Truly an artist on the rise, London native Bruno Major has drawn comparisons to artists like John Mayer, Coldplay, and Iron & Wine, as his extraordinary guitar playing is constantly battling with his vocals for primacy – a detail that reminds you how reduced the role of the guitar is in much of contemporary pop. The long years before the songs and the singing came pouring out were “pretty difficult at times,” says Bruno. “I’d be playing a bar gig for 50 quid, and I’d see all my friends becoming doctors or something like that. But I can’t do anything else, and I wouldn’t be happy if I could,” he adds. Major is currently in London with producer Ethan Johns (Paul McCartney, Ryan Adams, Kings of Leon) working on his full length album. Recently he premiered an intimate live video of his Frank Ocean cover of “Bad Religion” to rave reviews from critics and fans alike, along with officially releasing Live EP via Virgin Records. The record features three brand new original tracks in addition to the cover, and marks his debut release with Virgin. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon caught up with Bruno Major to discuss his musical roots, his songwriting process, the creation of his upcoming album and much more!
Take us back to your earlier years. What are your first memories of music in your life?
I had a tape player in my bedroom when I was little, and 2 tapes, one was John Williams playing Isaac Albeniz on classical guitar the other was Mike Oldfields ‘Tubular Bells.’ I’d listen to them every night as I went to sleep.
How were your biggest influences as a musician and performer?
As a kid it was blues and jazz: Joe Pass, Louis Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix, Chet Baker, Cannonball Adderley, Ella Fitzgerald, Thelonius Monk, Jack White. I listened to their music, and learned as much as I could. I still approach music from a jazz perspective. When wrote my first song I had to go back and reassess my whole understanding of music. It changed everything for me, and I got into Jerome Kern, Dylan, Billy Joel, Nick Drake, Randy Newman, Paul Simon, Cole Porter, Tom Waits.
What made you take the plunge and pursue a career in the music industry?
There was never a choice. Music is the only thing that makes me happy.
What were some of you first jobs in the world of music that helped inspire you along the way?
One night after I first moved to London I was hanging out at Troy Bar in Shoreditch, there’s a night there every Tuesday with the most unbelievable band, some of the best players in London. They completely blew me away. A year later I got the gig as the guitar player. We’d play whatever people asked us to, and I got to play with some incredible artists, like Erykah Badu. I’d get up each week and sing whatever new song I’d written – I learnt how audiences reacted to my music that way.
For those who may not be familiar with your work quite yet, what can they expect sonically?
My guitar and my voice are the most prominent sounds. Everything else is built around that.
You have been hard at work on your release, ‘Live EP,’ which debuted on January 21st What were your expectations going into the process of creating the release?
Honestly, I never intended it to be an EP. I was at Capitol Studios shooting a live video for one song “The First Thing You See.” It only took a couple of takes to get down and I was left with a few hours studio time, so I decided to record a few more. Recording the whole EP took 2 or 3 hours. When we got the recordings back, it just seemed so right as a collection of songs that we decided to release it.
The Live EP features three brand new original tracks and one cover, which is of the Frank Ocean track “Bad Religion.” What can you tell us about your songwriting process and how you bring a tune to life?
There’s never a set process. “First Thing You See” took all of 20 mins to write. It was like writing down a song that already existed – I think the best ones happen like that. “Home” and “Old Fashioned” I wrote with my friend Dan McDougall, an incredible songwriter. We go out and get drunk, wake up the next morning and write songs in our pants.
What spoke to you about Frank Ocean’s “Bad Religion” and made you want to cover it on your release?
For me Channel Orange was the best album of 2012, and that’s my favourite song on it. The chords and melody are just astoundingly beautiful.
Where do you find yourself looking for inspiration these days?
I’m inspired by the universe around me. I have a notebook that I write down anything that jumps out as I go through my day. Poetry is spoken nearly everyday from people that don’t even realise they’re creating it.
You playing and vocals are both impressive and powerful. Has it been difficult to learn to balance those two elements?
Thank you. I started playing guitar at 8, and singing/writing at 22. Writing songs, and being a good musician are two very different animals. I feared my competency on the guitar for a while – that it might cloud the songwriting process. It’s only more recently that I’ve managed to write songs and express myself on the guitar in a way that feels natural.
Looking back on the entire process of bringing it to life, what stands out at as the biggest challenge in creating this EP?
Being comfortable with releasing something completely raw, live, solo, bare bones. There’s nowhere to hide – but that’s what I love most about it.
Any plans for a return to the studio in the near future for a full length release? If so, where are you in the process of creating new material?
I’m in the studio at the moment, working on my full length album. It’s been the most illuminating, intoxicating experience of my life. I’m so excited for everybody to hear it.
You have been working with renowned producer Ethan Johns, What does he bring to the table for a project like this and what have you learned from your time together?
Working with Ethan is really a dream come true, he’s made some of my favourite records of all time – I’m honoured that he wants to work with me. He’s a true artist, and I’ve learned a great deal from him, musically and philosophically.
I understand you are also working with some other musicians who are at the top of their game. What can you tell us about them?
Pino Pallidino and Jeremy Stacey are playing on the record, they’re the best of the best. Pino has played with Jeff Beck, D’Angelo, Gary Moore – some of my all time heroes. As a session player I dreamed of playing alongside guys like this – so to have them playing on my album is pretty surreal.
What are your tour plans at the moment?
I’m about to tour around the UK in February. It’s my first headline tour, just me and my guitar, playing beautiful, intimate venues. Tickets are available on my website — www.mrbrunomajor.com.
What are your favorite songs to play live these days?
I always enjoy playing the newest ones. The first time I play a song live is always a special moment – a song doesn’t feel real to me until I’ve performed it.
Is there something you hope people come away with after they catch one of your live performances?
I did a show at The Slaughtered Lamb in London last week, and people were laughing in some songs, crying in others. To have had a complete emotional impact on an audience is the most amazing feeling, and it’s what I’m striving for with my music above all.
Are there any video plans in the making?
The Live EP is comprised of audio from a set of live videos and you can watch them online. There will be full music videos made for the album, but at the moment I’m concentrating on the music.
What do you consider your biggest milestone so far?
I managed to fit my religious belief system (or lack there of) into a song called “On Our Own.” I’m proud of that one.
How do you feel you have evolved as a musician since first starting out?
You evolve all the time, learning from people that you play with. But songwriting was a eureka moment, it has completed me as a person. I feel at peace with myself, knowing that that is what I should be doing.
What are some of your musical bucket list items?
I want to inspire other musicians, to be respected by my peers. To play on Later with Jools Holland is something I’d love to do. I’ve always watched that program.
What bands are out there right now that have made your stand up and take notice?
I’ve been listening to the Half Moon Run album. Laura Mvula’s album’s amazing. Sam Smith, D.A. Wallach – that song Glowing is unbelievable. My brother is in London Grammar – I think they made the best album of 2013.
I understand one of your passions is guitars. What do you have in your collection and is there one you consider your favorite?
I have a few. But I have a 1935 Gibson L-00 that my mother bought me. That’s really special to me.
What is the best piece of advice that you can pass along to someone who wants to pursue a career in music in the industry’s current climate?
Work really hard, and make honest music. Don’t worry about about anything other than expressing yourself musically and lyrically. If the music is good enough, the rest will follow.
What are you most excited about when you think about the year to come?
I can’t wait to finish my album, and show everyone.
Anything you want to tell your fans before I let you go?
I love you! xx