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The Rutgers Review interview with Daniel Brummel - March 2005

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This interview was archived by a user on the OzmaFans Forum in 2005.[1]

This was conducted in mid-March for an article in the campus paper I write for, the Rutgers Review.

Review: Having grown up in Southern California, what inspired the recent move to New York?

Daniel: I love L.A. and have lots of family and friends there, but it was time for a change of pace. My fiance is in her senior year at Columbia so I wanted to support her. Plus I've become really interested in concepts like synchronicity, which really seems to flourish in a place with so much psychic energy floating around.

Review: You played a few solo shows in NY a little while back. How was the response?

Daniel: My shows here in New York have been successful, but not as sensational as if I was doing the shows in L.A. Ozma worked hard to develop a great following in Southern Cal, and over the years people really started to understand what we were all about. The music scene in New York is totally different [it's] headier, less forgiving. But I've mainly just been focusing on writing and recording since I've been here.

Review: How likely is it that your solo album Speak Easy, Monstro's Ocean Floor, and Commuter Music's Kick the Tires will see a 2005 release?

Daniel: Speak Easy and Ocean Floor are going into the mastering stage this week, and will be released in April and June respectively. The Commuter Music project is not quite fully formed but I definitely plan a release this year. My goal is 6 releases per year for the first 3 years. Not all mine of course.

Review: That is some great news. How did Gone With the Ghosts come about? Any date set for a release?

Daniel: Well Bryan (drummer) and Mark (guitarist) have been playing together for several years looking for the right players to complete their group. They met my good friend Ian Richardson (former drummer for Slowreader/Impossibles, plays bass/guitar in Ghosts) and began the search for a lead singer. They did demos with Tony Scalzo of Fastball and John Lamonica of the Polyphonic Spree but things never really gelled. So Ian asked me if I'd record some vocal tracks on their instrumental demos and send them mp3s of my work. I did, and the rest is history. We're still developing our game plan for the rest of the year, I doubt the recordings we have now will see a release soon. We're just getting our management/representation together in order to go out and find the right deal.

Daniel: The interesting thing about Gone With The Ghosts is that many of the song structures and chord progressions were already written by Mark and Ian when I came into the picture, so I was writing melodies and lyrics to preexisting music, which I've never really done before. It was an interesting exercise for me, and I found it liberating to be able to just focus on the vocal line and lyrics. Many of the lyrics were written in a matter of hours. "Strange Coincidence" took about an hour and a half. In Ozma sometimes the lyrics would take months or years before they were finalized. I found that working quicker actually produces a more coherent whole. In general, [it's] a much more relaxed and meditative creative vibe than Ozma.

Review: That's funny you say writing the melody and lyrics to pre-existing music is a new thing for you, because I've always imagined you working from the melody up, since great melodies are a universal element in all of your songs. What's your main method in constructing them?

Daniel: You're right, I normally focus on being sure I have a solid melody before I even think about formal structure. I learned a lot by "working backwards" for the Ghosts. I don't really have a set method in songwriting, normally I'll improvise chord progressions and melodies until I have something I like, lyrics come later, or sometimes embryonic lyrical ideas will come when I'm writing the melody. Occasionally I'll get an independent lyrical idea I really want to use, so I'll hum it around until I figure out how it wants to sit in the context of a song. Drummer Corey Fogel constantly stresses that we focus on "context over content" -- meaning your great melody or catchy chorus amounts to nothing if it doesn't appear at a moment in the form where it feels fresh and appropriate, and I've found that to be a key consideration.

Review: They sound like good standards to work by

Daniel: Yeah, you know, leave the listener some breathing room...repetition for emphasis but not too much...these are things I'm conscious of when writing, but in general I try and stay sort of unconscious about it and let whatever's going to come, come. I don't know where they come from. It's often hard to even consider them mine.

Review: Of all of your projects, do you consider one of them your primary act?

Daniel: Creatively speaking, not really, I find that kind of constricting. Time and energy are big factors though, and I'll probably put the most effort into Gone With The Ghosts and my solo shows this year.

Review: As a songwriter, you have proved to be both adept and prolific in your skill. Not only were you highest in songwriting credits for Ozma, but you were also the sole creative force behind Daniel Brummel and the Contraband and Monstro. With such a vast catalogue of songs, how did you decide which songs received the distorted guitar and keyboard treatment, which were supported by computer samples and effects, and which were stripped down with acoustic guitars and string instruments? Is this the same formula you use to distinguish which songs make it as solo material, Monstro, Gone With the Ghosts, and Commuter Music?

Daniel: To make a correction, Ezra Buchla was also a main creative force in Monstro, he may have written more songs than me for the group. Laura Steenberge (bass) also wrote songs and gave input, and Corey Fogel was an intergral creative force in terms of designing the sound. That was a strong, democratic group. In terms of deciding how to treat a song, there's a lot of gray area. In the beginning, a few Contraband songs were tunes I played for Ozma that they weren't so excited about. In general, I do write most of my stuff on acoustic guitar or piano, so really in their conception, the orchestrative choices could lean any different way. I also studied composition at UCLA and I'd love to do more vocal pieces with chamber ensembles, I love scoring arrangements for orchestral instruments. In general I just try to listen to the melodic/harmonic material and try and hear the most effective or powerful arrangement in my head.

Review: Was the experimental nature of the Doubble Donkey Disc and STOTBL (e.g. the Russian theme on DDD and string arrangements on Spending Time) a result of what you learned at UCLA?

Daniel: Yes, to an extent. I loved writing for the string quartet as early as junior year of high school, so I've always wanted to orchestrate...we just never really got around to it until the flute work on Double Donkey and more intensively on Spending Time. Now I'm writing more for horns and wind instruments. It was in my freshman year at UCLA that I first became enamored with the great Russian composers like Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Tchaikovsky. Ryen and I were actually carpooling to campus at that point and I remember sitting in traffic and being stunned by Shostakovich's perfectly miniature piano pieces ("24 Preludes") and their angular melodic sense, and wanting to capture it. I think of Shostakovich, Hindemith, and those types are the musical equivalent of cubism, or the Bauhaus and Russian futurism, like El Lissitsky or Feininger I hate to say something that trite but I think those disciplines and schools of thought were more closely related then. To me, Shostakovich's piano pieces express such a complex palette of emotions, to me they sound oppressed yet sarcastic, empty and dark yet oddly calm and optimistic. We could never approach that complexity but we tried to steal a little of the mystique.

Review: I once read that you were interested in composing scores for films. I imagine you are extremely busy working full time and recording with multiple bands. Do you still aspire to work in this field?

Daniel: Yes absolutely, I think cinema is a fascinating artistic medium, very linked with music. I love the music of Badalamenti, Rota, Morricone, Jerry Goldsmith, Burwell, etc. I'm actually contributing some folk music & short compositions to a performance piece taking place here in New York, sort of a whimsical play about humanism vs. nature and philosophy. I've scored cues before but this will be my first real project in the field. I'd also like to find a few graduate student films to do this year.

Review: One thing I've always enjoyed about your music is that it allows for really great moments. My favorites include the classical guitar at the end of Battlescars, the orchestration at the beginning of Swept Away from the Ocean Floor Demo (Monstro), the melancholic nostalgia during the verses of Summer After Senior Year on Sound Mind (DB & the Contraband), and the falsetto introduction to the awesome chorus of You Know the Story (Ozma). Do you have any favorite moments in the songs you've worked on?

Daniel: Yeah, that's another important musical concept I stay conscious of, trying to create a catharsis in a moment. I like the key change modulation in Your Name, and the suspension sequence and descending major scale at the end of Shooting Stars. On Spending Time we tried to turn the transitions between songs into "moments" too, sometimes making sarcastic choices like Turteneck Coverup coming in after Utsukushii Shibuya.

Review: You've been fortunate to tour with some really great bands...Mae, Piebald, the Get Up Kids, Rooney, Nada Surf, and Weezer to name a few. What was it like playing with Nada Surf and Weezer, two bands that influenced your sound? Any interaction with the eccentric Cuomo?

Daniel: Rivers' help was invaluable. The coolest thing I ever heard him say was that the piano was the best instrument for composition, which I had suspected, but never embraced until I heard a guitar god like him say it. Matthew, Ira, and Daniel [of Nada Surf] are all wonderful humans, their music definitely made me want to come to New York, especially Let Go. Matthew's a great friend, one of my favorite personalities, and I think he's got the best voice of our generation. Our tours with them were fantastic; I played keyboards with them on a few shows, which was a real treat.

Review: Do you have anything to say to fans still upset over the Ozma break-up? Any possibility Gone With the Ghosts or any of your other projects will tour with Yes Dear (former Ozma members Ryen and Jose's new band) in the future?

Daniel: All I have to say is that Ozma had a great run, and I'll always be proud of our output in terms of recordings and especially live shows. We had the best fans ever. But it was definitely time. As far as a tour with Yes Dear, we haven't discussed that but anything is possible. Ryen, Nate, and Jose are three of my favorite songwriters and I'm sure they'll do wonderfully with their new group.

Review: Very awesome

See also


  1. Not Jason. "Daniel Brummel interview, The Rutgers Review, March 2005." OzmaFans Forum. 13 June 2005. https://www.ozmafans.com/index.php?topic=998.0 Mirrored on Wayback Machine at https://web.archive.org/web/20210701001052/https://www.ozmafans.com/index.php?topic=998.0