Interview: Recording Artist Bruno Major

From literary lyrics to precise production, an in-depth discussion with the singer-songwriter and musician

To read the track list of British singer-songwriter, guitarist and producer Bruno Major‘s brand new album, To Let A Good Thing Die, offers a hint not only of what listeners will find there but also of the spirit and character of the recording artist himself. “Old Soul,” “Old Fashioned” and “I’ll Sleep When I’m Older” tease to a fixation with time and there’s a reason for that. When Major croons, the meaning behind minutes, hours, days and decades distorts. One might think the songs were penned a lifetime ago if it weren’t for the contemporary finesse and precise production.

Based in London, though familiar with touring the world, Major sharpened his skills as a session guitarist. Years of jazz underline his intuitive musicality. Perhaps most important of all, Major—without a label—tapped into the power of streaming services and social media to engage listeners. In fact, his 2017 album, A Song For Every Moon, is the unification of 12 songs that he wrote and released, one per month, over the course of a year. Beauty suffuses each song and passion links lyrics. From his vulnerable, literary wordplay to his cosmic R&B compositions, Major produces a sound unlike anyone else and we spoke with him to learn how it came to be.

Do you have a process you’ve developed as a songwriter? A headspace you seek out? A vibe or mood? And is there an “aha moment” or do things come together slowly?

I have stopped chasing songs. I always felt pressure to constantly be writing. I’d heard stories of Burt Bacharach writing a song a day for decades and thought that was how to do it, but honestly I just get bored. I prefer to wait until inspiration strikes me, and then I make sure I’m ready to chase the idea through to completion. It’s important to live in order to write about life. There is definitely an “aha moment” for me. A moment you feel the idea arrive, and recognize it is something special.

Courtesy of Juan Ortiz-Arenas

For the new album, how did you know when you had all the parts, all the individual tracks, to make it a complete vision? Or how did you whittle down from many more to make this album such a cohesive experience?

I wanted this to be a 10-track album. A song for each of the planets of the solar system, plus Pluto and the sun. I ended up recording about 23 and then stripped away the fat.

What have you been listening to lately?

JS Bach. He is truly the motherfucking GOAT. It blows my mind, more than The Beatles, more than Charlie Parker or Coltrane. He basically invented so much of what we consider to be functional harmony now. Also very inspired by the fact that he always finished so many of his ideas, even if they ended up only being short pieces.

You’ve got a very strong visual language accompanying your releases. Can you talk about your album art some?

Rob Shutts. He is the brain behind all visual aspects of my music. I am not ashamed to admit that my artistic vision is very much a sonic one. I think about melodies, chords, lyrics, songs, instruments. Whilst I respect artists who approach their careers more holistically, I understand that that’s not how I am. I just really, really, really love music. I think Rob is a genius of the highest order, and it is really an honor to have him create the visual universe in which my music can exist.

What’s your relationship to streaming services? Have they helped you spread your music?

I couldn’t exist without them. 10 years ago, you had to have a song on the radio to have a career. In order to get on the radio you had to pander to their aesthetic. Now, artists like me can make whatever music they want, and be confident that it will find its natural home on digital streaming platforms. I think streaming services as a whole should be paying songwriters more, but for artists I think the situation is more favorable than ever before.

Bruno Major performs during “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” Thursday, February 22, 2018 (12:35 PM-1:37 AM ET/PT) On The CBS Television Network. Photo: Terence Patrick ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

How does touring and live performance—under normal circumstances—factor into who you are as a musician?

I have two versions of myself. The soldier, who goes on tour and gets up every night whatever the weather and gets it done. He is closed off emotionally and strong. Then there is the butterfly, the sensitive vulnerable person who wears his heart on his sleeve and writes songs at home. The hardest part of this job is to transition between the two.

Bruno Major performs during “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” Thursday, February 22, 2018 (12:35 PM-1:37 AM ET/PT) On The CBS Television Network. Photo: Terence Patrick ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Can you talk about your tenure, back in the day, at Troy Bar?

I learned how to be a musician there. I arrived in London as this nerdy jazz kid with braces. Troy Bar was the place in London where all the muses hung out. The band there was, and still are, next level. I made it my goal to be in the band, and managed to get the gig after a couple of months. It was all done by ear. I learned pocket, groove, musical communication, time feel, professionalism, stamina. All things you could never learn sitting in a bedroom six hours a day. Also the food there is next level. Eddy, the owner, and his wife cook the best jerk chicken in town. A piece of my heart, that place. I once played with Erykah Badu there. She turned up one night with her band after a show at Hammersmith Apollo and got up on stage without asking as we were playing one of her tunes. Haha. Killed it, naturally.

Courtesy of James Boardman

Can you talk about life before your success? You were signed to a major label once, yes? What did you learn from that experience?

Being signed taught me less than being dropped. I made 75% of an album before they dropped me and took the recordings. I came back to London so dejected and broke! I nearly gave up… I was working as a songwriter for two years before I felt ready to release music again. The biggest lesson I learned is: nobody knows what your music should sound like more than you. Also: if you want something done, learn to do it yourself. Write the song, play all the instruments on the song, produce and mix the song all yourself. Be willing to put in the work, become good at stuff, and then you can be completely independent and self-reliant musically.

Courtesy of James Boardman

Finally, you’ve had some superb collaborators, Finneas and Phairo among them. Can you talk about what you look for in a producer or collaborator?

Musical relationships are like any other relationship: different people bring out different sides of you. You can learn a lot about yourself by working with different people. Finneas is an extraordinary mind, one of the finest songwriters alive today. Look forward to writing more with him for sure! In Phairo I found a co-producer who brings out the best in me. He has a deep musicality and a positive outlook on life that carries me at times.

Hero image courtesy of Juan Ortiz-Arenas