Brenn Hill tells it like he sees it
October 5, 2007
Steamboat Springs — Western music troubadour Brenn Hill understands the importance of modern storytelling and can describe it in the most sophisticated terms.
“My manager says all the time that art is the rearranging of existing phenomena to inspire awe,” Hill said.
But as with a lot of his lyrics – and country music in general – it’s better the way Hill says it: “I’m just a guy always looking for a story, always looking for a line. And, luckily, I keep finding them.”
On Saturday, Hill headlines a benefit at Saddleback Ranch for the Routt County 4-H Scholarship Fund. For his third year with the event, Hill is coming off his sixth solo album. That record, “What A Man’s Got to Do,” has a sound as matter of fact as its title. Its songwriting is an honest embrace of Western culture and the cowboy life, leaving all the polish and irony of Billboard-friendly country music behind.
On the phone from his back porch in Hooper, Utah, Hill talked with 4 Points about what inspires his music, being connected to the West and why if you haven’t lived it, it’s probably not worth writing a song about.
4 Points: Your songs have a lot of description of day-to-day life in the West. How does this part of the country play into what you write about?
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Brenn Hill: That’s really kind of what I’ve grown up in, and I consider myself a Westerner in every sense of the word. I’m inspired by the land around me and the lifestyle I sort of happened to have been born into.
I continue to find other people who are living this lifestyle and, if not that, are at least fascinated with it. As an artist, I’m also trying to reach out to the broader masses of the world with my music and find common ground in the emotions that we all feel as human beings.
I think that what I hear from people is that inevitably whether they’re familiar with the West or are just connected with it, they get that connectedness back to the land and their heritage somehow through my music.
4 Points: So the land, and telling stories about it, is pretty integral to your songwriting?
BH: I don’t have any plans to move to Hawaii any time soon. If 10 years ago I had moved to Nashville, I might be more well known. But it’s not really where my heart is – my heart is in the West.
Billy Joel, I was watching an interview with him the other day, and he said songs come from life.
I’ve never been one of those songwriters who can go into a publishing room with lights and scented candles and pictures of John Lennon and write hits. I have to actually experience it.
I have to be constantly looking for opportunities to surround myself with people and putting myself in places where stories and songs can happen. I have to keep it real – the music has got to be real. I have to believe it first before I can play it for anybody else.
I don’t consider myself a cowboy, I consider myself a songwriter. But I have to be a little bit cowboy, get out on a horse in god’s country and live what I write about.
4 Points: That’s an interesting way to look at it. Because people say and do things all the time that would make great songs, you just have to have an ear for it.
BH: Right. I just finished a song about a 71-year-old who has run a ranch for 40 years. We were riding up a real rocky rattle snake canyon, big nasty country, and I commented, ‘That’s a beautiful horse.’
He said, ‘This horse is always afraid, like there’s going to be a monster behind a tree around every corner. One of these days he needs to realize the monster is on his back.’
4 Points: That’s a good line.
BH: You just have to capture a little piece of the moment and a little piece of the West and just write it.
The best songs are, I think, written for you. You’ve got to be looking for it, you know?