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Brendan Maclean is a risk-taker

I’m ready to stop the high-kicks, and deliver great songs. I don’t need that showmanship anymore.”

Brendan Macleanis a risk-taker. It’s evidenced in almost every aspect of his life – from his musical evolution to his breakfast order of white toast and Vegemite.
 
“When I play by myself, there’s a sense of showmanship in the recording,” Maclean says. “When I record by myself, there’s generally no click track, few edits, there are few eyes on it before it goes to recording. As much as I loved the chance to record my [early] EPs with just my uke or piano, they’re not my best work because I wasn’t challenged.
 
“It’s the same on stage. You have to write a better song when you play with a band. I’ve always been a songwriter, and I feel I can play my music on anything. If I wrote it on a uke, I could play it on piano, I could turn it into a dance track. But with a band, there’s a responsibility to write damned good music.”
 
This isn’t to say that Maclean has tired of his body of work, or that he has become dissatisfied with showcase performances. But to observe his projects and collaborations over the last few years, one cannot help but feel he’s been restlessly trying to find something that gelled. Through his exhaustive run of performances for disco-musical Velvet, to his enviable partnership with Amanda Palmer (of the Dresden Dolls), he has been shape-shifting. Now, thanks to an Australia Council grant, his debut album will show the artist in full.
 
“Because of the grant I got to make the album I’ve always wanted to. I’m doing a couple of solo gigs, because it’s the end of a ten-year chapter of me generally performing solo, putting out stuff that’s my voice with a track. But this is 100% band, if there are synths they’re real synths, produced over in Camperdown. My producer is Sarah Belkner, she did the whole thing and it’s beyond my wildest dreams. We have a little history. She did ‘The Feeling Again’ on one of my EPs, and I’m singing on her current album, a track called ‘Time’. I was opened up to a wonderful world of musicians through Sarah, and I’ve felt included in the Sydney music scene again by getting up and performing with her, by going out and seeing gigs again.
 
“I think in Sydney we try to reach into the next tier of success, for a more successful artist to grab onto, and in doing that fail to build our own network,” Maclean says. “While I was writing [2016’s] funbang1, that was all set up through publishing, and I love that record and performing it, but it was set up through people that I didn’t know. When it was finished, I remember sitting in my room thinking, “Yay?” There was nobody there I’d worked on it with, nobody to celebrate it with. And now we’ve finished this album, it just needs to be mastered, and no songs were written before May. I’ve put so much love into the music of it.”
 
While the Chapel show will act as a kind of Best Of denouement to this stage of Maclean’s life, it’s hard to imagine him turning his back on solo performances forever. He’s so good at it, for one thing. But it also allows him to exercise a unique musical muscle that has informed his future collaborations, and will arguably see him continue to evolve as this fresh chapter unfolds.
 
“I think everyone knows I have a habit of throwing everything but the kitchen sink into my pop songs, and Sarah Belkner is the queen of space. She’s looked at my early folk stuff, like ‘Stupid’, stuff like ‘Tectonic’, and spent time coming to my gigs and looking at the audience, trying to figure out how the hell she was going to blend them all together. And a band was the answer. To provide that energy my audience has, but to move on from the backing tracks,” Maclean says.
 
“It’s a very bespoke album. We started with pen, paper and a piano. Everything was written from the ground up. We went really deep into the lyrics, into these beautiful places I’ve never been to before. I’m ready to stop the high-kicks, and deliver great songs. I don’t need that showmanship anymore.”

Brendan Maclean will perform as part of Chapel Off Chapel’s summer sessions on Saturday January 27.