Name: Brando aka Marlon Lamont McClain II
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Current release: "Out Of My League", Brando's duet with Kiesza, is available via Armada.
If you enjoyed this interview with Brando, stay up to date on his work on Instagram, and Soundcloud.
For a deeper look into the creative process of his "Out Of My League" partner, read our Kiesza interview.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
I grew up in the music industry as a kid watching my dad play guitar in funk / RnB bands, so in some ways I guess that creative impulse comes from family lineage.
I have always been obsessed with singing and performing ever since I was a toddler, singing in various choirs and bands growing up. I would say a lot of my music comes from being inspired by the world around me and my relationships. I also take a lot of inspiration from fellow artists that I admire, especially in regards creative tour de forces like The Weeknd or producer prodigies like Calvin Harris.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
To me melody is everything, so I always start from there. Sometimes it’ll be an idea in my head I’ll come up with while I’m going throughout my day, or I’ll make it on the spot in the studio over a loop or track the producer made. After I come up with the topline melody is when I can really start to visualize where I want the whole song to go sonically.
I would say the best songs come about by chance, as for some reason there is this element of creative magic whenever something just happens spontaneously.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
I would say I do almost no preparation if I’m being honest. It kind of ties back into the spontaneity thing I was referencing earlier. To me the most preparation I do heading into a session is vocal warm ups and possibly some voice notes with melody ideas I want to mess around with at the session.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
I’m a huge coffee drinker, to the point where I swear I need to cut back. But in terms of rituals or settings I guess I prefer studios with lots of natural light, as I find traditional studios with dim lighting are always hard for me to focus in. I also like to workout in the mornings as I feel like I’m more productive throughout the day that way.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
I always start with the melody, then fill in lyrics afterwards.
Sometimes it’s incredibly easy, other times very difficult just based on the feeling I’m trying to convey.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
My lyrics are inspired by many things, usually day to day life or my relationship. Sometimes I can just be watching a movie or listening to a song and get inspired to write a song about something.
Most of the time I feel like the music and lyrics go hand in hand, but other times there can be that one topic you really want to touch on so then the music follows suit.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
To me, lyrics need to capture the tone you're trying to set. Whether the song is happy, sad, funny, romantic …. the lyrics need to really fit with that vibe.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
To me melody is paramount, so if a certain lyric needs to be tweaked in order to get that melody to sound perfect, then that's what I’ll do. So in a sense, I let the story follow the melody.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
A song usually will have a feeling to it that it’s done. It’s hard to say exactly what it is because every song has a different level of production to it, so it can be a stripped down record with just a guitar and vocals and even that can qualify as being complete. Every song just has it’s own feeling and you’ll know when it’s complete.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
I’ll listen back to it constantly for weeks on end to really see if it needs anything else. Usually in various places with different sonics, for instance listening in my car, then listening on my phone or laptop.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
Production is a critical component of song making. I feel like some artists don’t put a high value on mixing and mastering but I’ve always seen it as it’s own art form and that a great mixer can really enhance the feeling of a song.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
I never really feel empty, I just feel excitement that my fans get to listen to what I’ve been working on for so long.