Brandon Jenner Hunts For Vibes On Oversized Soul
Brandon Jenner will be releasing his six-song EP Oversized Soul on September 22, 2022 via Nettwerk, and it’s the next collection in his steadily rolling oeuvre that embraces many genres and relies on his production skills to find interesting and intricate directions. Jenner typically releases singles at a consistent rate, so several of the songs from the EP are out already and display a strong identity from song to song, focusing on theme, texture, and emotional impact. Singles like “Lonely Road,” “Till The Day We Die,” and “Vibrations” all hit on universal themes but show a thought-provoking harmony between the sounds and ideas in each song.
I spoke with Brandon Jenner about his mode of recording and release, choosing the singles and EP model for a number of years now, how he develops songwriting, and the stages he goes through in recording and Production to remain so prolific over time. We also talked about how he brought the ideas and sounds behind several of the songs together to create a seamless vibe.
Americana Highways: I’ve noticed that ever since around 2016 when you started doing more solo work, you’ve used the singles and EP format. What attracted you to that release schedule?
Brandon Jenner: I’m a single focused person. I think in an ideal world, I’d just be releasing music one single at a time, which is kind of what I do these days. I think singles cater to the attention span of audiences and cater to the new forms of media with which we listen to music. It also keeps people engaged, rather than an artist putting a bunch of music out and then disappearing for a while. It’s just a different kind of world now where you want to be putting out music as consistently as possible. I’d rather be putting a couple of EPs out every year rather than an album a year.
Also, doing an EP also seems like the right amount of workload for me, since I’m doing a lot of it myself, Producing and that stuff. Having five or six songs around to bounce around on and have musicians out to play on seems like the right amount. You can get a musician to play through a whole EP in a day. That’s also part of why the EP format has made so much sense.
AH: With a lot of self-producing going on these days among independent artists, that makes total sense.
BJ: Something I’ve thought about is that the most addictive form of media from what I’ve seen, before social media, was television, with a new episode of Breaking Bad or Lost coming out very week. You look forward to it all week, you talk about it with your friends, it’s very exciting. I’m a big believer that if you can keep content out as consistently as possible, that would be ideal.
AH: How is your approach to singles reflected in your songwriting? Are you just writing all the time, but then choosing the ones that you want to work on with other musicians?
BJ: I definitely allow myself space to write when I’m in a situation where I’m done with promoting. Once I’ve gotten all my stuff out there, then I have some space to write music. I’m very compartmentalized regarding what strategies I’m working on. So, right now, I’ve been in the studio, really trying to finish mixing this last single. When I’m in the studio, I’m not thinking about writing new material. Then, when it comes to promoting stuff, I’m in that stage, and not thinking about writing new material. Then, when I’m done with that, I really focus on writing. It’s not scheduled according to releases, but it really depends on the seasons of my life, and what stage I’m at in general.
AH: There’s something to be said for that, because then when you’re writing, you’re not interrupted by other tasks. When you look at the songs on Oversized Soul, do you see a relationship between them as having been written during a certain era of your life?
BJ: Yes, but only in the sense that I’ve grown as a person. Every batch of songs that I write is a reflection of the amount of growth I’ve undergone and who I am right now. There’s not necessarily a common theme that I could point to.
AH: Do you see reflections of your own progress through your songwriting, or do you tend to critique yourself, looking back?
BJ: I’m constantly doing that, trying to think about how to be more fulfilled, honor the people around me, and just be a better version of myself. A lot of it, for me, is to give myself the license to be able to exist in the world, unfiltered through other peoples’ opinions. Getting more and more comfortable with my own voice, saying whatever it is I need to say, and feeling free to say it publicly in the form of music is important. It’s about getting to know my core and expressing that, and that’s most of what the personal growth thing is. What comes out in my music is the ability to be more honestly myself.
AH: That sounds really positive. It does me think of the song in the collection, “I’m Over Who You Think You Are.” Though I think I’ve probably interpreted that in my own way, because I was reading that it’s about a romantic relationship that’s ended, but it made me think of so many friendships and so many acquaintances I’ve experienced that felt limiting to me. We limit ourselves by looking at other people.
BJ: I love that. Music can be interpreted in so many ways. For some songs, I’m very specific and I don’t mind sharing that with people, like a song about a mother who has passed away, leaving young children, but as far as that song was concerned, it was about putting myself in someone else’s shoes. So much of my world is dealing with people who think highly of themselves. I live in LA, and I grew up in Malibu, and there’s a lot of people who think a lot of themselves. The song was written kind of from a young person’s perspective of having dated someone who was on the way “up,” and constantly acting too good for them. Now, they’ve moved on and don’t want to be bothered by thinking about that person, but they are still clearly thinking about them.
AH: There’s a little bit of a hopeful thing there, possibly, because we all have moments where we suddenly realize, “I feel over this.” It’s almost a decision to break away. You recognize your own mental progress. Sometimes anger can actually be a good thing, because you’re no longer buying into someone’s mythology.
BJ: Yes. Someone told me a long time ago about this awesome thing that the endocrine system does, giving us emotions as a guide to tell us things. Part of why our system is so complex is to recognize and interpret situations, and one of the uses for anger is to let us know when there is something in our lives that needs to change. I thought that was an interesting way of putting it. When you feel aggression or anger towards something or someone, that might mean that something needs to shift or needs to change. That anger won’t go away until you create the change.
AH: That’s very interesting because we’re socially conditioned to immediately repress that anger, and get it out of the way. How did the sound for that song develop? Each of these songs really has its own sound-world.
BJ: Some songs start with a groove, and that was the case here. It started with a bassline, something played on this Rover guitar I have that I use a lot and has a unique sound. I found the sound inspiring, so came up with a bassline and built from there. It really is a shit-ton of experimentation that I do in the studio. I’ll get a sound and mess with it as much as I can, then move onto the next thing. It’s a constant work in progress. I’m actually still adjusting that song before I do the final delivery on it. I try to find what sounds fit the song and whatever is an extension of the kind of vibe that the song makes me feel.
AH: I noticed that you had put up a video showing how you developed the loops for “Till The Day We Die,” and that’s one of the songs that’s already out right now. Is that typical of a songwriting process for you?
BJ: It can be. That’s how that song came about. I should do that more, spending more time with the loop station and writing that way. There are definitely a handful of songs that I’ve written like that. It can be a little bit limiting because you end up with, basically, one progression, so I can’t do all that time. I need to be able to have some melodic choices. But it is a great way to get things started. “Till The Day We Die” had such a cool vibe and I was able to develop that on the loop station. There are also loop stations with different channels that takes things to a whole other level, where you can do multiple progressions. What I’ve experimented with is pretty basic.
AH: It’s interesting that “Till The Day We Die” also has more traditional elements in it, with a kind of blues or soul feel. How do you see the connection between the sound and the subject matter?
BJ: Lyrically, it was just something that I wanted to write about the way that I felt about my wife. I would say that the energy that the song has is more passionate rather than aggressive or soulful. It’s passion like a train, so that’s kind of how I wanted to record it. I wanted it to sound old-timey in the sense of an old Western. I wanted it to feel like a timeless love and I thought that the style would suggest that.
AH: I can see how working with a love song of a certain kind, you’re going to want to tap into sound traditions while still sounding modern. What about “Lonely Road”? That’s also one of the songs that’s already out. I love the finger picking at the beginning and the rhythm is very constructed to create a sense of movement, I think. That ties in really well with the theme.
BJ: That was something that I originally wrote in 4/4 and it was cool, but it was a little bit sleepy. I wanted to see if I could make the track a little bit different, so I made it in 6/8. I really liked the song, but I felt like it needed a more artistic feel to it, so I was messing around with it in production. I really wanted to make it sound like a wall of acoustic instruments. I have a mandola, a mandolin, Nashville tuning guitar, rubber bridge guitar, regular acoustic guitar, and I might even have a dobro in there. I just got a bunch of acoustic stuff mic-ed up and I wanted it to come together in a looping way. I was really happy with how it came together. Sometimes things just work out, and with that one, it just really did.
AH: That’s another song with really universal themes of separation, and the particularly American idea of the road trip. “Vibrations” is another single that’s out and getting a lot of attention, as well as having a video.
BJ: I like all the songs for different reasons, but sometimes there’s one that stands out that I think most people would connect to. That one, to me, seemed that way. The lyric, the groove, the title, all that contributes.
AH: I heard that the song was inspired by seeing a “silent disco.” Can I ask what that is?
BJ: Oh, they are awesome. It’s basically where people wear headphones and listen to music and dance. Everyone’s dancing to music in their headphones, but if you take the headphones off, everyone is just dancing to nothing. It’s actually pretty fun.
AH: I’ve heard of something a little bit like that, where it’s more improvised and live, but the audience is hearing the music through headphones, and you have your own personal space.
BJ: Yes, it encourages personal space, too, because you can’t talk to anyone. It’s a way to go inward with the music, which is super cool. I’ve always really enjoyed that. It was something I got dragged to one day, but it turned out to be pretty fantastic.
AH: To mention the themes in “Vibrations,” do you generally think that just by being around each other, people influence each other a lot? I think it’s probably true that it goes beyond our words and actions, but our moods and attitudes influence others.
BJ: Of course! I think so, too. I’m a big believer that when we’re gone, the only thing we leave behind is the way that we’ve made other people feel. It’s everything, the way that you exist in this life and the way that you interact with people. It’s the way you make people feel when they are in your presence.
Thank you for chatting with us, Brandon. Folks can find more about Brandon’s music and tour dates, here: https://www.brandonjennermusic.com