Photo by Thomas Evans
As a metronome ticks in the background, a swarthy young man lies asleep, his crumpled bed linen hugging his naked body like a cocoon. Piano chords chime an alarm, awakening Brett Gleason to a new day.
So begins "Calculated," the latest music video by the 29-year-old Brooklyn resident. Gleason acts as composer, vocalist, backup band, producer and even sound mixer for the song, a delightful combination of electronic and jazz harmonics. As a musician he has been compared to diverse artists such as Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, singer-songwriter Tori Amos and Depeche Mode lead singer Dave Gahan.
Gleason took a few moments to discuss the newly released video, as well as his evolution as a performing artist.
Stroud: You've come out of the closet not only as a gay man but as someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Which of these two aspects of your personality is more influential in your music?
Gleason: Being bipolar definitely affects my music more, but they both give me an alternative, outsider view of things.
Stroud: Didn't you originally promote yourself as in indie artist with an inconsequential sexuality?
Gleason: I did. I wasn't closeted, but I didn't mention being gay in my bio or press. I just didn't see my music as being '"gay" enough, though, looking back, I had a pretty narrow view of gay culture. We're ridiculously diverse, and plenty of us love to rock. The lines between gay culture and mainstream have also blurred, so much there's very little downside to being an out artist, even in rock. The phrase "indie music" now means as little as "gay music."
Stroud: In what way does your bipolar condition affect your musical expression?
Gleason: It's made me a really emotional person who makes really emotional music. I need drama and contrast; I'm obsessed with duality. I also try to include more than one emotion in every song, which sometimes makes me contradict myself, but it's always sincere and a better representation of how complex and confusing life really is.
Stroud: Your early life was hampered by a severe speech impediment. Tell me about that: What kind of impediment did you have, how did you adjust, and how has it shaped your adult life?
Gleason: I had an injury to my mouth palate as a toddler, so when I learned to speak, I was unintelligible for years, except to my mother and sister, who could descramble my code. I spent years in therapy, and whereas I don't remember most of it, I do know that it was incredibly frustrating and isolated me for years. I credit my embracing music not just as a form of communication but something I could do alone. I'd like to think it helped mold a more unique, independent attitude, evident not just in the music I play but also how I make it, as a solo artist, performing all instruments and producing myself.
Stroud: The Dissonance, your first record, conveys an almost angry, abrasive quality, but with your newest release, The Thawing, I hear a more melodic, emotionally accessible sound. What's behind the change?
Gleason: The change was a natural evolution, but also conscious and intentional. One balances the other; they're a pair: one red, one blue. I like making EPs because I can be a new person every year. In The Dissonance I hid a lot behind symbolism and style, so I wanted to be more open and vulnerable for The Thawing. Every set of recordings should be different, and the next one will be no exception.
Stroud: Your first video, "I Am Not," reached #1 on Logo TV's The Click List after being voted in the top 10 for about 20 weeks. How's the reception been for your latest video, "Calculated"?
Gleason: It's been pretty universally positive so far, which is very different from "I Am Not," a video that had a lot of fans but also very vocal haters, as maybe it should be for a debut. I will say that "Calculated" is a much more accessible song and video, very colorful and even fun. I wanted to drop the mystery of being an artist and show the humanity. All of it was either shot in my apartment, my building or the playground I grew up in on Long Island. I do, however, wish The Click List still existed; it was a great place for gay indie artists to reach a big audience and build some momentum.
Stroud: You funded The Thawing through Kickstarter. What advice can you give other artists looking to use crowdsourcing to bankroll a project?
Gleason: Do it as rarely as possible and for as little money as possible. And stay in contact with your donors. They are gods and goddesses, and you will most likely need their help again. Seriously, be frugal and grateful; this may be all the money you "make" off the record for a while.
Stroud: What caused you to play your first show in 2009? What advice would you give to anyone who dreams of being a musician?
Gleason: To be honest, I wish I'd started performing sooner, but I didn't feel confident getting onstage until I had a record I was proud of representing, so I didn't play a show until four months before my first release. I still have a long way to go but do encourage aspiring musicians to actually learn how to read music. It sounds simple, but way too many songwriters and performers can't read, which not only makes it difficult to communicate and collaborate but also turns songwriting into a guessing game of chance. And get in front of a crowd whenever you can. Even teaching, public speaking or sports are great preparation for the kind of dominance you'll need onstage. I grew up as a competitive gymnast, which really helped, however unrelated that may seem.
Stroud: Next Door Magazine featured you on the cover this fall, and several well-known New York photographers, such as Walt Cessna, Scooter Laforge and Thomas Evans, have chosen you as a model. Do you consider yourself handsome?
Gleason: Sure, but handsome isn't everyone's type.
Stroud: The tagline for your video is "Won't you join Brett Gleason in bed?" How does the lonely little boy with a speech impediment inside of you feel about being an object of sexual desire?
Gleason: It's a pretty detached concept for me. I'm not an object of desire; my pictures and videos are. I give myself away so fully in my music that showing skin is hardly an issue.