Brett Detar - Sound In The Signals Interview

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You just released your new album Bird In The Tangle which is a new chapter in your life and your first album as a solo artist how does it feel it to finally have it out?

It feels wonderful. Thank you for asking. Sometimes I felt like it was never coming!

It took you a while after Deadbeat Sweetheartbeat to release another full length. Why did you decide to take a break from the music scene and what encouraged you to make the solo album?

Well, after the Juliana theory broke up I definitely went through a weird period in my life. I toured and recorded as a full time job for 10 years straight – right out of higschool and then suddenly there was no new tour and no new album. I guess it felt a bit like a very long roller coaster ride that was suddenly over. I attempted a few different musical collaborations afterwards but nothing really fit. I then moved to LA and ran an online vintage clothing store. I guess I quit music completely for a while. I told myself I wasn’t a musician any longer. I convinced myself I was a failure as a songwriter and I just gave up. What encouraged me to make a solo album, along with some very kind words from some musician friends I love and respect, was a little digital recorder that I kept. Throughout that whole time of not doing music anymore I would still write songs from time to time and quickly sing them into this little recorder. One night I listened back to all of them and there was somewhere around 40 or 50 songs ideas on there and I guess I realized that quite a few of them were really good. I think after listening that night I got a renewed passion for writing and decided that I’d re-dedicate myself to doing the only thing I really love doing.

I think over the course of your musical career people have come to expect the unexpected from you and this album caught a lot of people off guard. It is heavily influenced by country music. What made you decide to go in this direction for your first solo album?

I didn’t choose roots music – it chose me. I mean, not to sound lame or anything but If you would have told me 9 years ago that I’d be making a record like this I would not have believed you. To be fair to anyone reading this who has not heard the record and is getting visions of Keith Urban and Brad Paisley in your head – this is definitely not what the current Nashville music establishment is calling “country” music these days. This is a left-of-center, roots rock record that leans heavily on traditional country music. But anyways, about 8 years ago I fell head over heels in love with old country music and ended up listening to nothing but for about 6 or 7 years. This record is just the result of me completely immersing myself in the stories and songs of people like Ralph Stanley, Townes Van Zandt, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, Ernest Tubb, Tammy Wynette, Cash, and offshoots and distant cousins like the Dylan Nashville stuff, Gram Parsons, Gillian Welch, Neil Young, and the list goes on. I think there’s a lot more soul in old country music than in most of the music being made today and I was just completely sucked in to the raw story-telling, raw production, and the gorgeous instrumentation. I couldn’t help myself. I also got extremely into the series “Deadwood” and western movies from the 50’s through the 70’s and the whole Ennio Morricone spaghetti western sound. The record has a lot of elements that don’t really fit into traditional country music at all but it’s all taken from places in that weird American musical landscape.

You released the album as a free download. With the option to buy some really cool special packages. Can you tell me a little about why you decided to offer the album as a free release? What has your reaction been to releasing it for free? Also can you tell our readers a little about the packages they can purchase and how you decided what to put with those special packages?

Well, I knew that since this was my first record on my own that I just wanted as many people to hear it as possible. I genuinely believe that this is the best set of songs I’ve ever written. I’ve never sang better and I’ve never written better lyrics. There was a lot of pain in this music and in the making of this album and I believe in it enough that I think if people hear it they will pass it along to their friends and my name as an artist will grow and the record will spread organically. That, along with the fact that I just wanted people to have it is why I released it for free. The reaction from fans and listeners to me giving it away has been extremely positive. So many people have said thanks and said they gladly would have paid for it. At this point though, I’d much rather have someone share the record with their friends – send their friends to my website http://BrettDetar.com to download it – than to give me their money. Obviously I am trying to make a living from music to the best of my ability so it’s wonderful when someone buys something from me and I am super thankful when they do but I guess I’ve just been taking the pot-dealer approach, you know? Give ‘em something good for free now and later they’ll come back for something else. For those people that want to come back I made some different packages for sale that I think are really cool. I’m mostly offering hand-made pieces like limited edition hand screen printed posters and Vinyl LP’s with hand assembled slipcovers and incredible art and packaging and things like hand-written lyrics (by me). I worked really hard to make everything that I am selling extra high quality and with my own touch. I mean, even the free album comes with fairly high resolution artwork and the lyrics show up in iTunes when you are listening – little touches like that. And if you buy anything you get 4 exclusive bonus tracks too. So yeah, I definitely try to give buyers quality products.

I think one think that strikes me about the album is how well you slide into the style and vocally how well you perform on the album. Vocally what did you do to prepare yourself for this new direction? Did the switch in music affect how you wrote your lyrics?

Thank you so much for noticing. That means the world to me. Truthfully, this is the first time I’ve ever really sung in my natural sit-in-my-bedroom-and-write-songs voice. The intimacy of the lyrics and the style of the music and the fact that every single song started with just me and an acoustic guitar just led to me singing in a more soulful way I guess. The truth is that I didn’t really have to prepare myself for it at all, I just sang and let myself and my voice free. I just sang how I felt.

The album art for Bird In A Tangle also comes free with download. I really thought it added a lot to the album and was really spectacular. How did you decide on this particular artwork and who did the artwork for the album?

Thank you so much. I am especially excited to see this on the vinyl LP when that comes back from the pressing plant. I think the map inside the gatefold of the record is going to look amazing. I scoured tons and tons of old antique books and tins and maps and things and decided that I wanted the whole album to feel like it was somewhere out of the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. I was a stickler about everything being done by hand – all of the drawing and the typography. Fine artist Ben Tegel drew the map and the album cover and did an amazing job. I went to my good friend Sasha Lee at Beautiful Decay magazine and she and Amir helped me to find Ben and to assemble my ideas into an explainable concept. Basically, I just collected all of these old elements and gave them to my art team and told them exactly what I wanted. It was the pickiest I’ve ever been with artwork and God-love-them they did an amazing job at creating what I saw in my head.

One thing I really like about your career as a whole is you seem to do every genre you’ve done really well. I imagine you must have a broad interest in music. What is an album that is highly influential to you that people might not think would be?

Wow. Thank you so much. That’s an incredible compliment. I think the thing is that whatever I do I tend to dive in head first 100%. I definitely love a lot of different types of music and it’d be so hard to pick one album that is influential to me. Hmmmmm. Let’s say “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” by Neil Young. This is one of the very first albums that I ever bought – on cassette – from Columbia House membership club in fact and throughout every phase of my life, no matter what style of music I was into or what scene I was a part of when I was younger, I always loved Neil Young. He’s a pioneer. He marches to the beat in his own head and does exactly what he wants to do. He takes a stand on political issues. He writes amazing songs and he doesn’t look back and question himself. He’s not technically the greatest singer on earth and that gives people like me hope that you don’t have to be super naturally gifted to make the music that’s in your heart. Neil Young is way up there for me. He’s brilliant.

Are there any plans for a music video from the new album? If so do you know what track you’d like to do it for? If not what track would you like to make into a video and what would be the concept you’d like to use?

I’m in talks with a few directors right now so my fingers are crossed that I can get something beautiful out there soon. That’s the thing with having no real budget and no label – I am a bit at the mercy of people who want to do favors for me. Haha. So I am certainly hoping to make a few soon.

The album was self-released through your online release. The DIY aspect is making a big comeback. You’ve been through about every situation you can in the music business from indie to major to DIY artist. Why did you decide to release the new album yourself as opposed to a label? What are your thoughts on record labels in general?

Haha. Yeah, I have been all over the world in that department and through the ringer a few times. Haha. Indie labels have their advantages and disadvantages just like the majors do and just like doing it yourself does. There’s no magic formula to making it in this industry or if there is I certainly haven’t found it yet. The thing I like the most about doing my own thing right now is that I literally have no one to answer to on creative decisions. I made the exact album that I wanted to make on my own timeframe with no interference. This is something that I’ve always wanted the ability to do but never would’ve been able to do without the internet and places like Topspin and even iTunes. I mixed my record and decided that I needed another song after the album was finished being mixed so I wrote, recorded, and mixed “Cocaine, Whiskey, and Heroin” the day before mastering and added it to the final record. Things like that are pretty hard to do when you have a big label system to answer to. So that was pretty cool.

Now I don’t want to ask too many questions about The Juliana Theory, but you recently had a few reunion shows. What was that experience like to return to the band after that amount of time had passed and how did you feel when you played the last reunion show?

Reuniting after not playing together for nearly five years and after having not seen a few of the guys for almost five years was a great experience. I love those dudes like brothers so it was great sharing the stage with them again. I am super happy that we did it and it was awesome getting to sing together with everyone who came out. I think that it was an excellent way to bring closure to the band considering that we never played a farewell show before when we just broke up and I felt honored to be a part of something special like that. It felt like a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing and that final show was especially bittersweet.

I think it’s safe to say over the last 10 or 15 years you are one of the most prolific singers/guitarists in the, I guess I want to say underground, music scene. You have two albums people consider classics under your belt the ZAO “Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest” album and The Juliana Theory “Emotion Is Dead” album. How does it feel to be a person so influential to so many genres? With the new album being a more country style album do you have your sights on another genre you think you’d like to tackle?

Oh my, that’s much much too kind. I am not sure I can agree with all of that prolific talk haha. There are so many writers out there like my buddy Nate Campany and my brilliant writing partner Ben Romans to name a few. I guess that anything I get into I try my hardest to do my very best with. I knew that if I was going to make a record of roots music and old country that it had to be authentic. You can’t fake this kind of music so I really had to dedicate myself to it. You don’t just spend 8 years of your life listening to mainly one type of music if it’s not where your heart’s at. Haha. The thing I believe, though, is that a good song transcends genre. Stylistic changes are just the icing on the cake, so to speak. A great song works in various different styles. More than anything else I care about writing great songs and that has always been my motivation in no matter what style of music I was creating.

I guess that about wraps it up. Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions. Do you have any closing comments you’d like to make?

Thank you so so much for the fantastic interview. It was my pleasure. If I have anything else to say it’s please come give my album a try if you haven’t. It’s totally free so what have you got to lose, right? Just head over to http://BrettDetar.com to download “Bird In The Tangle” for free. Thanks again so much.

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