In May, Brendan Maclean flew Jonno Revanche up to Brisbane to shoot the cover for his EP funbang1. After its release, the EP went to number one on the Australian iTunes Chart and debuted on the ARIA Charts at 19. Revanche reunited with Maclean to ask him about his success, and the state of pop music in Australia.
Jonno: How are you feeling?
Brendan: Good. I’m relieved. That’s the word I would use. I knew it would go okay, but I didn’t expect what I got, for sure. That was a surprise, in the morning, to wake up that many presales.
J: Which is really exciting! The feeling I got overall from listening to funbang was….that it had come from a process of self-actualising. And it’s very poppy, but not mindlessly so, I don’t think really, and has a lot of depth to it which is what pop music should have, in my opinion.
B: That’s what I tried to do! I mean, y’know, it’s pretty obvious that I love Robyn and she’s like my guiding spirit. But yeah, it’s always been my hope that I could make a dance album that had some thought in the lyrics. I still want to push myself further than this EP lyrically, but for me it represented me as best I could in music right now. There’s much more to come obviously, but I’m happy with funbang as a project. I’m not one of those artists who will say “it’s the best work I’ve ever done!” because sonically you’re always thinking in different ways, and I still play them acoustically at my live gigs, because I like representing that.
J: Do you have plans to make a full album?
B: Yeah of course! Hopefully the success of this helps me make connections, but an album would have to come out on a record label, which I’d completely welcome. They’d have to be a part of the project, and that would be my best pop moment. It’s not what I want to do forever, my favourite artists are still Rufus Wainwright and Fiona Apple and Regina Spektor, and I’m sure I’ll just end up back at the piano. I have no plans to make the live gigs with backing tracks or anything like that. I love that there’s a party and a narrative on this EP but that’s the only place you’ll get it, and the video clips I guess, but the party for me lives on that CD and the project and I’ve finished it.
J: I think we’ve talked about how, especially in Australia, men are really reticent to label their music as “pop”, and always have to put a spin on it. Why do you think that is, and do you think that is due to the fact that pop is seen as “queer” or “feminine” kind of interest/labour?
B: Yeah… I think radio station programmers and magazine editors are terrified their audience might get a whiff of something being too “gay”. And therefore it can’t be seen. It’s too camp, or too outspoken… like get fucked, y’know? Really, all of that media needs to grow up here, because we’re just perpetuating this very ironic pop sensibility which is surrounding me and I can’t get away from it! You either love it and you’re wild about it or you don’t like it. But you give it this spin of “they don’t MEAN it. They’re not REALLY dancing, they’re not really wearing that fashion, it’s just a joke…”
J: Like Client [redacted]
B: [laughs] Yes, and Kirin J [redacted]! Gimme a fuckin break. Why do you have to steal my experience and culture…well we could go into a further conversation about white gay guys stealing it from other people, but, just to feel that taken away from you and succeeding on this huge level, everyone can do that. Everyone can dress up and pretend to play pop and have a slap bass player in their band. It’s always with a wink…like that attitude of “but not really! We’re not really like Queen!” That’s why when a band like Queen comes along, there is no comparison, because it’s not ironic.
J: There’s a lot of rhetoric around musical spaces right now that trade off on the idea of “safety” or comfortability, and now that has almost become commodified, that concept of the safe space. It’s like, our “band is creating a safe space!” but can you actually provide that in the end? So I was really glad when I went to your show and felt relaxed and happy and it was fun, and that requires a lot of risk to build that setting.
B: Yeah for sure, and they’re always going to be like that first queer meeting you try and set up in high school… there’s going to be five people there the first time, but that grows, and what I would love to sort of sew is this idea of when you come to a Brendan Maclean gig it is a safe space. That requires some more work from my perspective, I always make sure that’s disability access to everybody, and of course it would be great if every show I played would have unisex bathrooms and modern bathroom politics. Because not many of them do. A lot of the time I don’t even know where to start – who do I talk to at the kings cross hotel for example? Who do i talk to at oxford arts factory to make sure the bathrooms are gender neutral?
J: And when you start doing that inquiry….you realise how much that isn’t a priority.
B: It’s not a priority for them.
J: Do you think people are scared of “authenticity” or earnesty in Australian music?
B: Oh yeah, it spans across everything. It’s something I’m aware of in this release week, and this is really important for other peoples sense of esteem and mental health is when things are good, you present them as incredible, and everything’s hyperbolic….you don’t tell people you just had a shitty gig.
J: There isn’t as much transparency or something. Or maybe people are scared of showing that?
B: Well it’s denting this facade of…”Brendan’s career is going well!” with the truth, that we all struggle in different ways. There isn’t a huge market here to win if you do win. I had good presales! But….so what? There’s always better music to be made and a lot of struggling to be done.
Watch Maclean’s new video for FREE TO LOVE: