Coffee and a Close Up with Brendan O’Hara
September 11, 2015
As we near the release of Brendan O’Hara‘s highly-anticipated album, Late Night Radio, we feel like the city, nay, the world should get to know the man behind the beard a little bit better. He’s more than a talented musician, he’s a guy who can become your best friend through the course of one well-told story. He’s just that cool. We talked to him about his pre-show routine, whiskey, his writing process and so much more. Take a look at the full chat, below:
Tell us about your first ever performance. Were you nervous?
My first performance on stage was probably in second grade. I played a punk rock baby sitter in an adaptation of the Le Petite Prince (The Little Prince) in school in New Jersey. My first performance on a piano was at my cousin’s funeral- I had written my first song trying to express my grief so i wouldn’t say nervous was the primary emotion…keeping it together while honoring his life was my main concern.
Do you have any pre-show rituals to get rid of the butterflies? Any tips for young artists?
Each show is different…I get nervous at a new venue because I don’t know what to expect. Because of my love for residencies- I often know what i’m walking in to. I do get butterflies…but not quite like I used to.
As a local, what’s your favorite place to play?
There are places I love for the energy, places I love for the acoustics… and places I love for the overall vibe. It would be a bad decision to list one over the other…but my favorite place to perform with a full band is Ball & Chain. My favorite place to perform on a Wednesday is Bodega, the crowd is right in your face, so I know it’s working when it’s working. My residency at The Regent Cocktail club has been so instrumental in every opportunity I’ve had outside of there that it’s kind of my home. But really my favorite place to play is on a boat out in the middle of the ocean for a few friends, or solo, staring into the abyss.
Photo by: Ron Navarrete
What’s your go-to poison?
Whiskey… unless it’s rum… or gin… or vodka… or a nice glass of bubbly… I don’t tend to discriminate… it’s more of a mood thing… and I’m mercurial.
Your dream festival lineup. Past and present artists included. Go.
The Beatles, The Doors, me, Jack White solo, actually my dream lineup would be something where every one went solo and a little acoustic; where the song mattered. So, Jim Morrison with Ray Manzarek on piano, John Lennon solo, Paul McCartney with a little string quartet, George Harrison solo, ( NO RINGO) James Taylor and Billy Joel together, Me with a few different permutations, Bob Marley and his guitar, Dylan and a piano… Something that kind of took everyone out of their immediate comfort zone but where they were comfortable enough to let it all breathe. Modest Mouse acoustic, I would have loved to be at the Nirvana unplugged and the Clapton one too; throw them in there and then The Weeknd, John Legend, and The Beastie Boys!
You’ve been in the Miami music scene for over a decade, what are your observations on how it has changed over the years? How do you want it to go in the future?
I’d love to see it come together more. It’s a very spread out social and creative scene and it doesn’t have to be. I know I could use a few more loyal fans but I think it’s a culture of convenience and often folks go where it’s easiest to attend…that could be a product of all sorts of factors…
Are there any local musicians that have helped you along the way? Any musical inspirations that we can hear through your music?
So many. When I first started I saw Spam [Allstars] and Suenalo and thought their impact was so significant and fun, but I was much more a fan of some of the individuals than the collective sound. For instance Itagui of Locos [Por Juana] blew my mind as a great front man and spirit, but i didn’t always understand what he was saying. We used to vibe together pretty hard. Amin of Suenalo too, and the horn sections and Andrew of Spam, they all were kind of “leaders” making this thing that looked so effortless come together. I wish there was more of that passion now.
Late Night Radio is slated to be released on October 2nd. What can audiences expect from Brendan O’Hara on this album that they haven’t yet heard?
Honesty. Complex emotions whittled down to their core. Love, sex, intoxication, friendship, ambition and the forces that conspire to either bring those transcendent themes closer to you or push them further away. Also some exceptional production by Keith Cooper and the Pushers, the production team that really shaped this thing!
Are there any interesting collaborations on the album?
Yes, I recorded with a cellist named Noa Yali while in Israel. I had found a studio while in Tel Aviv, and wanted to finish a song I felt strongly about: “Outrun the Rain”. I really just asked her to do what she did best, and then Keith and I took the parts we liked most. Also, on that same song is Helen Tess she has such a clear and fresh voice and I think it works nicely with my rasp and rough nature.
What’s your writing process like? We know you’re a looping master, do you first write each instrument and then layer? Or do you tackle all layers at once?
It all kind of happens organically but without a whole lot of premeditation. Beat box and guitar and piano all kind of start the loop process. Getting a good rhythm is important so that the foundation I’m building upon is solid. Once in, there’s really no turning back, which is what I love about live looping. It’s challenging each and every time and it bares all. As far as songwriting, most of the time it’s just a little tiny concept that I flesh out and try and give some humanity. Not sure if I’d be an authority on humanity by any means but in a humble way I try to borrow from my own experiences or the experiences I’ve kind of lived vicariously through to create a picture that’s universal and yet still specific enough to resonate. I also want to have fun with words. I think theres a playfulness to the use of the english language that I enjoy.
Tell us the story behind writing “Your Everything”.
I was sitting in my friends guest bedroom and the song came to me, or at least the first verse. My friend and his wife at the time were living together but seemed quite estranged and I was single and had just gotten off a plane in New York. I thought if they were visiting each other, would the dog, and laundry be such a point of contention or would they just want to jump each others bones. I guess I want a love in my life where I want someone’s everything. I want to be obsessed and impressed and just gushing with good emotion, otherwise it’s another vehicle of discontentment and can be toxic to someone like me who thinks too much and often preys on the hard times for good material to exorcise. The next verse is really beautiful to me because I was sitting in front of two of the people I love so dearly in life: My high school sweet heart, the gal who gave me my first marble notebook to write in, and my life-long friend who just has such a zest for life. Some of those lyrics were quite literal. I was her first, I think we all know what that means, and I know that means she won’t forget me and that’s a comforting thought in a world as fleeting as this one.
Did you have any musical mentors that instilled inspiration in you as you were maturing in your musicality?
My uncle told me to take 4 chords and play them and a few friends said I was good enough that it made me want to get better. I think the collective support and my own desire to learn more about the things that interest me allowed me to keep digging where some might move on to greener pastures.
What else can we expect from your music going into 2016?
Videos. More of a social media presence since that’s what the people keep asking for, and then a genre-busting turn into DysFunktional Americana– think Johnny Cash meets James Brown or something like that. But first i need to make the most of this album I’m insanely proud of: Late night Radio!
Make sure to swing by The Annex on October 2nd for a very special celebration of the Late Night Radio album release! The night will honor everything about the man in question, plus free booze, and a slew of special performances by some of the city’s best musicians. RSVP for that shindig here.