We had the opportunity to delve into this prolific, skilled singer, songwriter, and screenwriter’s rich musical path. Pennan Brae is a passionate Vancouver-based artist who has made 10 albums influenced by rock and roll from the 70’s and 80’s, with the 11th album on its way to be released in 2022 spring. Pennan released the first track, “Zulu,” from his 11th album, “Picked,” on March 11 to give us a taste of what’s to come.
• We’re glad to have this chance to chat with you. You’ve been in the music industry for quite some time. What was the beginning of this journey?
The beginning of my journey was when I wrote my first song. I was 18 years old, had just moved to a new town and was home on New Year’s. I sat down at the piano that evening and a song came out. It had the structure of a song and was one of the best feelings I’d ever had. It was at that point I wanted to pursue a career in music.
• Songwriting and screenwriting are both forms of storytelling, but how do you approach each?
That’s a good question. A song is a much shorter format so lyrically you want a tighter focus or topic when writing. While with screenwriting, one can go off on tangents and the canvas is broader. I suppose with screenwriting the challenge is to have some eventual borders so the story remains focused. But with the words for both, it very much involves sitting down in a quiet place and writing. It’s like carving a piece of wood; at the start it’s unrefined and you keep whittling away at it until it says something.
• Your music is influenced by the rock and roll of the 70’s and 80’s. What are your main influences? Whose music would you say helped you develop your own sound?
I do love music from the 1970s-80s. I love the 1950s and ‘60s too. But yeah, the ‘70s and ‘80s; I grew up on that and they are such rich decades for music. Without a doubt, The Rolling Stones are #1 for me. I love the spark and energy of that band. I like everything about them; Keith Richards’ rhythm playing, Ronnie Wood’s soloing, Charlie Watts’ drumming and Mick Jagger’s lyrics.
There are so many incredible musical influences during the first 40 years of rock and roll. There’s such a deep well to draw from; The Eagles, Beatles, John Mellencamp, Bob Dylan. I also love American blues by Muddy Waters, BB King, and Elmore James. Closer to home in Canada, I love The Tragically Hip; they’re the best band in the land.
• Which album would you suggest to someone who is just getting into your music? And why that particular one?
I suppose my ‘Lit’ album or the current ‘Planted’ album. These are both straight-ahead rock and roll records with bass, guitar, drum, and vocals. They’re pretty stripped down and have 1970s and ‘80s musical influences.
• What ties “The Garden Series” Vol. 1: “Planted” and the forthcoming Vol. 2: “Picked” together?
The songs from these two albums were recorded at the same time. I’ve always loved double albums. I thought, ‘hey, we’re working on these 20 songs; let’s put the first 10 in Vol. 1 and the next 10 on a second volume.’ The tracks have similar musical elements and altogether it felt like a coherent form of expression. I love album covers too and photographer Dan Jackson created a beautiful 4-part album cover series for the double album (front and back covers) in which a guitar pick-up is planted and then it gradually breaks through the soil and grows until it is finally picked. The images tell a story and the photography is beautiful.
• Can you give us more details about your upcoming album, “Picked”?
‘Picked’ is 10 tracks of straight-ahead rock and roll. Side A kicks off with ‘Zulu’ and Side B concludes with ‘5 Foot 2’. ‘5 Foot 2’ is the second single and is due out April 1st. ‘Super Storm’ is then released on April 21st and ‘Paradoxical Recoil’ on May 6th. Around mid-May, I’ll release the whole album (haven’t picked an exact date yet). ‘Picked’ was recorded at Blue Light Studio in Vancouver and it’s been a blast to work on it with producer Kaj Falch-Nielsen and drummer Edward Whelan.
• How did you come up with the sound of your latest single, “Zulu”?
I’ve always loved very fast rock and roll songs and this is what I was aiming for with ‘Zulu’. I feel it’s an interesting track and a bit unorthodox in that there are 3 separate guitar solos. I also really like the harmonic vocal ending with singer Alison Jenkins. I wanted to keep the track sounding a little dirty around the edges; to me, it’s very early 1970s rock and roll and I like that era musically.
• I got to say, even with the lyric video, the lyrics of “Zulu” took me a while to comprehend! It demonstrates your ability as a songwriter, and it fits the quick tempo well. Can you take us through the process of writing it?
I wrote the guitar parts first and the sound led me to the lyrical content. The words in ‘Zulu’ are quite a mouthful lyrically but I wanted the words to coalesce with the frantic nature of the guitars and speed of the song. I really enjoy lyric videos as it spells everything out clearly what the singer is saying.
• On mentioning the music video, I enjoyed the retro footage! It delicately complements the whole vintage theme. Can you tell us what sparked the idea for the video?
Thanks a lot. I love researching old stock footage and the visuals just seemed to mesh with the music. Fast cars and rock and roll go together! I reached out to director Tim Cash and he created the music video for ‘Zulu’. We’ve done a lot of music videos together and a pair of independent films; ‘The Astronot’ and ‘2 Below 0’.
• Finally, I’d like to thank you for your time. Can you tell us what’s next for Pennan Brae?
Thanks a lot for the opportunity to speak with you. The next 3 singles off the album roll out over the next 9 weeks and then the album shortly thereafter. Tim and I are currently working on a new music video for ‘Super Storm’, the 3rd single. The focus right now is releasing the ‘Picked’ album. We’re also in the studio working on music for a future release which I hope you might enjoy.
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