Brett Detar embraces his musical path
While others sell their soul, Brett Detar is offering his up to the world free of charge.
His solo debut Bird in the Tangle is a truly authentic American roots record, complete with slow burn, five-string banjo and stories told in twang-y country drawl. The album is candid, affecting, the perfect soundtrack for the lost and lonely — and it is available to download for free on his website.
“I figured [making the album free] was the best way to get people to take a chance on somebody that they don’t know,” Detar said. “My number one goal is for people to hear the record because I believe in it.”
Bird in the Tangle is quite a departure from his former projects, which includes a 10-year run as the lead singer of the alternative rock band The Juliana Theory.
The group, made up of Detar and three childhood friends, initially formed as a joke but quickly turned into a full-time job. After five albums and nonstop touring, however, Detar lost interest in rock music and was eager for a change.
“I feel like we did everything we could in that style of music and I felt like I wasn’t fresh in it anymore,” Detar said. “My heart wasn’t in it.”
The Juliana Theory broke up amiably in 2006 after a few poor business decisions slowed the band down. Afterward, Detar quickly began to question his future as a musician. Disoriented and unsure, he moved from his hometown of Greensburg, Penn., to Los Angeles and opened up a vintage clothing store.
“I didn’t believe in myself as a songwriter, singer or musician at all,” Detar said. “I convinced myself that I should quit music.”
Despite his uncertainty, he began to write songs casually, using a portable voice recorder. Detar had not considered the idea of making a solo album, and the rough recordings piled up without him paying much attention.
“One day I just started listening to them, and I realized that there was stuff on there I thought had potential,” Detar said. “I felt like music was calling me back.”
It is clear Detar has hit his stride in the simple instrumentation and raw emotion of Americana. But his passion for the genre was no recent discovery though. Even before The Juliana Theory called it quits, Detar found himself exclusively listening to country pioneers like Loretta Lynn, Ernest Tubb and his biggest influence, Johnny Cash.
“This wasn’t me trying to force that kind of record. I sing more in my natural voice now than I ever did in the past,” Detar said. “I spent so much time with folk, bluegrass and country music that it had become a part of my musical vocabulary.”
Bird in the Tangle documents one of the most difficult points in Detar’s life. Each poignant track beautifully illustrates his loneliness and insecurity. Detar is especially proud of “The City Dies Tonight,” a harrowing duet with his wife, and “A Miner’s Prayer,” an epic period piece.
Though some of this content is new territory for him, he does not approach songwriting any differently.
“I just try to write songs from the perspective of the human condition,” Detar said. “I think about what people feel in their hearts and I try to make songs that will hopefully move somebody.”
To support the album, Detar is about to embark on an 18-city tour with Nick 13, lead singer of the psychobilly group Tiger Army. Afterward, he plans to continue on the road by himself.
“I wasn’t sure that I wanted to tour full-time,” Detar said. “But I came to the point where I thought, ‘I’ve been on the road most of my adult life. This is what I do.’”
With many songs already written, Detar is convinced he will eventually record another solo album.
“It seems like a natural extension,” Detar said. “In a lot of ways, this has been easier than anything I’ve done in the past because I can write completely by myself, whenever inspiration strikes.”
With the release of his new album, Detar’s many years of self-doubt are completely behind him, and his newfound confidence shines through. Detar is happier than ever with the path he is on, a path he believes he was destined to take.
“I could never deny my first love,” Detar said. “Sometimes you just have to accept your fate.”