Interview by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
Music is something that’s around you from practically the moment you’re born. It’s something you grow up with, absorbing, some you take into your heart and head and love from the first moment you hear it, other pieces just get discarded immediately. Once in a while you hear an artist who truly makes you catch your breath, bringing that indefatigable ‘something’ that utterly captivates you and won’t let go. Doris Brendel is one such artist.
Having spent her career appearing alongside such stellar names as Gary Moore, Steve Marriot, Sam Brown, Nils Lofgren and Marillion, she has been carving her own reputation into Mount Rushmore sized monuments with her titular band, alongside her musical partner, the multi-instrumentalist Lee Dunham.
With a voice that has the rough–edged soulfulness of Janice Joplin mixed with her own wonderous fire, Brendel has been much in demand and seen treading the highways and byways all over Europe, her steam-punk stage–show full of spectacle. Recently seen as both the support for and part of the band, she has worked extensively with Fish and appears on his forthcoming, final, album ‘Weltschmerz’. Busy as ever, despite the current situation, she took a little time out to catch us up with what she’s been up to recently.
First off, and most importantly: How are you doing?
Good! I’m not one to get bored & generally enjoy life. The weather’s been pretty great. I live in the country with lovely walks on my doorstep. Compared to many I have no right to complain.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXKceYraqag&w=560&h=315]
How have you been keeping yourself busy?
To be honest, in the same way I usually do. When I’m not on the road, I’m at home writing and recording, as well as marketing my releases and coming up with artwork ideas. I also enjoy editing videos and have been doing a fair bit of that. The lockdown gave us the chance to finish the latest album ‘Mass Hysteria’ ahead of schedule, and with a month away from release, I’m extremely busy pulling it all together, dealing with pre-orders etc.
I’ve also started another acoustic project. I did one last year after the festival season finished and, for the first time, recorded an entire album solo at home. It was immensely enjoyable and concentrated much more on lyrics and stories. Luckily, it was very well received, so I’m on the next one now.
Have you been doing any online live shows or seen any good ones?
I meant to! I even started rehearsing up an acoustic set with the intention of sending it to a few other musicians for remote ‘live’ sessions. But I confess I got distracted with new song ideas, and decided to put my energies into those instead, as well as finishing the studio album.
I think it was the right thing to do as people seem to be crying out for new albums since lockdown. I also noticed that in the early days of the pandemic social media was awash with live sessions and you can have too much of a good thing. I skimmed several of these, but once I start a project, I pay little attention to others… Very selfish I know.
Have you had to change your way of writing material?
Writing no. But we did have to be more inventive with the recording. We were on tour with Fish when mass gatherings were banned and came back 3 weeks early. I immediately travelled to Lee Dunham’s studio to record my vocals and managed to complete 7 of 11 tracks.
The rest we’d scheduled in for the following week, but the lockdown came into action. We got around it by couriering the studio mic over to my house and I recorded the remaining vocals there – not something we’d ever tried before, but it worked remarkably well.
Ever since recording last year’s acoustic album, I realised that I can do a great deal from home, so it’s been less of a shock to the system. Luckily, we’d already recorded the drums and bass before heading off on tour, so vocals and keyboards could be done remotely.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnpaKs5h7l0&w=560&h=315]
Do you keep in touch with your fellow bandmates / other musicians much?
All the time! We usually spend a few months a year on tour, so I try to involve them as much as possible in the album release and keep them updated on a regular basis. My musicians and crew are very much an extended family to me.
What plans have you had to change this year?
Touring, touring and touring. Our March tour was curtailed. The festivals have been postponed to next year. And the scheduled tour for October-December with Fish is unlikely to go ahead. The risks are just too great. Not just to our health, but also the uncertainties of possible lockdowns, spikes and quarantines make it financially unviable. I fear without a vaccine or a very good treatment, this sector is in big trouble. A lot has been rescheduled to 2021, so let’s hope this will become a reality next year.
It’s sad, but I believe that making yourself miserable over things you cannot change, is a waste of effort. We’ve already decided that if all touring this year is cancelled, we will crack on with the next album instead and write and record a new batch of songs.
What do you think of the social distancing gigs (like the one that happened in Kansas recently – 229 people in a 1,100-seat venue) or the thought of drive-in gigs as has just been announced by Live Nation?
Em. I have mixed feelings. Nothing wrong with it per se. But I feed off a live crowd during a show, and I cannot imagine the vibe would be that great. I’d still try it though. In fact, we’ve been talking about doing one as some stage in the future to see what it’s like.
But it’s not a solution. Venues can only do it if they have some serious sponsorship or if they charge ridiculous ticket prices. And doing a whole ‘distancing’ tour is a non-starter. You simply wouldn’t be able to break even, let alone make some money. It’s a stop gap.
How do you think the music industry will have changed after this period of lockdown?
Depends on how quickly we get a vaccine. Without one, live shows will be rare and impersonal. The longer it continues, the fewer venues will survive. Conversely, if/once we do get back to a point where we stop fearing infection, I think people will enjoy shows even more than they did before. At least for a while.
But while there are no gigs, peoples’ appetite for music has noticeably grown. Sales since the lockdown have been brilliant, with a lot of brand-new listeners checking out my albums. Silver linings.
What plans have you got for when the isolation finishes and gigs start back up again?
The writing part will continue regardless of what happens. But it’s all about touring. We currently have some UK gigs with Fish booked in February. Summer festivals. And then a rescheduled Europe tour in Autumn. Fingers very crossed.
How can people support you during this time?
By buying the new album! And delving into the extensive back catalogue if they haven’t already. My band members are suffering to very different degrees. When the March tour was cancelled and everyone lost their month’s wages, we did a fund raiser and people were extremely generous. It helped a lot, but it’s not something that can be sustained in the long run.
Lee and I are reasonably secure and my drummer Sam quickly arranged a surprising number of Skype drum lessons. But our bass player, whose entire income was centered around live performances, has seen his world come crashing around his ears. And the keyboard player is not faring much better. Several of my musician friends have found temporary work making deliveries or working in supermarkets to make ends meet. Their future is unknown.
But of course, we’re not the only ones. So many people will lose their jobs in the months to come. I hope for a speedy vaccine, followed by some lessons learnt so that we can make something better from this bitter experience. Time will tell.
In the meantime, supporting musicians is a win win. You get great music to listen to and we get to record more.
Doris Brendel can also be found on ,Facebook / Twitter / DorisBrendel.com