5 Quick Questions with……….. Joseph Brent


Joseph Brent is such an incredible, unique mandolin player that the first time I listened to him, I literally felt stunned. I had to listen again and again and again. It was unbelievably motivating. It’s an incredible moment for a musician to be moved to want to play “Right now!” and that is what Joseph Brent’s playing does for me.

I wish I could type in words exactly what it is about his playing that is so wonderful….but I can’t, and that is good for you! You need to hear is for yourself. From Nocturnes and Caprices by David Loeb to traditional tunes to the Flaming Lips it’s all over the place and it’s all fantastic!

Joseph has a brand new project called 9 Horses (here is a link to one of the tunes) with Sara Caswell and Shawn Conley. They have a gig coming up May 8th at Subculture in New York (buy discounted tickets here) and Joseph has taken time out of his busy schedule to do a “5 Quick Questions with….” and it, like his playing, is awesome!

Check out Joseph here and here and check out his “5Qs” below!

  1. What are you currently playing (mandolin brand, strings, picks etc)

My 8 and 10-string mandolins were made by Brian Dean in Cape Breton, NS, Canada. The 10-string is my main instrument in most contexts and I use it exclusively with 9 Horses now that I’ve found a capo that works with it (a cheapo plastic Dunlop guitar capo that Tom Crandall at T. R. Crandall Guitars modified for me). I use the 8-string occasionally in the studio when a brighter sound is called for. I string the 10-string with D’Addario Flat Tops and .056” singles for the low C course. The 8-string gets GHS Silk & Steels, for a little extra darkness. My main pick for both is the Blue Chip TAD 50 unbeveled, but I use TAD 60 beveled for Bach or classical music that has lots of notes and needs precision at the expense of tone or projection. With 9 Horses I also sometimes use a felt ukulele pick for strummed chords when I really want to provide a soft cushion for Sara’s violin to float over. For amplification, I use a DPA 4099G into a Mic Mechanic for reverb control, mixed about 60/40 with the Schatten pickup which goes into a Tonebone.

  1. What are you currently listening to?

Mostly the past few weeks, I’ve been listening to the mixes of the upcoming 9 Horses record! Shawn and Sara are such incredible musicians; it’s such a great feeling as a composer to write for players who don’t just play the ink, but improve everything I write (and make me look awfully smart!) by filtering it through their own individual musicality. Really looking forward to getting this record out there.

I’ve also been freaking out over the new Bjork album, which is just the greatest ever… Lately I’ve been listening to some Allan Holdsworth, who drives me crazy because it seems like a lot of whipped cream and not a lot of banana, and yet underneath the pyro is an immense musicality. So I’ve been trying to reverse engineer some of his playing to get at the good stuff that’s hidden under layers of artifice. I love the music of Ludovico Einaudi, which you’d have to classify as New Age music. Believe me; I’m as surprised as anyone else. I think he’s a real composer who happens to write such spare, elegant music that what’s left sounds like New Age even if it isn’t really. It’s really hard to write something that simple! I also just rediscovered the Peter Gabriel So album, which is unbelievably good. Dirty Projectors, Eels, my friends Kishi Bashi, Tall Tall Trees, and Elizabeth and the Catapult that I was just touring with (now THAT was a tour bus full of talent!), that amazing Hundred Waters record, Julian Lage, Richard Thompson, St. Vincent, Spoon, War On Drugs. Mountain Goats, Elliott Smith, Neutral Milk Hotel, Animal Collective, and Flaming Lips are constantly in my rotation. I’m a big runner, and when I run I listen to Supergrass or Bruce when I want a pick me up, and Sigur Rós, Brian Eno, or Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings when I need something chill.

  1. What’s your favorite beverage when picking some tunes?

My default is to something bitter and hoppy like an American IPA. Green Flash and Stone make several fantastic IPAs, which is really cool since their breweries are really close by in San Diego. I also like Smuttynose and Founder’s Centennial, or for something a bit lighter, Dogfish 60 or Racer 5. There was a time I only ever ordered IPAs, but I’m starting to grow out of that, and if I’m at an outdoor café on a nice day, a Belgian Pale Ale like Duvel or even a German Pilsner feels more right. It also depends a lot on what food I’m having with it. I’ve always believed that beer is just as appropriate with fine food as wine, it’s just not as traditional and most people don’t know enough about it to know which should be paired with which. Irish food, especially a hot bowl of potato leek soup, should of course always be paired with a pint of Guinness! About a year ago I became a vegetarian, which you’d think would make pairing more difficult but thankfully I’ve found that not to be the case!

  1. If you were to pick up your mando at this second, what tune would you play?

I always start with string crossing warm-ups, most of which I learned from Carlo Aonzo in Italy, but then I’d go right to whatever 9 Horses tune I’m working on at the moment. I usually start with a groove, or a lick that I think sounds good, or sometimes I’ll bang out a sound or chord cluster on the piano until I find something I like, or that sounds nice on my mandolin (having that 10-string really opened up a world of possibilities, and I write on it exclusively). Pretty soon, a melody will appear, and usually the form of the tune will reveal itself soon after. Then it’s just a matter of filling in the blanks. At that point, I can’t really put the instrument down until I’m done. Right now, for instance, I’m working on a tune that came to me after listening to Alexandre Desplat’s score for Zero Dark Thirty, which has this dark cello and low brass thing happening throughout, and I was trying to translate that sound to mandolin and bowed bass with violin floating above it. Still working on that one, but it’s living mostly on my low C string!

  1. What is the best advice you’ve been given?

I’ve had lots of great teachers over the years, but a friend of mine that I run with occasionally was just teaching me about hill climbing. I said I wasn’t very efficient on hills, and I can feel my form slipping halfway up the steeper ones, and she said to try not to think of it as a physical challenge. “The hill isn’t any steeper for you than it is for anyone else; the runners who are best at hill climbing are the ones who accept the challenge as it is, and enjoy the challenge rather than focus on its difficulty.” That’s some pretty good advice for running, or for practicing, or for pretty much everything else in life!

Thanks Joseph!

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