Plugging into Phoenix: Cait Brennan releases first album
Serene Dominic, Special for the Republic | azcentral.com 3:43 p.m. MST August 28, 2015
In 2012, Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Dolls started a Kickstarter campaign to raise $100,000 to manufacture and distribute her second solo album and wound up raising 1.2 million dollars instead. Palmer has since moved on to a different project-funding platform Patreon (OK, I agree, that's way too many P words in one sentence), but Kickstarter continues to have its success stories, even at the local level.
Singer-songwriter, screenwriter and music critic Cait Brennan recently started a Kickstarter campaign after paying upfront recording costs out of pocket, with the hope that crowdfunding could help with the pressing, cover, vinyl and distribution costs. She met and exceeded her initial puny goal and immediately started a second campaign which had four days left as I typed this and has also surpassed its $5,000 ceiling.
The odd thing is, after performing for 25 years, she has never released any musical product whatsoever but now has secured funding to put out a first album, "Debutante," which delivers to its backers this December and a second album after that. With that kind of patronage waiting in the wings, why has it taken her this long?
"The main reason I never recorded an album was simple poverty," says Brennan. "I'm transgender, I grew up poor, and I have a career in the arts, so these are not your major disposable income demographics. Studio time is crazy expensive, and it also helps if you have collaborators who get what you're about, what you're trying to do, and I never really had that before I met Fernando Perdomo. He's a powerpop/psych/prog mastermind who lives in L.A. He co-produced Linda Perhacs' comeback record last year, he's worked with Todd Rundgren and Emitt Rhodes, he knows and loves this kind of music. And we have just become great friends and shared shows in L.A. over the years. He was very generous with his time because he believed in what I was trying to do. So that made it possible for me to raise enough get started on what we needed."
And then there is the transgender thing, which you think would be a boon in rock and roll where the individual is celebrated. But...nah!
"When I first came out, first started performing, the world wasn't super friendly to trans artists. That's changed, thankfully."
As for lowballing on her initial campaign, Brennan confesses, "I had no real expectations. I'd backed a lot of Kickstarter projects over the years, because I really like helping out artists and bands. I usually can't offer much but I'm always happy to be able to chip in a little when I can. For my project, I had no idea that so many people would be so excited to hear music from me, that so many people would be moved enough by my story to want to buy in. We funded the initial goal in 69 hours and it's been growing ever since, which is a huge help, because I really asked for the smallest possible amount, honestly well below what things were going to cost me. I never expected this, like, overwhelming show of love and support, so I set the goal very low."
Brennan always had ideas for an album and had circulated demos and mixtapes of her music but a real album done right seemed an elusive prospect.
"Now that it isn't, we're just about ready to go on the second one, which is really exciting. I dedicated this album to Harry Nilsson, who's probably my biggest and most heartfelt influence. "
Brennan hasn't forgotten the old adage that you have five years to prepare for the first album and six months to prepare for the second. With 25 preparatory years behind her, what can she do to insure the second album won't suffer the same sophomore jinx as, I dunno, the Knack?
"It's funny that you ask about the sophomore jinx because I'm actually going to call the second album 'Jinx.' I have written about 250 songs in the past 25-plus years, so I have a ton of material to use, but I still write every day so, like this one, it'll be a mix of the best 'classic' songs I have and the best new ones."
Although some might still be suspicious of crowdfunding as an ongoing way of supporting a musical career in these industry-crumbling times, Brennan maintains, "You wouldn't want to be constantly crowdfunding month after month, year after year. Then it's just a fund-my-life telethon and it's ridiculous. But if you have an audience who wants to hear your stuff, it's not unreasonable to use crowdfunding to make something cool once every year or two. It's a legitimate way of getting your work out, if you respect your audience and give them value. "
"When it's done right, it's just an opportunity to say 'Yes, I like this, I believe in this person/band and I want to hear/see what they can do.' It cuts out the label gatekeepers and its big bloated costs and lets you just support what you like and hear who you want to hear without some middleman saying no. Historically, labels pay for the albums by artists they decree are worthy, and then the label owns everything and the artist works for them the same way you work for a mini mart. Label boss says get to work, you get to work, they toss you a little lunch money and that's it. The patronage model, fans and friends helping to make things they love and support artists they love, is a win for everybody. It builds a strong local community, people are invested in the outcome, you can maintain ownership of your own work and still connect with a lot of people who care."
Act now and lucky you can get any number of perks including being mentioned in a "thank you" song or owning "Debutante" on a pristine 8-track tape cartridge for only $35.
"That includes a digital download," assures Brennan, "because, come on."
For detailed annotations (and lively discussion) of the densely layered references, intertextuality and recurring themes found in Cait Brennan's work, we invite you to visit her page at Genius.com