It’s been awhile since we have come across a young solo singer/songwriter that stops us in our tracks, so we were thrilled to record a session with Our Griffins, the project from musician DJ Brown. DJ’s vocal patterns nestle inside your head and stay there as his stunning voice recalls the gravity and poetry of Nick Drake’s. Conversations EP is his first recording. He assembled a touring band not long after its release and the full live arrangements of his solo songs are expertly executed. Our Griffins has recently finished recording a brand new record that is slated for release very soon. Watch performance videos of his tracks “Conversations” and “Blood On My Sleeves” from our session and read an interview with DJ below.
How long have you been writing music?
Probably about three and half years. Just about.
Did you always realize that you could sing? Was that something at an early age you knew, “Oh, I have a knack for this”?
I never thought I would ever sing. I just wanted to play guitar, when I was about 15. I was like “Hell yeah, I’m playing guitar!” I learned playing Led Zeppelin riffs. But, I remember, my brother in-law is a producer, and I spent sometime at his studio. Him and his partner showed me some recording tricks and all this cool stuff, and when it came time to sing, I was nervous as hell. But then I eventually did it, and their reaction was “Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe you can sing!” And that was, I guess, needed for me to continue to write songs, or I probably would’ve never sang at all.
So, you were a Zeppelin fan. Vocally, who are your influences?
Probably not Led Zeppelin. But, I definitely grew up listening to that stuff, so it’s probably in there somewhere. But, I don’t know, I really don’t—I never sat and said, “I want to sing like this person, I want to sing like that person.”
How about musically? Is there anybody out there that you’re like really psyched on and listening to?
There’s quite a few actually. Growing up I listened to classic rock because that was different, and that was cool for me at the time. But I’m really excited about what’s happening in music these days. Artists like Sufjan Stevens, St. Vincent, Grizzly Bear, and a whole bunch of other really great bands and projects.
Yeah, It’s a really cool time for music.
It’s accessible. It’s easier to make—record music anyway.
So, do you have plans from here? You have your EP out, do you have plans to record a full-length, and when will that be? Are the songs already in place?
I’m basically just doing demos right now. I’m really excited to do the next recording, because this one I didn’t necessarily want to do. It was more of a learning experience. But the next one I’m super excited, because I’ve learned a lot, and now I’m dishing that out. I’m going to try to get it as good as possible. I have about 10 demos done right now. And a whole slew of songs that I want to continue to get parts for and what not. Over the summer hopefully—I’ll record.
It’s going to be really fun.
So it’s going to sound different than the EP?
I think the EP sounds a little traditional. This probably won’t sound that traditional, whatever we do next.
Do you write new material pretty frequently?
Yeah, very frequently. I try to write everyday.
Are you studied in music, or are you self taught?
Mostly self taught. Basically I sat down at a piano and played scales for four hours in a row, and that’s how I learned music.
So, you say you try to write everyday. What’s the process like?
Well, I make music everyday. I definitely do. That’s very easy. But, I force myself to write words everyday. Usually I’ll just sit down with the guitar, or piano, or whatever I’m sitting with, and the first thing that comes out of my mouth, that’s what I write from. And then I sit down and arrange them, by parts. Intro, verse, chorus, all that stuff. And then I record them and see how far I can take them musically. It’s pretty normal I guess.
What was it like taking the arrangements from the record and turning them into the instrumentation we see tonight?
Fun. It’s actually nice to do that. I was doing a lot of open mics, playing by myself and all that kind of thing. That can be very discouraging when you have all this stuff in your head, and you’re sitting there with an acoustic guitar, thinking “Oh my God, do I have to do this forever?” Really, we’ve only been playing for like less than a month together. We called up Theo, because we were like, “We’re thinking about getting horns.” Just because it’d be fun to do, and he came along, and then we called up Luming, because we heard that he’s a phenomenal musician. And my friend Travis, I’ve known him for years, and he came along—first really. We did some arrangements, and played out a lot, but, yeah it’s going really good. It is very organic at this point.
A lot of people don’t like playing live. It’s nerve-wracking, which is totally understandable. Some people love it—Is it something you look forward to? Or is it something that you have to do, so you do it?
At first it was like that, but, I love playing live. Because it’s not the same thing. Recording is almost like painting now; it’s there and it’s done. But the performance aspect of showing your music to somebody, it’s great. I love doing it, I can’t wait to do it more. It’s good emotionally, its good personally.
Cool. How about touring? Any plans?
Not right now. No, not right now. Still really green. [laughs] So we’re just trying to grow. It’s all I’m trying to do right now.
// Notes from the Road
"Philip Glass, the artistic director of the Tibet House benefits, celebrated his 80th birthday at this year's annual benefit with performances from Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Brittany Howard, Sufjan Stevens and more.READ the article