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Interview: Mike Brunacini

“Hailing from, Jamestown NY, Mike Brunacini is revisiting the vintage end of retro piano pop. Mike’s music takes us back to the yesteryear, a time long-past with a current modern invigorating sound, re-captivating those once great songs of the past. Influenced by the likes of Ben Folds Five, Billy Joel, Elton John, among others; a most prolific song writer and musician. His story is just as important as the music he creates. Releasing his latest music on Transmission Nova – special thanks goes out to Jason Norwood for doing this interview with him.”

Jason Norwood: One of the first things that struck me when listening to the first single from “Dying Leaves & Naked Trees”, “Four Way Stop Sign” is the imagery. You painted a small-town picture in the lyrics, do you draw a lot from Jamestown when you’re setting a “scene” for a song?

Mike Brunacini: Yes, a lot of the visual inspiration came from growing up in a small rust-belt town. My whole life I’ve been looking at these old factories where they used to make furniture. Jamestown was once known as the “furniture capital of the world”. I never had the chance to see that version outside of sepia photos. I’ve always longed to experience what it was like when this town was booming. A lot of people I grew up with have that “I hate my hometown” mentality, but it isn’t just here. That’s the message of the song. This is happening all over.

I should also mention that the cover art is a photo of Jamestown that I took when I was in high school. Fun fact.

JN: The idea of looking at old photographs, or old memories, is a theme that has grown stronger on this album compared to your last full-length, “Summer’s End”. Do you have a concept or a direction in mind when you start working on an album, or do you just let the songs happen?

MB: I have a history of swapping that thought process every other album. I’ll do a big concept album and follow it up with an album of stand-alone songs. I love concept albums and they make writing lyrics a lot easier for me. But once I finish a concept album, I end up having left over ideas that didn’t fit… or short little story ideas that only need one song.

As far as old photographs and memories go, that’s one of the big overarching themes of my writing in general. I’m obsessed with the passage of time in an unhealthy way. I lost of lot of important people in my life when I was around 11-14 years old, so there’s this impenetrable wall up between my childhood and now and it makes going back in time even more desirable.

JN: I notice that when you’re writing about the past, there’s a journey involved, not simply picking up the photo, looking at it, and putting it down. Does that also go for the style of the music? I can picture myself in my dad’s big Pontiac in the late 70’s, listening to some of this on the radio. And who, musically, inspires you?

MB: I like to think there’s a musical journey as well. I always focus on a strong melodic foundation, but the arrangement is where the journey kind of happens. I like to add little ornamental touches that change each repeated section so that the 2nd chorus or 3rd verse sounds new in some way. I also try to really focus on writing lyrics that match what the melody is trying to say. I take a long time to write lyrics… I’ve got dozens of song starts waiting for lyrics to come.

Ben Folds is someone who is an obvious inspiration to me. But less obvious might be someone like Steven Page (formerly of “Barenaked Ladies”). You hear that band name and think of a few goofy singles, but when he wrote a sad song, it was dark. He has a way of writing these incredibly catchy melodies that almost trick you into singing these lyrics until you really think about it. Wow… this song is about THAT?!

JN: That’s something I experienced when listening to your albums–that dichotomy sometimes between the lighter feeling of some of the music and the lyrics that can get a bit darker. How does Aftergloom, your other project, set itself aside from the material you release under your own name?

MB: Aftergloom is a side project I started when I realized it wasn’t going to sound like my usual stuff. I also just liked the name Aftergloom and the idea of starting something fresh and new. I was really inspired by Leland Kirby’s The CaretakerEverywhere at the End of Time” project. I was also diving deep into the waters of dreamcore, weirdcore, and other internet aesthetics. I think it has something to do with how they capture the feeling of a childhood fever dream. It all feels so familiar, yet it isn’t.

The goal for Aftergloom is to tell a story spread across 3 albums. It’s called “Don’t Wake the Dreamer” and the premise is that of a young woman escaping the grieving process through her lucid dreams. Instead of moving on, she manifests her deceased parent in her dreams, unwittingly bringing to life a brand new being who realizes it needs the dreamer even more than she needs her dream.

Musically I tried to, I tried to blend the sounds of dreamcore and weirdcore with a more grounded retro singer/songwriter type of vibe. It may not make sense at first as the album starts out sounding relatively normal, but the deeper you go, the stranger and dreamier it sounds.

JN: I noticed more synth work, but with the omnipresent piano. Is the piano the instrument you generally start off with when composing?

MB: Most of the time, yes. Occasionally I’ll start with an acoustic guitar, but I almost always end up bringing piano into it. I guess it comes from growing up listening to so much Ben Folds and Billy Joel.

Another fun fact, I started Four Way Stop Signs on a guitar!

JN: What does the process look like for recording? Do you record at a home studio and/or a professional studio?

MB: I record in my home studio which is up in my attic. I had to finish the space myself and I’m hardly a handyman, but it’s alright. Every spring and fall a few bats end up trapped inside, but I’ve figured out a way to safely return them outside. I usually start with a piano demo and build it up from there. At some point, I’ll remove the original piano demo and arrange a part more specific to the direction the arrangement is going.

One of my favorite parts of the process is arranging the backing vocals. It’s hard, time-consuming work, but I always love the results when I put the effort in.

Mike Brunacini in the studio.

JN: Do you play all of the instrumentation on a record?

MB: Most of the time, yes. Summer’s End had a few guests. Kameron Staten on saxophone. My wife Kristen on flute. My cousin Rand (of Ookla the Mok) on backing vocals for a few songs.

But on the new album, it’s all me. That’s mainly due to the time-constraints of having a full-time job and being a dad. It’s hard to find time to get a bunch of working adults together.

I have a future album in the works with live drums by Rosalie Hewitt. I’m hoping to be a bit more collaborative with that one. The goal is to try to record everything as “live” as possible. While still delivering a clean mix.

JN: I saw a post from you this morning about stereo equipment, and you release your music on vinyl. Do you think the physical format is important to experiencing your music in the middle of all these streaming services?

MB: I think the physical format is important to experiencing any music. I appreciate the convenience of streaming… it really is an amazing thing. But I prefer to listen to music on dedicated equipment and using dedicated time. I don’t have any argument about music sounding better here or there. I just like the inconvenience of needing to deliberately pick something off the shelf, place is on a turntable, clean it, play it for 15-20 minutes, get up and flip it, clean that side, and then listen to the remaining 15-20 minutes. It kind of forces you to pay attention because you need to actively participate in the process. I think that’s a good thing, but I completely understand why not everyone will agree with me. There really isn’t a right or wrong way to listen to music. If you’re listening to my music on cheap wish dot com earbuds while you multitask in a crowded room, I’m happy to have you along for the ride and grateful that you’re listening at all!

JN: So, what’s next for Mike Brunacini, aside from that live collaboration? Does the creative process continue solidly for you or do you get some time in there to breathe a bit? Do you perform live?

MB: I’m very excited to release this upcoming album “Dying Leaves & Naked Trees” I think it’s my best yet and I hope everyone ends up feeling the same about it. I have Aftergloom’s – Don’t Wake the Dreamer Pt. II ready for release at some point. It’ll be available online and as a VERY limited cassette run. After that I’ll be finishing up Don’t Wake the Dreamer Pt. III (the final installment) and that sort of live in the room album. I’ve been working on writing the album after that… but I don’t really have any lyrics yet. I’d love to work with a good lyricist at some point. A sort of Bernie Taupin to my “Elton John”.

I rarely play live. I haven’t been able to find a venue for sad unknown original songs yet. Maybe if I could get a band together, but that’s tough with how busy everyday life is. I’ve always been more interested in writing and recording anyway. My dream scenario is to be late 60’s Beatles or Brian Wilson. Just writing and recording music in a studio.

#WEATNU Digital Magazine – May 2024 – Jason M. Norwood
Introduction words by Almark

Follow on threads: @mikebrunacini
Bandcamp: https://mike-brunacini-transnova.bandcamp.com/
Official Site: https://mikebrunacini.wixsite.com/mikebrunacini
Linktree: https://linktr.ee/mikebrunacini
Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mikebrunacini/dying-leaves-and-naked-trees-on-vinyl

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