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Photo by Billy Yarbrough
Sometimes you can absolutely judge a book by its cover. With an album cover that screams ‘70s singer/songwriter, HOOGENBOOM’s (Brandon Hoogenboom) chill, laidback, beach sounds are well-crafted soft rock AM radio gold.
The path to his debut solo album includes time in Australia as a member of a teenage busking trio, a pit stop in a Brooklyn-based indie-electro band, and a joyful SoCal collaboration with the leader of a former major label rock act.
Hoogenboom discussed all this and more in a conversation that took place a few weeks before the release of Good For Nothing (A Spiraling Blackout Montage).
Are there any albums you remember your parents playing in the car when you were a kid?
BRANDON: It’s different for both parents. My dad, it was always Steely Dan and Bob Marley. I think he probably had a 5-or-10-disc changer and those two I can distinctly remember driving around and being like, “Yes! Riding in dad’s car.” My mom was always something churchy, some worship music or something. That was memorable as well but I think I liked driving around in dad’s car better.
Before going the solo route, you were in a band called Casual Vice with Kyle Krone, formerly of the band The Shys. How did the two of you meet?
BRANDON: I met Kyle through a friend, Wes Chiller, who’s a musician, and I was playing bass in Wes’s band and Kyle was playing guitar. We ended up writing at Kyle’s house a couple of times. He liked my voice and had me sing some stuff and we ended up hanging out a bunch and writing. It just ended up where we had a bunch of songs and were like, “Oh yeah, this is a thing.” Unfortunately, we’re not really writing any more. Kyle’s moved away to Costa Rica. That’s what led to my solo project.
Your solo project seems to have been years in the making. You’ve played in Casual Vice, Set Sail …
BRANDON: And High Morale.
I’m not familiar with that band but I’ll check it out. Is it weird to be emerging as a solo artist after all these years playing in bands?
BRANDON: No. I think my whole journey of music and writing has led to it. I’ve always been writing. I’ve always been creating something. I’ve always been involved in a project. I just hit this time in my life where I had this bundle of songs, I had just moved my office into a new studio that is connected to the studio where we recorded this album. It was kind of forcing myself to get a whole album done. I was putting myself in a situation where I couldn’t not do it because I’m surrounded by the people I share the studio with – Stefan Mac and Bobby Krakowski. We all have weird names. That’s what led to me to this solo album. It’s still just a fun project with my friends.
Are the songs on the album songs that you’ve been collecting or did you write them all recently and just for this specific album?
BRANDON: That’s a fun question. I was just talking to somebody how some songs get written in 5 minutes and some take 5 years. A couple of the songs I’ve had for years and years and years. I think two of them I’ve had for 4 years, one of them for 2 years, and the rest of them have all been pretty recent.
Are the older ones songs that friends and family have been anxious for you to record so that they can listen to them whenever they want rather than having to hear them only when you play live?
BRANDON: Yeah, totally. I’ve had some voice memos that I’ve sent to friends, like “Good for Nothing,” the title track, and even after sending some of my friends the album, they’re like, “Aw man, I think I like the voice memo better.” I can understand that to some extent. There are some Tiny Desk performances that I absolutely love, like Andrew Bird, I’ll go back and listen to that because the performance is so damn good. It’s funny to hear when you’ve gone through all this production and flushed the song out and got all these cool instruments and then still the practice room recording on the iPhone is what people like more.
You were born in California, grew up in Colorado, moved back to California before going to Australia. Then, you came back to U.S. and have lived in Colorado and California. Was it always about chasing the music?
BRANDON: There’s plenty of different reasons. I guess I do have a little bit of a wanderlust itch, always wanting to experience life and see different places. That’s been a big part of it but also the uncertainty of life and not really knowing where I am or what I’m doing, just trying to find purpose somewhere.
Besides Colorado, it seems like everywhere else you’ve lived has had a warm and sunny vibe. I hear that in your music. Do you think your environment is reflected in the music you write?
BRANDON: I think so. My family is all from California. They moved us to Colorado when we were young. I’m a triplet. I think my parents were trying to escape the craziness of California to raise us. My dad always had photos of Woodies and San Clemente and was always playing *Beach Boys*-style music. I think that’s where my desire came from, from my dad’s personality. We would always take a summer trip out to California so I always had that in the back of my head. “That was the best week of my life.” I was always the kid in the mountains wishing I was at the beach.
Bands like the Beatles and Beach Boys started off as pretty simple pop bands and then matured as their careers evolved. The music you were playing in Set Sail could be considered simple pop music. Do you feel like you’ve matured as a musician and as a songwriter?
BRANDON: I love to talk trash on Set Sail because the songs were very basic. It’s almost embarrassing to listen back to now. But, it was such a fun time in my life and we had such a good time traveling around. We did a tour in South Korea and all through Australia, which is where we were based. I think everybody has that artistic project when they were younger and they wish they could delete it. At least now, I don’t feel that way. Set Sail ended and I moved back to California and I was just trying to figure out what my life was like. At that point, I was like, “I’m done with music entirely.” But, it’s funny how it creeps back up on you when you enjoy it so much. I never encourage anyone to go listen to Set Sail but it was one of the funnest times of my life.
Set Sail started because you went to Australia for college. Did it become a money making thing?
BRANDON: We mainly did busking to start. It was a way to make a couple bucks to get some food. Culturally, it’s a lot different over there. People like to sit and listen and they really enjoyed it. You have to get a permit and jump through all these hoops. In the States, it’s a lot different. If you see someone on the streets busking, you probably think they are unhoused and struggling. We ended up doing just fine for ourselves. What we ended up doing is we’d get a tour booked and then we’d show up a week before the gig and find the best busking spot and promote the gig. It worked out that way in the end. But, man, it was a grind. We would sleep on the streets sometimes. It was a young time of life.
Does music pay the bills for you these days?
BRANDON: I wish it did. At this point, it’s more something that I’m so in love with that I’ll never stop doing it. It’s definitely not paying any bills. I’m a graphic design. I work for a cannabis company called Old Pal. They’re awesome. The design is a very ’70s style so I mostly do graphic design and some animation. That’s what keeps me busy for the time being. I’m always wondering if I should do the grind again and try to make music work. I’m hoping to set up some more gigs this year and get a tour going in conjunction with the release of the album.
You mentioned the ’70s style and that’s what I think is appealing about your music. It’s got a bit of a timeless feel, you’re not following any current here-today-gone-tomorrow trends. Do you feel like a lost soul from the ’70s? If you had a time machine, is that where you’d go back to?
BRANDON: I don’t know. Yes and no. I don’t really think that I wish that I could be transported back. I enjoy being in the moment and living where I am and being who I am. It is just a little different than most people. We have an album release show and there’s this band opening for us called The Big Sir and if you want to talk to people about wanting to live in the ’70s, they are all about it. They dress in all ’70s clothes, they are awesome. I don’t really get into a whole lot of ’70s bands other than the few influences, like the Beach Boys and the Beatles and Nick Drake, that inspired this album. I’m not a big music buff. I’m just kind of like, “Oh, I like that song.”
What songs are you currently digging?
BRANDON: Andy Shauf’s new stuff. He was a big inspiration for the album, how he does the little semi-tone walkups and walkdowns. I really enjoyed figuring out how I can play some of those things in my music and just make it sound a little different. I kind of listen to a little more upbeat stuff as well. Honestly, I’m just a podcast listener these days. Lots of podcasts. I’m a big Armchair Expert listener. The Inspired Unemployed hosts are two Australian dudes. It makes me remember my time living in Australia so I listen to them. They are funny as hell.
Do you have a steady band or is it really whoever is available to help out will join when they can?
BRANDON: The lineup is pretty much everybody who played on the record, except I played bass and some of the guitar parts. This last week, we got together to practice for the release show and it just felt so good to get back together. Everybody is really jelling. It’s just like hanging out with your buds and uniting in some way. That’s one of the things that keeps me doing music is that companionship. Some of the songs on the record are about missing some old bandmates.
Your sister sings in the band. What about the third triplet?
BRANDON: He’s more of a sporty guy although he would be a good musician if he tried. He’s pretty good at everything.
“Skipping Town” and “It Must Be Love” are the two that I keep returning to. Of all the songs on the album, “It Must Be Love” is the one that sounds most Beach Boys influenced to me.
BRANDON: Definitely. It totally is. That one and “Good for Nothing.” Some of the Beach Boys influence is in there, going from a major chord to a 9th is some of the things that I pulled from some of their stuff. And doing some weird transition stuff, like in “God Only Knows” where they do those weird, “What’s happening?” moments. Stefan had a big hand in doing some of that stuff as well as Bobby. Bobby plays drums but he’s also an amazing engineer. We all share this space and do our own things musically. And then we’ve all been able to come together for this project.
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