Interview: brandon*

Earlier this week I had the chance to have a chat with brandon, a very talented musician/beatmaker. He started music from a very young age, and so far he has released 11 albums, with the next one coming in 2016. He has a very unique way of sampling and composing, with Jazz and Bossa Nova being on the centre of his influences. And as it turns out, he is also really fun to talk to. 

How did you grow up to enjoy music, and what kind of artists were you listening in your teenage years?

"Well, my father is a Jazz musician, so I've been surrounded by all types of great music since childhood. From Soft Rock to Hardcore Hip Hop, but Jazz Music was something that really struck a chord with me. As a teenager I was listening heavily to Jazz artists like Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Johnny Costa and John Coltrane, among many others. Listening and studying those artists sort of helped formulate the sound I have today."

Yeah, I wanted to point out that you often use Jazz samples, and most of them seem to have common characteristics. Not many beatmakers approach these kinds of samples.

"Thank you. I think Jazz had such an effect on me because of the way it translates its messages. As far as samples go, I think a lot of producers are sort of relying on the sample to take them certain places, but for me it's always about how people flip it. As a musician, it's really easy to disrespect sampling, but producers like Nujabes and J Dilla helped me respect the art of sampling."

Your songs also seem to have this "summery" feel to them. Lots of Bossa Nova...

"Yeah, you know the funny thing about that is, i grew up LOVING 60's jazz. And that's when Bossa Nova came on the scene in a big way. I would listen heavily to bossa guitarists like Laurindo Almeida, Tom Jobim, Joao Gilberto, and Luiz Bonfa. And I studied them rigorously and decided to attach Hip Hop beats to them.

My plan was to make music that was not catch your war, but sort of an educational listening experience. I want my music to create a positive effect on people. Our world is really hurting right now, so I believe musicians have an ability to create an atmosphere for positive change.

That's how Dreamscape was constructed. A way to alleviate some of the stress this world could bring."

My next question was going to be about the concept behind 'Dreamscape'

"So, there are these two albums by Antônio Carlos Jobim. Very simplistic, but powerful Bossa instrumental projects. The first was called "Tide" the second was "Wave." I believe they were about 9 songs long. and i wanted to make something like that, but fuse it with Hip Hop. That's how the first 2 Dreamscape albums came to be.

Then after that, something in my spirit just led me to make another, because it felt as though the series should continue on. And I constructed Dreamscape 3"

Your latest album is not the 4th part though, it's called 'Dreamscape: Love and Luxuria'.

"I did that on purpose, haha. Dreamscape: Love and Luxuria is something I constructed between making Dreamscape 2 & 3.  The songs I made for Love and Luxuria fit together where they seemed to clash with Dreamscape 2 or 3.  There will be a Dreamscape 4 though, and it will complete the series."

Talk to me about your latest album 'Dreamscape: Love and Luxuria'. What did you try to do? How is it different from the 3 previous volumes?

"The first three Dreamscape albums were heavily Bossa/Jazz Hip Hop albums. This one has a very French feeling to the music, and feels more like a story. The smooth tone of the music is still presented, but it feels like a movie score when you're listening to it. This one may remind people of a deep, personal romance."

I get what you mean, although I feel this is still present in your previous releases as well.

"That's true. That's why I like to let people draw their own conclusions with my music. I want people to paint their own pictures as to what they think about the instrumentals. There's a hint of romance in my music. and I like when it can remind people of someone or something special"

Growing up in a music household, did you take up music early?

brandon* 1987

brandon* 1987

"I've always been playing music. Drums was my first instrument. My grandmother would take old coffee cans and I'd use pencils or plastic hangers to play on them. Being that my dad is such an accomplished keyboardist, I have great admiration for what he did. And in highschool I started honing my skills on the piano. That's where production began for me. "

Did you instantly started beatmaking or there was some other initial compositional phase before that?

"I met a young man whose name is Branden, and he was playing something he'd recorded on a keyboard. And I told myself that I should hang around him more, and maybe I'd learn something. That's how my production came about. I think in retrospect, it was a way for me to combine my skills on the piano and drums."

So before that, for many years you were playing music, but the thought of making some hadn't occur?

"I was playing and collaborating with other producers. A lot of them thought I was just a keyboard player. I never really started putting my own music to the world until I was in my mid 20's. Even to this day, producers pay me to play chords, or make piano melodies that they can't."

Being a drummer, do you record any of your own drums or percussion, or is it all sampled?

"I do sometimes, and then I'll mix them into my recordings. But I like to use my own programming. And sometimes I'll use old school drum loops. It's really about whatever is appropriate for the material I am making."

Do you produce in a studio, or more a bedroom studio kind of thing? What about gear?

"Just me, my iMac or MacBook and a few keyboards. I use Reason and Logic for the most part, but I don't want people to think it has anything to do with what gear, because it really doesn't. It's not about what you have in my opinion, it's about you and what you do with the materials you're given.

And I've been to loads of studios where people have all the gear in the world, but struggle creatively. As well, I've seen musicians with very little that damn near create worlds for the listeners to inhabit. Music to me is like a system of martial arts, using what you have to generate the best effect."

What are your beatmaking influences? You talked about Nujabes and J Dilla already, but I am curious how producers affected your workflow.   

"Well, my favourites are scattered about, but I am really into film composers as much as I am into producers. I like Flying Lotus, J Dilla and Nujabes, he's my favourite. He not only got me to respect an artform of creativity, but I sensed a lot of spiritual aspects in his music. I always feel as if I am on a journey while listening to him."

"But i like a lot of film and TV composers like Yoko Kanno, Ennio Morricone, Hans Zimmer, John Williams and Jon Brion. They have just as much effect on me as producers do. Some even more so."

How about new beatmakers? Who do you enjoy listening these days?  

"To be honest, nobody is really impressing me as far as beats is concerned, cause a lot of them sound alike. I can't name any mainstream producers because they do nothing for me. The indie soundcloud producers have more creative charisma as far as I am concerned. I like Biblo, Bonobo and producers like that. To me it's more than making a beat, it's an experience."

I was mostly referring to the indie ones..

"I would say Bibio is an indie producer. Kaytranada, Galimatias, Illmind, Jay Ellyiot, Kan Sano and Uyama Hiroto are some of my favourites. And Tokimonsta. I LOVE her."

TOKiMONSTA

TOKiMONSTA

Now that you mention it... you must love the rhythmic stuff she incorporates, since you also pay a lot of attention to the percussive elements of your songs.

"I like Tokimonsta because she's very unpredictable, in my opinion. I am not a rhythmic producer, I mainly focus on melodies and trying to translate "feeling" into my music. She's completely different from me and I like that"

How possible do you think it is for someone to make a living being a producer or a composer?

"Nothing worth having is easy. Anything is possible. i think the problem with a lot of things is we sort of live in a world where we are constantly comparing ourselves to others. Not living our lives to the fullest because of fear or judgement or rejection. A lot of creative people struggle with this.

That being said, I really embrace timing. Letting my art flow through me. not allowing where I'm at to define where I'm going. Learning to respect small beginnings and blooming where I'm planted. I feel like there is a "call" for my gift. there is a purpose for it. And i want to make a living from my art. I can see it. But I'm currently learning not to idolize the destination."

"I'm immersing myself in the process. so many people get so hyped up about the results. But the process makes or breaks people. it weeds out those who just want personal glory form those who believe that they're contributing to something greater than themselves. So I believe it's possible to make a living. But if you get wrapped up into "how" and "when" you'll go crazy. Looking at the clock doesn't make it move any faster.

You can make a living through your art, but is there a purpose behind it? is it more than money? it is more than acclaim? it's cool to "make it", but how will you sustain yourself? There are just as many lost people making great financial strides, through art."

"i dunno. that's just me though."

I totally get your viewpoint, and you explain it very nicely. I was mostly referring to the shallow reality of being able to sustain yourself financially through music.

"I mean, money is just paper, it comes and goes. The music industry isn't making any money. So i think something else has to inspire people to want to succeed. But anything is possible through hard work, planning patience and discipline. But there is really no one size fits all road toward success."

What are your future music plans?

"I've got a lot, but for now finishing the Dreamscape series."