Full Moon: The Songwriting Quest Of Bruno Major

Escaping the major label treadmill to focus on something highly creative...

While the one-song-per-month model is a cheap gimmick for some artists, it wound up being a much-needed salve and a true reinvention for London singer-songwriter Bruno Major. After a nasty situation with a label in which he saw an entire catalogue worth of songs go unreleased, Major needed to reignite his creative fire, and did so with his A Song For Every Moon collection, the latest of which, ‘Cold Blood’, was released on July 21st.

The tracks are powerful by themselves, sobering, dusky musings powered largely by scraps of haunting piano and Major’s tremendous vocals. In its entirety though, A Song for Every Moon truly does sound like an artist growing and reckoning with their past both personally and professionally. Major is an incredibly intimate artist and every track here feels like a private confessional meant only for your ears. After listening to the project it’s easy to see how it has allowed Major to build a massive grassroots fan base, thanks in no small part to his penchant for landing tracks on some of the streaming world’s most visible playlists.

With just one track remaining in the series, Major took some time to speak with us about how the project changed his lifestyle, which tracks were the hardest to craft, and what advice he would give to fellow musicians considering a similar challenge.

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Where did the initial idea to do a song-per-month style release come from?

I basically had this epiphany whilst I was in L.A. I just realized that everything works in patterns. Electrons, neutrons, planets moving around suns, suns moving around the centre of the galaxy.

In addition I just felt like I was constantly working towards this album, this final end goal of creating an album and it felt intimidating and I thought it would be a nice way to kick stuff out and not worry about it being perfect.

When I first started writing songs I would finish writing then record it live on my iPhone and upload it to SoundCloud and then I got embroiled when I signed a deal and had to make an album and got hidden away and I missed that. [These tracks] aren’t throwaways but it’s much more close to the way I used to make music.

How did the way that people consume music nowadays factor into putting this project together versus releasing the entire project at once as a concept album based around the phases of the moon?

I didn’t think about it like that but it has worked out looking at the way people react to things. A month seems like a really great period of time.

Everyone’s so busy that if you send them a link and say, ‘Here’s my EP or my album’ they don’t have an hour to check out the project, but if you send them something that says, ‘Here’s my new track,’ they’ll totally listen at least once.

And the coolest thing about it was I put out a song like 'Home' and that was an acoustic thing and that went on the acoustic playlists and 'Easily' was on the R&B playlists, so each song has its own little trajectory on the Internet.

I’ve been doing a lot of work every month trying to get this done and I’ve become a better musician as a result of it.

My manager pointed out that if you look at the titles of the songs in chronological order it charts a failed relationship really perfectly from infatuation to it all going horribly wrong. I didn’t mean that to happen, but maybe it was subconscious.

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I’ve become a better musician as a result of it…

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One component of this project was the monthly residency at Zigfrid von Underbelly. How did knowing you had to perform these tracks live impact the writing process?

I didn’t put any thought whatsoever into how they were going to be played live. Most of the songs were written on the piano at home, a few were written on the guitar, but they all had to stand up as a song that I could sit and play on an open mic night as a solo artist. I wanted the songs to stand up in their own way, all the production and sounds and electronic beats that really came after I’d written the song itself. It’s quite different than the recording, it’s much more raw.

How do you feel that you’ve changed most as an artist throughout the process of writing and releasing these tunes from the start of the project to the finish? What do you think you’ve most gained from the process?

I’ve always had an issue, and I think a lot of people are the same way, with never thinking what you make is good enough. That comes from perfectionism rather than self-doubt, although I do have that, everyone does.

Doing this has just forced me [to put out music], knowing that at the end of the month something is going to go on the Internet whether it’s really good or really bad and I actually found that pressure really inspiring. You learn to love the imperfections. Some of my favourite albums like the White Stripes and Bob Dylan and Nick Drake, all of these things, most of the jazz I listen to is live recordings, there are mistakes all over [these projects]; that’s what makes it special.

There are people who say that giving yourself arbitrary deadlines can often hinder creativity so I’m curious how you feel that impacted your coming up with subject matter and recording tracks.

For the first seven months it was so easy, I would go through each song and it was great and people were listening to it and liking it and everything was going really well. Suddenly I got to ‘Fair Weather Friend’ and all of the sudden everything ground to a halt. I think because by that point there were actually people listening to [the project]… I’d be recording a song with my co-producer and I’d just hate it, I had a minor meltdown but eventually we managed to get it together and put together something that I was really happy with and that’s why that one came out a little late.

I had to change my lifestyle a little bit, stop going out, stop drinking so much, go to the gym everyday and up my mental discipline. It was that feeling of it being Wednesday night and all your homework is due but times 365.

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You learn to love the imperfections…

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Why the full moon? Are you interested in astrology or lunar phases?

I had this really crazy experience on DMT when I was in L.A. and I saw how things work and patterns and orbits and everything works in these geometric ways. We are the universe and the universe is us and the way that I release music now is in tune with all of that.

What is a month? What is a year? A year is the time it takes to travel around the sun, and a month is the time it takes the moon to travel around the earth. They’re not arbitrary, they’re real events that happen so it seemed appropriate.

You hadn’t released a ton of music in the months and years leading up to A Song for Every Moon. What were you doing during that time period that led to less output from you?

I went through a really horrible experience with a label where I was making an album and it never came out. It was really tough and I got dropped and I didn’t have any money, it was a really hard thing. That inspired me to do this as well; the idea of making an album was kind of tainted by that whole thing.

In that experience I’d written so many songs, nearly 400, that I have on my laptop that are just sitting there. A whole catalogue, albums and albums worth of stuff and I had to get it out. This isn’t an album though, it’s [more of] a collection.

Are the songs going to be changed at all from when they were initially released when you finally do package them together into one release? I know you said that there are little elements you’d go back and tweak if you could.

I wouldn’t want to touch it now, each song has memories in it. I wouldn’t change them.

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It’s hard to forget the history of a song.

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Which was the easiest track to put together? Which was the most challenging?

The easiest ones were the ones that I wrote in the month itself like 'Just The Same' for example. I’d been in the studio all day trying to write a song and nothing happened and I had this really fruitless day and went home all frustrated and it was cold and I had my coat on and I sat down at the piano in my flat at midnight and I just kind of threw up this song fully formed, like a baby, in like 20 minutes. And I recorded it the next day and I sent it off to be mixed the day after that and kind of took the rest of the month off.

The hardest ones were the ones I’d written a while ago because they had baggage. It’s hard to forget the history of a song.

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‘Second Time’ is one of my favourite tracks that you’ve done and I know that was an unreleased song written by a friend of yours. Could you tell me about how adding that wrinkle impacted how you approached putting that song together relative to the other songs in the project?

I’d known about that song for ages because my friend Jonny [Lattimer] had written it and I’d always wanted to release it. I couldn’t believe that nobody else had recorded it because it’s such a beautiful song and I just asked him if he’d mind me doing it, and he said yes. It’s tied in with the residency I’m doing in Hoxton where I play a live set, but also invite up friends and people I respect on a musical level to perform with me, and it tied into that whole thing of sharing and promoting music that I really feel means something to me.

‘Places We Won’t Walk’ was actually a poem that my friend Phairo had written; he’s the guy that I co-produce all of my music with. He showed me this poem when he broke up with his girlfriend and I just thought it was the most beautiful, tragic thing I’ve ever heard.

I think he wrote that poem around February and then he showed it to me and I was like wow that’s amazing and when it came around to that track I was going through a breakup and I channelled those words and they became meaningful to me as well.

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I was a jazz musician before I was a songwriter…

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You’re a very visual lyricist, especially on a track like ‘Wouldn’t Mean A Thing’. I’m curious how you craft those metaphors and what the process of channelling emotion into something more metaphorical is like for you.

That’s always the way I’ve written. I was a jazz musician before I was a songwriter so I learned to play all those great American songbook songs like Cole Porter and Jimmy Van Heusen… In my opinion [those kinds of songs] are the greatest ever written, and my writing style stems from that.

'Wouldn’t Mean A Thing' doesn’t have verses and a chorus in a traditional pop way there are some words and then they come back to a tag-line.

Lyrically, where does the inspiration for ‘Home’ come from? It feels like this almost period-piece love story.

I actually wrote that with my best friend Dan McDougall and he was the guy who kind of taught me how to write songs, but we basically decided to write a Billy Joel ballad. I’d read this thing where the Beatles would write a song in the style of someone else, like a Woody Guthrie song or a Beach Boys song and it was their way of getting out of their own box. Sometimes when you’re writing for yourself you think about how it would fit in your own catalogue and, ‘Would I sing this verse?’ and all these things go through your head.

And because we were writing in the style of him it became this really freeing exercise.

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I’ve made a lot of sacrifices…

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There’s a kind of hip-hop feel to the percussion on ‘Like Someone In Love’ and ‘Easily’. How did the production on those tracks coalesce and how did you kind of tweak the standard sound palette of a singer-songwriter?

That really came from the guy I co-produced it with, he’s an amazing producer but he’s really influenced by Mount Kimbie and Kendrick Lamar.

Often I feel like singer-songwriter music has beats but they’re in the background, like a token part of the music. I wanted it to be loud, I love Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, J Dilla, NWA, I wanted that to be a part of it. Also, I had no money so I couldn’t afford studio time and record real drum kits so we just had electronic drums.

If a singer-songwriter you know told you they were considering doing a similar, write-record-release a song a month project like you are what advice would you be sure to give them?

Don’t do it. [Laughs] Just be prepared because it’s a really intense thing. I haven’t really done anything else for the last year; pretty much every day has been dedicated towards this. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices; I haven’t gone anywhere I haven’t travelled. I had a Glastonbury ticket I had to give away because I hadn’t finished my song that month. It’s been tough but also the most rewarding experience of my life.

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Stay in touch with Bruno Major HERE.

Words: Grant Rindner

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