BOULDER, Colo. –
Brett Dennen’s trying to bring a little Hope for the Hopeless to his audiences.
The singer-songwriter used his camp-counseling experience and his work with the Mosaic Project to punch some powerful messages into his hit single “Make You Crazy.”
The catchy song lets Dennen sound off about injustices in the world, and it features guest artist Femi Kuti. The tune’s in heavy radio rotation — and it has earned Dennen a 55-city headlining tour and an opening spot on the Fray’s European tour.
To think it all started with a camp-counselor job.
“Ever since I was old enough to work, I’ve always worked at summer camps,” Dennen said. “Five years ago I was working at an outdoor education program where we taught survival skills along with humanitarian and peace issues.
“I always wrote songs, but I started getting gigs on the road and I realized that my calling was playing music. So, in 2005 I got rid of everything else and made room for the music.”
Dennen said his camp jobs prepared him for life on the road.
“Nothing can really get you ready for the music business,” Dennen said. “Though, I did learn a lot about having your limits tested, being a gypsy on the road and working in high-stress situations from the camping experience.
“Working with those kids in a life-changing program made me want to bring integrity, compassion and humanity to everything I do.”
Dennen released his debut self-titled CD in 2004 — and he hasn’t looked back.
The musician’s songs have earned him top play on TV shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scrubs.” Dennen’s also had the opportunity to tour with A-list acts John Mayer, Rodrigo y Gabriela and Guster.
Along the way, Dennen decided to write tunes that had heart and substance.
“I knew I wanted to write songs that were endearing and hopeful,” Dennen said. “I put my heart out there every night I’m on stage, and I watch people unfold and have their own emotional trip.
“That’s come easy to me with all the years I’ve sung as an indie artist. Nothing happened overnight. It was a gradual growth process and it made me appreciate things.”
That said, Dennen wanted to do something special for his 2008 CD Hope for the Hopeless.
The musician started out with 43 songs and went into the studio to pare down the tunes with the help of producer John Alagia (John Mayer, Dave Matthews Band).
“I wanted to reach a lot more people with this record,” Dennen said. “I wanted to keep the songs a little more focused and shorter, instead of writing lots of verses.
“I also wanted the sound to have a broader appeal, so I have more uptempo grooves and hooks on this record. I definitely took the music to the next level.”
As a special album perk, Afro-beat musician Femi Kuti was flown in to record the CD’s first single, “Make You Crazy.”
“I tried to make the song catchy,” Dennen said. “It’s about all the injustice in the world. It is enough to make you go crazy.”
Dennen likes to change things up and he’s already got plans for his next CD.
“My first record was super-folkie and homemade, and this one’s mainstream,” Dennen said. “The next one will be real mid-’70s with boogaloo and samba. I want people to see the music progress and how I got there.”
It’s a good thing that Dennen has a full repertoire of tunes, because he’s going to be one very busy artist.
Though Dennen’s never met the members of the Fray, he will be heading to Europe with the band in a few weeks.
Then, the singer-songwriter joins O.A.R.’s summer tour. The road trip includes a June 5 stop at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
When he’s not touring, Dennen helps the nonprofit Mosaic Project. The organization takes children from diverse backgrounds and provides them with skills they can use to empower themselves and foster peace.
“I’ve been so busy that I’ve taken a back seat with them,” Dennen said. “I do get involved with decisions about the group’s growth and fundraising. I’m becoming an ambassador for them.
“There’s a lot of things that need to be changed in the world. I’d like to see the Mosaic Project make an impact on schools and communities.”