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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Brogan Bentley on His Debut Album, The Snake, and the Proper Way to Get Wavey

Posted By on Thu, Jan 8, 2015 at 10:33 AM

click to enlarge SEAN CULLIGAN
  • Sean Culligan

San Francisco artist Brogan Bentley is part of a new generation of music-makers unrestricted by the boundaries of genre, whose focus is on creating a spiritual experience that listeners must define for themselves. Growing up in a family of musicians in California, Bentley’s musical imprints range from jazz singers to skater soundtracks.

Bentley debuted his LP The Snake this past November, an album consisting of 12 tracks of melodic storytelling using elements of smoky R&B, ethereal vocals, and ambient beats. We caught up with Bentley to hear about his love for experimental sounds, challenges for the album, and his unlikely influences. He plays an all-original set this Saturday at F8 (1192 Folsom) for The Chase, with Cromie + Sage and Caswell and Bookworms. 

Since you come from a family of musicians, what’s something you've learned from them that is reflected in your own career?
Let the love of what you're doing be the motivation, never stop, and things will unfold as they're supposed to. Going after what you believe and envision in terms of "career" is important, and persistence is key, but it's secondary to creating something honest that comes from within. Also, being kind and genuinely positive towards people is invaluable and will only attract more good. That's a universal truth.

What made you interested in experimental beats?
I was exposed to a wide variety of music, by my parents and my environment. It's largely a product of being from California…OGs blasting West coast gangster rap from their Impala's that I could hear from blocks away. Watching skate videos and absorbing the soundtracks. California is looked to, worldwide, as a cultural hub and is at the literal edge of the western world. It all arrives here eventually, like some sort of heady melting pot. I love psychedelic and dub sounds, but I'm equally moved by the forlorn ballads of early America and ragas of India. I just knew the kinds of sounds and music that appealed to me so I naturally wanted to reflect that somehow, in whatever form it took. Genre is so shifty and while there's obvious influences, explaining music in words is really strange. It’s more about the feeling. "Experimental" sits nicely as an umbrella term for something that evades more concrete descriptions. Music is constantly becoming more and more amorphous. It's beautiful.

You recently released The Snake, which has gotten some great feedback. What were your goals with this debut LP?
After working on the album for so long, the goal was to get it out in the world. I've opened myself up to the possibilities that come with being exposed in such an intimate way, as well as not being afraid to see where it takes me. It's so freeing but also daunting and mysterious, at once. I feel that if you have the capacity to create, it's almost your duty to share it. I know some absolutely amazing artists who, for whatever reasons, don't want to or don't feel comfortable sharing what they've brought to life. I can understand, but it still saddens me. The world needs beautiful things, not just physically, but spiritually. It propels everything forward. For me, it's about being uplifted and hopefully uplifting others through music. That's what I have to contribute.

What was an unexpected influence on the album?
The Occupy movement was happening during the same time the album was being written. We were down there marching with everyone. Scott Olsen, the young Iraq veteran in Oakland who got hit in the head by police projectile and had to learn how to walk and talk again; that really moved me. Normal people fighting and dying in Libya to overthrow their dictator because the oppression was too great to go on living like that any longer. All that energy was pervasive and played into not just the music, but everything. Such issues in America and worldwide were, and still are, impossible to ignore.

Which track are you most proud of?
"Secret Strength" is special to me for a number of reasons. It features both of the other two people who contributed to the album. Hex provided me the field recordings which are all from around SF. There's also a tiny snippet of his voice at one point during the song and whenever I hear it it's like he's right there with me. The female voice is Hayley's, who was one of the first people I ever met upon moving to SF. Her voice is amazing and I've heard her in choirs where they sing the most beautiful hymns. Totally angelic. She recently started recording her own electronic music and when I heard a particular song of hers I asked for the vocal a cappella. She shared it with me and I manipulated it to fit within my song. Lastly, this song's color is especially distinct to me. Every song has its own color in my mind, but this one might be my favorite. I won't say which because I'd rather people decide for themselves.
How did you connect with the Leaving Records crew to release your record?
I connected with Leaving Records through my dear friend, Diego Herrera, aka Suzanne Kraft, who was working alongside Matthewdavid at the non-profit online music organization Dublab. I had given Diego a cassette of original music and when Matthew heard it he expressed interest. In 2012, L.R. released my self-titled EP and we've been going strong ever since. The Snake was a long and drawn out process but Matthew and Leaving co-founder Jessi Moretti heard bits and pieces of the material and were nothing but supportive. I really cherish Leaving, in that it feels like family and operates under a very mindful ethos. I believe in where we are headed, collectively.

What are you most excited for when you get to play all-original tracks this Saturday?
Hearing my tunes on a huge system! I haven't played F8 yet but I've been to great shows there. It's an honor to be invited to play original music in a place that’s usually more dance floor oriented. Don't get me wrong, I love playing a set of nothing but Kuduro and jump-up music, but if I'm being asked to play stuff that it's really close to my heart, than the show's going to be that much more special to me.

What do you hope to accomplish more of in 2015 as an artist?
2015 is going to be a year of focus and travel. Music is a practice, like yoga. It's a life long pursuit and there's always room for growth. It can't be forced but there are ways to put yourself in a position that is conducive to inner expansion. I want to break down any walls I’ve put up and explore new territory. I want to share these songs with people I've never met in places I’ve never been.

Lastly, what’s your personal definition of “getting wavey?”
"Getting Wavey" is multifaceted, consisting of many layers and varying degrees of Waviness. To achieve the maximum you must A) feel good about yourself. Your nights not gonna be jumping if you go into it feeling lame to begin with. B) You've gotta know how to get loose. Don't be all stiff necked, or jerky. Cool out by the sidelines and take a little sip of something if need be. Tune into the aura of the environment and the people. There's no pressure, just be easy about it, be loose. C) Surround yourself with people who already get you and know how you roll. People you can count on to be supportive and take the level up a notch with. Don't be afraid to tell your friend you love them. That's why they're there. D) Lastly, close your eyes and get completely lost in the moment. Forget about everyone and everything around you and dance like nobody's watching. The ego left helluv time ago. Now you're really riding the wave.


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Christina Li

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