Brett Dennen is a 29-year-old folk/pop singer-songwriter from Oakdale, Calif. who has been compared to well-known icons such as Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Tracy Chapman, Jack Johnson and Paul Simon. He has even been named as one of Rolling Stone magazine’s ’10 Artists To Watch.”
In 2004, Dennen released his first self-titled album, ‘Brett Dennen.” His second album released in 2006, ‘So Much More,” included top-hit singles such as ‘Ain’t No Reason,” ‘She’s Mine” and ‘Darlin’ Do Not Fear.” Dennen’s music has been featured in several television shows, including ‘Roadtrip Nation” on PBS, ‘Grey’s Anatomy,” ‘House” and ‘Scrubs.” He has toured extensively across the United States with his band, supporting such musicians as John Mayer and guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela. In 2007, he toured with Guster and singer-songwriters Meiko and Joshua James.
Dennen has been a part of the Mosaic Project, a San Francisco Bay Area-based nonprofit project, since its inception. The Mosaic Project works toward a more peaceful and joyous future by uniting young children of diverse backgrounds, providing them with essential skills to thrive in an increasingly diverse society and empowering them to strive for peace.
As the Mosaic Project’s Resident Rock Star, Dennen created an original music curriculum for the program, which culminated in the release of an album called ‘Children’s Songs for Peace and a Better World” in 2003. It won a Children’s Music Web 2004 Award and a Parent’s Choice 2004 Approved Award. We had a chance to take part in a conference call with Dennen, along with editors from other universities around the United States. We asked him a few questions about his life and musical career.
You’ve been compared to musicians like Bob Dylan and Neil Young. Do you find that these comparisons put more pressure on you as a songwriter?
I’ve definitely heard things like that before and they do put pressure on me. But many times, the reasons people say such things is because when they are asked who I sound like, their best bet is to compare me to someone people know well, like Bob Dylan or Neil Young.
When did you first pick up a guitar?
I first started in summer camp at 13 or 14 years old. I used to sing around the campfires, and then I started singing in college.
How would the world be different with the Mosaic Project?
People would have a much better time resolving conflicts nonviolently. There would be a lot less discrimination and the world would be more in touch with itself. Overall, people would be able to celebrate their differences.
What responsibilities do you feel you need to share with young musicians?
I feel that musicians should and can promote community and charity. When you’re in front of a room full of people who hear you play music, you realize that you could be doing more than just playing songs; every musician can’t be forced to challenge him/herself to spread positive messages through their music but the possibility to do so is high.
If you could sit down with any musician who would it be?
Louis Armstrong probably. He’s just got a lot of character and love.
Do you have any advice for musician playing coffee houses?
Never stop playing. Play, play, play. You learn something every time you play in front of a crowd. Every gig leads to another gig. You need to be out there playing at every opportunity you get.
How did it feel when you heard your music being played on major television shows?
It was a little shocking. I was confident with my music but when I heard it on TV, it was scary hearing it being played to the world. When I wrote the songs, they used to explain something specific, but they seem to take on a completely different meaning when the tunes come back to me on television.
What are your views about the presidential campaign?
It’s been interesting. I’m not afraid to say I’m pro-Obama. I wish I could do more. It’s always a little bit of a struggle. People’s votes are people’s votes. I don’t have a right to shove anything down anyone’s throat. Let your voices be heard. Get online and check out Web sites. Tell everyone you know to vote.
What music were you listening to growing up?
I listened to a lot of different music. Raffi, kids songs, my parents have a lot of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Metallica’s ‘Black Album” came out when I first started playing. I was really into Queen and Pearl Jam.
What’s it like to go home and hang out with friends?
I’m pretty lucky to have the right kind of friends that give me a reality check every day. If anything good happens in my career, they’ll be the first ones to let me know I’m nothing special. Stuff never changes between us. We appreciate each other a lot. We always pick up right where we left off.
Kraus is a member of the class of 2009.
Venkateswaran is a member of the class of 2011.