Braden McKenna
Interview with Braden McKenna (May 2016)
1. What are some recent inspirations?
Dark Souls. I had avoided the series for a long time because of it’s difficulty, but finally decided to give it a chance. It has became a pretty consuming thing for me, and I’m currently working my way through the third entry in the series. The world Dark Souls sets up is so compelling and the attention the game requires of the player gets me into a very meditative focused head space that has been very rewarding.
I have Sun Ra on as I answer these questions. He’s always inspiring. Always in awe at the range of sounds he crafted over his lengthy career. Also really taken back by how much content he created. Sun Ra situates his politics with his art in such an engaging seamless way. Truly a mystery.
2. Do you think all music is inherently political? Do you feel aware of that to different degrees when doing work as braeyden jae and softest? Or is that beside the point?
Short answer yes. Our lives are so deeply affected by politics whether we direct our intention and focus towards that or not. So it’s pretty irrelevant to me if an artist feels political or not,the artistic work is being created and displayed in a deeply political climate. My personal politics are very much on my mind while working as braeyden jae, not so much while working on softest, but that doesn’t really change the conditions that have lead me to be able to make and share art. So ya, it’s all political.
3. You’ve just started a new label – Heavy Mess. What is your vision for that project? What do you think has changed for you since the impetus to start Inner Islands back in 2010?
I really just want to be able to share sounds that interest me. Inner Islands had a very specific vibe and eventually it became harder for me to authentically curate new releases. Heavy Mess can be a lot of things, my listening habits lean more towards instrumental music, but I’d be happy to put out a pop album or whatever on the label. I’m mainly interested in working with good folks who are sharing sincere art in a sincere way. In that sense, maybe it’s not all that different than Inner Islands. Also, a month into the first two releases I’ve become painfully aware that I’m still shit at getting press. Feeling determined though.
4. I know in general you work pretty swiftly and prolificly on projects these days. How would you describe your scope when approaching a new project?
I’ve recorded a lot of two track albums as braeyden jae. Conceptually those aren’t as time consuming and the execution of those albums is pretty free, which allows for a lot of output. But my more proper albums like Heaven House, Turnings, Memory Chain, and Fog Mirror take a lot more time. The ideas reveal themselves more gradually and the execution is more labored. I’m always working on several albums at a time though. I’ve been maybe too prolific that past two years, I’ve still got a few things coming out this year that are finished, but I’m staring to shift into a slower zone with my work. Planning a few more labor intensive albums. Excited to see what happens.
5. I feel like I can trace a line between some of your projects, specifically WYLD WYZRDZ to Kaliska to softest. It seems like there is an evolution of a particular vibe. Does that ring true at all? How do you experience that chain?
All three of those projects come form a very similar place to me, all from a more gentle part of me. I guess the difference to me with those projects lies more in my interpretation of what my place in the world is and how I am currently trying to navigate myself as a changing human in a changing landscape.
6. How was it touring late last year as braeyden jae after taking a break from touring for 4 years?
Touring was great. I’m such a introvert that when I’m at home it’s easy for me to just keep to myself. So tour, while challenging for me, is a nice way to interact with folks. I’m hitting the road for my second braeyden jae tour in a few weeks. Looking forward to that.
7. How was it translating the softest project live nearly 2 years ago in June, 2014? Is that something that you consider doing again?
I’d be open to playing live as softest again. I had a good time while doing it. It’s not a zone I feel ready for most the time though. I think if I tried to play a set as softest while not feeling very soft, that it would end up loosing it’s appeal for me.
8. What’s your favorite Jim Henson-related film or series?
Dark Crystal runs super deep for me. I re-watch that film a lot. The world it presents is very real to me. The pacing is slow and reflective, an easy film to zone on. Brian Froud’s involvement in that film is also key. But I also gotta give respect to Sesame Street. I grew up on that, and still pull up clips of Burt and Ernie, and Grover when I need a laugh.
9. Dream collaboration with someone from an older generation?
Out of folks who are no longer with us, it would be Sonny Sharrock or Albert Ayler. From the living it would have to be Pharoah Sanders. All three are huge influences on my work as braeyden jae.
10. Words of wisdom you like to recall in times of need?
Rahsaan Roland Kirk has this awesome monologue on his record Bright Moments that I listen to a lot. Helps me stay positive about continuing to prioritize my time for creating new art.
Braden McKenna currently works as braeyden jae and softest. He also runs Heavy Mess and founded Inner Islands. He released his most recent softest album, six wishes, in February on Inner Islands.