When Brolin’s first ever track ‘NYC’ was uploaded to Soundcloud for little more than personal storage, cobbled together via predominantly self-taught production skills, he never had any aspiration, other than to create. Working in dog rescue in his home-town of Leeds - having packed in his previous construction job with a few ideas for songs rattling around his head - Brolin just wanted turn his ideas into something real. Some hours later when ‘NYC’ began to get radio play and circulate the web, Brolin was entirely unprepared. People wanted to know more about the man behind the music.
Uncomfortable with being in the public eye in the internet age, Brolin donned a mask and retreated into the shadows. With early comparisons to Burial immediately drawn, and the likes of Mysteries, Zomby and so many others adding to preconceived notions of artists who chose to conceal their identity, his decision only heightened the intrigue.
There are certain connotations that often come attached to a musician’s decision to conceal their identity; arrogance and pretension, occasionally spring to mind. Brolin however is none of these things; his choice to don a mask and shy away from the spotlight comes from a much more humble place. Brolin isn’t looking to add edge, he simply sees the music as the only thing that matters. His mysterious tendencies are nothing more than an attempt for his music to exist in a vacuum; a space where people can connect without any outside preconceptions.
For Brolin, along with recognition of his music early on, came fear. “Lots of people snipe and say really hurtful things [online],” he says. “If they say shit about my music then that’s fine, because that’s subjective. I guess aesthetic is subjective as well but I think if someone started ripping in to how I look, I don’t know how I’d feel about that.” he says of his mask. As the project started to pick up traction, he began to worry that he might not be what people expected. It might detract from his music, or change how people related to it. “I would just rather they be directed to the music,” Brolin concludes. “And then if they like it that’s wonderful. If they don’t, at least they’ve listened to it”.
“It’s generally about escapism. Not to run away forever, but this ideal of just going somewhere else where nobody knows who you are”.
This isn’t to say Brolin is some sort of outrageous, horrible person who would instantly put you off ever listening to his music; this is far from the case. He’s perfectly lovely and talks passionately about his main interests and hobbies; film, squash and most importantly, dogs. It’s simply that he doesn’t see how these things factor in to his music. He would rather keep it separate.
So what of the music? Raised on a diet of American punk and hardcore, Brolin’s music is a million miles away from its influence. “When you’re writing and working on new songs you don’t really think about the genre in which you’re trying to fit,” he says. “All I’m pretty much doing is as if the ideas are floating out there, and you’ve got your fishing rod and you’re just trying to wind in the ideas” he continues, talking about his writing process. He goes on to describe his music as “whirring electronic soul, something that’s got teeth, that’s got menace, that means what it says, but that also has elements of daylight and warmth. Anxiety laced with hope.”
The connection between Brolin’s tender yet ominous soul, and its raging influences, comes not in the form of genre, but in its heart. Recorded with as many live instruments as his budget could stretch to, Brolin was keen to capture texture and feeling. “Electronic with organic instrument inflections to give it a more human feel.” he says. “Not just a techno track with a whirling vocal on it. Songs with tension, feeling, visceral warmth or cold feels.”
It’s not just live instruments, though, that set him apart in his field. Brolin has a unique way of capturing feeling; synaesthesia. It’s a condition that links the senses, and in his case, allows sound and vision to become one and the same. This is something that Brolin utilised most effectively on tracks like ‘NYC’, ‘Reykjavik’ and ‘Barcelona’: “It’s an atmosphere, and the mood of the city that aligns with certain colours. That’s why I named some songs after cities; I felt the mood of the song aligned with the mood of the city” he says, describing how he uses his synaesthesia to write. He adds that lyrically “it’s generally about escapism. Not to run away forever, but this ideal of just going somewhere else where nobody knows who you are”.
“If they say shit about my music then that’s fine, because that’s subjective.”
This linking of sound and sight goes both ways. The video for ‘Nightdriving’ was Brolin’s brainchild, and directorial debut. “If you have a creative streak and an eye for aesthetics, there’s no reason why you can’t put your hand to music videos or film” he says, his outlook, as on anything, being one of positivity and freedom of expression. Brolin subscribes to the belief that as long as you have the ideas, making them a reality is the easy part. Learning as he goes along, in the same way as he did with his music, he’s enthused by the idea of more visual work.
This ad-hoc approach is a good measure of Brolin’s character. Nothing is overly planned. Great care is taken over every aspect but essentially, Brolin is making it up as he goes along. His debut album 'The Delta' has been over three years in the making, and every aspect has been carefully tinkered with until the whole thing feels like one complete piece. This cohesion is more a result of Brolin’s talent and drive rather than any grand plan. Brolin is a creature of impulse,and if an idea comes or an opportunity arises, he'll work on it until it’s complete. If not, fine.
His plans for the future are similarly vague. "I'll tour if the demand's there, if not then no,’ he says, bluntly. “I’m really pleased with the album, but the music industry is such a raffle, there are so many variables involved in people listening to the record and giving it a chance."
Ultimately there’s nothing mysterious or shadowy about Brolin. He loves making music and so that's what he's done, nothing more, nothing less. He gives off the sense that he'd be just as happy if only a handful of people ever heard his album as if it went platinum. It was made for him, with the hope that others might be able to take something meaningful away. It's probably this deeply personal aspect that makes 'The Delta' so magnetic. Even though Brolin gives very little of himself over outside of the music, 'The Delta' is an extension of himself. He doesn't need to remove the mask as in his music he already has.
Brolin's debut album 'The Delta' is out on 30th October.
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