Brennan Henderson works in a board shop.
He’s 18 years old, lives in his parents’ basement and likes skateboarding better than snowboarding, although he made it to Big White for opening day.
Attempts at music lessons didn’t stick with him as he was growing up.
“Piano wasn’t engaging enough for me,” he said, while sitting in the Bean Scene in downtown Kelowna drinking coffee (black). “I just wasn’t interested at the time.”
He played the guitar for a few months in Grade 6 with much the same results.
And yet, he’s now producing music internationally, trading stems with friends both in Kelowna and abroad.
A stem is like a slice of music, a baseline or a synthesizer composition, that grows into a song when mixed with other music stems.
“I take a song and rip it apart and make a new one out of it,” he explained.
He occasionally sings a recording. He asks friends to play him a line or two of guitar riffs. But by and large, the art in his music is in the combinations; one might say he’s a music mixologist.
And thanks to programs like Garageband, stock on any Mac computer, and Internet portals like SoundCloud, he’s got several hundred followers around the world.
He is now mixing a new album with fellow artist Imprintafter, who is based in Los Angeles.
In other words, unlike the children of yesteryear, for whom a lack of desire to practise meant a talent gone to waste or a world of music left untouched, Henderson is free to take up his hobby and reach performance level in under a year—and people actually want to listen to it.
In fact, he’s adopted the Rebel Without A Cause moniker, ‘James Deen’, even eschewing the musician label.
“At first I was trying to be a DJ but that’s more about performing,” he said.
“I like making music, so that’s more what I’m doing.”
Henderson thinks of himself as a music producer, assembling songs in a program called Massive.
Beside the computer sit a LaunchPad Music Control Surface and an AKAI MPD26 Pad Controller he uses to oscillate volume and effects so that a pre-assembled song can have a one-of-a-kind performance experience.
He likes horns, saxophones and trumpets, and claims he doesn’t really need to go through school to keep learning.
Leaving The Juilliard School for committed musical types, he’s of the belief the sky is the limit via Googling.
“The Internet is one of the greatest tools ever. If I’m ever stuck, I can go to YouTube and find sound techs and all this stuff I can use,” he said.
This appears to be quite right.
Henderson, aka James Deen, has only been at it a year and several of his songs have had hundreds of listens from all over the world.
He’s decently branded with an artsy profile photo that fits the crowd he’s pitching to. It could hang in the Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art, where he’s played a couple of ’zine launches.
It also looks a little like he might walk out of his picturesque black and white mug-on-park scene profile photo and into one of King Krule’s videos.
King Krule is the epitome of success in this art form. He has the look of a character ripped from Angela’s Ashes, the tuneless, poetic growl of a contemporary Bob Dylan (if the listener were somewhat stoned) and blue suede shoes in the video for his debut single Out Getting Ribs.
Despite King Krule’s ghostly, impoverished middle schooler look, the 18-year-old signed with House Anxiety Records to produce his first self-titled EP in 2010 and is poised to become the U.K.’s sound of 2013 as a nominee in the BBC’s Sound Of 2013 as named on Dec. 9.
His music has met with mixed reviews.
“If you’ve ever slowly blinked back to consciousness in a dentist’s chair, unable to distinguish dream from fact, you already know what King Krule sounds like,” wrote Rob Tannenbaum, of Rolling Stone Magazine, on the release of True Panther, King Krule’s five-song EP.
But to 19-year-old Juan Avila, the given name of Henderson’s collaborative partner Imprintafter, this sort of sensory soundscape is more awe-inspiring, than muddled.
“The first time I heard High and Dry by Radiohead was when I got interested in music,” Avila said, pointing to the genre-defining song from the band’s 1995 CD The Bends.
He listens to a lot of ’80s funk and R&B, but also has some musical training in guitar and piano. Music, for him, is about moving people and these mixes are all about feeling.
“I just love everything about making music and how it can change people’s mood and, in some cases, even inspire them.”
Archy Marshall (King Krule), for his part, is said to have some heavy artistic chops on his side.
He studied at the Brit School for three years, a performing arts high school designed to foster talent that lays claim to graduates like Amy Winehouse, Leona Lewis, Kate Nash and Adele.
Originally, Marshall played under the stage name Zoo Kid, but was inspired enough for a name change by the character King K. Rool in the videogame Donkey Kong Country, and could very well take his red-haired, pale-skinned mug to the top in the coming year.
Past winners of the BBC’s The Sound Of include Adele and Ellie Goulding.
Pretty good for a kid from southeast London with a penchant for the type of music you can produce with a few pieces of equipment, a computer and a few hours of time in a basement anywhere in the world.