Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Interview: Brendan McCreary of Young Beautiful in a Hurry

Los Angeles-based band Young Beautiful in a Hurry have been around since 2011. Last year, they released a seven-track EP called Royalty, and now they're back in the mix with their funky single "Single Mothers." I sat down with lead singer and songwriter Brendan McCreary to talk about the new single, the band, and music in general.

No More Blood From a Clone: So how would you introduce Young Beautiful in a Hurry to someone who's never heard of them before?

Young Beautiful in a Hurry, Brendan McCreary (center).
Brendan McCreary: Arena rock for the new era? Inspired by Queen, inspired by this total rock and roll feel...But it's not like the way Wolfmother is like "yes, this is for all you Led Zeppelin fans," it's not quite like that, but it's just arena rock with a dash of pop.

NMBFC: How would you describe the personality of the band?

Brendan McCreary: It's a very jovial vibe. The core group has been together (myself, the bassist, and the drummer) basically for like six years. So the three of's like a family, yanno? I don't need to say anything, I don't need to print charts or anything, it's just like I throw a new song at them and it's instantaneous. They catch on like a well-oiled machine.

Young Beautiful in a Hurry.
Left to right: Pete Griffin, Brendan McCreary, Bryan Taylor.
NMBFC: The other guys in the band are in other bands and work as session musicians. What kind of experience do they have?

Brendan McCreary: So Bryan Taylor is a wonderful professional drummer, I'm honored to have the pleasure of working with him. Chris Norton is incredible, he's played with Zappa Plays Zappa, that was his old band. Pete Griffin has played with Dethklok, he goes on tour with like these hardcore metal bands. So Pete can play any genre, but his bread and butter is mostly in the world of metal. He recently put on Twitter like "I really like this band's new album"...and like a few weeks later, they wrote him through a private Twitter message and they're like "hey, we looked you up, you're cool, come on tour with us." They're just incredible musicians.

NMBFC: What's your musical training exactly?

Brendan McCreary: I started piano, had a few weeks of formal training, but after that, I basically taught myself everything I know. From guitar to record production to songwriting, I've never had more than a few lessons. Like I've had a handful of vocal lessons, which I quit...I'm pretty much a self-taught guy. It's always been about the inspiration through composing songs. The way Bryan sat down to become a drummer and Pete sat down to become a bassist, I sat down to become a songwriter. It only took me like thirty years. Anything I've learned, I've learned by writing songs and pushing myself and my musicianship on a technical level. I try to make more new and fundamentally challenging things in my own work just to stimulate my own growth. I used to play saxophone and I eventually quit because I couldn't sing at the same time.

NMBFC: What did you do before music or has it always been music?

Brendan McCreary: Yeah, there's nothing else [laughs]. And that's tough for me because I think a lot of people have various hobbies if not other things that they do. You know obviously I read books and I watch movies and I play video games and I like walks along the sunset beach or whatever. But that's basically all there is to it. I don't really do anything else and I really wish I did, because music is so all-encompassing and engrossing but it's also extremely difficult and I wish I had sort of a release like knitting or something else that I excelled at. But it's all music.

NMBFC: Let's just say music falls through, like you suddenly lose all your ability to do music, lose your hands, injure your vocal chords...what then?

Brendan McCreary: Um...I don't know, flipping burgers I guess.

NMBFC: You did some acting in Chillerama?

Brendan McCreary: I mean, there's a good thing, I think if I did actually lose my hands or something I would probably pursue acting...maybe? I would definitely get acting lessons. My raw talent ends with music. But like...I was in this movie and it was awesome, it was so much fun. The director is a good buddy of mine and he wrote this character for me. I actually got a few auditions based off of that movie and a couple of the directors that were involved. I never ended up getting any other roles. But I can't think of a more painful profession (other than music) than acting. I mean, that is not a glamorous life. I know it looks that way...same with music...but acting is not a glamorous life. But yes, I think I would probably go into acting if I couldn't do music.

NMBFC: So you've done a lot of work on soundtracks. How does that compare to Young Beautiful in a Hurry?

Brendan McCreary: It compares. I mean, it's virtually the exact same process. I'm the songwriter on the tv show called Defiance on Syfy network. The season two record is out May 26th (you can order it on iTunes right now) and then season three starts on June 12th. I think the only difference really is that I can take my time with YBH a little more in writing and when I'm writing for soundtracks for tv or film, there's like a hard deadline and there's a whole team of people relying on me to get those tracks in. So basically I just have to come up with something and that's it and then it's out the door. My process for writing for YBH isn't entirely different. You come up with an idea, you explore that idea, hopefully that idea becomes awesome and if it doesn't, it doesn't.

NMBFC: Do you have a favorite song that you've written for the band?

Brendan McCreary: You know, honestly, it would have to be our most recent release, which is "Single Mothers." I think that is my favorite tune and it's sort of the jewel in my crown. I've been writing that song for a very long time and it's sort of my magnum opus. I'm not saying it's the best thing I'll have ever written before or hence, but it's definitely my favorite tune that we've done thus far.

NMBFC: So obviously "Single Mothers" comes from a very personal place. What inspired you to take on this topic in song and were you afraid it would be too personal for mass appeal?

Brendan McCreary: I mean, first of all [laughs], I don't worry too much about mass appeal at this point in my career. I would love to worry about it more but at the same time, if you're an artist and you have something to say that's just all there is to it. Obviously I was raised by a single mother, so that was clearly my inspiration for the tune. I've wanted to write "Single Mothers" for a very long time, possibly more than a decade, I don't know. It's just been kind of been rolling around back there. I knew if I was gonna do it it would have to be awesome and I didn't quite think that I had the vernacular to do it or the abilities to do it so I kind of put it off. After I got out of school, I became a preschool music teacher and I ended up meeting tons of single moms and being very close friends with them, and that inspired me more. Because to have a single mom is different than knowing as friends, as equals. Your parents, in the best of all possible worlds are always omnipotent. They don't tell you about their problems, you never see them cry, they never tell you they're sorry or whatever, yanno? Like they raise you, they have their hands dirty and ruin their lives for you...but yanno they're sort of these omnipotent figures a lot of times. So when I met all these other women it was so interesting to hear their stories and to see their lives and to meet their kids and to kind of learn about single moms from the ground level as opposed to being raised by one.
After a while, I was working on Royalty [Young Beautiful in a Hurry's EP available here] and I started working with drum machines and drum loops around that time, mainly when I was working on Defiance season one. I had this iPad drum machine and I came up with this beat and I was like "that's a cool beat." I flew it into Pro Tools and I just started sort of building stuff around it and somehow it became "Single Mothers." And that was the first time I ever wrote a song like that. I'd never used a drum machine to write a song, I'd never come up with a beat before ever, and I had never used drum loops before. I use them very infrequently even still. So it was this start of a new method of writing songs. Also I'd never flown stuff into Pro Tools, like I would sit and write songs for three weeks to three months on my acoustic in my living room, I would never just start producing a track right away, which is kind of the way professionals do things anyway. Like, when you're a producer, you don't have time to sit and experience your song for three months. So it was like the start of a new creative process for me and I think that's one of the reasons why it came out the way it did, because I think I just knew in the back of my head that I wasn't able to do it the way I had been doing things before.
That was all three years ago. So I wrote it and it wasn't quite good enough and I put it on the back burner. Then I came back to it, rearranged it, and then it still wasn't quite good enough. And then it came time for whatever reason, I knew Mother's day was coming up, it just came time to get this song out into the world. I started working with this producer and extremely famous jazz musician, John Beasley. He used to play with Miles Davis, he played with Sérgio Mendes, he plays with Herbie Hancock. He's all over the place, everybody in town loves and knows this guy, world famous musician. We started working together and he was gonna arrange the horns for me. In about five minutes he took the tune from eighty-five percent and made it a hundred and ten percent. He refused to take a production credit on it. I wanted to give him one but he wouldn't have it.
So it was about three years in the making, nearly. The inspiration simply just came from having a single mom that I loved very much and love very much. I don't think there's any single mom anthems out there. Towards the end of the process, I was like "how many single mom songs are there?" and I looked it up and there's just like a couple hip-hop tracks. If you look it up on iTunes, there might be one or two songs called "Single Moms" maybe. There's not a whole lot of content out there for these women. For me, I was just really passionate about single moms and I think that came from working with so many of them. I hope a lot of them can hear it because I think it will help them out. I think they all need a helping hand. The lyrics are super brutal if you listen to them, they're not like sunshine and rainbows. It's like hard work. I wanted to make sure the song, as dancey and poppy and as celebrational as it is, was super real. I didn't want to dramatize or hyperbolize or glamorize the world of being a single mom.

NMBFC: So how do you think having a single mom has influenced your life and how has it effected your views on women?

Brendan McCreary: I think it's influenced my life in as many ways as it can possibly be influential. I didn't have a dad around all the time. You know, my dad is around, he's always been around, it wasn't like a bad situation. My dad and my mom just weren't compatible and they're good friends so in that regard I'm extremely fortunate. I think there's a lot of very unfortunate single mothers and children out there that have shitheads for dads or dads that aren't...whatever, yanno? I don't wanna get all preachy about it.
But mother was an artist. She was an author, is an author. She had a house and she provided for my brother and I, being an author. And every day I saw her put us through school get us breakfast, get us out the door and then she'd be working on her books. So, I lived with an author, I lived with an artist. I mean, that's all there is to it. She allowed me to daydream, she allowed me to be what I wanted to be. I wish she had been harder on me, looking back on it. But I think she celebrated the fact that my brother and I were musicians. She always encouraged us. When she realized that I was never going to be like a professional classical pianist and when I was just pounding on it and singing all of the time she was just like "Alright. You're gonna do this." When I told her I was gonna be a rockstar in eighth grade, she was just like "Okay. You're still gonna go to school." Without my mom, I would be nothing. She did everything for me.
As far as women are concerned, I wonder what it would have been like having a dad around. I remember as a kid, she just put the fear of God in me about women, "you respect women." It took me 'till late in high school and even some into college to realize that women are fallible human beings. I remember her, as a child, lecturing me on women all the time. It doesn't mean that I'm not a total asshole, like I've been a jerk to girls, I've broken up with girls, I've been a butthole like every other man. But I do love women and I do have a very strange way of dealing with them and existing with them. I don't think I'm an average guy when it comes to how I work with and associate with ladies and I definitely know that is all my mother's impact for better or for worse.

NMBFC: Let's talk more about the Royalty EP. My favorite track is the first one, "Stuck on the Girl." What can you tell us about that?

Brendan McCreary: That tune came from a crush that I had and it was completely unrequited to this day. It's such a weird song because at the end of the day it's kind of creepy if you pull it apart. Kind of like in the way that "Every Breath You Take" is a creepy song. Where it's just like "Wait a minute, Sting, what the f*** are you talking about?" Here's this ballad anthem that everyone knows and slow-danced to in the 80s. But then when you stop and look at the lyrics, it's like "this is f***ed up." So it's kind of a fetishized viewpoint from the narrator, didn't get that bad [laughs]. But it's that the girl's very cruel and icy and a sheer person and this guy just can't break through. The tune was also sort of a turning point for me because Royalty was supposed to be a collection of songs that was kind of coherent both in songwriting style and production. It's a very guitar-driven album and that was the first song I wrote for that record.

It seems like "Oh Future" could be addressed to several different people. Who is "Oh Future" a message to?

Brendan McCreary: "Oh Future" is addressed to me and anyone that is extremely freaked out by their future. So anyone in their twenties, any artists: actors, authors, editors, screenwriters. Anybody in their thirties. Life is really f***ing hard for most people, for pretty much everybody. In today's culture, there's just no middle ground anymore. You turn on the tv and it's just f***ing rich people. Rich, privileged people that can pay to do amazing things all the time 'cause they got money. I watch a lot of Bollywood movies, and the other day I saw a movie and it was about poor people. I was just taken aback. If you just stop and think about it, how many Hollywood movies do you see that are about poor people or middle class people? People for whom money is not an option or a solution to their problems, because they don't have enough of it? "Oh Future" isn't necessarily an economic song, but it is basically about fear. It's a song about not knowing what lies ahead and what you can do about it. It's sort of just about throwing your hands up. "Oh future, I'm playing your games//I came in a wild one//and now I'm coming out tame" that's definitely like the line for this kind of uninformed optimism that you have as a young person. There's no other option, of course you're going to make it, of course you're going to be the next Black Keys or whomever. And then you're pushing your late twenties, you're pushing your thirties, and it's like "oh f***! Maybe I've got to come up with a plan b or something. Maybe this isn't gonna happen for me. What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to address this? Do I quit?" All these things that occur to people every minute of the day, every day of the week. It's overwhelming and it's depressing and it's stressful. Being an artist, you just have to learn to deal with that. There's kind of a silver lining to that song in the bridge. I don't even know if it's a silver lining, it might be me or the narrator of the song sort of diluting the situation but the whole "and then we'll dive into the sea//we'll fly into the breeze//somewhere we can be free." In that little bridge section there's this moment of relief from the stone cold reality of being an artist and being kind of alone in the world. I'm lucky to have gotten this job with Defiance. When I wrote "Oh Future" I was sort of pre-Defiance, and I was extremely depressed and down and I didn't know what to do. All you can really do is just hang tight.

NMBFC: I noticed with a lot of the songs on Royalty, much like with "Oh Future," that there's this uplifting sound contrasted with kind of sad or downtrodden lyrical narrative. What can you say about that contrast on the EP as a whole?

Brendan McCreary: That's kind of like what I do. I just do it kind of naturally. "Single Mothers" is a great example, I discussed it earlier. You've got this anthemic, huge, celebrational Prince pop rock tune...and the lyrics are like: "24 hours//you've gotta wipe the sweat right off of your brow//there's work to be done and no one else can do it quite like you." That's a really brutal line and it's super sad. It makes me wanna cry just saying it. It's sad and it's beautiful. But it's hard. So, I do that on everything and Royalty is no exception. I just like the counterpoint. As an artist, if you want to convey something dark, it doesn't have to be a "dark song" If you have a sad song, it doesn't have to be a "sad song." Life is very varied and situations are never ever cut and dry and super simple to understand. It just creates (in my mind, anyway) a richness in storytelling. It just creates depth, and if you're not interested in the depth, you don't have to dive in and if you are, it's there for you.
One of the things that I was really shocked by when Royalty first came out, a lot of people were coming back to me and saying "I'm so inspired by this song, it's so positive." And I was like "I'm really glad to hear that" because I was not in a positive place when I wrote it. But I'm glad. A lot of people said that to me and I was shocked. I do think also that instruments and music tell story, it's not just lyrics that tell the story. A lot of times, if you just read lyrics, they suck. But when you pair it with a song, the simplest of lyrics become so powerful. That's kind of where it comes from for me, is just creating a layer and kind of a counterpoint. If you have very sad lyrics, I don't want to necessarily saturate it in sad music because that's just going to be way too sad.

NMBFC: It sort of creates a strength through adversity kind of feeling.

Brendan McCreary: Sure, yeah.

NMBFC: Okay, so cover songs. You've done a lot of really cool ones, including "Say Say Say" and "Don't Stop Me Now." But let's say you were only able to be a cover band from one musical body from now on. Who would that be?

Brendan McCreary: Obviously it would have to be Queen. [The Show Must Go On is] this Queen gig that my brother and I put together for an AIDS benefit. It was the twentieth anniversary of Freddie [Mercury]'s passing. We put together this band of ultimate badasses. I played Freddie for the evening. We had three of some of the best guitarists in the world, most notoriously a guy named Mike KeneallyBrendon Small from Dethklok, and a guy named Rick Musallam, who's a huge session cat out here in L.A. We had four backing vocalists, a bassist, my brother was on keys, and a drummer. Effectively what we put together was...a one night only...Queen festival. We sold out the Roxy. It was all non-profit, we were raising money for AIDS Project L.A. and it was one of the most amazing nights of my life. We never did it again, I've been trying to put it together every year but everyone's so busy. But that was probably the best night of Queen music since Queen broke up and I will f***ing stick by that. It was an amazing night and it was a total love bath.

Brendan McCreary: It was just this wonderful experience and people were coming up to me and embracing me afterwards. It was sold out and after the show had ended, everyone stayed! Just holding each other and loving each was one of the most magical nights of my entire life and I will never forget it. I would definitely do anything to re-live those moments again.

NMBFC: You say you're influenced by Queen obviously, as well as David Bowie, Elvis, and Aretha Franklin. Who are some artists you listen to now?

Brendan McCreary: I don't really have an answer that would sort of represent what I do...My favorite contemporary artist is Major Lazer, honestly. I don't make DJ music, I don't make dance hall music- I f***ing love Major Lazer. I am just like hook, line and sinker addicted to them. I can't wait for their new album. But other than that, I don't have like a band that I like listen to actively. Like, I have my eye on Bruno Mars, I really respect Bruno Mars. I would love to get into the ring with him one day and duke it out. I'm hoping great things come out of Bruno Mars. I think he's getting into that position where like one more album and he'll be able to do whatever he wants to do. Like, he's right there, he can do something awesome.

NMBFC: So what's down the road for Young Beautiful in a Hurry?

Brendan McCreary: A lot of singles. I'm going to be spending a lot of time in the studio this year, we've got two new singles coming out throughout summer. I'm not really interested in cutting a record at all. Records are expensive, they are less effective these days. That saddens me because I think records are awesome. I grew up in a super old school way and I consume music in a very old school fashion. I think there's people like me out there, but I think the vast majority of people are Spotify users and Pandora users and iTunes one-or-two-songs-off-the-album-buyers. So that's why I'm putting out singles. I'm doing these songs that I think will be great and awesome and I'm gonna put them out there so that people actually listen to them. Instead of releasing a ton of great songs on an album and maybe they get the album and maybe they don't. So that's the plan for now is just pumping out singles.

NMBFC: Is there anything else my readers should know about Young Beautiful in a Hurry?

Brendan McCreary: Check us out and spread the word, especially if any of your readers have single moms or moms in general!

NMBFC: Thank you!

If you'd like to check out Young Beautiful in a Hurry, you can find their music on iTunes and Bandcamp.

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