An intimate and heartfelt new classic, Brian Dunne’s third album ‘Selling Things’ is the breathtaking product of anxiety and existential crisis – a record whose passionate folk and stirring poetry resonate deep in the soul.
Stream: ‘Selling Things’ – Brian Dunne
It’s sort of a commentary on the commodification of everything around us. It’s also intentionally sort of self-aware; I am, after all, selling my most personal thoughts and feelings for $14.99 on CD, $25 on vinyl, shipping and handling not included.
Brian Dunne has his own charismatic way of engaging on deep topics: He keeps things light and comical, even while diving into his own vulnerabilities and life’s darkest spaces. The Brooklyn singer/songwriter does this well in conversation, but he truly excels at it in his music – bringing listeners on an exciting and enjoyable adventure through the depths of reflection, understanding, and human experience. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than on Dunne’s third album: An intimate and heartfelt new classic, Selling Things is the breathtaking product of anxiety and existential crisis, a record whose passionate folk and stirring poetry resonate in the soul. It’s an album that awakens something deep inside us all – a timeless collection whose songs speak to anyone and everyone still figuring things out.
Cause all my life, I don’t know
Honey how to let it go
How to learn to stand with what I am
And what I cannot control
‘Cause you can tighten up your rope
But you’d be chasing down a ghost
And it’s not enough to kill you,
but it’ll get you pretty close
– “Chasing Down a Ghost,” Brian Dunne
Atwood Magazine is proud to be premiering Brian Dunne’s third album Selling Things, independently out April 10, 2020. Produced by Andrew Sarlo (Big Thief, Nick Hakim, Caroline Rose), Selling Things is a vulnerable and cathartic nine-track journey through the artist’s 20s, through New York City, and through life’s unavoidable twists and turns.
New York City is my muse; I’m hopelessly in love with it. It’s pathetic.
A rock-leaning singer/songwriter following in the footsteps of greats like Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen, Dunne’s songs marry catchy melodies with moving sonics and personal lyrics.
His talent and appeal lie in his music being as meaningful as it is easy and fun to listen to, and nowhere is this better exhibited than on Selling Things.
“I will always see this record as the cap on the 2010s, for me personally,” Dunne tells Atwood Magazine. “Some of them were born out of the anxiety and madness of my early 20s, some born out of a pretty dark place I went through in my mid 20s, and some of them were born out of the last few years of coming to terms with who and what I am.”
Selling Things brings us up-close and personal with Dunne, exposing us to diary entry-like explorations of the self from the very first notes: Album opener “Harlem River Drive” places the artist quite literally on one of Manhattan’s most well-known and heavily traversed parkways, philosophizing as he reflects on his own life. It’s a soul-searching confessional and beautifully honest, fitting introduction for what’s to come:
Shined a flashlight
Through a dark night
On the Palisades
Said I was flying
I did not notice
Was just trying to focus
On the time I made
In life and sacrifice
You’re just a short ride from paradise
And just a slip from your hardest days
I’ll never know babe
Which way to go babe
I’m just trying to hold on along the way
– “Harlem River Drive,” Brian Dunne
Though the experiences that inspired Selling Things range in substance and time period, these songs all present Dunne at his most vulnerable, showcasing the very best of his storytelling abilities.
“I’ve certainly changed a lot over the last 10 years — as one does in their 20s — and it’s definitely reflected in my work,” Dunne explains. “It took me a long time to realize that the most important thing you can offer in your work is yourself; I’m much more focused these days on sharing a unique perspective… I used to want to write songs for everyone — now I want to write songs for people who feel exactly the way I do. It’s a bad business plan, but it makes for sharper and richer material.”
Everything Dunne sings is as intimate to him as it is universal to anyone who listens; there’s a nugget of truth in every song, intentional or not.
Some say that words are just words
I say slip me the chorus give me verse after verse
I’m just so sick of feeling sick all the time
But just a little back and forth can ease your worried mind
If you walk me home
And let me ramble on
You might find a little comfort in the world I roam
I wanna be your friend
Don’t let me end this night alone
– “Walk Me Home,” Brian Dunne
In naming Brian Dunne an Atwood Magazine Editor’s Pick last month for the album closer “Getting Wrecked on Election Day,” we praised the singer/songwriter for his ability to bring the most fleeting of moments to life through vivid imagery and expressive singing.
Yet as with every great album, it’s the full listen – more so than any single track – that makes Selling Things hit so softly, and yet so hard. Sure, the chugging fast grooves on “Walk Me Home” and “Nothing Matters Anymore” add some thrill to the album’s first half, just as the emotional outpourings on “Nitehawk” and “Like a Drug” make for an especially moving second half. We are right there alongside Dunne throughout Selling Things as he spills his soul; whether you’re a casual listener or a lyrics aficionado, Dunne makes sure his audience knows how he’s feeling in graphic, affecting detail.
Here it comes again
Every time I think it’s gone
It’s in my lungs again
Like a drug we’re running on
I don’t think that I can kick this shit
I don’t think I’m gonna change my ways
I think that I’m learning to love the pain
Every year I get a little bit older
Every day I lose a tiny little piece of myself
In work and what our world demands
In the tall glass of disappointments upon my shelf
I don’t think that I can give up now
I’ve come too far too fast too long
And I didn’t plan on letting you down
And there’s a simple beauty in carrying on
I don’t think that I can kick this shit
I don’t think I’m gonna change my ways
I think that I’m learning to love the pain
– “Like a Drug,” Brian Dunne
“I feel like I found my voice on this record,” Dunne ultimately says of his third full-length album. ‘That’s not to disparage the old records or anything — I just know what I need to say and how I want to say it now. It’s my best work.”
Despite the tension and strife at the root of many of its songs, at its core Selling Things is hopeful and inspiring. Brian Dunne shines a light on familiar issues most people struggle with throughout their lives, whether it’s dwelling in anxiety or overcoming self-doubt, loneliness, finding one’s purpose or calling, or just learning to live for and appreciate the little thing – the moments that otherwise pass us by.
It all traces back to that chorus in “Harlem River Drive,” and the notion of being here and present: “In life and sacrifice, you’re just a short ride from paradise, and just a slip from your hardest days. I’ll never know, babe, which way to go, babe; I’m just trying to hold on along the way.“
Brian Dunne dove deep into his music with Atwood Magazine, speaking at length about the music and lyrics in Selling Things, his own influences and inspirations, and his new “Uppers & Downers” weekly live stream – described by Dunne as “an idea we came up with to destroy my career.”
Get to know more than you ever wanted to about this exciting Brooklyn singer/songwriter in our interview below, and stream Selling Things – a new timeless classic! – exclusively on Atwood Magazine!
Stream: ‘Selling Things’ – Brian Dunne
A CONVERSATION WITH BRIAN DUNNE
Hey Brian! First off, I’d love to talk about your music as a whole. You’ve been around nearly a decade now; how do you feel you as an artist have grown or changed over that time?
Brian Dunne: Fuck! Is that true? It feels wrong. People are less enthused by my skills when I tell them that I’m 30. I’ve certainly changed a lot over the last 10 years — as one does in their 20s — and it’s definitely reflected in my work. It took me a long time to realize that the most important thing you can offer in your work is yourself; I think when I came out of the gate, I was a very “by the book” songwriter, almost like a robot. I still like to pick songs apart mathematically and think about what makes them work, but I’m much more focused these days on sharing a unique perspective. I would boil it down to that I used to want to write songs for everyone — now I want to write songs for people who feel exactly the way I do. It’s a bad business plan, but it makes for sharper and richer material.
Selling Things is your third full-length album. What’s the story of these songs? Do they come out of a specific period of life, for you?
Dunne: Absolutely. The album was initially going to be a concept album about each year of my 20s in New York City. It didn’t end up being that, because the world exploded in 2016 and I felt it was important to write about different subjects, but the root of that idea is still there. I will always see this record as the cap on the 2010s, for me personally. Some of them were born out of the anxiety and madness of my early 20s, some born out of a pretty dark place I went through in my mid 20s, and some of them were born out of the last few years of coming to terms with who and what I am.
Why title the album Selling Things?
Dunne: If I were to wax philosophical on this (and I’m going to), I would say it’s sort of a commentary on the commodification of everything around us. It’s also intentionally sort of self-aware; I am, after all, selling my most personal thoughts and feelings for $14.99 on CD, $25 on vinyl, shipping and handling not included. BUT ALSO, on a much more basic level, I have a soft spot for albums named after the first song on Side 2 (Born To Run, Tupelo Honey, Deja Vu, etc). It’s a personal obsession of mine. So “Selling Things” it is.
“In life and sacrifice, you’re just a short ride from paradise,” you sing on album opener and lead single “Harlem River Drive.” Why introduce the album with this song?
Dunne: “Harlem River Drive” sets the existential tone for the album; it’s a scene in which the narrator is jolted out of his previous reality, and it asks the questions that the rest of the album tries to answer, so it felt right to lead off the album that way. I knew when I wrote it, that it was either going to be the first song or the last song on the album. Also, Andrew Sarlo who produced the record, pushed for it to be track one. It feels inviting to me.
“Don’t let me end this night alone,” you sing in the rushed chorus of “Walk Me Home.” This track sets such a powerful, relatable bar scene; can you talk to the experience it came out of?
Dunne: For sure. I wanted to write something that mirrored the desperation of this insane time; the apocalyptic nature of it all. Living in New York City, that’s sort of always on the table – we’re number one on the call sheet for the end of the world. I’ve tried to put my finger on this idea before; what would happen if someone ran into the bar and said the end times were on? I’d probably order another round.
So much of your music, to me, seems to reimagine life as it is, was, and has been – and I think that’s very powerful. How do you view songwriting, for yourself? Are these songs diary entries, or something else?
Dunne: Well thank you. I wouldn’t say that they’re diary entries, although writing is often very cathartic for me. But I’m not necessarily writing about me and my troubles all the time; I’m just trying to get out of the way, mostly. Some songs are very directly autobiographical, others come straight out of my imagination. The only thing that matters to me is whether or not they have an interesting take on the human experience.
“Nothing Matters Anymore” feels like a very classic Springsteen tune. “You do whatever you want with your life, I’ll do whatever with mine…” Your singing feels honest and sincere here – can you talk about the ideas that brought this track to life?
Dunne: I wrote this one in a bit of a feverish tear while pacing around my dining room table. I was feeling like life was stranger than fiction or something like that, and I wanted to try using some absurdist language to illustrate that idea. I was thinking about the Paul Simon song “I Know What I Know” as a guide; this sort of conversational vernacular that could potentially show how out-of-my-mind I felt. There was also this sort of reckoning that I was trying to get across— this idea that the same generation who marched on Washington and defined the radicalism of the 1960s overwhelmingly voted for our idiot clown president. I was wondering if we’re all doomed. I’m still pretty uncertain.
“All my life, I don’t know how to let it go; how to learn to stand with what I am and what I cannot control.” “Chasing Down a Ghost” is one of the album’s softest, most haunting numbers. This song, to me, speaks to self-growth, discovery, and the demons that haunt us. Can you talk about these inspirations and drives, and why they speak so much to you?
Dunne: “Chasing Down A Ghost” is probably the most autobiographical song on the record, but the core idea of it is something I’m always trying to write about— this idea of “endless wanting” and what it can do to a person. It’s the person who just needs one more hit, one more sip, one more whatever; anything to satisfy the void. It’s a very real part of humanity for me.
You are, without a doubt, a true songwriter when it comes to what I think of when I say that word. What are two or three of your favorite lyrics on this album?
Dunne: Well that’s incredibly kind of you. My favorite lyric on the album is the chorus of “I Hope I Can Make It To The Show” because it manages to be hopeless and hopeful at the same time. “I’ve got a heart that beats too fast and a head that won’t slow down/it’s been dogging me since I don’t even know/ but I’d like to meet your friends, if the moment will allow/and I hope that I can make it to your show.”
“Got a heart that beats too fast and a head that won’t slow down.” The song “I Hope I can Make It To the Show” is another easy favorite for me. Do your muses tend to come from the same people, or is anything and everything a potential lyrical subject for you?
Dunne: Anything and everything. It’s rare that I’d go looking in the same place twice. I’m always just trying to write the song that I don’t have yet. That being said, there are certain obsessions I just can’t shake. I will always be singing about the void. Hopefully the listeners don’t find me out.
The title track “Selling Things” is a hearty, driving number on the album’s second half. Why did you name the album after this song?
Dunne: Honestly, we tried every title in the known universe. I wanted to call the record “Well Sam, We Had Fun, Didn’t We?” Everyone thought that was an awful idea. But “Selling Things” fit— it’s cheeky. It was the last song I wrote for the album and just sort of a weird story that I fell in love with. We also had this photo of me with the money falling from the sky that I wanted to use. So “Selling Things” felt right.
“Like a Drug” is one of your most colorful tracks on the record, in my opinion. Can you talk about the process of recording this song and the choices you made in developing this song’s layers? Are most of your songs recorded in a similar way, or do the processes vary depending on how they started?
Dunne: Well, this song sort of mirrors the demo I made, arrangement-wise. I’m particularly proud of this one. The song starts with me playing my G&L through a Fender Princeton, which we then sent to cassette and back into the mix. I had layered up the demo with 12 string guitars, as sort of a nod to the first two Rod Stewart records (which I think are wildly underrated due to his later-day sins). So we kept that idea. The song has an ethereal feeling that mirrors the tone of the lyric, and we brought in Caroline Spence and Olivia Kaplan to add background vocals— both of whom have these very specific voices. And Sean created these textures on guitar that sort of sent the song out into outer space. We held the drums back until the end of the song, with little bursts of them teasing throughout the song. I wanted it to feel anthemic— the lyric is a declaration of youth, so every time we hit the chorus, I wanted it sound like you were standing on the roof of your car or something.
When I say “we,” I mean myself, Andrew Sarlo (producer), Sam KS (drums), and Sean Tracy (guitar). We all worked together in the same room for several weeks in LA, with everyone contributing to everyone else’s performance. It was a true collaborative experience. A lot of times, when people aren’t recording their parts, they check out on their phones or leave. But since we made this record in the confines of a single room, everyone had to stay involved. I loved it. It was honestly the most fun I’ve had making music.
You close with “Getting Wrecked on Election Day,” which is still my personal favorite song on the album. Why do you end the record with this track, and what is its personal significance to you?
Dunne: “Getting Wrecked on Election Day” is an interesting one; it’s pretty literal from start to finish, and it’s usually the type of song I’d leave off a record because it’s very direct— the characters in the song are all real. But Sarlo pushed for it and I wound up being pretty fond of it. It works perfectly for the end of the record, because it’s summational. It’s a song about finding a life inside of the madness of our current times. And it ties the whole album together in that respect.
What is your personal favorite song on the album? Do you have one standout that you think you’ll still be listening to in 5-10 years’ time?
Dunne: Well I don’t know about actively listening to – that’d be a little strange, I think – but my favorite song on the record is “Chasing Down A Ghost.” It came out of a very dark place for me, and when I wrote it, I felt like I had finally said what I needed to say about it and I put it to rest. Ultimately my favorite song will wind up being the one that has the most listens, because I’m trying to take over the world.
Stepping out of the frame, I understand you recently started a weekly live stream. Can you talk about “Uppers & Downers”?
Dunne: Yes! “Uppers & Downers” is an idea we came up with to destroy my career. It starts with me taking my Prozac on a live feed and reading savage YouTube comments and reviews. When it gets too dark, I play a song. It’s truly the perfect show. We did it. First try.
How do you feel this album stands out from your other records? What is it about Selling Things that makes it especially meaningful for you?
Dunne: This album is what I want to be. I feel like I found my voice on this record. That’s not to disparage the old records or anything — I just know what I need to say and how I want to say it now. It’s my best work.
How much of an impact do you think your surroundings have on your music? Do you hear Brooklyn or New York City in these songs?
Dunne: I think of every song on this record being set in New York — “Nitehawk” is a theatre on Metropolitan Ave in Brooklyn, “I Hope I Can Make It To The Show” is set at Mercury Lounge on Houston, etc. New York City is my muse; I’m hopelessly in love with it. It’s pathetic.
Thank you so much for your time Brian, and congrats on this album release. It really is a classic, musical triumph in this listener’s opinion. Lastly, who are you listening to these days, and what artists would you recommend to our readers?
Dunne: Thank you so much, I really appreciate that. I’m incredibly proud of this one. I think Caroline Rose is making incredibly exciting music. My best buds Ken Yates and Liz Longley both have records coming out this spring that are spectacular. Lilly Hiatt just put out a great new record the other day. I’m always digging around. Personally, I’ve been doing a deep dive on Europe ’72 (Grateful Dead) in a desperate search for some peaceful vibes right now.
Stream: ‘Selling Things’ – Brian Dunne
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