Interview with John Brodeur

The Brooklyn Headsets project is a series of live performances filmed on a deck with a view in Greenpoint, Brooklyn recorded using headphones. You can expect to see many more of these videos through this spring, summer, and fall, as I am the interviewer for each session.

We are very happy to unveil the first Brooklyn Headsets video session & interview. This session features singer-songwriter John Brodeur. John has been an active musician for quite some time, doing many solo records and playing in several bands for a good twenty years. He is preparing to release a brand new album this summer called Little Hopes and has many of records available on his Bandcamp and Soundcloud already. You can like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Above is a teaser video of the session, which included performances of "Daily Affirmation," "Neil Young," and "Be Careful" (the latter also featuring his wife Kristin Fayne-Mulroy on vocals). Visit the Brooklyn Headsets website for the full videos, many more photos, and the complete details of everyone and everything that makes this great project possible and how to be on it if you're a musician.

It was very awesome to watch the music be made and I had a nice conversation with John afterwards. Here are some of the highlights.

S: Your album Little Hopes is coming out soon.

J: Yeah, "Daily Affirmation" is going to be a single next month. I think Little Hopes comes out in August.

S: "Daily Affirmation," is very interesting lyrically. The beginning goes, "Inspirational tapes and videos can't tell me anything I don't already know" and the end is "Inspirational tapes and videos can't tell me anything but at least they give me hope." Where do you fall on that spectrum?

J: Back and forth. The main gist of the song, it's sort of a spiritual shift. That first verse is a "Sorry, but I can't do anything about it," selfish point of view. At the end it's actually admitting that he needs guidance and some help getting through some shit.

S: There's that moment, "Staring at the mirror so hard you can see out the other side." That's a unique way to talk about looking everywhere externally but never realizing that you have to have a little agency yourself.

J: Yeah, exactly. Self-examination, that's what that whole thing is about. That's what a lot of the songs are about, but that one is very specifically. Especially that line.

S: What is your creative process like? Are you a disciplined person or is it more when the spirit moves you?

J: Not a disciplined person. I take that back. If I'm sitting, trying to make a recording – most of Little Hopes I recorded myself and mixed – if my goal is to get a track done, I can sit down and work front to back and get it done. I won't get out of my chair for three hours if that's what it takes.

On the writing side, I never really know how it's going to happen. Sometimes the chords, melody, and lyrics will happen at the same time. Those are the moments of inspiration you look for. I wish they could all happen that way. The best ones do. There's a song called "Masterpiece" on Tiger Pop Ten, I think it took twenty minutes to write. And it's a complex song, crazy melodies and lots of time changes and neat chords and it really just fell out of me and fell out of the guitar.

More often than not, it'll be a process of messing around, coming up with a vocal melody and a couple lyrics, but I'll leave songs sitting for years at a time. I'll come back after awhile. The creative process is ongoing. I also never think of the recording as a finished thing, which if you've noticed, I re-record things a lot. I can record the same thing five different ways and be happy with any of them. On Little Hopes, there's a song called "You Kill Me" that I wrote 13 years ago, around 2000. It kept changing.

S: "Be Careful" is the first track of the new album. It's a slow build, the music gradually comes in. I'm still kind of an album person and I think about how this is part of something else. Is that still how you think?

J: That song was designed to open the record. I needed something to set the tone.

S: It certainly makes you want to hear that next track.

J: Right. A lot of my favorite records ease you into it. You ever listen to Jellyfish? Their second record opens with this song that's really lush, sort of a lullaby. That's kind of how I thought of this. A slow build and then the second track is "Bam!" this big rock number.

S: "Neil Young," conveys this concept about change. "All these things will pass if you want them to," and "It's up to you. Maybe you don't." Why call that "Neil Young?"

J: That one came out of a list of song titles actually. I sometimes keep a running list of "This would be a good song title." Most of them wouldn't. But it was a song title and I thought it would be funny to rhyme "young" and "Young.” And I also thought it was kind of funny to write a song called "Neil Young" that kind of sounds like "Sweet Home Alabama,” but I don't know if anybody's going to pick up on that (laughs).

S: Are you a Neil Young fan?

J: Yeah, absolutely. He's my spirit animal. When I think about "The record isn't a finished product," he's the first person I think about. He could record a song eight different ways and none of them would be remotely the same. I like him as a human. I love his music but I just think he's so interesting. It doesn't seem like he ever makes music with anybody but himself in mind, which is really the way to do it.

S: I like to ask if someone can pick a favorite between "Down by the River," "Cowgirl in the Sand," or "Cortez the Killer."

J: "Cortez.” I love all his songs, but it's just so evil. Although "Down by the River" is kind of evil, too (laughs). But yeah, I like that.

S: You have been an active musician for awhile and you've seen a lot of changes. What do you think has been gained and lost over time?

J: People value the product less. I hate to call it product, but even an mp3, because there's so much, it doesn't have the same value it used to have. It's gotten so easy to make music and to release it. It’s been twenty years since my first real band, and the whole process has changed. It's not "let's play some shows, save money, go in the studio, make our demo to get more gigs or try to get a deal." Now, you make the record yourself, basically. What I wouldn't give to be able to do that twenty years ago (laughs). I had a four-track, but it wasn't making commercial quality shit, you know?

S: You mentioned liking Breaking Bad and The Wire online. I'm a big fan of both. If you had to pick one, could you?

J: Between those two? It's really tough. But, The Wire. Breaking Bad is an exceptional show, but The Wire is almost perfect from front to back. It's probably the one series that I will sit down and watch again. Breaking Bad, I don't know if I'll ever want to come back to it. There's too much squirming involved (laughs).

S: Do you have a favorite character from The Wire?

J: Man, that's tough. You gotta love Omar. Prop Joe's great. And "Jimmmmy!" What was his name?

S: Bunk. Bunk's awesome.

J: I like Bunk a lot, too, and that he sort of becomes the moral compass in the last season. I can see why colleges are teaching courses on it now. It's the great American novel.