A song about the capital of the United Kingdom…
is nothing new, we know. Artists such as from The Clash, Pulp and Wiley have expressed their opinions on London – or certain parts of it! I was excited to ask Louis Brennan about his take and what his new single, London, was all about. He talks about the album, Dead Capital, and whether there is a financial leaning; maybe a nod to London being strangled and distilled – and whether there are going to be any gigs to accompany it.
Brennan talks about his music tastes and past; what he has planned going forward; whether songwriters such as Nick Cave and Father John Misty are influences – the three albums that mean the most to him, too.
Hi, Louis. How are you? How has your week been?
Hi. I’m fine, thanks. I still have a pulse, thankfully - which is as much as you can ask for on a Monday morning. I haven’t been out of bed long...so, my week could go either way, really.
For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?
I’m a songwriter from Dublin, based in London; I write songs rooted in the Folk tradition - although purists would probably disagree.
Tell me more about London. What is the story behind the track?
London is, basically, me commuting back and forth from a job I hate whilst stewing in my own self-loathing - and musing on the absurdity of some our commonest pursuits.
The video looks like it is straight out a 1980s hipster’s drug-addled dream – in a good way! It is pretty old-skool, no?
I wanted to shoot a sort of tourist/holiday-style video and present images that were recognisably ‘London’ to someone who may never have visited. I bought this camcorder and five blank tapes off eBay for £15 and decided I’d go on one of those open top tourist buses. About five minutes into the journey, the camera died. Having spent £27(??!!!) on the bus ticket; I was somewhat crestfallen!
Numerous breakages and repairs later; I somehow managed to cobble together the final thing. All the static and degradation are a result of the piece of crap camera. The subtitles I had initially wanted to make the bouncing ball karaoke type - but it was beyond my technical know-how.
It seems like you have a bond with older technologies and ways. What is the reason for that?
I like the limitations of older technologies or ways of working: it definitely makes you have to make decisions at the input - rather than output - stage. I think that adds a certain spark to the creative process - knowing that you’re capturing a moment rather than reverse-engineering it. By and large, digital culture seems to engender a disposable attitude towards art which renders it somewhat hollow - and probably has changed how much value younger generations are inclined to attribute to it.
I’m, also, just a curmudgeon…
London is from the album, Dead Capital. Is that title an allusion to the decreasing all-inclusiveness of London – or does it have a financial basis?
‘Dead capital’ is an economic term referring to assets which are often informally owned - and, therefore, cannot be leveraged. In the developing world, particularly, this means only the already wealthy can create surplus wealth to invest etc.; thus creating a self-perpetuating cycle of inequality. Ostensibly, the whole legal framework of property and capital is written by those at the top for their own benefit.
I feel like this could equally be applied to ideas and that we’re all walking around with heads full of dead capital; unsure how to escape an overarching clusterfu*k seemingly imposed upon us from ‘above’.
What subjects do you broach and examine on the record?
White privilege, sexual confusion; substance abuse, public transport; identity, interpersonal claustrophobia; the failure of the left – to name but a few!
You have the look of Father John Misty but the sound of John Grant and Nick Cave (fewer facial hairs but along the same line!). It seems like you have a lure towards bearded musicians but, more importantly, quality stuff! Are they important artists to you?
I’d like to consider those guys my peers - albeit a lot more successful than me! I’m a big admirer of all of their lyrics and all three are artists who seem to be on a ‘journey’ - which is something I can totally identify with.
Your music has a cerebral and witty edge. Is it important conveying something deeper in your music? What is your view on the mainstream and the music coming from there?
I get the impression that most mainstream Pop is just music by committee - where a whole load of producers sit around and focus-group songs into existence...
Obviously, there’s a huge amount of talented people involved who all work very hard but, ultimately, it’s just a commercial enterprise and bears little in relation to what I do. Like I said; I consider myself a Folk singer, so I sing about people and their experiences - and try to imbue them with some sort of meaning where often no meaning exists.
Really, nobody cares about my commute or whatever but, with humour and analysis, we realise we’re all on the same meaningless merry-go-round and, for a couple of minutes, you might have a real connection and feel a little less alone in the world
Dublin is where you started out but you are in London? What are the main differences between the two cities – in terms of their music and people?
London is probably the epicentre of European free-market capitalism - so that has is affect on the music and the people. Music is ‘the next big thing’ or something you never knew you needed in your life - but that you’ll struggle to remember in eighteen months time. Likewise, people are always busy-busy; swimming upstream, building up to the big tomorrow. British people really place a lot of value on hard work for its own sake and being ‘productive’: whereas Irish people are more likely to place value on good times and enjoying life.
Music-wise; Dublin is possibly more disposed to narrative songwriting and less fashion-led: however; the flip-side of this is an earnestness and celebration of mediocrity.
IN THIS PHOTO: Candice Gordon/PHOTO CREDIT: Maren Michaelis Photography
Who are the new artists you recommend we check out?
My good friends Candice Gordon and A.S.Fanning have both recently released stunning albums well worth checking out. I was lucky enough to work with both of them on the recording of Dead Capital - and look forward to doing so again
IN THIS PHOTO: A.S. Fanning/PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Taylor
If you had to select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?
Dick Gaughan – Handful of Earth
The high watermark of hard-left-hard Folk!
Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks
The first Dylan album I ever bought - and which I subsequently worked backwards from without ever achieving the completest fervour of some people I know! Not much else needs saying about this album, really, except that it’s some of the finest songwriting ever committed to tape.
Nina Simone - Nina Simone and Piano
A masterclass in how to perform solo…just perfect.
Can we see you perform anywhere soon? What gigs do you have lined-up?
I’ll be performing an Album Launch show at the Sebright Arms (in London) on 28th February - and expect to be announcing more tour dates over the next few weeks.
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
Christmas is not too far away. Do you have plans already - or will you be busy working?
I’ll be back in the loving bosom of my family in Dublin for a few days at Christmas - hopefully, enjoying some fine festive fare and libations.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Frankie Goes to Hollywood – The Power of Love
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