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“A computer, a keyboard and a drum kit. That’s the dream.”

Packed with a vintage Canon Twin Top, we sent photographer Sabrina Dehati to interview drummer and Underground composer Brendan Faegre.

The Underground is a gritty, witty, tragic production by Guy Weizman and the NITE ensemble, dealing with the importance of being seen and the tragedy of failure. Not mattering, futility and invisibility are thematized in this piece, which is to be seen in the Sluisfabriek in Drachten during the entirety of May. The Underground will suck you in and spit you out, making you rethink what really matters and question your role in society. Most of our senses will be fully engaged during the performance, not the least of which is what we hear. For the musical accompaniment, we can expect distorted, heavy beat influenced, and loud sounds, underlining the tragic life and rebellion of a rodeo clown on the margins of society.

The music was written by composer Brendan Faegre. I visited him in his home near Den Haag on a Sunday morning in early spring, just before his work routine took its everyday course. After being welcomed with a very strong coffee, we sat down at his kitchen table and talked. Brendan’s take on innovation in music, the importance of first intuitions in this project, and how having children has changed the way he works – make yourself a cup of coffee as black as I had, get comfortable, and find out here. 

A few of these pictures were taken in Brendan’s own little studio, upstairs at his place. The curtains in the back are old curtains from the Royal Conservatory in Den Haag, where Brendan studied. He hanged them on the walls for better acoustics.

Hi Brendan, thank you for inviting me! How are you today?

Hi Sabrina, I am good, thank you! It’s been quite a relaxed weekend so far, so can’t complain. You’re actually just in time for breakfast.. Are you hungry? 

Oh, thank you, I had a snack on the way here, so I’m good! How does your Sunday look like today?

Ah, you know, just spend some time with the family and work a bit on the composition for The Underground actually, good timing! 

Thank you for this perfect unexpected transition (laughs). So, as you wrote the music for this piece, I would like to start by asking what musical themes can we hear in the underground?

I tried to approach the musical side just by trying to translate the basic themes that I understood from the project so far. Then it’s really about underground, partly just like as an analogy for low. This reminded me of sub bass sounds: It’s really heavy, loud, scary. I started thinking, like, earthquakes, seismic, so low frequency stuff. This self-pitying, narcissistic, unloved white guy in his 40s made me connect quite a bit with rock and roll, which has also been where I started in music. So then I felt very free to just connect with the drummer/improvisation/rock band/electric guitar/distortion related sounds, and translated those sounds to the instruments that we had. That’s where the aluminum foil came from: You hear a string quartet and you think ‘oh, this is classical music.’ But as soon as you put some aluminum foil over the four instruments, you hear it and you’re like ‘is that electric guitar or is this like, wait.. It sounds like string instruments!?’. So somewhere it brings them a bit closer to this rock kind of genre sound.  

What feelings did you want to evoke in The Underground audience with your music, and how did you try to put that into practice in your compositions? Do you even think about this or is that something that just happens?

I think, yeah, it’s more intuitive because that’s a little bit of a later stage. If I try too hard to define exactly what I’m trying to create, then I’m forcing it and the end product is worse. Of course, there were some specific pieces where I was trying to channel rage and other ones, trying to channel fear or melancholy beauty – but again, those were not based on a specific scene in the script because I still had never seen the script and it also wasn’t finished when I wrote all the music. Just like the process, the way it’s set up, this felt like the right way to approach it.

Do you prefer working this way around?

There are many good ways to work, but this way I was very happy with, I think mostly just because the musicians are just SO FUCKING GOOD (laughs). I’m so happy working with them. It’s this dream band. And with Guy and Fedor, who’s the musical director, I feel such an artistic connection and so much trust that having this dialogue with those two guys almost like mentors makes everything very satisfying. I was a bit unsure about how this all is going to come together since we’re all making so much just on our own, but now I’m totally convinced.

As I wanted to portray Brendan as authentically as possible, I was very thankful that he was comfortable with keeping his cozy home outfit on for this little shooting. Although he doesn’t sit down at the piano very often, he sometimes uses it to get creative with it and try stuff out.

How easy is it for you to imagine the music when you’re composing it? Do you just write and then you hear it in your imagination, kind of?

Yeah, mostly in my imagination, yes. For this I let it be a bit more of a general first thing that would be coming to my mind, intuitive music without it having so much concept behind it. I was trying as quickly as possible to get it down in some sketch form and then from there slowly trying to figure out what are the exact notes of these chords and then kind of coming back to it and revising it. But actually, now that you’re saying this, I forgot a lot of this music was also composed locked down in Argentina (laughs). My wife Lucia is from Argentina, and we were visiting her family for the first time in two years because of Corona. We were in a small apartment with the two of us and our two kids and her mom and then we all got Corona.

Oh, no.

So then we were locked down. It was about 40 degrees outside, and we couldn’t leave the apartment. Pretty intense as you probably can imagine. But then I had to finish this music for the workshop. Lucia would be saying, ‘okay, I go in the other room and turn on Netflix and see if I can get Toby to sleep or something.’ So I thought ‘okay, quick, write some music! What’s it going to be? Rage music!!!’ and then something comes up and I’m like ‘okay, I’m going to write it down. There’s no time!’ (laughs). I think there was so much time pressure in a way that actually was positive. Oftentimes I think that leads to really good art. Interesting to not overthink it.

“That first idea, it’s so ephemeral, it disappears so quickly. The quicker you can get it down – either in whatever you make, like a little voice memo and you try to sing the idea, or you try to write it down on paper or something – the more of that original impulse you can capture, the better the outcome.”

This seems like a very intuitive way of working. It sounds nice.
You already said that you’re merging different music styles for The Underground, so you just have generally different themes, genres and sounds that one is normally probably not used to hearing together. What do you think are the possibilities in merging different music styles that you wouldn’t picture together or creating sounds that you possibly couldn’t imagine?

I think, in a way, it’s always been like this forever, that everyone just absorbs influences around themselves. And then as a creator, you’re just unconsciously synthesizing all these things that you like. In my opinion, this is just what every creator ever does. For example, Bach was doing the exact same thing. It’s just that he was much more limited in the geography and the time in history of music that he had access to. He only had access to music from Italy and Germany and England and France, but he really merges those four things together, and then everyone says ‘wow, this guy invented a new sound world!’ And I think it’s the same today with.. whatever, take the new Billie Eilish album as an example. There’s a bossanova track and this super club bass track and acoustic guitar track and you can think of those as completely unrelated genres, but it’s just the fact that her and her brother love all these kinds of music. This is just what comes out when they create freely. So for me, it doesn’t feel like anything special, and it wasn’t anything intentional, but I think that’s just how it works. And nowadays it’s just much easier to be influenced by a lot of different styles. 

Do you think there’s still innovation in music?

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Because I’m convinced that there’s nothing new ever. It’s just new combinations of whatever the last people did. I don’t know what completely new would be, but I think we would hate it. I think if you managed to create new music that literally had no connection to anything that had ever been done before, that means, I don’t know, it could be all in frequencies that only birds hear (laughs). And then we would sit there, and we would hear silence, and we’d be thinking ‘what is this? I’m leaving.’

Do you have a favorite place here in your house, where you like to spend time thinking about your compositions? Or do you just go into your studio upstairs and then it all comes up?

Yeah, exactly, just having a computer, a keyboard, silence, and a drum kit. Yeah, that’s the dream. 

And do you have a favorite instrument?

Drums, a 100%. That was the other nice thing when Fedor asked if I was free for this production, and we started talking about the kind of music for it. He had some specific ideas at the beginning about what could fit with this sort of production. Fedor’s always coming from the musical side, and we’ve worked together a lot in the past. Once I got the vague idea of the project and that kind of music, it sounded like just the music that I love creating personally. I asked, ‘wait, so can I just write a bunch of beats and harmonic progressions and weird sounds on the strings?” and he goes, “Oh yeah, I think all the stuff you normally do is going to fit really well.” With this production, I can just embrace my drummerness to the maximum, which is super nice. 

To not wake up his youngest son Toby, who was asleep while we took the pictures, Brendan put towels on top of his drums to muffle the sound. The metal chains on the snare drum add a certain extra to the sound.

Do you have time to do your own compositions, just for yourself, or do you only compose for projects? Is that something that you do at all?

Mhh, I mean, I enjoyed doing it, but I find it much easier and the result better when there is a concrete something. For me it’s trying to go back and forth between solo stuff and big multimedia productions, two kinds of projects as that seems to keep me very balanced. Do you ever read any Haruki Murakami? He’s a really good and super creative author. He has a magical realism style of writing so there’s like baseball games and hot dogs but then there are people walking through the walls in an underground and going into some parallel universe. It’s this nice contrast of very normal and then very fantastical. I was reading a bunch of interviews because I liked this stuff so much and wanted to learn where he’s coming from. There was one thing he said that stuck with me. He said that he always likes to alternate between giant novels and then short stories because the two things really complement each other and make you feel like a balanced creator.   

And that’s what you also do, in a way.

I feel like this going back and forth between solo stuff – even solo for myself to perform versus big collaborative projects – it feels the same. 

Keeps the sanity.

“Yeah, exactly. Keeps the sanity.”

Check out Brendan’s work for The Underground playing in de Sluisfabriek in Drachten during the entirety of May.

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Interview and Photos: Sabrina Dehati

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