“It was time to get back to basics.” Brett Dennen says of his fifth record, Smoke & Mirrors
I wanted to return to the folk and acoustic music I loved when I began writing. I decided to tap into my memories and
explore new emotional territory as honestly as I could.”
Brett Dennen’s music career began humbly around the camps of the Sierra Nevada mountain range a retreat to which he would eventually return for inspiration on Smoke and Mirrors.
“Being in the mountains, aside from the inspiration, was so crucial to me, because as a kid I used to spend so much time
in the mountains. And just being there helped me regain that self-confidence.
I remembered who I was.”
Brett’s 2006 release,So Much More, officially launched him as a discovery artist
and drew frequent comparisons to troubadours like Paul Simon and Tom Petty.
In 2008 his Hope for the Hopeless didn’t stray too far from the songwriter’s
comfort zone, though a partnership with producer John Alagia (Dave Matthews
Band, John Mayer) led to a high level of production not yet heard on any of his
albums. In 2011, Dennen’s Loverboy was his biggest
departure to date: a danceable collection of songs influenced by the road and recorded by a studio
filled with friends and imperfect takes. “After several years of consistent recording and touring, some real time off was
necessary. I bought a house in the mountains and reconnected with my roots asa songwriter. I walked through the hills, enjoying the solitude, and only wrote when I was inspired.”
Returning from his retreat into the mountains, Dennen looked for a collaborator to elevate the songs he’d brought back and landed on renowned producer Charlie Peacock.
“Charlie had recently made a beautiful record for The Civil Wars, so he seemed like an ideal producer. We spoke on the phone for just a few minutes and instantly connected. He wanted the recordings to focus on my vocals and acoustic elements. Our goal was to simply enhance the demo and bring them to life.”
Dennen and Peacock chose Nashville as a home base, eschewing Brett’s L.A. comfort zone to work with virtual strangers. “It was exciting to record with musicians I’d never met. Charlie brought in Mark Hill (Reba McEntire’s bass
player), Jerry McPherson (guitarist for Faith Hill and Martina McBride), drummer Aaron Sterling who recently worked with Charlie on The Civil Wars record, and Ruby Aman fu (a vocalist in the all-girl Jack White ensemble). Working with newpeople allows you to explore parts of yourself that might not come out with people you know. You have to stretch a bit, so I let Charlie create an atmosphere that allowed me to be my best self.” Peacock’s understated production places Dennen’s fervent vocals upfront, while
the session players bring their low-key power to the proceedings, adding their own ideas to flesh out the arrangements.
Peacock explains,“Brett and I spent a lot of time just building out the arrangements. From the production side, he
encouraged me to make every song uniquely its own while keeping it cohesive-and I think we did it.”