Fiery-haired Californian Brett Dennen looks like he could be an up-and-coming protégé of Justin Beiber's -- but, at this point in his career, he's actually rather seasoned veteran. With four studio albums under his belt, including the brand-new Loverboy, Dennen has fully established himself as a troubadour interested in spreading the love -- and, quite specifically, not the dour.
Look, there's no getting around it: The 31-year-old folk-funkster is a glass-half-full kind of guy. Nothing wrong with that.
What's interesting, though, is how Dennen can effortlessly take sad or somber subjects and make them sound downright peppy. His songs thrive on that duality: What may seem like a breezy, bare-footed summertime mixtape selection is often detailing something deeper, something more socially conscious than the way the wet, gritty sand tickles his toes.
Go ahead: Paint him with the same guitar-slingin' pretty boy brush as John Mayer and Jason Mraz, if you must. On the surface, it seems to be an easy match. But under the surface lies substance that undermines any real attempt to label him as an empty-headed California space-case. Dennen's currently working with Mosaic International, an agency that helps children from different backgrounds unite and learn more about one another, all in an effort to promote a peaceful future. He's also paired up with Survival International, an agency focused on helping tribal people from all over the globe keep control of their indigenous lands.
In advance of Dennen's stop through Dallas on Saturday for a show at the Granada Theater that he'll share with fellow Californian's Dawes, we caught up with him to discuss his new album, the downside of being a ginger and how happy musicians are so often misunderstood.
Do you feel like artists that come across as happy are often given a bad rap for having fun and not being more angst-ridden?
I don't know. I don't really pay attention. I suppose it could be like that, but Bob Marley's music is the happiest ever, yet he sings about trouble and pain.
You are able to make things that aren't terribly positive sound completely the opposite. How intentional is that?
That's just who I am. It's how I write. I can't stand a song to just be sad. I want it to be positive also. I want it to have some hope.
I read where you said that you wrote many of the songs for Loverboy with the live performance in mind. It seems like so many of your songs are singalong-worthy. What's really different about this set of tunes?
It's more funky, more upbeat, more personal and more urgent and driven. I know I'm going to have a blast performing, and that means the show will be fun!
"Frozen in Slow Motion," off of the new album, has a seriously '70s vibe with its string arrangement. "Only Rain" has that retro-vibe, too. Were you going for that? Were you spinning some old vinyl while writing this disc?
I was absolutely going for that, but I wasn't spinning vinyl at the time. That's just always been some of my favorite music -- seventies slow jams. The BeeGees!
Coming from a red-head that grew up in Texas, what kind of SPF are we talking for a California red-head, like yourself?
[Laughs.] Super white boy 50! Actually, my real technique is to not wear any sunscreen. It clogs up my pores and I feel like I'm all slimy and suffocating. Instead, I wear light, loose long-sleeves and hats.