Alex Brettin doesn’t care what you think. The L.A.-by way of-Chicago singer/songwriter is more interested in how you feel. Let him explain …
“I’ve accepted that no one can reinvent the wheel,” Brettin said, after we’d conversationally danced around all those critics who harp on the influential reference points for Mild High Club. “I’m not trying to reinvent anything; I’m just trying to make good music. Music that affects people but also is transporting people. I’m not trying to be the “Next ____ Whatever. That’s part of the post-modernist stuff I’m singing about on Timeline. Being an artist in this age requiring you to accept something like that.”
Brettin started Mild High Club back in 2012 when he still lived in Chicago. Since he moved to L.A., he’s entered the orbit of a select galaxy of psychedelia-inclined songwriters who are embracing an approach that inherently defies typical genre categorization (like his friend Ariel Pink). Although Brettin displayed a sensibility for a bit of trippy AM Radio pop ala some bendy/swirly guitar effects and some softly effervescent organs with last September’s Timeline, he snuck in some subtler shades and phrasings that were informed by his training as a jazz musician.
“The whole music school experience (Columbia College, Chicago) basically winds up beating an ear-training into you, so that now I can pick up on what I’m hearing and am able to pull it out of my head. With Timeline, I wanted to make something that was simple but still had a few outliers of jazz, just a few little tiny specks.”
When he listens back to the record, Brettin realizes that these songs were an expression of most formative influences, which, like any red blooded rock ‘n’ roll fan, includes the Beatles. But obviously it goes way deeper than that. The educated Mr. Brettin is experimenting with a Krautrock treatment of drone and a psychedelic sense of ambient noise experimentation and juxtaposing it with a hip-hop sensibility for loops and a jazz-inclined treatment of rhythm. There’s that, along with some other subtler but bewitching effects with delay and reverb that create a sense of dreamy spaciousness.
When Brettin talks about using his jazz education to “drag the space,” it’s a delicious phrase that really bends our ears. “It’s got this ever-so-slight swing to things, ya know? Just sitting behind the beat just a bit, as a jazz drummer would.”
But it’s really all about the Beatles for Brettin. “The first record I had as a kid was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And then I started playing the guitar and Hendrix really blew my mind. Then I got older and got into the classic rock stuff, Pink Floyd and all that shit. But I’ve lately been leading these two identities. I go from my rocking stuff, which was more prevalent back in college, to jazz, and those are two musical personalities in me, where one is informed by raw instinct, the other is informed by theory and technique.”
We’d mentioned Ariel Pink earlier, with whom Brettin has collaborated in the past, along with Weyes Blood. This year, however, he greeted many of his new fans through a tour with Mac DeMarco, followed by more shows paired with King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. Thus, Timeline is an exceptional entry into the growing library of alt-psych and weirdo-pop that each of these respective singers and groups have been creating over the last five years, but Brettin feels like he’s just getting started.
“The next batch of songs is more of a panoramic view,” Brettin said. “I feel like they’re a little more refined … wait, no, they’re a lot more refined than Timeline. They’re going to be more dynamic, the chords will be bigger, the melodies will last longer. I’ll have moments of Bach-influences and some moments of country and moments of bossanova and then some Beach Boys. But, still, in my little way of hearing things. I just hope that with Timeline, people can catch on with this, that I am accepting that I’m not reinventing anything.”
So let’s talk about transporting people.
“Yeah, the music that really affected me, like Marvin Gaye, Brian Eno, Olivia Tremor Control, they made whole works that are not just collections of songs. I paid a lot of attention to the sequencing of Timeline, to make it more of a song cycle. I’m really into an album as a 45-minute trip, ya know? That psychedelic experience, through music, where you literally are not in your own self afterwards.”
Brettin’s evolved considerably over the last five years, and part of that comes with simply moving to L.A. and assigning himself a new education in how the music business really works. But then, there’s also the odyssey of the road, be it on tour with his “core crew” (Matthew Roberts, Max Nitch, Alyson Kennon, Andrew Burt), or going to Europe this year, where a Parisian couple assured Brettin that they “kinda get down” to his music, together.
Brettin signed to Circle Star Records, under the Stones Throw umbrella, but it’s been a long road, and not just in distance from Chicago. “Back when I was in Chicago, I had a bit of a bitter attitude. I didn’t want to be part of that academia world (with jazz) and had been in some bands. Then I started recording on my own and I realized I wanted to distance myself from this straight ‘60s psych thing. Since then, I’ve been trying to absorb as much music as I can and just expand my songwriting chops and my abilities to put weird chords and weird sort of impressions together.”
Expanding one’s horizons would fit. Brettin feels like he’s chasing down some apparitional “fugitives” that seem to be eluding him just over his own horizon, a wild bunch of influential entities that he’s trying to round up and reflect upon.
But then, neither we nor Brettin want to share too much just yet. Brettin is beginning his next leg of Timeline tours this month, visiting Detroit on Jan. 8 where he’s joining a lineup for the 3rd annual Secret Friends Fest, curated by Jason Stollsteimer (PONYSHOW, The Von Bondies), with an endearing theme of stoking camaraderie (an all too ephemeral quality, it seems) between bands that are figuratively and literally putting the rubber to the road for most of their calendar years.
Mild High Club Tour Dates
09 – Fernadale, MI @ The Loving Touch
11 – Cincinnati, OH @ Motr Pub
12 – Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Tavern
13 – Bloomington, IN @ Blockhouse
14 – Chicago, IL @ Schubas (Tomorrow Never Knows)
15 – Madison, WI @ High Noon Saloon (FRZN Fest)
16 – Indianapolis, IN @ Joyful Noise
10 – B’ham UK @ Hare & Hounds
11 – London UK @ Shacklewell Arms
12 – Paris FR @ La Maronquenerie ^
13 – Utrecht NL @ Tivoli/Vredenburg ^
14 – Antwerp BE @ Trix ^
15 – Reims FR @ La Cartonnerie
16 – Zurich CH @ Mascotte ^
17 – Milan IT @ Magnolia ^
18 – Rome IT @ Monk Club ^
19 – Bologna IT @ Convo Club ^
21 – Vienna AT @ Chelsea ^
22 – Prague CZ @ MeetFactory ^
23 – Leipzig DE @ UT Connewitz ^
24 – Hamburg DE @ Knust ^
25 – C’hagen DK @ Pumpehuset ^
26 – Cologne DE @ Gebaude 9 %
27 – Berlin DE @ Bi Nuu %
28 – N’burg DE @ Z Bau %
29 – A’dam NL @ Sugar Factory
2 – Brussels BE @ AB Club %
4 – Brighton UK @ Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar
26 – Boise, ID @ Treefort Fest
27 – Boise, ID @ Treefort Fest
29 – Austin, TX @ Levitation Fest
30 – Austin, TX @ Levitation Fest
1 – Austin, TX @ Levitation Fest
^ w. Youth Lagoon
% w. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard