It’s been a great start to the week for Dean Brody fans. The nine-time Canadian Country Music Award and 2014 Juno Award winner just released his fifth studio album, Gypsy Road, on the heels of announcing a co-headline national tour with Paul Brandt to kick off this September in British Columbia (#RoadTripTour).
This latest release features first single “Upside Down” and is simultaneously a throwback to earlier records (“Sweet Lola” is a sequel to Crop Circles’ “Bounty) and a move forward, with Brody teaching himself new instruments and leaning towards more upbeat tracks than ballads.
In town earlier this month, I sat down with Brody to chat about the album and its various inspirations.
Congratulations on the Juno and CCMA nods! Did those serve as a form of pressure or motivation for you when it came to Gypsy Road?
It’s kind of both. It’s a lot of pressure…but with pressure comes motivation. I like being pushed a little bit. When I’m pushed I find I do better than when I’m not.
I understand you learned a new instrument for Gypsy Road.
Actually, two! I didn’t really learn them – I just kind of picked them up. My daughter has ukulele lessons and so she’s got a couple of ukuleles. She showed me her chord chart, so I learned a couple of chords and just noodled around on it and came up with two songs. I couldn’t even tell you what the chords are! They’re just enough where I could play them for the band and then they took it from there.
We’ve got a banjo at home too and same thing. I was just messing around and don’t know what chords they are…they’re obviously something! I wrote “Love Would Be Enough” on that one.
You’re known as a storyteller as well as a musician…tell me about the story that inspired “Upside Down”.
“Upside Down” is kind of a cross section of a lot of different experiences I’ve had. I love California…my first introduction to it was LA, and I didn’t like it. It was like, “I don’t know if I get this”. But the more times I’ve been to California – even LA – I’ve really grown to love the area and the West Coast vibe. Years ago, me and a buddy were going to Fort Lauderdale and we came across these guys in a sort of gypsy bus. It was straight out of a Cheech and Chong movie! It had flowers on the sides and big peace signs and they were wearing bandannas and had big flowing hair…it was right out of a 60s movie. Anyway, I had the ukulele and was just strumming something and thought of the road trip…and started writing that song.
You’ve spent a lot of time in Nashville over the years. Is it an intimidating city for an aspiring country musician?
Nashville was an intimidating town the first time I went. I sang for the senior A&R guy for Sony Records and it was terrifying to me. I remember going up the elevator and my heart was just pounding. I played a song for him and he said “I can really tell that you’re a good writer. You seem a little nervous…concentrate on the writing for now. If the artist thing comes to you, cool. If not, I think you can make it in this town writing.” So I just concentrated on writing and the more you spend time there, the more relationships you make and it just isn’t intimidating anymore. It just becomes like a big town. You’ve got friends and places you’re familiar with…the first act I ever saw was in this really small bar on Broadway, and it was a punk band playing. And then I followed the punk band. That was my introduction to performing in Nashville. It’s been quite a journey! Nashville’s a great, great place.
As a storyteller, what impact do those physical surroundings have on you when you’re writing? What about current events? I know “Footprints of a Giant” was written after the Parliament Hill shooting in Ottawa last October.
Usually not current events. That’s kind of a unique song that I wrote either one or two days after I heard about it. Normally I’m just inspired by people, you know? I find characters fascinating. I suppose even when I’m watching movies or television shows if the characters don’t have a lot of depth to them I can’t really get into them. But if I do get into them, I really do. I’m fascinated by people and fascinated by the way people view life and the way they go about their lives. Sometimes it’s hard for me to just write about myself. I enjoy doing both – I don’t always want to write about my experiences, I also want to try and write about what other people might be going through.
Have you ever wanted to write a book or memoir?
Not a memoir, definitely! Nothing about me, but I’d love to write fiction someday. I’ve messed around a little bit with screenwriting, just for something to do that’s different. I find I become more creative the less time I force myself to write songs. It almost opens up my creativity in songwriting more if I actually distract myself and do something else for a little while.
Your album releases have been quite steady over the past few years. Do you have your own timeline that you’re working off of?
I don’t, but the label does! If it was up to me, I’d still be writing this record! But no, it was definitely a pressure cooker to get this one out and done in time. But I’m really excited about this project and we had fun.
Are the tracks on Gypsy Road a little more upbeat than what you’ve done in the past? As you’ve said, it’s hard to write a ballad on a ukulele!
They are, yeah. I love ballads, I really do. But I’m not certain that everybody else does, anymore. I feel like the things we’ve tried on radio that have been slower or more thoughtful, haven’t done quite as well as the more upbeat stuff. I don’t want to just write for myself – I always keep in mind my fans and what they want to hear. So we tried to make a more positive record with this one, keep it upbeat and rocking.
You’ve said the landscape is changing so much and so rapidly in the country genre. Does country differ from other genres when it comes to the music industry? How do you keep up with the changing tide and what shifts have you seen over the course of your career?
I think the biggest change has been production-wise. The instrumentation is definitely changing; there’s a lot more rock and other genres being infused into country. As a songwriter, it’s an exciting time. As a producer, I think it might be scarier. We’ve got a song on the album called “Bring Down the House”, which is just like a freak…I don’t know that it can live in any genre! It’s like a club mix. So it’s an exciting time to be a writer for sure.
Tell me about The Dean Brody Foundation.
We started the foundation in 2011. I traveled with a friend of mine in Brazil – he lived there for seven years, travelling and documenting the child exploitation there. And so we started up a house called The Pink House in a little town called Medina that we visited. It reaches out to girls who are at risk or involved in child prostitution. When we first started it, I didn’t realize how complex the situation and how complicated the solutions would be. It’s a multifaceted program now – we work with the girls and the families, the communities…the boys, that’s a big part of the whole “changing minds” program that they have going on there. But it’s exciting. There are times of real discouragement and there are times that you go, “OK, there’s something happening here.” But it’s one of those works, I think, where it’s really tough to see…time will ultimately tell what kind of impact we’ve been able to have there.
I know there have been ups and downs over the years. What kept you motivated while you were chasing your dream?
I think for a lot of people, what keeps you motivated is the whole idea that it’s impossible. There’s something, I think, in every dreamer where the excitement in the process has a lot to do with somebody or something saying you can’t do it. And when someone does that to you, or when there’s a thought process out there like that, you want to prove that you can. Sometimes it’s just yourself…it’s a battle you have within yourself and there’s a part of you going “you can’t do this”. And then you’re going, “well, I want to try. I want to see if I can, and I’ll never know if I don’t try.”