G-7L1BQ01JC4 google-site-verification=FcHx71H1bjVosBa3N5PbNSP0lPlz9dKW5Fnb3zbHVBI Brendan Maclean - Gay Music: In the Key of Q

Episode 6

Published on:

20th Apr 2021

Brendan Maclean

“Music is healing for queer people because we find codes and messages that are hidden within songs, and we hear ourselves in them. And we see that caught in other people’s eyes.”

 Sydney-based singer-songwriter joins Dan Hall to talk about growing up gay in the Christian suburbs of Australia, singer-songwriter John Grant, the power of performance and his complex relationship with his commercial hit single, House of Air.


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Brendan 00.02

Music is healing for queer people because we find codes and the messages that are hidden throughout the songs, the Easter eggs, if you will, and we hear ourselves in them. And we see that call in other people's eyes.

Dan 00.26

I'm Dan Hall. I'm a gay man and I love my music. However, I've spent my life translating hetero normative content into my own story. So I'm speaking with queer musicians from around the world who mirror and inspire my queer journey. Welcome to In the Key of Q.

Dan 00.45

This week, I am delighted to welcome from Sydney, Australia, the most fantastic Brendan Maclean.

Brendan 00.54

Hello, gorgeous!

Dan 00.56

Hello, my lovely!


I look myself in the eye and wonder when

I call my mother and my father and a friend

"Have you got it all together

Lord it's been forever since it felt right, felt right"

We want hugs not drugs

Or both, if it's available

I'll take two

And you, under the table and

Let's both get drunk

And forget the rest, yeah

Brendan 00.57

I grew up in a deeply Christian suburb called the Sutherland Shire, affectionately known as The Shire. Also the place of the race riots. We had race riots on the beach between white folk and the mostly Lebanese community, totally inflamed by a radio presenter called Alan Jones, who built up a campaign that people should "take back Cronulla Beach on behalf of God's people", as he put it. And that's where I grew up.

Brendan 02.01

So it was rough. It was really rough. There wasn't many days I didn't come home from school in tears. Or a ripped shirt. Or, you know, rocks thrown at me. It was all of that.

Brendan 02.21

We're all dreamers be it my Mum's sort of wicker tendencies or my sister's love of the Earth and agricultural science that she does. But the suburb, just beat us all down.

Brendan 02.36

It feels so similar to every story. I feel so useless saying it, but-

Dan 02.42

I don't think it is useless saying it. I think the fact that is being said and being said out loud is hugely validating.

Brendan 02.49

Suppose it does that to you. That's what it tries to tell you. Right.

Brendan 02.54

But through dancing. I was able to see a glimpse of hope. And glimpses of friendship. Teachers that helped, you know, that gave you that wink of like, 'You'll be OK, we'll make sure if you need to come in here at lunch, come in here at lunch.'.

Brendan 03.14

And you know, your gal pals that you can start whispering. That maybe you like Neil across the quadrangle in the shorts. That started happening.

Brendan 03.24

And when you have your first partners in suburbs like that in the Bible Belts of wherever you are, it's scary. You know, it's not just the students, it can be their parents. You know, we had bricks thrown through the window when a very Christian family up the road, found out I was seeing their son. Liberal right conservative-voting parents quick to kick their son out of the house, things like that.

Brendan 04.00

It all led me to a musical in high school, and I'm going to say it, but it's not good when I say we did The Wiz with an all-white cast. Oh, boy. And finally, the combination of dance and acting and singing was there, and I felt like I'd transcended, like I found I found the biggest version of myself I could be. The brightest, shiniest version of me.

Brendan 04.34

And yeah, that's where I see both sides of my music, the music that I use to protect myself alone with the piano. You know, there's always somebody with me if I'm making music by myself, it's it feels like there's someone in the room with me. So that's one side of the coin. This making music to build myself up, to teach myself who I am, to say things I feel uncomfortable saying.

Brendan 05.02

And then this other side where I felt so strong and powerful to imbue these big melodies, these big vocals that I didn't know how to write yet, you know, that's what musicals did. And I hate musicals. I never want to be in a musical! I don't know why I don't like them so much, but I just in all my years, I have not committed to one I could not do one. 'Five, six, seven, eight!'. Oh, I can't remember that many numbers.

Brendan 05.29

But yeah, that sort of led me to this cabaret world where I could be original and a bit theatrical, and I finally made it out of there and it was better than working at a theme park.


These hugs and drugs don't make it better

These hugs and drugs don't make it better

These hugs and drugs don't make it better

These hugs and drugs don't make it better

These hugs and drugs don't make it better

These hugs and drugs don't make it better

These hugs and drugs, h-hugs and drugs, h-hugs and drugs

Dan 06.03

I took refuge in listening to music. Rather beautifully it sounds like you took refuge in creating it.

Brendan 06.10

Absolutely. That's absolutely what I do and I still do. You know, if I'm at a piano with an empty room, I'm in a good place. Because you can just let those cords ring out and that's the best thing you can do, as a creative; don't have an endpoint, just keep going.


I really got my shit down, down, down

We want hugs not drugs

Or both, if it's available

I'll take two

And you, under the table and

Let's both get drunk

And forget the rest, yeah

We want hugs not drugs

Or both, if it's available

Dan 06.49

I absolutely adore consuming music, but I don't really know how to how to make it, and so I find music creatives fascinating because you literally have to pluck something from nowhere, something that doesn't exist. It's not like you're looking at a landscape and going, 'I'm going to recreate that as an oil painting' or you look a model and go, 'I'm going to photograph that.' You have nothing.

Brendan 07.13

I think when you start writing music, I think this is why a lot of us write really great songs early on and spend too long trying to recapture that moment because it's the purest form; that time when music makers are just letting whatever happen, happen. And you learn that it's just about turning up, you just got to turn up and make sounds and things start guiding you.

Brendan 07.42

It might just be the way that your first instrument sounds to you. That's how you unpack your first song. So I was on a piano, so I hit that button in the middle and it was a G, and so I sang a G and that in the court of G, which I learnt that the melody was inside that and, you know, had some terrible poetry that I stopped reading out loud. But then you sing it and the words come to life and you can't help but sing to this G melody which is connected to a D chord and drives you there and drives the melody there.

Brendan 08.23

And as you start pulling together and understanding a balance of trusting your gut and then following the instruments or the vibe, the song appears before you and you either grab it or you miss it and it scoots away somewhere else never to be found again as you scream, 'Oh, wait! Why did I make a cup of coffee before writing that down?!'


Beats me where the enemy go

Beats me when I’m killing a show

Heats up and I’m ready to go

Heats up, get in close

Brendan 09.00

I have two very completely different albums that I wanted to make; 'funbang'1 and 'And the Boyfriends' which is very dark and written for me and written inwardly. And it works better live or on vinyl. And then 'funbang1', which is outwardly written. Kind of more like the sweater that anyone can put on.

Brendan 09.26

There are multiple ways to put it out. I find both of them really fascinating. One sells better than the other. And that's cool. I was just lucky I wrote one first and not the other way round! But music is healing for queer people because we find codes and the messages that are hidden throughout the songs, the Easter eggs, if you will. And we hear ourselves in them, we see that caught in other people's eyes.

Dan 10.03

I think there's nothing someone can give you that is more valuable than their time. And in order to make an audience feel that they have made a worthwhile journey and a worthwhile ticket purchase is being delivered authenticity.

Brendan 10.21

Yeah. Yes. And that's what I try and do in any show. It can be difficult to do that and transfer that through different ways of performing songs. I write all kind of pop songs, so I play on piano, I play with backing tracks. I have my ukulele. Sometimes they have dances, sometimes I don't. But no matter what I'm doing. I've got to have that moment with the audience where. They know nobody's ever felt that before. That moment with the audience, where they go, 'I've seen Brendan, I have seen the inner workings of his mind and heart, and I'll never see that again in anybody else.' And that's my job. That's what I turn up and do,

Dan 11.11

And it is wonderful for an audience when that happens. I remember seeing Hazel O'Connor performing at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern a few years ago, and she performed the whole of the 'Breaking Glass' album. But the only accompaniment was an incredibly sexy harpist. And you kind of come to it and think, 'oh, what's happening?' And then suddenly...!

Brendan 11.32

A moment. Right, you're in it. I did it at the last show I did. I walked out. I only had one song left to do. And I just said, 'Do you want a single or do you want a moment?' You know, I just threw it out there! And of course - moment! People want a moment and I just stopped and felt the room and, you know, with a little bit electric, but not too much. I knew I could pull them right in.

Brendan 12.06

And that's when we've all succeeded in music. That's what the communion is. You know, because when a church is singing together, it's not four different parts singing against each other. It's rousing until we all feel like this one being doing the same thing.

Brendan 12.27

So when you finally get to that point where you get to sort of ease up a little bit and take the hands off and you're like, 'Oh, wow, look, mum, no hands'. It's beautiful. And then there is no difference between me and the audience. We're all there. Even if I am singing and they're silent. Suddenly the room is all of us. And yeah, that's why I do it.


Beats me where the enеmy go

Beats me when I’m killing a show

Hеats up and I’m ready to go

Hits me and you get it in close

Brendan 12.51

I supported John Grant in Sydney, and he was such a kick up the bum for me, like just to stay inspired. I decided after watching John Grant that I'm just going to be sexy forever, you know, because John is just so sexy on the stage! It's amazing. God, he knows how to write a lyric. He's a hero of mine for sure.

Dan 13.36

I discovered John Grant through the film 'Weekend'. They used a couple of his songs in there. And then I saw him perform at the Brixton Academy. And it was one of the first concerts I'd been to where I deliberately lost the people I'd go with because I just wanted to sit down somewhere quiet and didn't really want to share it.

Brendan 13.58

And lose yourself.

Dan 14.00


Brendan 14.00

Yeah. See, because again, you alone you were with music. I know it sounds corny, but it's real.


Cocked up hypo

Sucked in lypo

On a one slip typo

Dog walk yoyo

Shoestring make-up

In a streetside baker

Gonna kick that faker

Wanna meet your maker?

I’d rather be running with you

I’d rather be running with you

I’d rather be running with you

You’re sensational


Come on, come on, oh

You’re sensational

You’re sensational

Brendan 14.07

I kept songwriting in studios after 'funbang1' with other people. And I started writing in quick four hour sessions in studios with people I didn't know. Over and over and over again to no avail. Nothing would ever get released, you know,

Brendan 15.26

I remember I needed a break and I was in London. And I read about this little bookstore in a sex store. And I'd just started smoking weed, which was a really good time, and it's great that I held off smoking weed for so long. Kudos to me. And I found this gay semiotics book while I was really stoned.

Brendan 15.56

And I just was hit with the muse like I've never been hit before in my life. It grabbed me by the spine and said, 'You'll have made something about this in the next two weeks'.


No walls, no barriers

We talk without a word

Your eyes with no concern

Your heart, forever turned

When you're losing faith and all you've done

Brendan 16.34

And I was so shocked that I followed through and that became 'House of Air'.

Brendan 16.40

You know, when you when I made this Pop record immediately feeling like the walls were closing in because there was a right way to perform and the right way to sing and a right way to promote, and a right way to make your merch and to respond in interviews.

Brendan 16.58

And so we created the most queer, joyful, unashamed music video. I think that's ever existed.


Let the music pacify

No one near, just you and I

In the house of air

Falling in the house of air

Brendan 17.23

And it was a response to respectability politics, you know, it was a full response to respectability politics.

Brendan 17.35

And so that was a complete distraction from writing music again for another year. This sort of whirlwind, a lot of attention, a lot of praise which put the sword of Damocles over my head because then I didn't want to follow it up.

Dan 17.53

For those who haven't seen the music video, could you describe it?

Brendan 17.56

Very explicit. And not safe for work. And filmed in Camden. We flew in porn stars from Berlin. I get pooped on in it. And we go through the gay semiotics, the Hankey code, basically.

Dan 18.19

And it's not just that. There's a little bit a little dribble of cum, isn't there?

Brendan 18.23

There's a little bit of cum. It's everything else that was put in him during the day. You know, it all came out in the end!

Brendan 18.29

So we made that lots of attention-

Dan 18.33

Although just jumping in there it isn't just explicit. It's incredibly de-shaming.

Brendan 18.38

Yes, well, it was joy.

Dan 18.40

Yeah. I'll just implore our audience - we'll obviously put a link to it in the show notes - but to not feel, or approach it, thinking, 'Oh, this is great, this is shocking and exciting'. I loved it because I'm all about de-shaming. I have no time for shame.


Forever in the house of air

Forever in the house of air

Brendan 19.13

But it also made me realise I have other jobs in my life, it's not just making bops I wanted to be a part of the queer conversation and leave a mark on the world.

Brendan 19.25

But it also really spooked me away from Pop music, I suppose, kind of pulled back the veneer. I got a little glimpse of the other side and went, 'Oh, that's where that goes'.

Brendan 19.37

So I went inwards, I went deeply inwards, as deep inwards as I possibly could go.

Dan 19.49

And that led to your second darker album 'And the Boyfriends'.

Brendan 19.54

I made rules for the record, you know. I didn't go into my upper register or use my falsetto. I wanted to stay down in my baritone register. I felt it was my reaction to expectation. And so when people wanted me to sing high, I sang low and slow. And I remember all the labels here were just like, 'Oh wow, there's a lot of instruments on it. We didn't expect that.' But I got it out of me so I could keep creating music forever.

Dan 20.28

I really have a lot of respect for you for doing that, because it must have been tempting. However unattractive that road was with its, 'OK, so make sure we have the demo in three months prior to this and we have the artwork through.' And that is your life stretching out for the next 30 years. it also provides an element of stability.

Brendan 20.49

Absolutely. Which I got really lost in there for a while after the record came out. It was one of those classic sort of "local critics loved it". But that doesn't mean too much for streams, you know.

Brendan 21.04

Yeah, I just had to wait and I had to get I had to run out of money and I had to work at a box office and feel like the world had slipped away from me. And I had to get back on stage at a drag night or something like that; something gay! And the next week, I was in Italy performing for like Boukhari in a castle.

Dan 21.32

Good Lord.

Brendan 21.32

As I just got back on stage again. I went, 'Yeah I'm back'. And that record let me do that. Otherwise I would have stopped, I would have stopped and felt like I had a secret.

Dan 21.46

When are we going to get some gorgeous new material from you?

Brendan 21.49

I'm committed to making a music video, which I haven't done since 'House of Air'. So I've got one brilliant song already finished, ready to go, and I'm going to make the most beautiful, gorgeous narrative eye-candy Brendan Maclean music video you can imagine.

Dan 22.08

And you come to London! Come to London when you can.

Brendan 22.11

I'll be there, baby. Me and Harry Clayton-Wright will be getting the House of Air team back together. We'll give you a live show, baby. If it's legal!


Forever in the house of air

Dan 22.37

If we can go in some weird fucked-up time machine and we can send back in time your catalogue to 15 year old Brendan Maclean, what do you reckon he'd think of it?

Brendan 22.48

I think he'd hate 'funbang1'. He'd be like, 'What is this shit? What this sounds like, "I saw the sign and you opened up my eyes and saw the sign..." (Ace of Base) Oh, my God. No!'.

Brendan 23.07

I was not into Pop as a kid at all. But I think he'd get the point by the time you hit 'Sensational' that everything sort of been coming together of Pop and Rock. And he'd probably listen to that one Kylie song he has. And he probably listened to the INXS 'Kick' album that he has and go, 'Oh, this is all Mum's fault!'

Dan 23.35

What's that lovely line? 'Nature or nurture it's still your fault'!

Brendan 23.40

Mum, if you're listening this was your fault. It still is! I love you.

Brendan 23.43

But no, I think yeah, it's pretty weird. You think it'd be pretty weird he'd have liked 'And the Boyfriends' because of the guitars and that would have sound blokey.

Dan 23.54

And you don't think he'd see a stranger. You think he would say, 'Oh yes, I see that that's a development of me.'

Brendan 24.02

Absolutely. Yeah. Look, I felt something when I was a kid that I was going to do this forever, and I won't pretend that I'm surprised that I'm still doing it.

Dan 24.17

For those of our audience that don't know your content, I want to suggest a gateway drug to get them properly hooked.

Brendan 24.28

Well, I always go the Brian and Karl journey. Brian and Karl, who have directed most of my video clips. And I think you just want to go on this journey through me trying to understand what the hell I'm doing with myself.

Brendan 24.42

So start at 'Stupid' at us with a handycam, me recording on an iPad. Most of that track is from an iPad, by the way.

Brendan 24.50

And then moving through to 'Winner' the first time I booked a studio and put too many tracks on top of each other. I think there were about ten different kick-drums in that song. But you know, the video clips and I strip backwards in it. You'll love it.

Brendan 25.04

And then guide yourself to 'House of Air' and you'll find yourself at a very happy position. When I finally figure out, 'I love Pop music', but I also love making Pop structures. I love being cheeky and fun. And when you book the right person, they can make really nice production for you. I think it's probably my best track. I know it's desperately chipping away at the many TikTok streams that 'Stupid' has. But yeah, I listened to that one and it's all about the arpeggiators, the Disco drums and yeah, that joy in the performance that I hope when you listen to me, you know that when I'm in there I always mean it. I always mean it a thousand percent.

Dan 25.47

So if we want to get past the knuckle of 'House of Air' we've got to start with 'Stupid'.

Brendan 25.57

That's right. That's right. If you just cream yourself up! You know, the great metaphor for me is that if you go to houseofair.info, if if you click 'I am over 18', you go to the video and if you click 'Under 18', it just takes you back to the video of 'Stupid'. Back to the start.


If you weren't so stupid

I could have loved you

And if you weren't so stupid

But you're pretty stupid

And if you weren't so busy

I could have love you

But you work in an office

And you've got other offers

Tell me what is his name now.

Dan 26.46

Brendan Maclean, it has been lovely having you on In the Key of Q and we look forward so much to welcoming you back here in London. Thank you for the fantastic music you make.

Brendan 26.57

My heart's really full. Thank you so much for that.


But let's not

Be friends

Or else this'll never end

Let's not

Be friends

For sure, for sure

And if you weren't so ugly I could've loved you

Dan 27.21

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Tell me who is invited?

So fuckin' delighted

To see all the boys you see

Tell me why don't I fight it

What does it say about me?

Dan 28.00

This episode is produced by me Dan Hall for Pup Media Consultancy. See you next Quesday!


And let's not

Be friends

Or else this'll never end

Let's not,

Be friends

For sure, for sure

We'd adopt,

We'd adopt

I'd have all the things he's got

But I'm not.

© Dan Hall

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Music-loving gay podcast featuring insightful and inspiring conversations with Queer musicians.
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