Canadian country music artist Dean Brody visited our Australian shores for CMC Rocks the Hunter (now a few weeks in the past, but, y’know, sometimes things get in the way of posting on time!) and he had a wee bit of time to speak to me for this blog. True confession: I lived in Canada for a year, so I’m automatically partial to Canadian musicians, and Dean’s brand of rockin’ Canadian country music is no exception. Dean’s latest album is Dirt.
How did CMC Rocks the Hunter go for you?
It was good. It was good to be back. Australia has just amazing country fans, who are very passionate about their music, and celebrating the country way of life.
I’ve got to admit, first up, I lived in Vancouver for a year in the mid-90s. And I know that you’ve moved to Nova Scotia, so I’m wondering how – this is a complete change of topic – but I’m wondering how your life on the east coast compares to living on the west coast.
Yeah, I love it. I don’t know why, but I just – I love the ocean and I love the – the vibe on the east coast it’s a little bit more laid back. Vancouver BC is very progressive, and everything is – it’s a little bit more of a rat race. Whereas the east coast is more laid back, everyone’s a little bit chill. And it’s something I need when I get off the road. I need people to be chill [laughs].
[Laughs] So are you near – in or near Halifax?
Yeah, we’re – we live close to Halifax. We’re about an hour or so from Halifax.
Well, that sounds like the best of both worlds. You’ve got a good college town with a good music scene nearby, when you need it. And then a bit of rest when you don’t.
Yeah, it’s a great, great place to be, especially in the summertime when the beaches are rocking. It’s very picturesque. We love it.
When I was living in Canada, I actually had quite a bit to do with Canadian music, because I was volunteering at a university radio station, at UBC. And doing some interviews, going to lots of gigs. Admittedly, I wasn’t as aware of country music as I am now, but I can’t recall that in Canadian independent music at that time, there was a lot of country going on. So, I’m wondering how the scene has developed over the last few years, and how you found your way into country music, as well.
I think there’s always been a scene. I’m not sure if it’s gotten bigger or smaller. I was actually introduced into music in Nashville. I moved to Nashville and got my record deal there. And so I didn’t really go through the ranks of the Canadian country music scene. I went Nashville and started there. But I know that there’s a very vibrant country music scene in Canada for youngsters coming up.
[Laughs] I don’t think you’re that old, though [laughs].
I think when I first started, and I feel like it was so long ago, you know? And I was 14 and had a band and – those were a long time ago for me now.
And as a 14-year-old putting a band together, had you just always been obsessed with music, and you really wanted to do that at that age? Or did you just, as a teenager, think, that’s a good idea?
It was kind of like a good idea, and we were bored. And so we got some instruments and started making noise, and at first, of course we weren’t very good, but we just had a great time; it was something we did. That started the fire in me to pursue songwriting, which became my real passion.
Where you a lead singer even then?
Well, you could call it that. It was a rock band, and so I sang [laughs]. But it wasn’t pretty, let me tell you. I was trying to sing like Axl Rose, so things got pretty ugly.
[Laughs] Because now, I’ve got to say, you have a really smooth, mellifluous voice for singing country music. So I’m trying to imagine you singing rock, especially like Axl Rose.
[Laughs] It was not pretty, let me tell you.
Has your singing voice – have you developed, do you think, a country music singing voice? Or you’ve just let your voice develop naturally as time has gone on?
I think it’s becoming more natural. When you first start, you’re trying to emulate your heroes in country, and so you’re doing a lot of digging, like Garth Brooks and stuff. So it takes a while before you’re comfortable with who you are. I feel like I’m getting really comfortable with who I am now.
Certainly your voice sounds comfortable and you sound, at least in the recorded versions of the songs, you do sound at ease, and not every recorded song does. In fact a lot of them sound like the producer might’ve had a heavy hand or something like that. Do you take quite a bit of a role in the production of your own records?
Matt Rovey is my producer, but Matt lets me have a lot of input into how everything sounds, and how a song is going to turn out. So, yeah. I get to do a lot, but Matt does the majority of the work. And he does – I just think he does a great job.
When I was living in Canada, I was really impressed by the support from the Canadian government, but also from the Canadian people, for local storytelling, whether it was in books or poetry or in song. There was a lot of awareness of Canadian music and support for it. Do you think that’s still true? And, if it is, do you feel supported by Canadians?
I definitely do. Yeah, I definitely do. And I think it’s important for Canadians to tell their own stories, and for us to support artists that do celebrate our culture. Because we live right next door to the biggest media giant in the world, and so for us to maintain our own culture it’s – sometimes it’s a challenge though. Yeah, I feel very fortunate in the support that I’ve gotten from my country.
Given that – and I’m glad you raised it because I was going to anyway – Canada, I think, does a really good job of creating its own cultural identity in the face of what is essentially a juggernaut coming up over the border. Whether it’s – from all sorts of angles. Country music is very heavily identified with the United States of America, but in Australia we’ve developed our own country music culture. So I was wondering what you’ve noticed about Canadian country music, and especially your own, that you believe carves it out.
It’s interesting, because a few years ago I wouldn’t have tried to write a song called “Canadian Girls”. I wrote a country song about our girls. Because I thought that country music had to be somewhat American, because everything that you hear, you hear so much American content. And so, when you write a song and you include a Canadian town, it almost makes you put – I thought it would put you almost at the edge of country, or on a fringe. But recently, it’s just like, you know what? I’m from Canada; I’m going to celebrate being from Canada; I’m going to talk about it. And I think that’s okay. And I think fans embrace it, they love it; they can identify even more with it. But it’s something that’s definitely thought about when you’re writing a song.
Especially given that country music is a storytelling genre and Canadians love their stories. I’m interested to hear what stories you’re thinking of telling for your next album, because given that Dirt was out last year, you must be looking ahead to the next one.
I’ve definitely got some songs in mind, and one of them is going to be about a beach town on the east coast in Nova Scotia. And just how this girl wants to leave the town, and wants the boy to go with her, but he’s just like, no, this is my home. And I’ll always be here when you come back. But, yeah. I’m staying right here. I’m going to try and incorporate more and more Canadiana in my music, if I can.
That sounds like a very good idea. There’s certainly a lot to write about, in terms of sense of place, if you’re writing about Canada. It’s such a breathtakingly beautiful country. And I think there are so many stories there to tell.
We’ve got a lot of amazing history and heritage that we should celebrate, and I just – I’m really proud of my country, and I think we should sing about it. It’s cool.
Just backtracking now to the publishing deal you had in Nashville, which my notes tell me was 2004, which must’ve made you about 16 at the time [laughs]. Wondering how, given that you came from a small town in BC, I’m wondering how that happens? How you end up in Nashville writing songs for people.
Yeah, it was really tricky. When I first tried to move to Nashville, I had all my stuff. I had my cowboy hat, my guitars, my suitcase, and I got to the border and they were like, “What are you doing?” and I was like, “Oh, moving to Nashville. I’m going to try and get a publishing deal. Write songs.” They were like, “Well, you can’t do that.” They were like, “You need to have a sponsor first, before we can let you into the country.” And so here I was, going, well how am I going to get a job if I can’t be in Nashville? And so it’s a real Catch-22. So I ended up having to write songs and visit; make trips down, and submit my songs to different publishers. And finally got a publisher that was willing to take a chance on me. And then he was my sponsor that allowed me to go into Nashville. So it’s really tricky. It would be the same for Australians trying to get into Nashville. It’s tricky.
And, also, I would think, somewhat goes against the grain of what you were trying to do, which was sing your own songs. But here you were finding that your way into the industry was to write songs for other people.
That was my first passion, was to write songs. Nashville is a place where you have this – everyone there is wanting to do the same thing, and so the networking for songwriting down there is amazing. Whereas in the small town that I was from, there might’ve been one other guy that wrote country music. And so I thought it was important for me to go to a place that had a lot of people wanting to hone their craft, and to me that was Nashville. For rock and roll it was probably LA or New York, but for country, Nashville is kind of the Mecca for – that’s where the majority of songwriters are.
And have you always approached songwriting in a workman-like way? You sit down in the morning, and you just write until you find something? Or do you tend to follow the muse, so to speak?
Yeah. I’m a weird songwriter. I write – I find I get inspired to write music but not even touching my guitar. I’ll put it down. I won’t even write a song for like, two weeks. But then when I find that I am inspired, and I pick up my guitar, it comes really easy. I spent a couple of years in Nashville forcing myself every day to write a song; it killed my creativity. It got to a point where I had to put my guitar down, didn’t touch it for months. I was just so burnt out of writing – forcing myself to be creative. Yeah.
Oh, I had a question in my brain and it’s now gone [laughs]. I’ll have to think of another one very quickly. Given that you’re travelling, you’re based on the east coast of Canada and it feels a bit, for Australians, like that’s the stop of the world. Is it weird to you, that you can come to a country like this, and I’m sure you’re going to other countries, and people know you?
Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. It’s pretty crazy. And also it’s like, you can sing country music anywhere, where there’s people from the country, and they get what you do. We did a show in France last summer. And it was, like, wow, in the middle of nowhere here was this rodeo and all these country folks. It was really a blast. It’s a universal thing, country music.
I honestly had no idea that there were any country music fans in France. So that’s [laughs]—
Yeah [laughs]. I had no idea there was rodeos in France, but apparently they’re very passionate about their rodeos and country music.
Probably if you decide to take off across all of Europe, you would find something somewhere. But that’s a very big enterprise, and possibly not something you can do.
It would take some planning, for sure.
So are you a long-term planner, in terms of you have goals that you set yourself for your career, and you hope to meet them. Or do you tend – because you said as a songwriter you go somewhat instinctually – is that your preferred path for your career?
I just keep writing songs and recording them, and playing them. I have no specific goals any more. All my dreams have, kind of, come true. So I just hope I get to do what I love to do for a few more years.
I think you’ve got a few years in you. And I’ve got to say the number of country music performers, particularly singer/songwriters I talk to, who say that their dreams have all come true, and they’re all quite young. And I think it’s so rare to hear people saying that in life. You hear so many people talking about their dreams being quashed, or frustrated. So I don’t know whether it’s just country, and people are happier. I don’t know. Have you found that country music people are happier?
I don’t know. I think there’s grumpy people and happy people [laughs] in every genre [laughs].
Well, hopefully there weren’t too many grumpy people over the weekend, while you were playing.
[Laughs] There was no-one. They were very, very happy [laughs].
Are there are artists in particular that you look forward to seeing, if you’re playing at a festival? Do you think, ooh, someone else is on the bill, I want to see them?
Dwight Yoakam, for me. I love watching Dwight perform. He’s – I just think he’s the best country artist out there. But I’m very biased. Yeah. So Dwight Yoakam would be big.
And is that because you love his songs, or just everything about him?
I love his songs. I love that he’s just kind of a maverick. When it came to music, he just did his own thing. He wore his own kind of clothes. He was just like, take it or leave it. Fantastic, that’s really cool.
So perhaps you hope to become, when you’re an older man, a maverick [laughs]?
Oh, man, I don’t know. I don’t even consider myself in that same category. So I just like trying different things and having fun.
Dirt is out now.