Kim Ruehl: I want to start with your bio, which starts by saying your parents are a nun and a priest who left the church to fall in love and teach philosophy. That’s crazy.
Brendan Hines: Yes. Actually my dad was a Jesuit priest, my mom was a nun. They grew up in Brooklyn in the ‘40s. They joined the church right after high school and were pretty serious about it but they had known each other in high school. After a few years in the church, they reconnected. They’d stayed in touch and close. After a few years of friendship they realized they were in love and wanted to get married, but of course they couldn’t do that. So they had to write and basically tell Rome that they were leaving the church. So they did that.
That’s intense. So did you grow up Catholic?
Yeah, we were raised Catholic. I went to Catholic school, my siblings all did too, in Baltimore. My parents were of the very liberal New York Irish Catholic [persuasion] so there was no fire and brimstone. It was a very social justice strain of the Irish Catholic upbringing that we had.
When did you find music? What was your first favorite album?
One of the first albums I remember thinking of as an album was Graceland by Paul Simon. That was one of the first records that I realized was an entire record and not just a song here and there. I remember listening to it when I was 10 or 11 and we were driving to pick up our first family dog about an hour away. The whole way there, the car full of the Hines family was listening to Graceland. On the way back afterwards, having a dog in our lives for the first time. That’s the association I have. So that was the first record I knew of. We also grew up with a lot of Irish folk music – the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and the Irish Rovers, a lot of stuff like that – so that was always on at the house. That was probably one of my first musical influences. I was pretty obsessed with memorizing when I was a kid. Any lyric-heavy music, I took to pretty quickly. In middle school I started playing the trombone, which was when I first started figuring out music. I played that for eight years. I had a guitar but I never picked it up until I’d exhausted my interest in the trombone.
Were you ever in musical theater?
Yes, I was. In fact I went to Loyola High School which is an all-boys school in Baltimore. I wasn’t very good at sports. I started doing theater because we had a sister school called Notre Dame Prep. That was an all-girls school. If you did theater you got to hang out with girls after school because the only way to put on a play with anything other than boys would be to ship the girls in from somewhere else. So that was the only activity I was interested in. We did a musical – one musical and one straight play every year. I wasn’t really good. I was in Damn Yankees but I wasn’t featured at all. I don’t think I did any singing. I was in it but I wasn’t one of the musical theater stars. I didn’t end up singing until I’d been playing guitar for a while. The guitar helps you figure out your voice – your version of singing.
What interested me was that you’ve had a career as an actor. To become a working actor requires a lot of sacrifice and focus, so a lot of people who start out in musical theater choose acting or music and neglect the other side of it. So I’m interested in how you’ve managed to nurture these two sides of your creativity.
That’s a good point. People always seem surprised. Sometimes I’m introduced to people as an actor; sometimes I’m introduced as a musician. When people find out I do the other thing, they’re sort of surprised and say “Oh I thought you were an actor” or “I thought you were a musician!” It’s only recently when I’m forced to make the distinction that I do. I’ve always been interested in performing. I think they come from the same place – the impulse is the same. I have a love of performing. I’ve always been a little hammy. I’ve always enjoyed entertaining people to some extent. To me they live in the same place creatively. The difference for me – why I have a deeper connection to music – is that it’s been with me for so long. But also it’s something I can control completely. I’m responsible for it. It’s something I’m making without waiting and relying on someone else to give me the opportunity to do it. It would be weird if I sat around my house acting by myself. But if I’m just sitting around alone playing music, that’s not strange.
Now that Lie to Me is off, are you still working as an actor or are you focusing on music now? Can you do both in LA?
I can do both but I just have to pick my battles. I have to be choosier about acting work just because I want to be able to focus on music enough. I’m still working. I didn’t retire because the show’s not on anymore. It’s hard – when you’re fully employed as an actor, that’s an incredibly rare circumstance and it’s pretty all-encompassing. As someone working on a television show, that’s your life basically. You’re lucky if you can fit in a few shows here and there or write a few songs here and there. I find that it’s hard to focus on music when I’m working a lot as an actor. But the nice thing about being a journeyman actor and going from project to project and making some money here and there, that’s a brief commitment so you have plenty of time to continue writing and touring and recording. The nice thing about acting is that it bankrolls my music career. It’s a nice thing to be able to work for a little bit, have a lot of free time to then work on music. I’m still frustrated when I’m unemployed. But unemployment and frustration are great songwriting tools.
Tell me about your new album.
Small Mistakes is a follow-up record that I've been wanting to do for a while but work kept getting in the way. I was so busy that I just couldn't find the time to write and record. I could have done a very brief and thrown-together recording session, but I didn't want it to be that disposable so I was waiting for the right time. The record is an evolution from the stuff I was doing before. It's not as smart-alecky, as much as I love smart-alecky music, it has more of a seriousness to it. The songs I was writing were reflecting things that were happening in my life. I get uncomfortable when I'm trying to interpret my own songs. I'd rather people interpret them themselves. But practically speaking the record was full of songs I wrote when I finally got freed-up from work. I had these songs I wanted to do, but I didn't want to do them in the same way I did my first record. I'd been writing with a singer-songwriter named David Poe and he had some great ideas for how the record should sound sonically. We wanted to keep it very intimate. I wanted it to feel like an inner monologue. There are still stories but they're very intimate and personal. Sonically I wanted to have it sound like you were inside of someone's head. I wanted it to found like folk music from space. I think we found some of that - there are some odd sounds and ethereal harmonies that make the record feel very different. Not just from my own previous stuff, but from a lot of other singer-songwriter-type records.
We also had three or four other songs we were working on for the record but they weren't feeling finished and they weren't feeling like a part of this record. I didn't want there to be any filler, so we kept it at six songs. It's a breezy 25-minute record. We just didn't want there to be any skippable songs and I don't think there wound up being any skippable songs on the record.
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