I made a conscious effort to make sure that everything had a locked in, hard groove. It's more fun for me as a performer onstage if the songs are more groove-driven, and if you can get the audience moving, you stand a better chance of opening their minds.
Producer and multi-instrumentalist John Alagia, who helmed Hope for the Hopeless and was brought in by Jive to produce Loggins' forthcoming album, suggested Loggins work with Dennen, who says he had fun "trying to get into [Loggins'] brain and help him write songs that relate to him."
"Brett's unusual involvement in the process has made it one of the most memorable and enjoyable of my career," Loggins says. "His heart, passion and incredible work ethic are all qualities every artist would love to emulate."
Developing songwriting chops is one thing, but learning to trust your voice and sing is a whole different ballgame. In that effort, Dennen sought inspiration from Neil Young. When the legendary songwriter wrote the classic "Mr. Soul" in 1967 as a member of Buffalo Springfield, he met resistance about whether he was the right singer for the track from both his bandmates and the band's label, Atlantic Records.
"He was initially intimidated by his own voice," Dennen says. "But what's he going to do? He's going to keep writing songs and he's going to get over it and everybody else is going to have to get over it. I consider him to be one of the greatest singers of all time. Not because he can hit as many notes as Van Morrison, but just because it's authentic."
In his early recordings, you can hear Dennen holding back his voice at times, unwilling to lift the reins. But, the past five years have seen him let go, using a more soulful vocal style to expand his laid-back folk and roots rock. In a serendipitous twist, the lone guest star on Hope is one of the more soulful artists on the planet. Femi Kuti, the son of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti and a leading light in African music, provides backing vocals on "Make You Crazy," the album's first single.
Kuti flew in from his hometown of Lagos, Nigeria to record the track. Dennen, a huge fan of both Femi and his father, says it took a while for the pair to get on the same page. Dennen felt that Femi may have been trying too hard to fit into his style rather than just being himself. The breakthrough came on an instrumental section towards the end, where Femi wrote his own interpretation of the lyrics in Pidgin English.
"After he made a couple of passes, we were like, 'Holy crap, this is amazing," Dennen says. "We were all freaking out at how powerful it was."
"Crazy" uses a lilting groove as a Trojan Horse of sorts for a diatribe against injustice, particularly child slavery and encroachment on civil liberties. That is Dennen's sly maneuver on this record, adding rhythms and grooves to his songs in an effort to get more ears to listen to his social messages.
"I made a conscious effort to make sure that everything had a locked in, hard groove," he says. "It's more fun for me as a performer onstage if the songs are more groove-driven, and if you can get the audience moving, you stand a better chance of opening their minds."
That message is grounded in those summer camps as a kid, a time that seems to have impacted Dennen deeply in terms of his potential to reach young people. He also founded Love Speaks, a nonprofit that serves as a promotional arm for like-minded charities, allowing them to set up shop at his live shows.
"Every time you open your mouth and speak to a child, you have an opportunity to enrich that child's life," Dennen says. "Every word I write, every song I sing, I have an opportunity to put out a message. It might not always be a positive message, but it has to be heartfelt."
Brett Dennen Tour Dates
10/31/08 Fri Waterfront at The Aloha Tower Honolulu, HI
11/03/08 Mon Doug Fir Portland, OR
11/05/08 Wed The Triple Door Seattle, WA
11/06/08 Thu The Independent San Francisco, CA
11/07/08 Fri The Hotel Cafe Los Angeles, CA
11/08/08 Sat The Hotel Cafe Los Angeles, CA
11/10/08 Mon The Walnut Room Denver, CO
11/11/08 Tue Continental Club Austin, TX
11/13/08 Thu Schubas Chicago, IL
11/14/08 Fri Rams Head Live Baltimore, MD
11/15/08 Sat Tin Angel Philadelphia, PA
11/16/08 Sun Club Passim Cambridge, MA
11/18/08 Tue The Canal Room New York, NY
12/30/08 Tue Music Hall Of Williamsburg Brooklyn, NY (w/ Matisyahu)
Brett Dennen "Make You Crazy" on WFUV
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