The following is the entire transcript of our recent interview with Brendan James and his band.
YWIM: Your new album Simplify was released on Aug. 6. Tell me about the title Simplify and what your inspiration behind the album was.
Brendan James: Well I really decided to pick Simplify for the title because that was my inspiration for my whole writing process this time around … to just go somewhere by myself and keep things simple - ideas, sentiments - I just wanted to really come from a singular place that was authentically me. So that was the whole goal, it was to make something real.
Craig [Meyer] played drums on it, we recorded it in Manhattan in about three weeks time. I co-produced it, it was the first time I've co-produced a whole album. I worked really well with the producer who kind of had an engineer mindset and was very supportive, but he loved a lot of my ideas and let me voice my ideas so we co-produced it. It was very fun, we just kept it simple, there was an organ player who also played guitar and lap steel, a drummer, bass and me.
YWIM: What was the basis for the majority of the songs on Simplify?
Brendan James: There are definitely some different topics going on in this album. There's a pretty heavy song about gun control, basically inspired by these shootings that keep happening and how I want to be one of the people who's always talking about it instead of letting it fall to the wayside over time and then having some tragic event bring it back up. I'm not saying I want to do away with all guns or that that's even a realistic possibility, but I want to do away with this obsession that we have with violence and this fear that so many Americans have. A lot of people around the world [have the same fear] but especially in this American culture, we're just drowning in fear right now, which I don't think is necessary. So there's a song about that. There's a song about simplifying your life and eating the right foods, taking time to listen to your body and do the things that feel natural and healthy. There's a song about the environment as well - just different topics like that.
YWIM: Who were your musical influences for Simplify?
Brendan James: Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Neil Young - I feel like they were able to cut to the core with their lyrics and just their overall authenticity. Wherever they were, they opened their mouths and sang about it - that's my goal.
YWIM: I understand you went on a music hiatus in 2011. Was that a complete hiatus or did you use the time to work on this last album?
Brendan James: That time was actually a complete hiatus. I spent that time doing a lot of soul searching and questioning whether I wanted to be involved in the pop music industry. Although I can write some folky things and I try to be somewhat alternative, at the end of the day I know I'm still considered pop and to get your name out in the pop world is trickier than anyone really realizes. It was starting to get me down and I just wanted a big break. What really concerned me was I stopped wanting to write and I didn't know what to write about it. And I knew at my age I should have so much to write about and still have so many more albums in me, so I just needed time away.
YWIM: How did that hiatus influence your music?
Brendan James: It had a huge influence. The whole time away that I took from the business and the way that I decided to come back with a new approach - it was really exemplified in this album. This is almost like a new start for me. I want to start with me and my ideas in my art and what comes to me naturally and over the years I want to build on that and collaborate a little bit and change up my genre and style. But I wanted to start in a whole new place. So I needed to write this album and just get it off my chest.
YWIM: Would you say that this album is different from your other four albums?
Brendan James: Yes, very different. I hope it's one of a kind, at least in my repertoire. I want it to be different from the rest.
YWIM: You guys are on the cusp of a new trend among bands where they venture off their tour path and go to small towns for house concerts. When did you first start doing house concerts and what made you want to give it a try?
Brendan James: I started one year ago, trying to do these backyard shows - these house concerts. And what we do is we mix them in, so we do venues and then on a bunch of days off we just plan to fit in house concerts. So we're doing both, but actually Craig you should tell why it started.
Craig Meyer (drummer): I first started touring with Brendan last year in August and when the itinerary came out, he had a bunch of these - like most people do when they're touring - they do a couple of days of shows, take a couple of days off, so we had all of these different areas that we could fill in for these house shows. And I had done it with a couple of other artists and the return was so great … not just in a sense from a monetary standpoint or an audio standpoint but from a fulfillment standpoint. You can take an artist like Brendan who's been in venues all of his life - large venues, small venues, everywhere - and the house concert is just a different feel when you're a musician and you're playing because there's an intimacy that you can capture. I think Brendan's music is ideal for that intimate vibe. It can be played in large venues as well his songs that are incredibly personal that can be shared with these crowds of 20 to 50 to 60 people. So, it was the perfect blend of his music when we had the chance to do that. And then it recharges us as artists. Because you get in, and a lot of times you're going into venues, you're running into a green room, you're playing the show, he does a meet-and-greet and meets a hundred people lightning fast and then gets out. So this is a chance where you actually get to have conversations and share stories and really take a minute to appreciate the moment while you're touring.
Brendan James: It's the most symbiotic experience that I have come across as a musician because you're very happy to give and fans are very happy to receive. You leave at the end of the night at 10 p.m. and you're both fulfilled and you go on to the next one … where sometimes at venues there are so many other elements and things that can kind of mess it up in some way for the audience or the artist so you don't always get that perfect fulfillment that house shows give.
Craig Meyer: You also get to go to towns and cities that on general routing is never a part of it - you're in Boston, New York, or Chicago. Here, you get off the beaten path and you get in these towns. We've gotten a chance to see these little towns and meet some folks who share what's so great about their town and that's the fabric that's making up this country. The cities are fantastic, but it's totally different feel.
YWIM: Do you foresee more bands doing house shows in the future?
Brendan James: It's a trend, it's starting. There have been people, like me, doing it early on but for years people have been doing it. We're building this framework, where I think more artists are going to do it because more hosts know how to do it. And when the hosts start to learn how to do it right they can get bigger and bigger artists and say "Hey, we did it for this artist and this artist, we know how to do it, come through." And I think it's a trend that's going to keep growing.
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