Brendan Brisk’s latest full-length release, Relaxylvania, has recently been nominated as Album of the Year by the Electric City Music Conference. Self-described as “NEPA-core, Alternative Polka, Susquehanna Jamma,” Brisk’s ode to his home state involved a four year creation period, entire team of NEPA talent, and even a little bit of moon magic. NEPAudio had the chance to ask Brisk about the nomination, album, and beyond:
Relaxylvania has been nominated for the Electric City Music Conference’s (ECMC) Album of the Year. Tell us about how that feels and what the conference means to you.
BB: It feels awesome to be nominated. There are so many talented individuals in Northeast PA and I’m glad there’s a platform to recognize and honor them. I also feel like the ECMC is a great way to find out about new bands and artists, so I’m super thankful to be a part of this year’s nominees.
How long have you been composing music? How long ago did you begin the composition to Relaxylvania before it’s May release?
BB: I have been creating music in my head for as long as I can remember, however, I started composing in high school once I began taking music a bit more seriously. I think everyone has the power to imagine great music, but moving it out of your mind and into the physical world is a great process. Usually within that process, my ideas morph into their own entities, which is exactly what happened with Relaxylvania. The album immediately started being written in 2016 after the release of “Astral Counterfeit” which was an entirely solo effort. I knew I wanted my second album to be collaborative, and it took about four years to finally put out a collection of songs that I thought were complete. In hindsight, it took a long time to finish, but I’m also a bit of a perfectionist.
Can you give us a quick introduction to the contributors of Relaxylvania?
BB: The first person I asked to be on the album was saxophonist Ross LeSoine. He’s an incredible musician with an outstanding tone. Justin Malinowski’s performance on “Renounce All Evil” speaks for itself: he is an extraordinary drummer. Bernard Gavlick added a beautiful swing to “Bring Me Down” which changed the song completely. He is an insanely creative bass player and an amazing artist. Miles Orfanella is a top-tier musician, and his trumpet playing and harmony ideas take our music to the next level. His solos push me to hopefully one day reach his ability.
Aidan Morda and Angelo Miraglia both added keys to the album and nailed their parts effortlessly: I knew Miraglia would bring “Renounce All Evil” to life, and Morda would help sculpt “What Do I Have” into a great song. I have been fortunate enough to work with Jordan Ramirez in the past and he is one of the coolest, nicest humans on this planet. Once I wrote the beat for “Simulator” I knew he had to be on it. My cousin Kati McManus never recorded music before, but when I asked her to sing backup vocals on “What Do I Have,” she killed it.
Mark Wohl engineered some of the drum recordings during a lunar eclipse and I believe it added some mojo to the tracks. He’s an unparalleled sound engineer and awesome human. I believe that every person I worked with on this album has something magical about them and it helped make Relaxylvania something unique and special.
Were these people you’ve worked with musically before, not at all, a mix, and how do you think that dynamic contributed to Relaxylvania’s creative process?
BB: A mix of both, for sure. Once I formed The Brendan Brisk Blues Band in 2018 with Bernie and Justin, it helped change my musical direction. The band was supposed to be a one-time psychedelic blues thing, but once Miles hopped on, I realized we had so much more to offer than blues. We became BBBB, and that’s when we got jazzy and experimental, which helped sculpt this album into something bigger than I originally planned. I had worked with LeSoine previously and was super psyched to have him involved. Ramirez and I played in a couple of bands together after college and I have always been a huge fan of his work. Angelo’s playing has always been inspiring to me, so being able to work with him was awesome. I feel ridiculously fortunate to have worked with some of my favorite musicians. The collaborative effort on this album really helped take the weight off producing considering everyone executed their parts so well.
There is a considerable variety of musical styles and genres on the album. How would you describe the sound of Relaxylvania?
BB: Psychedelic, Trip Pop, Art Funk, NEPA-core, Alternative Polka, Susquehanna Jamma
Can you name some inspirations for Relaxylvania: musically and beyond?
BB: The wilderness of Pennsylvania, outer space, inner space, things that exist beyond our senses, love, and life experiences that were strong enough to write songs about them. Musically I was inspired by Tame Impala, Esperanza Spalding, The Beatles, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Nick Hakim to name a few.
What is what you think is the top crowd-pleaser track on the album & why? Does it differ from your personal favorite track?
BB: “Fanfare” is definitely the crowd-pleaser: it’s that groove. That groove can’t be messed with, and it’s actually the first song written for the album.
“Chai Tea/Tai Chi” has always been my favorite track on the album because it’s exactly how I wanted it to sound. It’s a bit experimental, so I don’t expect everyone else to love it, but I don’t think I have ever been more proud of a song. It’s just unlike anything else. The first half is earthy and grounded like Chai Tea and the second half is flowing and cosmic like Tai Chi.
You mentioned that it has been difficult to promote Relaxylvania during this time. What are some ways you’ve found more successful that you’d share with fellow musicians struggling at this time?
While I’m still trying to figure it out in some capacity, the internet is where a lot of music business takes place now, and you just gotta spread your content out there. It’s a lot of work to constantly push your art, but if you think the art is worthwhile and can make the world a better place, then you need to push it no matter what. I have a pretty big distaste for how people use social media to spread a lot of opinionated misinformation and pessimism, but it’s also an invaluable tool for any DIY musician. If you think your music is worth something, just keep pushing it online, baby! Reddit, YouTube, Bandcamp, Facebook, Instagram etc. Google your way into the stratosphere and make connections with anyone you think will dig your art: that goes for music and beyond.
What are you missing most about performance right now? What are you doing to make up for it?
BB: The sense of community. There are so many of us that feel the most at home while seeing live music or performing, and for me, it‘s both. So mostly I miss seeing like-minded people and being able to provide music, however, I also feel like my band had a great momentum going before quarantine hit. Our last show was at the River Street Jazz Cafe in Plains with one of my favorite local PA bands YAM YAM, and it was a packed show. It was such a good time, and I wanted to keep that momentum going by playing as many live shows as we could to spread the word about the new album. Quarantine is our reality right now, though, and I’ve been hard at work on a bunch of new material. It puts me in a positive headspace and keeps me busy.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
BB: My biggest hope is that my music takes people away from all the day-to-day bullshit and helps place them in a creative, inspired, or atmospheric headspace. That free feeling that human beings should always feel (as opposed to the things and ideas that box us in and make us frustrated cave people). Turn off the news, throw your phone in another room, take a hike, create something, and appreciate this big ass rock that spins in the cosmos for us.
This human experience is way too short to be spent worrying about material things and societal pressures. Spice up ya life like Spice Girls and enjoy yourself, maybe give Relaxylvania a spin!