Brendon John Warner on synths, strangers and influence of sound

Brendon Warnerrr
Credit: Press

Brendon Warner shares his experience and connection to his album Slow Friction and the “concepts around social strangeness.”

Brendon recently dropped his album Slow Fiction which explores the vast expressive nature of human connection and all the emotions that come with it. He dives into ideas of loneliness, isolation, connection, togetherness, displacement, disconnection, and interacting with strangers.

Brendon had a chat with us at Happy, opening up about his connection to the book Klara and the Sun and how its themes of modernity, humanity, and society run through his latest album.

He also expresses the shift he experienced in his musical perspective and how that opened up his potential and his admiration and inspiration that stems from trip-hop music, Bjork and Massive Attack.

He gets into the process between him and visual director Alex Botton, who brought the vision for the music video for his track Coffee Cup Lady & Raincoat Man, discussing their brainstorms over zoom and the time they spent reading and understanding Klara and the Sun together.

He touches on the difference between loneliness and solitude, shares a moment he had with some strangers, and confesses his ultimate day would be full of synths and early mornings.

Brendon John Warnerrr
Credit: Press

HAPPY:  Thanks for chatting with us today! What are you looking forward to this week?

BRENDON: I’m super excited to share Slow Friction in full, with my friends, collaborators, and audience who’ve supported me so much. It’s been a few years in the works and sharing this in its entirety closes an important chapter for me, and I’m already thinking about what comes next. Along with the release I’ve been in talks around adapting a live performance from the record which I do hope to bring to audiences over the coming year.

HAPPY: Tell us more about your inspiration and connection to Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun.

BRENDON: I drew a lot of inspiration from books I’d been reading while writing Slow Friction which is a bit of a departure from kinds of things that had inspired my earlier work.

Klara and the Sun in particular struck me as a beautiful work of prose dealing with deep questions around modernity, humanity and society. It prompted me to read a handful of his other works, such as An Artist of the Floating World, though I’m yet to read Never Let Me Go (the film adaption I’ve seen, it’s heavy) which my wife tells me I’ll need to emotionally brace myself for.

I think what grabbed me about Klara and The Sun were the themes seeming to align very well with my own experiences of weathering and emerging from social distancing and lockdowns, the increasing prevalence of social media and other forms of digital interaction, and how being a creative in isolation can force one to focus more on process in the absence of feedback.

Despite these connections that became apparent to me, the novel is just a beautiful and provocative piece of fiction that frames some of these issues very eloquently.

HAPPY: What’s involved in your ultimate day?

BRENDON: Ultimate…. Ok! I’d have to start with good coffee (I’m not much a cafe guy… just a stovetop Bialetti style coffee maker does the trick) and a few good hours upfront working on music… maybe a half-hour play on the piano before knuckling down on conceptualizing and developing ideas on it or on the synths.

Some years ago, I read something about A-brain waves being optimal for creativity early in the morning, and ever since I’ve found the early morning hours are my best for working on ideas… Even on a normal day, this is pretty much the norm for me, and I wouldn’t change them for an ultimate one… If anything, I suppose an ultimate day would contain many more of those morning hours!

That said and changing the speed at which the earth rotates aside, I guess the things I would change would be how I spend the afternoon hours. I do find those better for sound design and production-oriented work, so would like to do more of that.

Outside of my creative process of course there’d be more time hanging out with my wife Hope, our friends, and family. We live in a bustling part of the inner-west and you’ll often find us in some of the vibrant vibey eateries and bars on offer, like Cafe Paci, Ante’s Hartsyard (recently relocated to the Old Clare) … so I’d be remiss not to mention that… carving out slow time for reading or good movies is important too…

HAPPY: Were you with Alex Botton and putting in your own input while he was directing the music video, or was it completely his own vision?

BRENDON: Alex and I have been friends for a long time, and he’s actually been in Canada for some years now so while we’ve wanted to work on something like this together for a long time, opportunities haven’t always been easy to come by.

Describing this music and the inspiration behind it to him via video chat, we came up with a few cool ideas to visually support Slow Friction and the concepts around social strangeness, the colour people carry around in their own perceptive lenses, and especially around Sonder. So, some of these themes are inherent in the music and in the inspiration behind it.

Alex grabbed a copy of the book and we pretty quickly started talking about Ryan Booth’s street photography in motion, and how that resonated with Klara’s early experiences in the novel peering out of the shop-front window at the strange people bustling by in the city with their odd behaviours. So while the process was shared, Alex brought great energy and insight into the process and from him I learned a lot!

HAPPY: It’s the last day on earth, what are you up to?

BRENDON: I’d like to live it much as I’d described the ultimate day above… maybe the only difference would be less of a focus on the process, simply playing or performing some music and enjoying that. Oh, and I’d want to take the time out to watch the sky change colour as the sun sets. I think that’s one of the most humbling, human experiences and one I don’t make the time to enjoy often enough. That’d be a nice way to wrap things up.

HAPPY: Tell us about your perspective on the difference between solitude and loneliness and what that looks like for you.

BRENDON: Loneliness I feel is something imposed upon someone and carries a negative connotation. I think loneliness can be either beautiful or horrific, largely depending on the context, duration, circumstances, etc.

Conversely, I see solitude as a choice and, especially in the creative context, a tool with which to introspect and yield meaning or develop ideas. I don’t necessarily think solitude can be imposed on someone, nor can someone choose to be lonely.

I see these as the differentiators… I’m not sure how this aligns to the formal definitions of each, but I am going to go away and look into this having been prompted by your question ;)

HAPPY: Which book or tv show are you currently watching?

BRENDON: I’m just about to finish reading Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore and I’ve also read two of his other books this year, so I’m on the Murakami train right now. I can’t get enough of the realism juxtaposed with absurdism.

The mundane scenes make his characters super real and relatable, so when strange stuff starts going on, I feel like the boundaries of reality start to blur in a very close and tangible way.

TV wise, I’ve been a bit disaffected by it lately… I don’t see a lot of good stuff to get into so more often than not, there’ll be some true-crime doco series on that loosely grabs my attention here or there, but nothing I’m gripped by. I’m often going back to watch cool sci-fi fmovies from the past few years actually…

Dune – Villeneuve is fantastic at what he does – also rewatched Rogue One after watching much of And or, too… stuff like that. Actually, I should also mention animated stuff like Rick and Morty and Bob’s Burgers… They’re something I’ll often go back to when I need to switch the brain off.

HAPPY: What did you listen to growing up that has fueled your inspiration for your music?

BRENDON: I listened to heaps of metal – Meshuggah, Blood Has Been Shed, Cult of Luna – stuff like that growing up and my early years as a musician was playing this kind of stuff on the guitar in bands. During that time though, there would often be stuff like Bjork or Massive Attack in the periphery, so as time went on this metal focus morphed into post-rock, trip-hop and alternative stuff. Mogwai was a big transition band for me… I spent a month studying in France back in early 2014 and Mogwai’s Rave Tapes had just come out, so I have this wintery, otherworldly association with it… I remember listening to the record while there and thinking how huge synths could sound in or out of a band context and that sparked an interest in sound design, I’m still driven by nearly ten years later!

Brendon John Warnerr
Credit: Press

HAPPY: What did you read or hear that opened your eyes and mind to the perspective you have within your music journey?

BRENDON: This is a great question! Thinking about it there would be one moment where my perspective on music fundamentally shifted from one that sought to overwhelm the listener with movement and emotion, to one in which the audience is left to question or enquire.

The former is certainly one that harkens back to my heavier music origins, while the latter took inspiration from film composers and sound designers, I heard using space and minimalism really effectively.

I had been listening to Geoff Barrow’s (Portishead) soundtrack for Ex Machina back in 2016, my wife and I were on our way to Japan, and I found myself listening and thinking how a piece of music can enthrall an audience with just a droning note or two, very sparse if not absent rhythm or percussion, and lots of space.

I had a kind of epiphany around music not needing to be complex or densely layered and instead that careful, decisive writing with just one or two obvious components could be as or more developing than denser pieces, and that was what I wanted to do. The key question is, how to choose the right notes or events in order to tell a story with so few components?

When we got back from Japan, I applied to study with Berklee college of music where I subsequently took courses in sound design and composition part-time over a few years. I learned a lot about music theory as well as fundamentals of sound design which gave me the insight, I needed to make those more careful decisions in order to write more simple and engaging music. One book also worth mentioning is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield… Without the concepts and approaches toward creativity he shares in that book, I don’t think I would have been able to achieve the kind of change in creativity that I’ve been able to make over the past years.

HAPPY: We’d love to hear any interesting or beautiful stranger stories or moments you’ve experienced that felt special, weird or funny.

BRENDON: I don’t know if this is the kind of thing you were thinking of… but I couldn’t think of anything else so thought I’d mention this… A few friends and I went to see Sigur Ros play here in Sydney back in August and we’d been out to dinner before, and a few glasses of wine in we’re hustling to get in a cab and dart across town to see the band play. We’re big Sigur Ros fans… We pull up in an ally-way at the back of the venue and I get out of the taxi and sitting right there in front of us is keyboardist/guitarist/pianist Kjartan, the band member who only recently rejoined after spending years away from the band writing operas and so on… He’s a huge inspiration and a massive part of some of our favourite records… anyway, I’ve never seen him perform before as he’s been away from the band a long while and he’s sitting right there in front of me having a cigarette… I clammer out of the cab and walk up to him, extend my hand and wish him a great show and thank him for his music… At least that’s what I hope I said… I was star-struck and probably dribbled some incomprehensible garbage, especially having a few wines under my belt, having an Aussie accent and emphatically thanking a complete stranger who’s used to conversing in Icelandic… Despite this he was super gracious and kind; we shook hands and then we left him to it… I was buzzed throughout the whole show… not just for having this experience before but for the first time in a long time being in such a large venue (the new Aware theatre) with thousands of other people in the same space, witnessing this band back in full – it was a beautiful moment.

HAPPY: Thanks for having a chat with us!

BRENDON: Cheers, thanks for having me.

Check out the incredibly mesmerizing music video for Coffee Cup Lady & Raincoat Man. 

And don’t hesitate to stream the full album of Slow Friction below and revel and embrace the fact that we humans have the power to feel all the connections and moments that happen around us.

Interviewed by Olivia Adams. 

Photos supplied.