If you haven’t yet absorbed the music of San Francisco folk-pop artist Brett Dennen, you’re in for a treat. His songs are emotionally nuanced, sonically varied and soulful in a way you rarely find these days. Even if you haven’t engaged any of Dennen’s four albums, chances are you’ve heard him in TV shows House and Scrubs (both of which featured his ballad “Ain’t No Reason”) or in the indie flick According to Greta. His new album, Loverboy, released in April, is his best and most life-affirming, and will appeal to fans of Dave Matthews and Jack Johnson. Indeed, Loverboy offers a slew of driving-along-the-beach-with-the-top-down tunes that benefit from a crackerjack band, which he’s bringing to the Silverton. Dennen, who honed his musical chops as a camp counselor during his teenage years, recently chatted with Vegas Seven via telephone from his home in Oakdale, Calif.
How did working as a camp counselor prepare you as an artist?
There’s a spirit there in the mountains of Northern California. Rekindling that magic and capturing that feeling is what I’m after whenever I write, perform or sing. I’m very sentimental and nostalgic about that time. When I can get an audience to feel like they’re part of something magical, I feel what I’m doing is unique, wonderful.
Critics are saying Loverboy is your “fun” record.
I think they say that because this time around I wanted people to feel good. But I don’t want the songs to be only fun. There’s a lot of sadness in Loverboy, too. I’m just not keeping myself from looking at the bright side. Loverboy is the most emotional record I’ve ever made; it just also happens to be my most upbeat and funky album.
The single “Walk Away, Watch Me Burn” is melancholy yet hopeful. What prompted you to write it?
It started out as a heartbreak song, and I’m not comfortable writing heartbreak songs because they make it difficult to be authentic. I wanted the song to be more about bigger questions. If you’re ever heartbroken, maybe look at the stars, remind yourself you’re just a part of this world. Our feelings are relevant, of course, but ultimately we each possess just one small heart. That’s why the song says, you know, roughly, don’t try to cheer me up, let me go through what I’m going through.
Your breakout song “Ain’t No Reason” has 2.5 million YouTube views and is still popping up in TV shows. The song’s video is incredibly moving.
If you can imagine, the original video heavier, with a stronger political statement. The director [Claire Carré] fashioned her own narrative out of the song, made it more about political injustice, even though I felt there was more beauty in the song. Still, I’m proud of it, even if I’ve left it behind. It’s like that with my albums. I don’t want to hear them. I’m more interested in re-creating the songs live and exploring them.