Jeremy Zucker speaks to Atwood Magazine about creating ‘brent ii’ with Chelsea Cutler in the middle of the pandemic, and what their collaborative process looks like.
Back in 2019, artists Jeremy Zucker and Chelsea Cutler decided to join forces and create something together.
Their venture resulted in a collection of songs titled brent, which showcased the undeniable chemistry of the two artists, as well as embodying their flagship lo-fi sound.
Following the release of brent, both Zucker and Cutler focused on their solo careers, releasing their critically acclaimed debut albums, love is not dying and How To Be Human respectively. After further developing their own personal sound, and growing as artists, they decided to team up again and release brent ii, released February 5th. Whilst the evolution of Zucker and Cutler as musicians and songwriters is evident, the release still displays their recognisable style, characterised by ethereal soundscapes and vivid imagery.
Written, recorded and produced by Zucker and Cutler, brent ii is a seamless journey that delves into a variety of themes, from family, to friendships, to relationships.
Recently, Atwood Magazine had the pleasure of speaking to Jeremy Zucker about the ins-and-outs of creating brent ii, what the collaborative songwriting process is like, and how his first collaboration with Cutler came about.
brent ii is out now on Republic Records.
Listen: ‘brent ii’ – Jeremy Zucker & Chelsea Cutler
A CONVERSATION WITH JEREMY ZUCKER
Atwood Magazine: Lovely to meet you!
Jeremy Zucker: Nice to meet you!
I just wanted to say congrats on the brent ii release. And before we delve into it, how are you doing with everything that’s going on?
Jeremy Zucker: Um, all things considered, I’m doing okay. Obviously, we’ve had this lockdown and this pandemic to deal with for quite a while at this point. But I’m very thankful, you know, to have my family, and my friends, and my roommates, and music, and all these things to sort of keep me distracted and keep me sane. Yeah, I think I’m doing okay, all things considered.
Yeah. Well, I see that you’re in the studio. You never stop!
Jeremy Zucker: Exactly, yeah. It doesn’t stop me from doing the music making part of it. It does stop me from performing.
Well, yeah. How do you find that, not being able to perform? Like, still writing songs, still releasing music, but not being able to connect with that audience in that way.
Jeremy Zucker: It’s hard, because a critical part of what I do is being able to connect with my listeners and being able to like, present them with my music in the way that I imagined it, which is in the live setting. And it’s really tough, especially to put out an album in the pandemic, and my debut was released in April, like, right when everything went down, and it was really tough to put it out and then think to myself “all right, now all I can do is make more music”; and I had just poured my whole soul into that project. So you don’t get, like, the hardware reset that you get from being able to go on tour, and stop thinking about making music, and think about connecting with fans, and living and making memories and experiences that you then go home to write about. So yeah, that was a good way to like refresh and start from scratch because writing with Chelsea is always such a, like, easy and wholesome experience.
I really love the EP. I actually wanted to talk about that - the fact that you created this EP, in the middle of the pandemic. What was that like? How do you think - “I think now’s the time to go write together”?
Jeremy Zucker: Yeah, it’s weird because the pandemic, definitely, like, inspired us to go in and hold away in a studio in the middle of nowhere together. We always knew that we were going to do brent ii again, or do brent again. But I just didn’t think that it would happen so soon, like, I didn’t think we would do brent, do our debut albums, and then do brent ii. I didn’t think it would be that soon. I thought we were going to sort of wait another year or two. But the pandemic happened, I was getting sick of making music alone. We were both just, like, holed up in our respective apartments and it was one of the first times that I, like, left, was going to make brent ii with Chelsea, and obviously we did it safely and we quarantined before, and the whole thing, and everyone that we were with was quarantined and tested. So it was just really nice to be able to, like, leave the shittiness of the world for a second and make music.
I read this quote - you say that brent is a place and a feeling, rather than a piece of music. I really loved that quote. Can you expand on that? What is this place? What is this feeling?
Jeremy Zucker: Yeah, I mean, so much of brent, the first and the second, was created, you know, away from home, out of the city. Sort of like separated from our daily lives, and a lot of it we were surrounded by our friends and and we were like, hanging out and staying up late, it felt like one big sleepover, you know, we would watch movies and it gradually precipitated into our minds over a long period of time, like, exactly what brent was, and took us a long time to find the words for it. But it feels like a home away from home. It’s this place where we’re comfortable. We’re surrounded by people who care for us and people that support us, people that support one another. And at the same time, we’re writing music in that setting, and the music that we’re writing is reflecting these feelings, and these deep conversations that we’re having. It’s a safe place, and it’s away from home. Every time we’ve done it, it’s been in a rural setting, brent ii we wrote, like, in the studio on a farm. We were like eating fresh eggs and, like, finding animals and there is this little baby goat that was around all the time. Um, and so yeah, like, it’s just, it’s a world, like we’ve done this thing, and we’ve refined this thing over a long period of time, and it’s become so specific to us.
That sounds amazing. The first time it happened, how does it happen? Because the chemistry between you guys is great, you can hear that. But how do you guys meet and decide it would be a good idea to make music together? Obviously, you didn’t know about the chemistry before.
Jeremy Zucker: Right. Yeah, we always knew about each other’s music very early on, like in the SoundCloud days when I didn’t even have anything on Spotify, and Chelsea was releasing really beautiful acoustic covers of pop songs, and I was just a huge fan of it. And we started talking on SoundCloud, and then our paths just randomly kept crossing, and eventually she signed with a manager and then, a year later, I signed with the same manager, and all of these things, like, connected our lives in different ways. It must have been like, right when I graduated from college. That summer, I went up to this cabin in Connecticut for four days to write music for myself. On the last day, I texted Chelsea because I knew she lived in Connecticut. And she came out for a day just to write music. And the first thing we sat down and wrote that day was “better off”, which is our first collab together. It was the first time we wrote together, and it was this beautiful experience. And we knew, like, we felt like we had struck gold, and the next thing that we did together was go back up to that cabin together for five days. And we were just like, “alright, let’s just keep doing this until till we can’t anymore”, why not? Like, it’s so special. And that’s how brent happened?
Well, it definitely worked. What’s that creative process like when you’re working together? And how is it different from when you work on your own music?
Jeremy Zucker: Um, when I’m working on my own music, it’s, you know, it’s usually just me when I write stuff for my solo stuff, 95% of it is just me in my room alone. I, you know, I have this, like constant conversation with myself, I pick up random instruments, I make random sounds. And I just sort of like, I don’t think about it too much. I just try to like… Well, I do think about a lot. But like, when I’m trying to create, I just do whatever. And then I have like, the creative side of my brain doing random, random things. And I have like, the logical side of my brain, like, sort of screening and listening to what I’m doing. And like, feeling – does this feel great? Does this feel right? Does this feel like me? And I’m sort of, it’s that sort of a process. And then I just, like, build and build on top of it until I have something final. With Chelsea, a lot of it is like, she becomes the creative part, and I become like the logical, like, methodical part. And we bounce back and forth. It’s like, it’s just a way more functional way of making music and it’s way more honest, because Chelsea and I can have this conversation and like really talk about what we’re making and yeah, I don’t know. It’s just a lot of fun with other people too.
Watch: “emily [extended]” – Jeremy Zucker & Chelsea Cutler
What is your favorite song out of the new EP? And why?
Jeremy Zucker: Probably “Emily”.
I love Emily, it is my favorite.
Jeremy Zucker: I’m glad. Yeah, it has like, almost like a Third Eye Blind, Goo Goo Dolls vibe, especially in the chorus. The production on it was really inspired by Phoebe Bridgers’ album Punisher. And I don’t know I just like, we wrote it and I was like, I know exactly how I’m gonna produce this. The song has so much power, and it’s like, we talk about these things that Chelsea and I personally have a lot of experience with. And yeah, it’s just it’s a really intense song. The song is a journey, and especially if you’ve heard the extended version on YouTube.
I actually haven’t!
Jeremy Zucker: You should check it out, yeah!
So when you’re writing there, were you producing at the same time? Or do you write the song in its basic form, and then like, go into the production booth and work on it?
Jeremy Zucker: For this one, we wrote the whole thing, and then we sat down and produced it, which is a nice way to go about it. Because, you know, in your mind, you see the whole song, and then you just think, “okay, what’s the best way I can, like, translate this?”
I also really like “parent song”. I found the topic and the approach quite interesting, because you don’t see that many songs that are about parent-child relationships. And that angle of like, watching kids grow up, you don’t really get that. Do you want to tell us more about the track?
Jeremy Zucker: Yeah, a lot of that was Chelsea, a lot of the writing and the decision to write, like, basically a letter to her parents, and the song, was Chelsea. I remember she came up with the idea, and I walked into the live room in the studio, and we’re sitting next to each other, and she’s like “I just wrote this, like, listen”, and she plays the first verse. And I’m like, “wow”, and I was honestly, like, brought to tears. Because we’re just at a time in our lives where our relationships with our parents are so complicated, because we’re growing out of childhood, and especially like, after going to college and spending so much time away from our parents, like, adjusting to that, and then adjusting to the real world. I know, like Chelsea and I aren’t in like, the real world, but like, we’re independent, and we’re self sufficient. And that is the thing to adjust to as well.
Watch: “this is how you fall in love” – Jeremy Zucker & Chelsea Cutler
Absolutely. Yeah, I completely get you, yeah. And “this is how you fall in love” I really like as well, I think it's just gorgeous. But its also so simple and focused on the nuances of, like, falling in love. Did you always know it was going to be the lead single?
Jeremy Zucker: When we wrote it, we knew it was, it was the last song that we did for the project. And yeah, we were writing it, we actually came up with the idea while we were working on “parent song”, because “parent song” was basically done. We were just working on the intro, and I had Chelsea do these little ad libs, like these little “doo doo doo doo doo doo”. And out of nowhere, she was like, “side to side”. And I was like, “what did you say?” She was like, “I don’t know”, and we listened back, and it was like, “all my love, side to side”. And we took that line and basically wrote a song around it because we were so in love with, like, that melody and the vibe of it. And yes, we built this whole song around that one little line and it became “this is how you fall in love”. And we were just, in my mind it was like, the epitome of like, a wedding, slow dance song. It was this realization that Chelsea and I had never written, like, a pure love song. There’s always some sort of conflict. There’s always some sort of heartbreak. And it was really refreshing to just write this like, perfectly beautiful love song.
It’s so funny that you just said it came from the melody, because I thought it was the other way around, “this is how you fall in love” rolling into “parent song”. That’s so interesting to know.
Jeremy Zucker: Yeah.
Putting the EP aside for a moment - you mentioned earlier graduating from college. You were doing molecular biology, is that right?
Jeremy Zucker: Yeah, I was a molecular biology major. And I was doing the pre-med track.
What happened? When do you go “no, I’m gonna do music, this is what I’m going to do with my life”?
Jeremy Zucker: (Laughs) Um, it was a very gradual realization. I mean, I graduated with my major. And I just didn’t use it. I didn’t drop out or anything. So you know, I started releasing music under my name, right when I got to college as a first year. And by my third year, I was talking to record labels. By the time I was a senior, my last year, I had signed to Republic and so I spent that whole last year of school knowing I was going to graduate and pursue music. And I’d already gotten most of my difficult like, high level classes out of the way, so my senior year was really fun. I was like, just messing around with my friends, and taking classes, and making music, and knowing that I was going to graduate and go on tour. Yeah, that’s crazy.
Yeah, sounds amazing. We’re now coming to the end of the interview. And I just wanted to say - thank you so much. It’s been so interesting talking to you about the EP, and writing in cabins, and all of that. I just want to ask one last question - what’s next?
Jeremy Zucker: What’s next, after brent? Um, I’m working on my solo stuff. I’m looking at my sophomore album and trying to get it to come together. And I’m really excited about that. But for right now, brent is keeping me motivated.
“parent song” – Jeremy Zucker & Chelsea Cutler
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📸 © Stefan Kohli
by Jeremy Zucker & Chelsea Cutler