Ian Brennan Interview

Ian Brennan is a Grammy award winning producer. He has recorded albums in the Algerian desert with Tinariwen, inside a Malawi Maximum Security prison for the Zomba Prison Project, and with Flea of  the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kyp Malone of T.V. On The Radio and Lucinda Williams. 

Ian Brennan has traveled the world recording people who face obstacles getting their music heard. In his experience, it is Western Media that dictates what gets heard. He told The longplays ‘whoever invents the technology tends to have first dibs on it. Radio has been dominated by the English market. Centralization of media has made it even more powerful, monolithic. Most places in the world are silenced except within their own linguistic borders, the only exception is Spanish.’ By recording albums by musicians in Malawian prisons and gospel sings selling mice street food on the side of the road, Brennan is trying to democratize the process of recorded music. ‘If you look at the history of pop music in the South in America where all these cultures have merged it mostly came from humble and poor beginnings. More and more today, especially in indie rock, you hear music by people from extremely wealthy backgrounds. It’s become disproportionate.

     What Brennan hopes for is that listeners can give a second thought to what music they may be missing out on and keep an open ear. ‘I think if given the choice everybody would benefit from choosing to listen to a lesser represented individual. Whether that’s a woman instead of a man, or someone from a region we don’t hear about. There’s great music everywhere.’

In a world where one can make an album at home on their laptop the recorded music landscape is as wide as ever. That however does not fix the problem for those who are not ‘connected’ in the digital-era. Brennan explains ‘There’s a fantasy that there’s a freedom in the digital-era but its largely false. There’s been no increase in the international music, people aren’t listening to more artists, they’re listening to fewer.’

Brennan recorded the album Tassili by Grammy award-winning Malian group Tinariwen in the desert of south-east Algeria. The band set up was mostly live and outdoors. These type of field recordings require a simple set up based off battery powered technology. Brennan explains ‘improvisation is a big part of it. Allow the sound to dictate itself. I use battery-operated machines and as good microphones as I can. The best microphones require power. You can’t bring the charger box it s impossible. Try to keep it super simple and not mess with the sound. The concentration for me should be on the relationships, the intimacy, and the emotion. It should be fun, play music.


Brennan describes the music industry as being greatly unequal. People at the upper echelon are making more money than ever before. People are making more money for one festival headline appearance than a large band used to make on a whole tour. For the smaller bands its almost impossible. People getting checks in the mail for 4 cents, 10 dollars it’s almost comical. Brennan finds hope though that the musical landscapes might yield more honest music done for the love of music itself. There’s a lot of truth in this idea that real musicians have day jobs. I think the best music is made by the people who are making it for the purest reasons, and that’s for the music itself. I think these ‘careers’ (in music) can be dangerous. They’re make music long after they really should be. Their heart isn’t always in it. It’s that phenomenon where the first album is so great and after that it just becomes a job, something that other people want them to do or they need to do to pay the bills.  Brennan concludes ‘at its healthiest people are playing music for their immediate audience, their family and friends. For the sheer joy of communicating.’


Brennans new book ‘How Music Dies (Or Lives) : Field Recording And The Battle for Democracy in the Arts’ is out now and available from Allworth Press here: http://allworth.com/allworth?catid=0&id=11243

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