San Francisco-born Kim Taylor Bennett fled to Europe at 11, currently resides in London and once played guitar onstage with Green Day. She’ll report on new British music every other week.
Like so many inspired artists, we’ve got Michael Jackson to thank for the mysterious masked musician known as Brolin. It was “Thriller”—and in particular Vincent Price’s eerie, middle-eight narration—that initially pricked his ears. At the time Brolin was five. “I just found that so theatrical and engaging and that turned me onto music.” Last year, Brolin posted “NYC” online. A sparse, spectral love letter to the city, it took exactly three hours before this twinkling tune went from bedroom obscurity to getting played out on radio station BBC6Music; its more mainstream counterpart, Radio 1, soon followed suit.
Subsequent tracks “Another Year” and his new EP, Cundo (out on Double Denim), which includes lead track “Reykjavik,” reveal Brolin’s a deft hand at building spacious R&B-tinged tunes, where beats are at their most somnambulant and his voice—layered and echoed, or bare and unfettered—comes off angelically wounded.
Check out Brolin’s mini-mix for The FADER and read my interview where I attempt to uncover this man’s true origins.
Download: Brolin’s Dollars to Pounds Mix
Benny More – Maracaibo Oriental
Horace Andy – Youth Of Today
Dave Brubeck – Unsquare Dance
Benny More – Cienfuegos
Lion Youth – Rat Cut a Bottle
Gregory Issacs – Open The Door To Your Heart
I caught your first ever live show playing with Night Engine in October. How was the experience for you? That was fun. I’ve done little bits and pieces before with other musicians, but it was the first time doing these songs live. I wasn’t too nervous. If something’s going to go wrong, what’s the worst that can happen? You just stand there and say, “Sorry! That went fucking wrong!” Haha!
Where are you from? The north of England.
Where in the north? Ohhh! You’re a detective! I can’t really disclose that I’m afraid. Where do you think I’m from?
Yorkshire. You’re pretty good! Yeah, I’m from Yorkshire.
Why all the mystery? When I first got these songs together I put “NYC” online, thinking people weren’t really going to care, but also I didn’t want people to contextualize the music with who I was or what I looked like. I’m the worst for seeing what someone looks like and then you immediately judge them on where they fit in stylistically. It gives you a preconceived idea of how the music will sound. I kind of wanted to sidestep that as much as possible. The only problem with doing that is everyone seems to think it’s an angle and a gimmick. Everyone’s like, “Oh my God, he’s like the Cadbury’s Milk Tray guy. He’s a ninja.” It’s not like I’m some superhero flying round with a cape on—I’m far more boring!—but at the start I wanted people to listen to it and if they liked it, that was lovely. I don’t want it to become this thing where people are like, “Oh he wants to be really elusive and that’s his thing.” It’s not. But I still don’t really want to reveal who I am.
How many masks did you go through before you opted for the one with the crosses? That was the first! I’ve got a few more to keep it interesting. I’ll end up turning into some sort of drag queen! I’ll get some real flamboyant masks and totally ruin all my plans from before. It’ll be contextually surreal.
What’s the story behind the title of the EP, Cundo? It’s the name of an artist called Cundo Bermudez, a Cuban artist and I’m just a massive fan of his work. I was in Cuba recently and there was a big selection of his work in the Havana Museum of Fine Arts and I thought of all the artwork, his stood out. Cundo is not his actual name—like Phillipe or whatever—it’s like calling someone friend, like a nickname. I thought it was quite a warm sounding title.
How was your time in Cuba? Was it your first time over there? It was and one of the tracks was written after my visit. It was fantastic. There are pros and cons to any country you visit, you see the good and bad side, but some parts of it are a breath of fresh air. There are no advertising billboards. Everybody’s literate. But then they don’t have the freedom that we have. They don’t have passports, although they’re starting to get that. So they feel it’s a bit of a prison, but they don’t have a different perspective on it where a lot people aren’t educated to a good standard and you don’t get free education and healthcare in a lot of countries—so many things that the Cubans have. It was nice to see a different way of living.
All the songs are directly influenced by places you have been… I see songs in a color and cities as a color and some words I see as a color as well. When I was writing “Reykjavik,” I saw a spring time, very bright and stark but still laidback. I saw the track as having a sky blue kind of feel. Also, when I write music I see a location in my head of how it should feel and where it lends itself to in terms of the day. With “Reykyavik” I felt it was an early morning song, like when you’re going to work and the suns coming up and it’s really fresh. And “La Habana Vieja” means old Havana—that’s the name of the old town in Cuba—and it’s got a really warm, dusky feeling. The music is quite cinematic in that hopefully people will be able to listen to it with their headphones on and imagine themselves in a situation. I hope that my music is visual too.
Do you have anything in common with Josh Brolin? I wish I did. I wish I had his bank account! I don’t really know that much about him. I know a couple of his films…No Country for Old Men.
I wondered if you chose his name because he was your favorite Goonie. To be honest the name just came to me and there weren’t any other artists with that name.
It’s a tough Google. When I looked you up suddenly I found myself reading about Josh Brolin’s divorce! Not productive. There’s that and there’s another sort of fantasy show where I think one of the characters is called Brolin, so on Tumblr there’s all these people who like to role play on the weekends, and they’re just going on about how these two guys should get together. Everyone wants this romance to happen. [After some investigation we discovered that the show is British fantasy TV series Merlin about the young wizard Merlin—played by Colin Morgan—and his relationship with Prince Arthur—played by Bradley James. Evidently, fans are obsessed with the sexual tension between the two and have conflated the names of Bradley and Colin, in Brangelina style, to Brolin.]
Have any of these fans been in touch? I think some people have mistaken me for this character. They’re like, “Brolin, we love your music,” and you click on it and it’s the head of the fanclub for this TV show and I’m like, I think you’ve got the wrong end of the biscuit!