L.A.-born singer/songwriter Brandon Jenner has used music as an emotional outlet from a very young age. To that end, he is genuinely grateful to now be writing songs that not only help him process his feelings, but his fans' as well. On June 14, he released an especially heartfelt project, his appropriately named third solo EP, Plan On Feelings.
Jenner recently stopped by the Recording Academy headquarters to go in-depth on his new music and the therapeutic process of writing it, finding inspiration in connecting with his fans and how he's learned a lot about himself from teaching the next generation of songwriters at a recent GRAMMY Museum Summer Session at the GRAMMY Museum.
You recently released a new EP, Plan on Feelings. How did it feel to share that project?
It felt great. It feels like a big weight off. And then as soon as it's out, I just want to make another one and put it out. But I put a lot of vulnerability into this one, I really allowed myself to just say what I was thinking. So, it was definitely an important one for me to put out. I didn't know how it would be received, but it's been received so well and I think people appreciate the honesty and vulnerability.
My brand new record ‘Plan on Feelings’ is out TODAY!! Please go check it out and let me know which song is you favorite! Sending so much effin love— Brandon Jenner (@BrandonJenner) June 14, 2019
Stream/Purchase: https://t.co/6NEnTQ1bpL pic.twitter.com/NzwRoSmr1v
The songwriting feels very personal. Can you speak to the creative process and journey of it?
A lot of it is a personal journey... kind of creative writing exercises. Sometimes I'll sit down and I'll write something that I'm embarrassed to write, and that's the point: to sit down and write something that I wouldn't want people to know about me and then put it into a song. Lyrics are really important to me. I love music. I love groove. I always have. But the music around what you're saying is just kind of a platform for you to be able to say whatever you want in those three minutes and have people listen. You kind of have this license to say things that you wouldn't normally say in conversation, and I think that's a beautiful thing. Honestly, I can't wait for the next record so I can be even more vulnerable and say things that embarrass me even more.
Do you feel like making music is a therapeutic or cathartic process for you?
Absolutely. Always have been.
And the video for the EP's lead single, "Death Of Me," is amazingly cinematic. [Actress] Margaux Brooke really draws you in. Can you explain the vision behind the video and how it came together?
I knew that it was a really great song and I wanted there to be a great video for it. Nowadays, you really need visuals with releases, we live in a very visual world. So, I reached out to a good friend of mine, Z Berg. I sent her the song and said, "Hey, would you?" in the hopes that she would consider giving me some ideas for a video. She said, "Absolutely. We've got to do this. I have to direct this video."
She sent me a whole script, basically a treatment for what it would be, what she envisioned. So, from the moment that I contacted her, she pretty much took the reins and worked with her longtime directing partner, Drew Fuller, who brought so much to the table as well. And pretty much just the two of them created this video for me that I couldn't be more proud of.
How did it feel then seeing that song in that visual representation?
Well, it was great because I believe strongly in the song itself and the way people react to it. So, I knew that it needed a video that had an equal quality to it. So, it just feels like a complete package really at this point. It's the video that the song deserves. A lot of other videos, not that they're bad, but in the past it's me always trying to create and not waiting on people around me. I'm always a do-it-yourselfer kind of person. I shoot videos on my iPhone and stuff. I didn't want to do that with this one, I wanted there to be something with a little bit more thought into it. I wanted it to look great and be a bit more cinematic. I think we achieved it.
I feel like I'm kind of putting energy back into this thing that gave me so much. So, I sit here today feeling like I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be, and I'm inspired to continue to write not just for my myself, but also for others.
What music did you love when you were growing up, and who are your biggest influences to this day?
When I was young, music always really helped me get through difficult times. I would be going through a break up or something when I was in high school and would listen to Ben Harper, some of his early songs where it's just real simple stuff, and find myself just crying and letting it all out. But then at the end of the song or the record, I would always feel so much better. I would feel lighter. I always saw music as this form of release. It's a way to help process emotions, pent-up emotions and stuff.
So, music did that for me a lot when I was young, and I really gravitated towards a lot of soul stuff like Al Green. Lately, I've been listening to a lot of Sam Cooke and some kind of soul-funk stuff. I listened to a lot of '90s rap too when I was young. That was kind of the it thing to do, and it was just so unique at the time. I really loved it, my brother and I did. But now music has kind of begun—learning how to write music and learning how to open the channel between whatever it is and my voice and my playing has really kind of turned the therapy. So, songwriting has become that therapy for me.
And then I get messages from people that say that my music has helped them through some kind of a tough time, and it just kind of completes this weird circle that I feel like I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. I feel like I'm kind of putting energy back into this thing that gave me so much. So, I sit here today feeling like I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be, and I'm inspired to continue to write not just for my myself, but also for others. I'm happy.
That's important. And that's a great segue into the I Believe stories on your website, that I think were fans' messages, and felt really powerful. Can you explain the backstory on that a bit and then how sharing other people's messages felt for you?
I had an idea to make a music video for the song "I Believe" that was on my first solo record, and it was kind of scary to make this Instagram post of just a video of me saying if there's anybody that would like to be in my next music video, you can email me and I will get back to you. It was scary because you're really putting yourself out there, you don't know if anybody's going to email you. But I got what ended up being thousands of emails from people saying, "How can I be a part of this?" Basically, I wanted them to use the words "I believe" in a cool, creative way, and wherever you were in the world, you could participate.
And some of the stories that I got from people, a little bit of the backstory on their life, was just so—I mean, I would sit at the computer reading some of these people's stories and was just crying, weeping, thinking what an honor to have this person that's been through these struggles want to be a part of this music video. So, some of them, I just wanted to share on my website so that other people could get an idea of what it was like for me to go through it. I really spent the next couple weeks doing nothing but being at my computer replying, I wanted to do it myself. If somebody writes something really profound, I didn't want to just say, "Cool, well here's the info" kind of a thing. I wanted to really respond.
So, it was a big chunk out of my life, but it opened up my heart in a way where there's things that happen in your life that remind you that the world is full of amazing people. The vast majority of people are kind, have a great capacity for empathy and want to treat others well and are selfless. It was just another reminder that that was the case.
Do you think it's important for artists to use their platform to either share other people's stories or to highlight issues that are important to them?
Yeah, if they can, if that's part of their journey. I think it's for each his own. So, if some people feel like they're more of an introvert and they feel like the energy that they put into their music is giving enough to the world, then that's okay with me. I'm somebody who would prefer to look for other ways and other avenues to be able to give back and inspire in different ways. I like using my platform for stuff like that, but I don't hold it against somebody that doesn't. A lot of times, people thread the line too, the political line and stuff. They don't want to kind of be on one side or the other because they don't want to alienate people. I don't really subscribe to that, but I think I understand why other people do.
You recently led one of the GRAMMY Museum Summer Sessions. What was the biggest thing you learned from talking with those young aspiring songwriters?
It was interesting because it was a moment where I got to kind of regurgitate a lot of the things that I've just learned in my life. I haven't really sat down and had an opportunity, especially with younger people, to talk about what they can expect in the coming years and what they might find in their journey of self-exploration in writing. I learned a lot about myself.
I learned that I have had a lot of experiences and I have had a lot of "a-ha" moments that have led to things that have helped me in the process of creating music. So, I got to share that with them and I think it really inspired them and it made me realize that I have, in my time, figured out some things that they could use as shortcuts. I can be of service to people that are trying to figure out how to write better songs and come from a better place. So, that was the thing, and I enjoyed it, I had such a great time. It was really wonderful.
I think sometimes we don't realize how much we know until people starting asking questions.
For sure. Especially in this field, something that I've spent so much time working on, is learning how to be more open and not being somebody that shies away from failure or mistakes, but somebody that welcomes them because that's where all the growth comes from. So, I've kind of lived my life as much as I can like that, and it was just a great experience and I think I left at least some of them somewhat inspired.
What would be your biggest piece of advice for young people looking to break into the music industry?
I mean, no matter how great you are, any of that stuff, nothing will happen for you unless you work hard and you sacrifice things. You have to sacrifice your own ego a lot of times. Hard work is something that is irreplaceable. Sometimes you have to do the things you don't necessarily want to do. It's a lot of fun for me to just lock myself in the studio and create tracks all day, right, and it isn't necessarily the most fun thing for me to sit down and write lyrics to pull all that stuff up. But if I don't set aside time and I'm not structured about it, things will never get done. I'll just have a hard drive full of these beats.
Sometimes you have to do the things that you don't want to do, or sometimes you have to take the path of the most resistance in order to get to where your goals are. I would just inspire people to look at your artistic expression as a whole, figure out where the weak spots are, figure out where you can spend your time most efficiently, and be a bit of a business person in that regard.