Brendan Maclean is the sparkling glittering and totally fabulous songwriter that Australia has been waiting for.
With a biting wit honed by sharp-edged tweets and flamboyant asides, Maclean is unashamedly pop. He spoke to The Echo from a mattress under the mixing desk in Paul Mac’s studio. Maclean is a free spirit, on stage and off, dedicated to the pursuit of making music.
‘Before I met Paul I had never worked with a producer before. I had done all my recording into a laptop strumming my uke into a $50 microphone. Paul and I met through Twitter. I tweeted some snarky thing on Twitter about loving Silverchair since they were Nirvana pyjamas to when they were Paul Mac and friends.
‘He got wind of it and tracked me down. I gave him a CD and he said I think I get what you are trying to do, and I think I can get that close to the sound in your head.’
‘Pop is a scary thing to do in Australia. I didn’t think it would be so nerve-wracking. Cool is shoe gazing. Cool is angst. Paul Mac has showed me something different and I am learning that I want to make music that makes people happy – and that takes a different approach.
‘You have to be selfless on stage; there is something self-indulgent on stage about being morose. Looking at your feet. I thought that it was harder to do the sad songs but it’s not. When I am fist-pumping onstage and bringing the energy up… I like to think of it like this: sad songs are like couture, they don’t fit on many people and pop songs are like a sweater that everyone can wear.
‘And I love people wearing my sweater!
‘It has been difficult to find honesty in pop music. I come from the Lily Allen world of writing. I am very literal in my lyrics and have a lot of phrases that you would say that aren’t overly poetic. I like that people say that I wouldn’t say that. I am a big fan of Twitter.
It’s wordplay: you have 140 characters to make people laugh, or make a political point or say something meaningful. I won’t lie – tweets have ended up in my songs… like ‘if you weren’t so stupid I could have loved you’; that was a sub-tweet directed at someone…’
Brendan is fast being heralded as an ‘electric’ performer. Something he says has grown with his understanding of how responsive a musician needs to be to his or her audience.
‘Everything matters when you are up there, even what kind of day it is. David Byrne would definitely say if you ignore the context of where the music is being played or created then the music will be ignored. I won’t be doing the same show at midday that I will be at 8pm.
‘I am doing some solo shows in the middle of the day at Woodford where I get the chance to storytell and banter and ask questions – I am really looking forward to that.’
Growing up in the Sutherland shire, Maclean is the only performer in his family.
‘They are definitely worried!’ he laughs. ‘I only just got an address – it’s been a lot of couch surfing! I literally sleep under Paul’s studio desk when I record with him. I caught dad watching my video clip the other day – I walked in and he said I am checking how many views – he was a footballer player of 28 years and I was a ballet dancer!’
‘I started doing karate and saw some sparkly things across the hall, so I joined ballet. Then they got me to do a scene in a holiday camp and I loved acting so I started acting. And then when I was acting we did some music and I sang for the first time in year ten. I hated the music of musicals! I can’t stand musicals so I had to start writing my own songs!
‘I love that nonlinear line of my career. It’s been hard to let my voice be louder in Australia – I think, being gay, and not knowing if I need to make political commentary on everything – people come to the show knowing what you think about things.
‘It used to be scary where I grew up. Singing in key isn’t exactly cool; people are into mumbling on stage. Megan Washington and I have this joke that people get onstage and they look surprised! ‘Oh! I am a wilting flower!’ That’s why I adore Kate (Miller Heidke) or Megan because they sing from their heart. It’s fashionable to be Angus and Julia Stone about everything. It’s funny with boys at the moment; this growly voice is popular. Matt Corby started it with his big broad voice; now I see boys try and do this growly I have been smoking and drinking my whole life! My heroes are Iota, and Paul Capsis, the people who take pop and cabaret to the edge. Cabaret is a dirty word in Australia – but isn’t Katy Perry just a million-dollar show that is really a cabaret?’
And as for Brendan.
‘I am just Beyonce on a Budget!’
Solo he does the ‘Rufus Wainwright thing’. In the band it’s the ‘Queen thing’.
But basically it’s the Brendan thing.
At Woodford Festival. For program information go to www.woodfordfolkfestival.com. 27 Dec–1 Jan.
Find this and many other great gigs in Echonetdaily’s North Coast Gig Guide.