Brolin: ‘I See Songs And Words With A Certain Colour’

From the bedroom to the big stage, Martyn Young speaks to the man behind the mask.

Over the four nights we hosted back in January 2013 as part of a ‘Hello 2013’ showcase of new artists, the performance that stood out the most came from Brolin. Any expectations the audience had of a retired, bedroom-rooted producer failing to captivate on stage were shattered. His music came alive. Songs which were coy, peaceful on record sounded different. He was soulful, above everything else. And it made you realise that the mask many so associate with Brolin is but a tiny fragment of what he’s about as a musician. Besides, if you’re desperate to discover more about the guy, you need only play a couple of his songs to discover the romantic in him. Anonymity needn’t equate to a shy performance.

Martyn Young got talking to the songwriter ahead of the release of his ‘Cundo’ EP (out now on Double Denim). He spoke in a Yorkshire accent, but didn’t tell us his name. Some things stay secret, but we’re discovering a fascinating mind behind these already illuminating tracks.

Can you tell us a bit about your musical background and what your entry point into making music was?
I’ve always been into music from an early age. My father was a musician, as a result I was always around all different types of music. Not so much where he was in bands, he’d stopped being a musician when I was a child to work full time. Things didn’t work out like things do, he had a family and needed to work full time. I was subjected to different types of music early on, that sparked my interest in music. I guess I picked up a guitar when I was 15/16 and was y’know just messing about on that and I have done for many years. Regarding this, I learnt how to use logic as I had some songs. I wrote ‘NYC’ and put that online after a few other tracks. People seemed really responsive and really positive towards it which was, honestly, a surprise. A great surprise, it was really flattering. It’s just proceeded from there.

All the songs you have released so far are all supremely evocative in different ways, in particular the ‘Cundo’ EP. How important is it to you to evoke distinct feelings related to either time or place in your music?
Music means different things to different people, what some of the songs mean to some people will mean something completely different to me. Lyrically, the songs are like a catharsis for me. Just to talk about the trials and tribulations of life, y’know just exercising your demons. It’s a form of escapism. Musically, it’s evocative. I see songs and words with a certain colour and therefore a lot of my songs relate to colours or moods. Cities I’ve visited before also fall into that domain, they have a real vibe about them, whether it’s laidback or hustle and bustle. I find that music really relates to that. The music is evocative of places and moods. ‘Cundo’ is named after a Cuban artist, I was in Cuba over Christmas and I went to the Cuban institute of arts. The art that stood out the most was by a guy called Cundo Bermúdez, it was really vibrant and really struck a chord with me. Also, the name can also mean friend. I thought it was a nice title to give that body of work.

Do you see yourself as primarily a songwriter or a beat maker?
A bit of both really, more songwriter I guess. I think that’s where my strengths lean towards. I’m still relatively new to production. I would say there’s an element of beat maker as well, plugging in an MPC and working up a beat.

You prefer to keep your identity secret. Does it bother you if people then lazily compare you to other artists who don’t reveal their identity I.e Burial etc?
Being compared to Burial is a compliment as he’s a fantastic artist. I don’t have a problem with people comparing me to him. I don’t think people are comparing me to him musically, it’s more about him being private and wanting to talk about the music. Regarding why I want to keep my own identity private is because I want people to come to the music without knowing too much about who’s created it so they can form their own opinion without judging how I look first. Without contextualising the music. Not looking at how I look, how I dress, how I talk, how I fit in a certain scene. When I first put things online I only wanted to be judged on the music.

No matter what you do you’ll always be scrutinised by certain people, people will always pick holes in what you do. Whether I came online at the start and said I’m a part of a certain scene or I keep myself to myself and refuse to do interviews and stonewall interest people will always take what they will from that. There’s really no other reason behind it other than I just would prefer people to just listen to the music. Hopefully there are no other elements involved to make them come to that conclusion.

There must be some benefits to having that level of intrigue in your music?
There is that as well. Not knowing everything that someone has had for breakfast, although I have tweeted that I like porridge! Not knowing what people are doing every minute of everyday is no bad thing. You look back to before the internet and there was intrigue about bands and what they’re like. You form in you imagination what they’re like. If you ever met them it was a complete anti-climax. It’s not something I want to be known for.

Does anonymity allow you do to anything different?
No, whether people know who I am a lot it doesn’t limit what I want to do creatively

Your visual image has been built around masks, in particular, your cross symbol mask. Is there any specific meaning behind that imagery?
I just wanted something that represented the music lyrically, something that was quite menacing. I found that mask, the one with the crosses on was the first one I found. I’m not religious but obviously upside down crosses has connotations with the dark side. I’m not the sixth member of slayer! I just liked the look of it. I’ve got 4 or 5 now, none of them have the symbolism of the crosses. I didn’t think anyone would be interested when I first got it so I didn’t think about any of the religious connotations.

One of the best aspects about your music is the importance of the voice and how the voice conveys meaning. Where does the foregrounding of the voice and its power come from?
Yeah, I really like melody. I’m from the school of pop, that’s the most important part of a song, the bit that you can sing. The melody is of paramount importance to me. That’s the part I take the most time on when I’m writing. I generally find that the music seems to come together quite quickly then I’ll play with the melody for quite a while before I finalise some lyrics around the melody when I find the right subject matter. I do feel that the voice is the most important thing about a song for me at this point in time.

Have you had any thoughts about a full-length album?
We’re not really wanting to rush things. There’s a couple of collabs that I’m working on at the moment which might see a release in the next 6 months. We might put out another EP so we can grow things naturally. It all depends on how things are perceived after ‘Cundo’. There’s something about an EP, it’s quite concise, there’s no filler. Normally it leaves you wanting more. Albums can be a bit indulgent where people pad it out in order to get the record together. I’m also a fan of EPs. It depends on what will be right at that time, there’s no point in putting anything out that you’re not entirely proud of. There’s a few more irons in the fire.

You only played your first gig last October and have slowly been building up your live show. What are your feelings with regard to performance and how have you built up your live show?
Live I play keys and guitar and I have a drummer who plays on a Roland Spd which is kind of like a sample pad. It comes across quite well live. I don’t really want to be stood behind a keyboard or a laptop just pushing buttons, it’s boring. I try to get away with just a microphone. It’s really exciting. I played a show in Milan and 300 people turned up, fucking hell I’ve only put one single out! I played a few shows with Twin Shadow last year, I’ve just played in London and 200 people showed up. It’s fabulous, it’s really great. Live is where I’m at my strongest I feel. I just feel confident on stage, a lot of people feel they need to hide behind a guitar or a drum kit. A lot of people get hung up on mistakes or imperfections. You’ve just got to get up and play and I really enjoy that.

Read the full interview in the fourth edition of DIY Weekly, available from iTunes now.

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