Interview: Jeremy Zucker & Chelsea Cutler on brent ii, first songs and how they met

brent ii Jeremy Zucker Chelsea Cutler

“Don’t fix what isn’t broken” is exactly the mantra Jeremy Zucker and Chelsea Cutler seemingly live by as they offer their latest EP brent ii as a follow up to their 2019 global success together.

Through the 2020 summer of the pandemic, the pair retreated to an upstate New York cabin to continue the story of brent as they evolved from examining the insecurities of a relationship to the variations and beauty of love.

With unmatched harmonies, this pop duo create depth in simplicity, underscored by an effortlessly meticulous production. It’s easy to imagine future weddings to be soundtracked by their collaborations.

Where cinema has recurring pairings: Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling; music has Jeremy Zucker and Chelsea Cutler, and their compatibility is made for many bodies of work.

We got together to talk about brent ii, their meet-cute, working collaboratively and whether brent iii is in the works.

G’day guys. Where are you two at the moment?

Jeremy Zucker: I’m in Brooklyn and Chelsea is in Manhattan.

Pretty close to each other, that’s nice. You guys able to visit friends at the moment?

Chelsea Cutler: Kind of, not really. I quarantined this whole week alone after flying back from travelling. So it’s been, it’s been a lonely week.

That sucks but at least we get to do this together! Congrats on brent ii. Before I get to that, I really wanted to ask you about your blossoming friendship. Do you guys remember the first time you’d heard of each other?

JZ: Yeah, I found out about Chelsea through SoundCloud. I’m sure she found my music through SoundCloud as well. I can’t remember what her song was. Definitely the first one I heard of you was an acoustic cover.

CC: I think I heard “Peace Signs”.

JZ: “Peace Signs” Oh my God. That’s a throwback. Yeah, it was, I think it was before we were even putting music on Spotify. It was sort of like in the heyday of indie artists coming up on SoundCloud. And then I randomly ran into Chelsea at a show that I was playing. I flew to University Connecticut to like play a frat party and I get off stage after my set and Chelsea is just like standing there. She’s like, “Hey Jeremy, I’m Chelsea. Chelsea Cutler.”  And I was like, “Oh my God. Like this girl that I follow on SoundCloud, this is so random.” And we didn’t even really talk that much. We literally talked for like 30 seconds. I was like, “Oh my God, it’s so crazy to see you here.” But she didn’t even go to UCon. She was just there visiting a friend and happened to be there the same weekend that I was and happened to be attending the party that I was doing a show at.

CC: It was like a very bizarre coincidence.

Chelsea, did you see his name on that? Were you like, “Oh, that’s Jeremy playing, I have to go!”

CC: No, no, no, no! I had no idea. I was visiting. So one of my best friends goes to the University of Connecticut and I was visiting her that weekend and she was like hooking up with some boy in the frat. So we went to that frat party and Jeremy just like happened to be performing. And I had no idea. It was crazy.

So how do you guys link up properly afterwards? Who reached out to who?

CC: I feel like it really came together more once you started working with our manager, Jesse [Coren].

JZ: Yeah. So, it’s weird, I feel like I was even talking to Jesse before you knew who he was. Cause yeah, I did a song with Quinn XCII like way back in the day and I got linked to his manager because of that – Jesse, my now manager. And like, I guess shortly after meeting Chelsea, she signed with him and I was like, whoa, that’s really weird.

Like this guy that I know, she signed with this guy. And I wasn’t thinking that I needed a manager at that time, but I knew that if I needed one, I’d probably go to Jesse. And six months or a year after Chelsea signed with Jesse, I signed with Jesse. And then, now we have to be on the same label with the same A&R. It’s just all these weird worlds coming together.

I guess was meant to be then, hey, like all the right signs.

JZ: Definitely. I saw, I think it was a YouTube comment, a couple of days ago and it was like, “I can’t imagine a world where Jeremy and Chelsea don’t meet.”

Oh, that’s so cute!

Also, interesting that you read your YouTube comments.

JZ: Oh, all the time. I feel like YouTube comments are either the happiest place or the scariest most depressing place. And I feel lucky that when I dive into my own comments, there aren’t any aren’t many hate comments and stuff.

There’s also just a lot of creepy comments, I’d imagine. Right?

JZ: A lot of weirdos for sure.

Well, they’re right. We’ve got two beautiful EPS out of your collaboration. Chelsea, you’re a fan of two-part collections. You’ve got Sleeping With Roses and Sleeping With Roses II.

CC: Yeah. Not like, particularly on purpose. I think I mostly just clung on to the Sleeping With Roses era because I didn’t feel like emotionally I was really past what I had written about in the first Sleeping With Roses. So it’s definitely not purposeful, so…

It just exists! Let’s talk about brent then. I searched the internet everywhere, but I couldn’t find it – maybe you’ve already talked about it. But who is Brent and why has he got two EPs? And why didn’t you call the second one Trent?

JZ: Trent! That’s hilarious. So at first, it’s probably not on the internet ‘cause we didn’t really talk about it in the beginning, but Brent isn’t a person. Before we made the project, Brent, as a name, didn’t have any significance.

So a bit of an “Emily” in that sense?

JZ: Yeah, definitely. It’s a placeholder, but we thought of the name because every day when we would drive from our studio to this cafe that we would always have breakfast at, we would pass a Brentwood road. And like, honestly, we had no idea what we’re going to call the project, the first one, and we knew that it was going to be a name that like… we knew it wasn’t going to be a word. We knew it was going to be like either a name or like the name of a place or something like that. ‘Cause we were so inspired by the place that we were writing music. And so we were just like naming things as we passed them on the street every day. And then one of the first days we were like, “Brent, Brent, that sounds nice.” Like it doesn’t…

CC: No! It was like leaving Jeremy.

JZ: Oh, you think it was?

CC: Yeah. Cause you remember like the whole week I wanted to call it whatever, like the number highway we had to take to get to like the coffee shop.

JZ: Yeah. What was the highway? I think it would have been like a bad name.

Okay, I like it.

I really appreciate that brent ii is a lot more about beauty and vulnerability in relationships, rather than, you know, brent was about kind of insecurity and fear. And it was interesting to see you guys released this almost an upswing of a collection when the whole world is turning to shit, it was really refreshing.

JZ: Thank you. Yeah, it was nice to be able to like pause everything and make that cause it definitely like made us feel a little bit more normal when the world wasn’t.

Tell me about the track order then, ‘cause I was really interested that you put your solo songs towards the end, but obviously there are songs that flow naturally together. How’d you decide?

CC: Yeah. I think putting together a tracklist has a lot to do with curating the experience for the listeners. It’s really similar to putting together the live set and the order in which you play the songs. So you’re basically, like I said, you’re curating the listeners’ experience when they’re listening through the project as a whole.

And it felt really right. “this is how you fall in love” made sense to be first because it was a single. And then also, you know how, like in the beginning of “parent song” there’s those little ad-libs that are like, ‘All my love, side to side’. That ad-lib is like how we came to write “this is how you fall in love”, so it was cool that those two songs float into each other. And then “Emily” just feels like this really pivotal moment in the project. It’s a very dynamically versatile song and just very deep and complex. And then it wraps up really nicely with our solo songs.

One part that really stood out for me across the album was the end of “Brooklyn Boy” when there’s that moment where you’re almost like hitting a nebula. It kind of explodes a little bit. That’s an interesting production choice.

JZ: Yeah. I didn’t ever, it wasn’t really, I mean, I guess it was a choice, but I wasn’t like I’m gonna make a really quiet song and then exploded at the end. It was just where I felt it going, which is really cool that it naturally started so calm and ended with so much angst. But it’s a song about frustration really. And so the progression of the song is like all of these emotions sort of bottling up and the pressure getting more and more into the end, it like explodes.

Yeah, I get that. You get to live that experience with you, I guess.

Jeremy, I also feel like you’re pretty meticulous when it comes to your work ethic. What have you learned about your craft and working with Chels?

JZ: There were times where I was like, man, I don’t know if this project is going to come together on the production side because I sort of put myself in over my head because of how good I wanted it to be and how nuanced I wanted everything to be. And I guess I learned to just keep pushing along to keep moving along with something, even though, even if you don’t believe in it in a certain moment, you have to see the light at the end of the tunnel and follow through.

And one of the things I learned is to always, when you’re first writing a song and first beginning a song idea, really to hold onto the feeling that you got when you first started it. Because as a songwriter, you’re constantly drilling the same song over and over again, and it can get pretty old and that can get really frustrating. So I think remembering how you felt when you first write a song is something that we definitely had to think a lot about as we like worked on these songs so much.

With brent, you went away for a week to a cabin. Did you do the same sort of time pressure thing for brent ii?

JZ: We tried.

CC: Yeah. It took us a lot longer to do brent ii.

Was that just because of COVID? Was it through COVID that you created or pre-pandemic?

JZ: I think we started in July or August.

CC: I remember that it was hot!

JZ: Yeah, yeah. We were like sweating while we were sleeping, but we did like a week at a studio on this farm upstate, which is a lot of fun and got a couple ideas there and then went back to my studio in Brooklyn and finished it while like doing little spontaneous trips upstate.

It’s nice to get out and change the scenery – definitely helps spark creativity.

Chels, what have you taken away from Jeremy for your own personal processes?

CC: I think that I’ve learned a tremendous amount from Jeremy because we are so different in our writing styles. Jeremy’s so, like you said, meticulous, and I can be very hasty and I think we just complement each other really well in that way. But working with Jem has definitely helped me slow down and really put in the time and the effort to tweak the details. And I don’t know, those little things go a really long way in songs. So I’ve learned a lot.

JZ: Chelsea really helped me the opposite way, ‘cause she’s very spur of the moment, spontaneous and I’m a little slower. So it helped me stop thinking so much and start making music more in the moment.

CC: Jeremy will sit for like literally six or seven hours straight working and, and I’m like, so in awe and inspired by that, but I simply can’t replicate that style of working.

I was going to say must be that molecular biology student coming through in you.

JZ: Definitely, it’s like the academic part of me, but like, that’s a big reason why I don’t collaborate with many people is because I always feel so bad. Like, the way that I work, I’ll drill a tiny, tiny thing and just like run the same, whether it’s like a vocal take, an instrument that I’m trying to get right. I’ll spend so long getting that one thing perfect and I do not want someone behind me sitting there like, “Oh, this is so fucking boring,” you know.

Yeah, just breathing down your neck.

CC: I’m the opposite ‘cause when I’m writing. Tonight I started working on a new song a couple of hours before this interview and I literally am so the opposite way where I’ll just… I didn’t even use headphones to record guitar because I was so excited. I just turned the volume down. Like I just get so excited and I’m conceptualising very quickly and all at once.

So I just want to get everything down. I can rerecord stuff and come back to stuff later, but I need to walk away from a writing session with some semblance of a formatted song.

You’d hate for the idea to pass you and you’d be like, “Oh f**k. What was that? I was too busy plugging in the guitar,” you know?

JZ: I use voice memos and then try to recreate it over a long period of time. But like the initial idea is where the magic happens usually.

Do you guys remember the first song you wrote?  Jeremy, I know yours was about your brother being afraid of heights?

JZ: Mmm hmm.

Do you remember how it goes?

JZ: I don’t want to sing it because I don’t want people to be able to search the lyrics.

Oh, can you, can we find lyrics elsewhere?

JZ: It’s definitely find-able on the internet. And only a few people have found it so I just want to keep that my personal secret. It’s very embarrassing.

CC: Can I please have access to them?

JZ: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I’m devastated! I’m going to do some serious sleuthing before this interview comes out [Update: still haven’t found it].

JZ: You will not find it.

Chels, do you remember yours?

CC: The first song I wrote was… I think it was like first or second grade and my parents entered me into, we had this thing called Reflections. It was basically a content, like art contest in my school. And I don’t know why they pitted first graders against each other, but it was really a crappy recording of me playing random keys on the piano, I think.

Hey, you could reuse that somewhere. I’m sure that could be revived.

CC: It was in about my dog, it was called Riley.

Cute!!

I imagine you guys have also been listening to a lot of music during lockdown Do you have any local artists that you’ve been getting around that Australia needs to hear about? I’ll recommend you guys two Aussie artists if you guys recommend me some locals.

JZ: I’m gonna go Porches, he has a lot of music out, but it’s just like really cool… I don’t even know how to explain it. Like indie alternative, just it’s so unique. I don’t know. I can’t even get into it. Porches is really sick though.

Done! Chelsea what’s yours?

CC: Um, probably The WLDLFE. It’s good pop-alternative, like good pop-punk kinda. I don’t know, they’re in the same vein probably as The Band CAMINO or COIN.

Huge! All right, well two Aussie artists I think are kind of similar to what you guys are doing are Carla Wehbe. She has a song called “Love Me For Me”, which is really good. You should definitely look her up. And then there’s a guy called will hyde who actually works with Stefan Kohli.

CC: My drummer manages him!

Oh what! I was like, “Oh, you guys would like this guy.”

CC: He’s awesome.

JZ: Yeah I think Stefan shot a couple of his videos

Small world! All right, before I let you guys go, is brent iii in the works?

JZ: No.

CC: That’s what everyone wants to know!

JZ: We are stonewalling that question.

So aloof! Well guys, thank you so much for chatting with me. It’s been really lovely to meet you and an absolute pleasure.

brent ii is OUT NOW.

You can follow Chelsea Cutler on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
You can follow Jeremy Zucker on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Tait McGregor

@taitmcgregor

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