Interview: Theory’s Dave Brenner Discusses New Album “Say Nothing”

Theory Of A Deadman ©Jimmy Fontaine
Theory Of A Deadman ©Jimmy Fontaine

It has been 2 years since Theory of a Deadman released a new album.  That all changes this Friday, January 31, 2020 with their 7th studio release, Say Nothing via Atlantic Records.  Digital Beat Magazine had the opportunity to experience the 10 tracks pre-release and we have to say, for an album titled “Say Nothing”, Theory seems to have a lot to say.  

Known for songs about the interworking of relationships, singer-songwriter Tyler Connolly (vocals, guitar), along with fellow band members David Brenner (guitar, backing vocals), Dean Back (bass), and Joey Dandeneau (drums) turn the vision outward into a very relatable, 10-track story that seems to flow through the world in which we live.  In this new depth of songwriting, Connolly seems to be asking questions and drawing attention to some very controversial topics – cycle of domestic violence, racism, anxiety/depression, the political divide taking hold in the U.S. – while still ensuring hope and goodwill for the future.  

I got a chance to chat with guitarist David Brenner of Theory to discuss the new album and upcoming U.S. tour coming this Spring…

Say Nothing Album Art - Theory Of A Deadman
Say Nothing Album Art – Theory Of A Deadman

Digital Beat Magazine: “Say Nothing” is very different from past albums in that it deals with some pretty controversial topics.  Theory showed us a little of that controversy on 2017’s “Wake Up Call” with “Rx (Medicate)” which ended up being your biggest career hit to date. Do you feel the popularity of “Rx” gave Theory the courage to take on harder subjects?

Dave Brenner: 100%. I do. It was so interesting to see firsthand the impact that Rx had. You know, we saw it with people coming to our shows. We saw it online. Of course everybody knew what was going on with the opiod crisis. And it’s still continuing to go on.  I think a lot of people related.  They knew somebody or personally struggled with it. And having people come up to us and say, “Thanks for talking about this.  Thanks for bringing it up and talking about subjects that are hard to talk about.”  I definitely think that it set off a nerve in Tyler.  When he started writing for this record he would send demos to us and I think “Strangers” might’ve been the first one.  I remember thinking, yeah, this is great because we are on our seventh record, we have grown a lot as human beings and musicians. I believe that we want to keep growing and we want to keep moving forward and we want to make music that really matters.  And so I think that we all kinda of got this taste for what could be through “Rx” and this record is a little more focused in that direction.

DBM: Do you feel Theory has found its voice?

DB:  YEAH! And it’s funny because if you would have asked us five years ago or 10 years ago, “Would you guys be writing songs that could talk about politics or domestic violence?” I think that we probably would have said NO. We look at bands that do that successfully, like U2, with admiration. It really takes a lot of courage to write songs like that. I’m personally really proud of Tyler.  He did have to kind of put himself out there to write this record and like you said, there is a lot being said here, and I’m proud of him for that. Looking back now on the record that we’ve made, I think it’s an important record.

DBM: Yes, I do too. I really like it.  I’ve given it three good listens so far and I found myself singing along the second time through.  There is a lot of relatable topics for a lot of different people in this album and, personally I think it’s a great album! On the flip side, do you feel that you could alienate some fans diving into these harder subject matters?

DB: Possibly. I think that’s kind of where the courage aspect comes from. It’s like you’re potentially alienating yourself but if you’re writing a song that’s kind of calling out racism and it alienates you from people, then maybe it’s alienating us from people that you really don’t need, you know? I also think that on songs like “Strangers“, Tyler had a really great perspective where he doesn’t necessarily say “I’m this or I’m that” he says “this is what I’m seeing”. It’s kind of from a perspective that could really fall on either side. I don’t think we’re super worried about it because I think that we all, as a band, really back the message.

DBM: That being said, being known as a Canadian band, are these things you’re seeing in your own country or is this a message to America?

DB: Well the amazing thing about American politics is that American politics is World politics.  America is the most powerful country in the world and everything that happens in the U.S. affects every country around the world. Especially in Canada, where our countries are so knit together. Stuff that happens in the U.S. affects Canada. Plus three of the four members of Theory live in America now, so I think we all sort of see it firsthand as well.

DBM: Tyler is credited as the songwriter? Does he write both music and lyrics and present as a completed demo or does that happen in the studio with all band members?

DB: A little bit of both. In the past, I think the demos that Tyler would work on; he would work on them to the point where they almost sounded like finished record. And sometimes you need that to show the label that you’re ready to get in the studio. Like it has to sound so good that they’ll listen to it and say, “okay, let’s get you guys in the studio. You’re ready.” So Tyler sorta demos some of the songs to the point where they sound really great for the label people. You need them to see exactly what it could be.  So we go into the studio with some tunes like that. That’s the beauty of Martin Terefe. Nothing is set in stone until you start working on it. The song you may have loved on the demo that Tyler might’ve spent a bunch of time on, Martin just gets right in the studio and says, “Okay, let’s try this! Let’s try that!” and all of a sudden you’re doing something totally different. So musically, definitely a lot comes to life in the studio. I credit Martin with a lot of that. He’s like a mad scientist. He just starts talking and he gets excited. He hears a little something; somebody makes a mistake and it’s like a happy mistake. He’s like, “Oh wait, what just happened there? What did you do? Let’s do that.” And he jumps on the piano and he starts playing along and it’s exciting to start acting like that cause we’ve never done that before and he just wants to find the right vibe and then just develop it. Truthfully, it’s been the most enjoyable studio experiences working with him because it feels so organic the way the songs come together. We all have this idea of how we want it to look at the end and then it ends up looking just so much more beautiful.

DBM: That’s really great.  That actually leads into my next question, this was the second time traveling to London and working with Martin. How was this session different than the first experience?

DB: It was really cool working with Martin.  The first time nobody knew what we were getting into. I don’t think he did a lot of stuff with bands. I think he does a lot of stuff with singer songwriters (Jason Mraz/Yungblud). So there was this two weeks “feeling out” process where we were wondering if we’d made the right decision. We were making “Wake Up Call” and wondering “Is this gonna work out?” By week three we were like, “okay, I think we’re onto something.”  For this record, we got in there on day one and picked up right where we left off from the last record. We knew exactly what to expect from each other. We knew what Martin liked to do and we knew how prepared and unprepared to be and that he doesn’t want you to be overly prepared. He wants you to screw up! (chuckles) He really wants you to! It was really exciting this time to get in there and on day one feel like we were tracking stuff that was going to be on the record. It was a really exciting experience.

DBM: I read that the band got to have a private tour of the famous Abbey Road studios on this trip. Can you tell our readers about that experience?

DB: So the studio manager at Kensaltown Studios where we did our record, knows the studio manager at Abbey Road. So she kind of just asked us if we wanted to go and do a tour of Abbey Road? We were like “Yeah, Obviously!” (Laughs). We woke up early one day, because you just gotta be there at 8:00 AM and walked a mile down the street from our Air BnB and just met up with this guy and he gave us this great tour through the studio and it was really cool! We went into the big room where they recorded a lot the “Sgt. Peppers” big band stuff. They were doing a score for Downton Abbey and they have like a hundred something piece setting up and they’re putting the music down and I’m thinking, “Man, these are professional musicians. Nevermind what we do. These guys know what they’re doing. They show up and get the music in front of them and then they execute.” It was pretty surreal to get in there and watch that sort of set up. Then to go through and sort of see where The Beatles recorded certain songs; to just kind of picture those guys sitting in those control rooms, discussing the music. It really was this spiritual experience. We went back to the studio after and we were like we need to put some “Sgt. Peppers” on this record. We got into “Ted Bundy” and started messing around and it was a lot of fun.

DBM: I was going to ask if any of that experience found its way onto this new album?

DB: Sure. Like “Black Hole in your Heart” has this sort of a symphonic sound to it. I think for us, a big part of it is that “yes man” now mentality in the fact that it’s like, “Hey, do you want to try this?” And we’re like, “yes!” You know, there’s nothing we don’t want to try. We want to take ourselves more away from the stuff that we’ve done in the past that was so comfortable. It’s seeing what can we do here? What would we do on guitar? Well, what can we do that’s not guitar now? I don’t think any of us feel like we have much to prove musically. We don’t need to go and have a bunch of huge guitar solos and this and that. I think you get to a point in your career where the most important thing is the song. And we’ve really figured out a way make this record about the songs.

DBM: You mentioned the song “Ted Bundy” early. That’s a fun little song. Dark but fun. It has this snappy chorus with these dark undertones going on. How did you come to have a song about Ted?

DB: It’s a funny song cause I’ve heard Tyler talk about Ted Bundy a bit and say it’s not necessarily about Ted Bundy; it’s more about being in a relationship with a loveless person. I felt like musically, having watched a bunch of the Ted Bundy stuff that had been out recently, that the song has this kind of clean, shiny, beautiful side and then this dark, dirty, nasty side. And it truly, to me, is like Ted Bundy. He was so two-faced.

Dave Brenner of Theory - Photo Credit: ©Pix Meyers
Dave Brenner of Theory – Photo Credit: ©Pix Meyers

DBM: So you kick off the U.S tour in April in support of the new album? What do you look forward to about going back out on the road?

DB: Oh man. You know, we love being in the studio, but we always say the road is kind of the reward for the work you do in the studio, and while you’re in the studio it’s where you get paid, in people, in this enjoyment of the music. So it’s exciting to start getting back on the road, I think more than ever. We feel super proud of this record and we really are excited to bring it out to the masses and start playing some songs. We love touring! It’s always an exciting time when it’s a fresh cycle.

DBM: On the flip side, what do you not look forward to about being back out on the road?

DB: I’m somewhat of a new father. I have a 3 and a half year old son and a 1 and a half year old daughter. That’s kind of been a game changer for me. Being away now for 5 and 6 week stretches becomes tough because a lot happens in those five and six week stretches at that age. I’m thankful for the technology that we have in this day and age. I think a lot about the 70’s and 80s. What it was like for those guys? Touring. Being away from home. I definitely love touring, but the most difficult thing is leaving the family behind and focusing on the work.

DBM: Will we see all of the new album on tour or will we just get teasers?

DB: I think teasers. Especially to start. We’re not that kind of band that just wants to play the full record and not play any of the songs that got us here. We know that we’ve got a fan base that still wants to hear “Not Meant To Be”, “Bad Girlfriend”, “Low Life”. We still want to appease those fans and play those songs. I think that there’s this big fear that we’ve become not a rock band anymore. But when people come see us at the show, they’ll realize that we still are that rock band and we still play those songs. But you know what? We can play songs like “Rx” and “History of Violence” and have it sound really great – different than our past stuff, but still sound really great. That’s an exciting place for us to be musically because we get to do the stuff that feels very comfortable and then we get to do stuff that feels very different and fresh and new and we get to do it all live in front of audiences.

DBM: So I have one last question for you. It’s kind of a fun little question I like to ask in all of my interviews. What are you personally listening to? What is on your playlist?

DB: I am a big fan of a band called Old Crow Medicine Show and I’ve been listening to them a lot lately. It’s kind of this bluegrass old time music. I feel like I’ve become such a fan of the story. It’s almost like when I listen to them, I feel like I’m being educated on history and I love that! I feel like it’s not just enjoyable music but it’s like a history lesson. So I’ve been listening to Old Crow Medicine Show a lot and just have a huge love for that band.  I suggest a lot of people should just go check them out.

DBM: Love that band! Well, Dave that’s all I have for you today. We sure appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to sit and talk with Digital Beat Magazine today. Best wishes on the new album and upcoming tour.

DB: Well, thank you. We appreciate you spreading the word at Digital Beat Magazine! It’s always a pleasure to talk to people that want to talk to us about what we love doing.

TRACK LISTING: SAY NOTHING

  1. Black Hole of Your Heart
  2. History of Violence
  3. Affluenza
  4. Say Nothing
  5. Strangers
  6. Ted Bundy
  7. World Keeps Spinning
  8. Quicksand
  9. White Boy
  10. It’s All Good 

Release Date: January 31, 2020

Label: Atlantic Records

Producer: Martin Terefe

 

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I am a freelance photographer based in Indianapolis, Indiana specializing in concert and event photography. With my childhood love for music and photography plus the added influence from my mother (a Broadway Company Manager) and later from my husband (a live sound engineer) it seemed only natural to combine my passions and pursue my craft more seriously. I have been blessed with great opportunities to shoot fabulous performers and look forward to sharing my work and new adventures with Digital Beat Magazine. Be sure to look for me in the pit at the next show... They call me "Pixie Dare" Make sure to check out my portfolio at www.picturesbypix.com and be sure to find me on Facebook at Pix Meyers Photography and Instagram @pixmeyersphoto.