Talking with Brian Dunne: From Berklee to Brooklyn
Word of mouth. That’s how I first heard about Brian Dunne. As Brian notes in the interview below, it’s often difficult to get heard amidst all—-the—-noise. His contemporary lyrics and memorable licks make for a nice combo for a young guy who hails from Woodstock’s backyard. There’s something in them their hills, I’d say. After soaking up a few years of classes at Berklee College of Music and hitting the circuit, he’s starting to become more of a name and that’s a good thing. A very good thing.
When did you first get the songwriting bug? Did you have any musical heroes that you tried to emulate?
I first caught the songwriting bug as kid when I heard The River by Bruce Springsteen and knew that I wanted to do what he was doing for the rest of my life. But I suppose I got really serious about writing in my earlier teenage years, when I became obsessed with Dylan and Ryan Adams. Something about being a mopey teen really lends itself to creativity.
What was the live music scene like when you were growing up in upstate New York?
Like any suburban town, it wasn’t particularly active, but I do find that the influence of the area I was raised in had a strong effect on the sound of my music. In my town, like I said, there wasn’t much going on, but I grew up about an hour away from Woodstock and the fallout from that music scene was huge for me. With Dylan and The Band, the work they did in the late 1960’s was so heavily informed by the upstate New York landscape, so I very much latched onto that. I once saw Levon Helm play in a little 100 capacity venue in the next town over and it knocked me out. But my town was also an hour away from New York City, so I grew up completely infatuated with the city and wanted so badly to move here. So although I don’t credit much to where I came from, I do think it’s pretty ironic that I wound up writing folk and country music about the urban experience.
Were you a music geek in high school? How and why did you decide to go to Berklee School of Music?
To call me a music geek would imply that I fit in with a group, but sure. Berklee came about because it seemed like the only place that I could get away with going to college without actually having to go to “college.” But it was the crash course I wound up needing.
Do you recall the first time that you performed solo?
I sure do. I was 10. I played Bon Jovi. I wore a Hawaiian shirt. One does not forget a scarring experience like that.
Are you a disciplined writer? Or do you write when the muse hits you?
I like to think I’m pretty disciplined; it has little to do with my inner strength and control though. More or less, I tend to mostly write what I would consider to be bad songs, so I have to write a lot of them to get one that I like. So to make a record every 2 years, I have to write 500 songs to get 12 that I like.
What’s the most difficult thing about being an independent musician?
It’s hard to pick just one thing. Not to complain though, I love what I do, and I’m pretty floored every day that I can play music for a living and they don’t make me go get a real job or anything. But I would say right now, in reference to the last ten years of the music industry with our post-Napster, Spotify-streaming landscape, that the blessing and the curse of the music scene as it is, is that anyone can make a record, but ANYONE can make a record. So how do you get heard above the noise? And what I would say is specifically the most difficult thing, is that no one can direct you or advise you, because it’s all brand new terrain. No record label exec or A&R guy knows any better than us. So that’s the most difficult thing. To keep your head above the water and blindly move forward, hoping that you’re not making huge mistakes.
You’ll be playing some gigs with Delbert McClinton this winter, including one of those cool Caribbean cruises! How did that all come about?
I’ve played on Delbert’s cruise for a few years running now, and that was just one of those lucky things (they do happen still), where I was in the right place at the right time and Delbert’s people heard my music. I have a friend who plays in Mingo Fishtrap, a great band that’s a perennial on Delbert’s cruise, and they really helped me get on the ship. It’s a really great thing. Delbert’s a legend, and I’m always thrilled to be able to do anything with him.
What else is in store for you in the near future?
In addition to touring more heavily this coming year, I’m gonna hit the studio and start working on the next record. I’ve got about half of it written right now, so I’m gonna take the winter and spring to finish it up, and hopefully hit the studio this summer. And there are some other exciting things on the horizon that’ll hopefully come through.