Brett Detar: Oh Brett, Where Art Thou?
First off, I want to say congratulations. I think you've crafted a little masterpiece with Bird in the Tangle.
Thank you so much.
I think one of the most potent things about Old Country music is the unique contrast of gorgeous music with heartbreaking lyrics and subject matter...
That's something that draws me to that music in general. Duality in music is something I've always been interested in. When I was in rock bands I liked really heavy, aggressive songs with really soft, melodic vocals. I agree with you. That's one thing that appeals to me with old country and old folk music. There's nothing quite like a beautiful pedal steel playing a weepy lick, or hearing some sad song about being removed from the world; about somebody dying or whatever it is. That music in general - pedal steel, banjos, and traditional melodies - can bring me to tears quicker than almost anything else I can think of. It's intrinsic and natural. The way those chords and melodies are put together, it has gorgeous, beautiful, and sad tones built into it.
Who's the baddest of all the old outlaws - Willie, Waylon, Merle, No Show Jones, or the Man in Black?
(laughs) That's a tough call. They all got into their fair share of trouble. Haggard was the only one who was actually in prison for real. Then you look at the fact of how many drugs Cash did, how many vehicles he totaled, how he climbed into a cave and almost died. Then you look at Waylon who was a total madman, a madman with the women, also a pill head. Then you look at Willie - losing everything he owns, going bankrupt, getting chased down by the IRS. So, I'm gonna say they are all equal in my mind.
How significant of a role does visual art/packaging play in the overall vision of a music project? Especially within the vinyl format.
I think it's pretty important. I'm not gonna lie, music is absolutely first to me. I think that a really good record should be able to stand on its own, without packaging. But, there is also nothing like getting a record...being able to hold it in your hands, seeing the artwork go with the music, having it seem like as much time and attention was put into the packaging as was the music. I feel like that's something that is probably lost on the generation younger than mine. Most kids these days, those little whippersnappers (jokes in an old voice) are used to downloading music. Which is great, it's convenient, but I always thought there was something magical about going to Tower Records, or Sam Goody in the mall when it was midnight and your favorite band's record was coming out. You take it home, open up the album, look through every little piece and go, "Whoa, I wonder what they meant by that." Read the lyrics, see who played on it, or where they recorded it, etc. It's almost impossible to separate Dark Side of the Moon from its packaging. Or any Iron Maiden record, to see those without Eddie dismembering somebody on the cover (laughs). They definitely go together.
I read this quote that I liked, from a singer in Texas named Matt McCloskey. "Vinyl is to digital what meeting a friend at a pub is to facebook."
Yeah, that's exactly right. That's a fantastic analogy.
Your site tells a little bit about your journey leading up to making this album. How have things changed since? Have the seasons of the soul changed a bit for you?
Absolutely. It's like this journey that continues. First, physically, I was in Los Angeles, then I moved to New York. I basically lived in New York while I was recording this whole album. I moved back to L.A. three weeks ago. I've continued in my nomadic, gypsy ways of living. I've been in ten houses and apartments in five years. It's odd, I do feel it relates to me finishing the record. Leading up it, I did feel somewhat lost as a person. I didn't have the direction that I had for a long time in my life. I didn't feel the same drive. I wasn't sure of myself as a person. Most of all, as an artist or musician. For better or for worse, it's one of the ways I've come to define myself. I feel like doing this record has reminded me of, and not to sound pretentious, what I feel like my purpose is. What I love the most is making music. For a while there, I didn't feel like a musician anymore. I guess I feel like I am again. I feel better in that regard. I've resigned myself to the fact that this is probably what I should be doing.
Are you a restless person?
I don't know. I don't really feel like I am. But that might be an offshoot from graduating from high school and six months later going on tour. Then touring full time for ten years. Maybe that kind of puts a little bit of wanderlust in you that you can't shake. When I stopped touring a few years ago, I probably felt displaced, from not traveling all the time. I don't think I'm totally restless, but I like to move around a little bit.
You know, in some places your voice reminds me of Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes, like on "Caged Bird."
That's a compliment. Chris is obviously a fantastic singer. He's got a great voice and he uses it well.
"This World Ain't Got Nothin" (as well as the whole album packaging) has an old hymn-like quality & language to it. Was that an intentional statement?
That's hard to say if it's intentional or subconscious. More than anything else, I was experimenting with more traditional melodies, phrasing, and lyrics. Things that didn't feel so modern. Obviously, old hymns and old gospel tie into that. It's all interconnected, I guess.
Do you see yourself moving backwards on your musical journey? I think of what John Mellencamp is doing... and someone like Mike Roe of the 77's. In recent years, these guys are going back to the roots: folk / gospel / blues / country music.
Hard to say, because I feel like I'm a bit of both. In some ways, I'm working on some side projects that are ultra-modern. But at the same time, they're still completely informed by older music. One of the best ways to make modern music is with an ear towards, and a mind towards, the greats that went before you. That's one of the rules I try to live by now, musically, is to always look back and think, "Where does this fall into place?" As far as what I'm doing as a solo artist, there's no question that I'm way more influenced by artists of the past...be it Townes Van Zandt, The Louvin Brothers, old Dylan, Gram Parsons, or whatever. It's definitely looking back to Hank WIlliams. You look at the songs he wrote in his short time of being a musician, there are very few people alive today doing anything that can stand on that ground. I mean, you start out when you're young and you want to be in a rock band. You want to do whatever is fresh, whatever is new and exciting. Then as you get older, you realize, "Wow, there's some fantastic things that came way in the past. I need to dig into this stuff more." I feel like, if music is your path, you're bound to go back at some point, and pay attention to the great things that came before you. It's just natural.
You mentioned Townes Van Zandt, who is pretty underrated. Did you see his documentary?
Be Here to Love Me? Yes, I own it, I've seen it like five times! It's extremely depressing and it's totally awesome. His whole story is sad, but he wrote so many absolutely beautiful songs. What did Steve Earle say about him? Townes Van Zandt is the greatest songwriter of all time, and I would stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table and yell it...or something like that.
When you take these songs live, will it just be you as a solo performer, or do you envision some sort of full band treatment?
I'm planning to do both. I'm definitely going to do it by myself, which is new and almost terrifying to me in a way. To be a guy who spent my whole life with people on stage, and then to go and do it by myself is a new thing.
What inspires you?
That's a broad one. Everything, honestly. You could look out your window and decide that you want to write a song. Or if you feel a certain way that you can't really express in words, and you kinda just have to sing it. You never know.
What is God teaching you right now?
If anything, patience.
Care to elaborate on that?
In general, especially in this modern world and culture, we tend to expect results rather quickly, no matter what it is. I think having things happen in ways slower than you wish can be a blessing in disguise. Sometimes it sucks when it's happening. I think that when you don't get your way, or don't get it quickly, you end up learning a lot more about life. Life turns out better that way. I'd probably be in bad shape now - dead, overdosed, who knows what - if I had gotten insane musical success at the age of 20 when I first started. Probably would have been a disaster. So, patience in general.
That's all I have. Is there anything else you'd like to add or say, I'll leave it open.
All I would add is that the record is free. Just download it at my website, no strings attached. Come get it!