for writing his own material, he couldn’t stop. “It was suddenly like, I kind of need to do this,” he remembers.

Dennen spent the next few years touring, and it wasn’t until December of 2009 that he had a chance to think about a fourth record. “I had two weeks off from the road, my housemate and I built a studio in our living room and we made demo versions of a bunch of songs,” he remembers. “The plan was to crank this album out in early 2010.

Turns out we didn’t end up recording until July of that year.” Dennen was frustrated. He likes to keep things moving. But the break turned out to be the best thing possible for the record. “Sometimes when you’re put against a wall you do your best work,” he muses. “While we were waiting to figure out what we were doing with this album I kept writing new songs. One of them was “Sydney (I’ll Come Running,)” one of them was “Comeback Kid” and one of them was “Only Rain.” And those are the tracks that will really pull people in.”

He’s right. Several of the songs Dennen wrote last are the first ones you really hear on Loverboy. “Sydney (I’ll Come Running)” is a defiant testimony to the endurance of deep love, set to intricate but forceful guitar and mandolin arrangements and accented by choral call-and-response. “Only Rain” is a delicate, moody meditation, the sonic equivalent of a pensive rainy day at the beach. And songs like opening track “Surprise, Surprise” swing with an impressive, easy confidence. That self-assurance comes in part from Dennen’s half-decade of experience and part from the fact that he’s finally solidified a relationship with the right musicians. “If you want to have a forty-year career you’d better surround yourself with people who will take a bullet for you and for whom you’d do the same,” Dennen says. “If you choke you want to look around and see guys that you trust. You want guys you can fail with. And at the same time, if you do something triumphant, you want to be able to look around and see people you really want to share that with too.”

The extra time Dennen took making Loverboy also had another unforeseen benefit; instead of touring around the world, Dennen was, for the first time in a while, really home in Los Angeles. With no bus to climb on first thing in the morning, no soundcheck to worry about, he started reconnecting with his most basic (and precious) feeling about music: joy. “People get this amazing opportunity to play music but after a while they figure out their routine and they stop going out to see music live, they stop listening to the radio, they stop exploring music,” he muses. “I go out and I see live music and I love it and I try to jam with people or just get out and play in a bar somewhere, just to be out and be involved and be a part of something.”

The chance to retrench and be a part of a local scene inspired Dennen’s overall vision of Loverboy as one of those classic albums that becomes the soundtrack for our lives. “I want people to feel instantly attached to a feeling or memory from the music,” he explains. “And ten years from now, they’ll put on Loverboy and feel like, aww it reminds me of my childhood or of this person in my life.”

Brett Dennen has the right guys backing him up, the right vision for his future in mind, and the right album to get him where he wants to go. “In college I took this one course in mountaineering,” he remembers. “And the professor would always say you can’t start counting how many peaks you’ve bagged until you’ve bagged ten peaks. At the time I was like ‘what the fuck is he talking about!?’ But now I get it. I used to feel like I had to put everything into every album. Like it was a race. But now I realize that’s not the point. In these last two years I’ve really been thinking, if this is what I want to do then I have to do it in a way that keeps me healthy and happy. I need to take care of my body with nutrition and exercise. I need to take time off, even if I don’t want to, and actually appreciate and enjoy it. And I want to bring all of that balance to my fans. That’s what this record is really about. I want people to put on Loverboy and feel good. I want to make people dance!”

The story behind the band Grizfolk unfolds like a richly episodic Beat novel: it’s a collection of character-driven vignettes that give way to one another with ease, with songs like chapters in a traveler’s cherished diary, suspended in time and space above an aural landscape of blue-collar romanticism and electro-inflected folk-rock.

It’s the story of a small-town songwriter from the South who leaves the Bayou on a wanderlust whim and heads West across the desert toward California, bending his course to the bohemian back-roads of old Americana with a jazz-like, improvisational fluidity.

It’s the story of two bigger-city producers from Sweden who decide to trade the snowdrifts of Stockholm for the palm trees of SoCal, bringing with them a haunted, dreamlike moodiness to the artificial, electronic paradise of pop music.

Above all it’s story of three musicians who journey to Los Angeles as strangers, finding inspiration and comfort in the emotionally barren yet mysteriously enticing sands of Venice Beach’s “ghetto by the sea,” eventually making it their home. Alongside the vagabonds and bottled blondes of Venice legend, Grizfolk’s music is a casually-indefinable, artistic paradise of its own, built upon a bedrock of lush electronic tones and analog textures, stomp-and-clap guitars and heart-swelling vocals.

The band’s sound layers glittering synth harmonies atop barn-burner rock hooks, mixing America’s country music heritage with that of an electro-pop persuasion. The result is an undeniably catchy collection of pop songs that sound both futurist and revivalist at the same time, drawing upon the digital of today as much as they do the organic, decaying reminders of times past.

Evoking a sense of both sentimentality and conquest, Grizfolk’s music paints the picture of a vivid folktronic world in which listeners can fully immerse themselves, drifting in and out of different eras and places, much like escaping down a literary rabbit hole and getting caught-up simultaneously within the tangled futuristic narratives of Philip K. Dick and the timeless Bunker Hill dreams of John Fante.

Grizfolk’s music is where folklore meets four-on-the-floor; where tumbleweeds meet turntables. Imagine a Head First Alison Goldfrapp making out with Tom Petty in a dimly lit, Prohibition-era speakeasy while The Knife’s Deep Cuts spins somewhere in the background on a loop.

“In Los Angeles you don’t have to seek out pop music. As long as you’re listening, it’ll find you,” says Grizfolk’s frontman Adam Roth. Both casually and confidently, he explains how despite growing up on different continents and possessing vastly different musical backgrounds, each band member at his core is really just a pop-purist at heart.

Although they’d technically met once before on the sidewalks of Abbot Kinney two years prior, it wasn’t until late 2012 that Adam Roth, Fredrik Eriksson and Sebastian Fritze truly connected as a band. The trio was ultimately brought together by an intense, shared appreciation of pop music and the intoxicating thrill of discovery that only a never-before-heard, truly great hook can provide.

“Pop can be country, grunge, dance, blues, indie-rock, funk, hip-hop—anything and everything, you name it,” Roth says. “But for us pop isn’t a genre; it’s a way of thinking. It starts with ditching the connotation of pop being a dirty word, and starting to treat the songs with respect as they try and define new things. One reason to love pop music is that it’s totally fearless in the way it accepts or even embraces an artist’s urge to experiment and push boundaries. Whether we’re talkin’ The Beatles or Queen, Michael Jackson or Lady Gaga, or even Amy Winehouse for that matter, pop celebrates and rewards those who take exceptional artistic risks. Period. For me and the guys, pop comes down to less about whatever the mainstream is doing, and more about allowing ourselves develop in new directions as artists.”

Like Roth, for the other two members of Grizfolk, Eriksson and Fritze, the choice to become professional musicians wasn’t actually a choice at all; it was a destiny. The art is simply in their blood. The desire to make music and learn their music came at an early age for all three, but whereas Grizfolk’s New Orleans-born singer-songwriter grew up in the Southern sticks on a steady Cajon diet of folk, blues and rustic Americana, the multi-instrumentalist Swedes that make up Grizfolk’s production backbone were both reared from the sparklingly clean and pretty city streets of Stockholm, where their musical upbringing was inescapably influenced by Europe’s prevailing fascination with super DJs and the culture of electronic dance music. Although seemingly disparate on paper, in the studio it’s their musical differences that actually ignite the spark that cracks Grizfolk’s collective creativity wide open, resulting in a truly synergistic band much greater than the sum of its parts and without a doubt one of this year’s most intriguing new acts to follow.

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Brett Dennen with Grizfolk

Saturday, November 16 · 8:00 PM at Troubadour

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