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Brett Dennen’s Big Break

How John Mayer Is Paving the Way for this
Singer/Songwriter

by Drew Mackie

Bret-Dennen-Web.jpg
Brett Dennen - So Much More
Brett Dennen is singing a new song. Technically speaking, he’s
singing a whole album of them, as his second full-length release
hit shelves in mid October. But this musician and vocalist — no
stranger to Santa Barbara venues — is enjoying heightened
popularity thanks to John Mayer. Not only did Mayer invite Dennen
to join him on tour, but the internationally popular
singer/songwriter also voiced his admiration for Dennen in a
September issue of Rolling Stone. Among other praises, Mayer
described Dennen as “timeless. … He’s probably 25, but he seems
like he’s 25 in 1972. He paints these gorgeous pictures,
musically.”

Dennen said he felt grateful for Mayer’s kind words, but not
just for the reasons any struggling artist would appreciate. “I
liked John Mayer before. I respected his music a lot,” Dennen said.
“When he said what he said, it was more than me being stoked. … He
put into words what I do with music. I’ve always tried for a sound
beyond any time constraint. He nailed it on the head. … It just
made me think he must be a really wise person.”

To Dennen’s Santa Barbara fans, Mayer’s true wisdom may lie in
his including Dennen in his tour. Mayer first heard Dennen at a
performance at the Hotel Café in Hollywood and has since been
helping Dennen reach his widest audience yet. He first opened for
Mayer and Sheryl Crow at a show in Auburn, Washington, on September
23. Since then, he has joined the two stars at shows along the
Pacific Coast.

“I’m really thankful to be playing with these people,” Dennen
said. “Both artists are in the realm of pop, but they’re playing
real music. They’re not playing pop [to make] a number-one hit or
anything like that. They’re playing the music they like.”

Since his romp with Mayer and Crow, Dennen has been busy. He
played September’s Ventura Hillsides Conservancy Music Festival,
where he graced the same stage as hometown talents like Jackson
Browne and Crosby Loggins and then joined up with the Hotel Café’s
mid-October tour. And his hard work has been generating even more
buzz. In November, Dennen’s song, “There Is So Much More,” was
featured on Grey’s Anatomy, currently the nation’s
most-watched television show.

But of all these highlights, Dennen saves his kindest words for
SOhO, where he said he could be reliably supported in his musical
endeavors. “Santa Barbara is a great town for music. In Southern
California, it’s one of the three big music areas you can hit when
you’re traveling,” he said. “But I love SOhO. I get treated really
nice there. I like the staff. … It’s real intimate and I’ve always
had a good time.”

And though SOhO has scads of singer/songwriters on stage, it’s
not just Dennen’s red shock of hair that sets him apart. He makes
an effort to write music that does not fit neatly into categories
and cites his three biggest influences as Paul Simon and the two
Bobs — Dylan and Marley. “When it comes to stuff I like, I’m drawn
to rhythms, and then lyrics after that. Something that has both is
what I like the most.”

Dennen’s pared-down take on pop-rock is evident on his new
album, So Much More.Those familiar with his 2004
self-titled, full-length debut can expect the same themes Dennen
has explored before — in his words, “hope, love, longing,
desperation, faith, and heartbrokenness” — though in greater depth.
“On a more societal level, I sing about injustice, politics,
spirituality,” he said. “It’s got all the same kind of acoustic
[elements], but it has more of an edge to it. It’s more mature,
also; more palpable for a larger number of people, with sounds
people are more used to hearing instead of stripped down guitar and
vocals.”

This emotional content is dear to Dennen, who said he hopes to
further explore these issues as he continues to grow as an artist.
“It’s all about what it makes [the listener] feel  —  to feel good,
feel open and honest with their joy and pain as they listen and
notice that other people are feeling the same way.” And with
increased visibility thanks to Mayer, Dennen might just be able to
extend the reach of his work to a larger audience than he ever had
anticipated.

4•1•1 Sings Like Hell presents
Brett Dennen and the Zane Williams Trio at the Lobero Theatre on
Saturday, December 9 at 8 p.m. See singslikehell.com or call
963-1076.

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