“There is a lot of success in finishing something and enjoying the moment of how all of the parts came together. I get a lot of satisfaction in that.”
Hailing from the east coast of Canada, singer-songwriter Pennan Brae has carved out an incredible niche for himself as a truly independent music artist. Making his own way with his talent and passion as a guide, he has achieved a level of success normally reserved for artists with a team of executives pulling the strings. For Pennan, there was no compromise when it came to his art, it has been an obsession for as long as he can remember; he always knew he wanted to play music, and have the ability to express the emotions that were driving him.
Taking his name from his grandfather’s Scottish heritage, Pennan’s journey began in Toronto, when his parents signed him up for classical piano lessons at the age of five. While he was an excellent piano player, he began to tire of playing other people’s songs. The performance bug bit hard when Pennan and a friend performed in his school auditorium at an end-of-school celebration, playing to over a thousand people. But it was a lonely New Year’s Eve (his family had moved from Toronto to Vancouver in his last year of school and he was spending that New Year at home) that resulted in Pennan really finding what moved him: writing original music. It may not have been a great song, but it was an inspiration. He had focus.
His first year at University brought something else into the spotlight, the seven-note blues scale, taught to him on piano by his Jazz Professor. Pennan, who could play any piece of sheet music you put in front of him, started to experiment with creating his own sound. He began to experience the music as he was playing, giving him a feeling that like no other. “It was like an addiction. I just wanted to learn about new sounds and new chords. I experimented by putting notes together, so that I could continue to discover what sounded good, and what could be produced from me musically.”
Shortly thereafter, Pennan continued to challenge himself by buying a low-priced guitar, teaching chords to himself while his fingers suffered on the inexpensive strings. It wasn’t until he was comfortable with his skill on the guitar that he treated himself to an upgrade. He also made a move to Prince Edward Island, the smallest province in Canada. It’s a very tiny island, and also a home to the arts. Pennan came with the desire to work on his music and to start recording some of his original songs. He was surprised to find producer Paul Milner owned a studio on the Island. Milner, who has worked with Keith Richards, Queensryche and Eddy Grant, to name a few, agreed to produce Pennan’s first release, something that Pennan, a huge Stones fan, could hardly believe. Their work together would yield three albums, a triptych of sound that showcased Pennan’s musicianship and songwriting. “Shaded Joy, Amber Glow and Early Rise are mostly sequential, with seven songs on each release. I thought seven songs was the right focus for each album, and while there is a lot of development, musically, within the series, I believe the albums are consistent. They have a similar sound and intention.”
While experiencing some success on Triple A Radio and doing promo – once driving 10 hours from Canada to Idaho for a radio interview and acoustic performance – Pennan hooked up with Venezuelan guitarist Yonny Vizcaya. Originally, Yonny accompanied him on some acoustic dates, but they decided to join forces musically, the result of which is Pennan Brae’s fourth release, Turquoise. The recording was meant to be a straight piano/guitar acoustic record, with Pennan wanting to experiment with a different sound from his previous three releases. However, the music and emotion took on a life of its own, with Pennan, along with Vizcaya and producer Kaj Falch-Nielsen, deciding to add drum, trumpet, pedal steel guitar, and, for the heck of it, a little FX. “There are two versions of Turquoise – an FX and non-FX version. Growing up, I loved those odd bits of strange noise in a song. To me, it made a tune fun and memorable. This album has more songs then I’ve ever had on a release – ten this time – and I wanted to give my audience something unique with the music.” A personal high for Pennan’s on this album was having legendary Canadian DJ Bro Jake help to end the last track, “Signs.” “I contacted him on Facebook and thought for sure I’d get no reply, but he jumped in with both feet. It was a huge cherry for me, I’d grown up listening to him, and he just couldn’t have been nicer.”
Also unique is Pennan’s experimentation with music video. His YouTube channel [youtube.com/PennanBrae] is a cinematic goldmine, and also a nod to the story telling videos he loved as a kid. From kamikaze filming at San Francisco’s AT&T field, to a 26 hour shoot with no sleep in a 1950s classic car to getting permission from NASA to use actual footage from an Apollo 17 landing, Pennan continues to break new ground with his marriage of music and film, experimenting with up and coming new directors eager to put a vision to his songs.
As Pennan prepares to take his new music on the road, he is excited about what these ten tracks will mean to his fans. From the opener, “On the Highway” to the moody “Goin’ Down” to “If I Lose You” with its poignant harmonica break, and the lilting “Anyways,” which highlights Pennan's gorgeous piano playing, Turquoise is all part of the fantastic journey he began when sitting for lessons as a boy. “Like any songwriter, it’s an honor for people to enjoy my music. I would love even more people to hear the songs I write and record. Today’s marketplace, and the Internet, makes it easier to remain an independent artist and being your own boss is every one’s dream. Being a musician can be a hit and miss business, but that makes it very exciting. You never know what’s going to happen next.”