There’s nothing like a deadline to focus the mind. Last year, Bruno Major set himself a task: to record and release one song a month for 12 months. Four weeks to take a song from an idea in his head to a finished product and have it out there for people to listen to and enjoy, every month, for a year. People had made albums in less time, he reasoned, how hard could it be?
“When I first said that I was going to do it most people said, ‘Nice one…that’s never going to happen.’” Major recalls with a laugh. “A lot of people thought it was overly aspirational: it probably was.”
What’s impressive is not so much that he managed to pull it off, more that the challenge produced such a remarkable collection of songs. That within the time frame of a month, Major could produce such fully-realised, beautiful and inventive songs and then repeat the trick the following month, twelve times over.
“With a traditional album, there exists the concept of an album track…I haven’t had that luxury because once a month I have to release a song and every song has to be a single. There’s no room for a piano interlude. Each one had to be something that I could stand behind and say: ‘Hey, this is my next single, it’s coming out, I’ve worked on it all month, I hope you like it.’ It forced me to make sure the standard was at a certain level.”
Not only did every song hit its mark, but listening to the fruits of Major’s labour in the order he created them, you’re given an experience that doesn’t really have a precedent in music. Tracing a line from the blissful future soul and skittering beats of Wouldn’t Mean A Thing through Home’s delicate folk to Cold Blood’s pulsating electronica, you’re treated to a dozen snapshots of an artist at a specific moment in time. You can hear him grow, develop and move through the different emotional states of a year in a way that a traditional album simply wouldn’t be able to offer. You can hear how he moved from the minimalism and sub bass warmth of There’s Little Left to the jazz-flecked finger picking and layered harmonies of Second Time in just a few weeks and how the latter’s dreamlike infatuation slowly faded into the bittersweet kiss-off of Fair-Weather Friend like the changing of the seasons.
“Albums are generally recorded within a smaller time frame and that helps lend them an identity as a whole and gives the tracks a feeling that they’re siblings sonically,” Major notes. “The big challenge for me has been to make sure there’s a link through all of these songs because I’ve changed as a musician over the year. Listening to ‘Wouldn’t Mean A Thing’ now, I think the sound I have developed with my co producer Phairo has become more developed. If I were to redo the whole thing now, there are elements of every song I would change, but that’s part of the charm of them. I like that there’s a little journey.”
Having initially worked as a session guitarist, Major moved down from Northampton to London and, inspired by the energy of the city, became obsessed with songwriting. Honing his craft writing for other artists while all the time formulating his own musical style; an impossible to pigeonhole blend of sounds that can draw upon anything from James Blake and D’Angelo to Chet Baker and Nick Drake to create its own, uniquely intoxicating aura. It wasn’t until a chance psychoactive revelation last year, however, that he struck upon the idea that would give him the perfect means to realise it.
“Whilst I was in Los Angeles I smoked DMT and had this mad epiphany where I saw how the universe works in perfect geometric patterns and synchronised cycles. I wanted to release a song every month, because that’s the length of cycle of the moon,” he recalls.
By his own admission, Major may have underestimated the task. A song like the Just The Same’s touchingly devoted piano pop may have fallen into place one evening in all of 20 minutes, recorded the following day and then sent off to be mastered, but elsewhere there were weeks of fraught panic, scrapped ideas, stumbling blocks, pressure and looming deadlines where having a life outside of the challenge he’d set himself was a distant memory.
“It’s definitely been tough, but it’s also been wonderful,” he reflects. “My life has been Groundhog Day for a year. I’d finish each month with a show and have a couple of nights of partying and then I’d start the next tune, work towards that, release it, over and over. It’s been kind of comforting. In a way, I’m not looking forward to that ending.”
He’s probably earned a few days off to be fair. While he does, the rest of us can sit back and enjoy the music the last year of Bruno Major’s life has produced.
“As soon as I plugged into the Royal Reverb, I knew it was the one. This is probably the sweetest sounding amp I’ve ever used.”
Photo credit: Katie Silvester