Photo: Bruce Brown
Bruce Brown’s new Jazz album ‘Death of Expertise,’ released in August 2020. Joined by John Harkins on Piano, Brendan Clarke on Bass, Andrew Dickenson on drums, Steve Brien on guitar, Steve Crum on trumpet and Glen Berger on sax and alto flute. Nina Lesperance from SOUNZ caught up with Bruce at the SOUNZ office to talk about his new work.
Tell us a bit about your new album ‘Death of Expertise’
The idea came about when I was looking through YouTube videos, listening to interviews with writers and came across the book ‘Death of Expertise,’ by Tom Nichols. He was talking about how he is an expert is Russian Military statistics and how this expertise was not really needed. I got the idea of the book, ran with it and turned it into a song.
One day I was walking down the street and heard the lyrics in my head “I pulled my own teeth out, I replaced my own hip, oh Doctor Google.” Once I heard these lyrics I knew that I had an idea for an album.
The whole idea of the album is about lying to yourself. “Give it a go, it’s as easy as pie, why? Cause we already know how to lie.” It is about how everyone turns to Google and giving it a go yourself before you ask an expert.
The recording process was exciting. We didn’t rehearse, just recorded. We did this so that the songs don’t come off loaded, it also keeps the spontaneity of Jazz throughout the album. The spontaneity of jazz is something I really enjoy.
This is your fourth album, how does this one differ from your last album released in 2010?
[The] last album was released in 2010 and was called ‘Love Finds You.’ This album is a love song where I wrote from a true emotional perspective. Writing from an emotional perspective is really how one feels at the time. The emotion can be anything, about getting old, or wishing I was young.
When people say don’t get emotional, it’s hard because we are all human. You may as well say ‘don’t eat’ if you are going to say ‘don’t get emotional’. I am lucky that I decided early on in the music game to not forget that emotion is a big part of music. No matter how accomplished you are as a musician, it doesn’t matter if you cannot connect emotionally to the music.
In terms of production, ‘Love Finds You’ was produced in a slicker way. I think the 2010 album has more of a LA vibe to it and is more polished. This new one has a ‘pull up a chair and relax [feel]’, whereas the other one is more ‘you better be listening’. It gives the different albums a different listening experience, but really it’s about keeping the craft alive.
The lyrics within this album are very much a contrast to the smooth sound from the band. How do you come up with these thought provoking lyrics?
The word juxtaposition comes up, as a bittersweet thing. The lyrics have a little bit of acid in them, but not too much. They are supposed to make the audience think about what they are listening to and how it is a contrast to what you may think the lyrics should sound like.
As a child I always internalised all of the great jazz singer songwriter lyrics, and how they wipe their hands across a screen and create beautiful images with their lyrics. I aim to do the same by creating images with my lyrics. I am influenced by James Taylor. When I first heard him I immediately gravitated towards him because he relates to multiple generations through his work by making audiences think, and I wish to do the same.
I also used to play the piano and I think that has an impact on my work. When I realised I could sing, I tried to sing and play the piano, but it became too many things [to do] at once. Now I just sing. In 2016 I put the piano playing part of me to bed and then moved to a more forgiving place. The ‘Mind is a terrible thing’ is about my stroke. This hindered me from playing the piano, but I am lucky I can still sing and write songs.
The lyrics within this album also make the audience think about thinking. Without the lyrics the music should still make you think. Listening is an art that more people should practice.
The title track for this album is “Death of Expertise,” which seems to comment on how accessible it is now to become an expert on anything through Google. Are your lyrics commenting on society?
Yes I think so. I don’t want to be the guy that sits back and takes pot shots but we are all prone to those same things. I am trying to find things that we can all relate to. I see things around and comment on them from my perspective. For example in ‘Losers are people too’ I am not making fun of losers, I am saying I am one of them. That gives everyone permission to laugh along with me, which is an important part of the album.
What are you hoping the audience takes from your new album?
Forgiveness is the main theme that I think is in the album. It is about forgiving myself and [having] a general bit of fun.
This album is not asking too much of me or the audience. The cuts are short, some of the songs are a bit of a taste test, and are not harsh listening. Some songs are commenting on social issues such as the ‘Me Too Movement.’ These are reflections of what was going on in society at the time when I wrote the song. The audience can take these issues and think about them or they can listen to the music, depending what the listener desires from the album.
Tell us a bit about your songwriting process
There isn’t one, I don’t have a handbook on how I write my songs. I find one idea can lead to a trap door, then it snowballs from there. Once I grab a hold of that idea, I run with it and can fine tune the idea.
Someone once told me in Sydney that it would be a shame if I didn’t keep recording. Now I wake up in the morning with lyrics in my head and think I should be in the studio recording every day, but I store them away for the next big idea. I find recording in the studio is a good way to archive my thoughts.
Is there any part of the album that you are particularly proud of?
It’s like asking who is the favourite child, but I like ‘Love makes us who we are.’ It’s a ballad done in swing time. It takes away the preciousness of the love ballad but it’s still sweet. It’s not calling attention to itself, it is just a subtle love song.