California’s Aunt Cynthia’s Cabin brought their signature psychedelic, garage rock sound to the Anara Publishing roster earlier this year. We sat down with one half of the duo, Brennan Justice, as he describes how they began making music and his advice for aspiring musicians.
1. Tell us about how you started making music as Aunt Cynthia’s Cabin.
Anthony and I used to be in this 4-piece surf rock band called The Twinfins. We gigged a lot but never released any music. It sounded like a blend of 60s garage, classic surf and modern indie rock, comparable to the Allah Lahs, The Growlers, and Real Estate type stuff. As we continued to write and play together, all 4 of us began to insert ourselves more and more into the writing. It became this huge melting pot where we’d have songs that sounded like Zeppelin, others that sounded like the Ventures, it was so jumbled together none of us could really relate to it anymore.
But out of the tail end of that melting pot, there was thing kind of creepy, western lonesome desert rock sound that Anthony and I were obsessed with; we didn’t want to drop it. The other two members left the band, so Anthony and I kept writing and playing together, trying to follow this sound that we’d created with The Twinfins. And there we had it – Aunt Cynthia’s Cabin.
2. How important do you think music publishing is to emerging artists in today’s industry?
I think we’re seeing a huge shift in the industry right now where artists are choosing to do everything themselves. From recording, engineering, mixing, even mastering sometimes with those plugins people use, and now all of the business side: marketing, promotion, distribution, etc. When you’re younger you think, “oh, if I want to make it as a musician, I gotta write some really cool songs, I’ll record in a studio, send it to a label and get signed and go on tour and blah blah blah”. So you’re thinking about the music.
You’re not like, “Oh I gotta learn how a compressor works and learn graphic design for my artwork and get copyrights and register for royalties”. No young musician thinks like that, but here we are and this is how the business works now. And publishing is another one of those things that you just have to be aware of if you want to move forward.
3. What is your typical songwriting process?
I’ll sit down to write a song, its usually on an acoustic guitar I keep in my car, and I’ll just start messing around with chord changes and riffs. Then once something sticks I’ll start mumbling to myself and kind of adlib a vocal line. Usually its complete gibberish, just to get a melody down. I actually play a lot of songs live that still don’t have any real words in them. But anyway once I have the melody, I’ll listen back at what I’m saying and try to find a phrase in there that I like, and that’s usually the hook of the song. I’ll take it to Anthony and we’ll hash out the different parts.
We’re so comfortable together musically that it doesn’t take much communication to get our ideas across to each other. We’ll record a session, and listening back to us communicating you’d never know how we’re able to understand each other, speaking in half-sentences and vague references and stuff. So working it out and arranging all the parts together is pretty easy.
There’s other songs that we come up with completely together, its usually right when we plug in and turn everything on in a rehearsal, one of us will start playing something, and the other will fill in and then we’ll end up jamming for like 20 minutes on this one idea, and then we go “Dude! That needs to be a song! How did we start this?” And 99% of the time, we can’t remember. But other times, we’re able to retrace and work it all out together, those are my favorite songs for sure.
4. Describe a pivotal music moment for you in your favourite film, television show, brand partnership etc. Has this influenced any of your own compositions?
There’s so many to choose from. There’s a scene in “The Hurricane”, a boxing movie, where Denzel Washington is in the ring fighting his opponent, and its a pivotal scene in the movie where his character finally starts to get on top. But instead of some well known, inspirational tune coming on for the climax of the fight, on comes “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” by Gil Scott Heron. And alone, that song is amazing; super powerful message and arranged in a really creative way.
So as a viewer, you start thinking about that song in the context of that fight scene, you know, what is he fighting for? What’s this guy’s deeper connection with boxing, and what is his motivation? In that fight he’s up against a white guy, the movie itself is shot in black and white actually, and you’re hearing Gil Scott Heron sing (or talk, rather) about the war, the riots, the struggle in the African American community at the time. It could have been a really ordinary boxing scene, but that song made it unforgettable. I think G. Marq Roswell was the music supervisor for that movie, all his stuff is amazing.
5. Do you have any advice for aspiring songwriters?
The only advice that I would have is try not to let other people’s interpretation of you influence your writing. A lot of people tell us stuff like, “I really like the Sabbath influence on that song”, or “The vocals sound like John Lennon there”. So I’ll find myself replaying that feedback in my head while I’m writing, and I think, “oh I need to write stuff that sounds more like Sabbath”, or whatever. But that never works, because it’s not organic. We write our best music, the only music that we’ll consider recording, actually, when it’s completely genuine and written out of our own styles.