INTERVIEW: Bruno Major learns ‘To Let a Good Thing Die’

Bruno Major

Bruno Major, Courtesy.

U.K. soul singer-songwriter Bruno Major was a week away from kicking off his biggest U.S. tour in March when the plug was pulled on the touring industry. The concerts were meant to be an introduction to his second album of jazzy slow-burners, To Let A Good Thing Die. The tour was quickly rescheduled for September, but in mid-May, two weeks ahead of the album’s release, Major is already expecting another postponement.

To Let a Good Thing Die
Bruno Major
AWAL Records, June 5

“I’ve got realistic expectations,” he says. “I don’t really see there being any shows for the rest of this year, anywhere in the world, to be honest.”

It would be acceptable for the independent artist to view the inability to play shows as a setback to his budding solo career, but Major considers himself lucky that he was able to finish the new album and had physical copies produced before coronavirus ground the world to a halt. At least the album wasn’t halted halfway through the process. He and his family are safe, sheltering in place at his childhood home in the British countryside, and he is reconnecting with his parents and brother.

The home has a flower garden, a large shady tree and a deck. Major has been spending his days writing, exercising, playing and eating well.

“At least now I can release music. I’m not like an EDM DJ. I’m not making music for people to dance to,” he says. “My music is to be listened to at home, being cozy and relaxed. If people are going to be listening to music, it’s definitely going to be the kind of music that I make. I think I could have done a lot worse. To think [about missing touring] is kind of selfish, because there are people dying, and it’s not the end of the world that I’ve canceled my tours. I’ll live. You’ve got to put things in perspective.”

Bruno Major has dealt with false starts before. The last one almost caused him to lose confidence in himself as a songwriter.

After picking up the guitar when he was 7 years old, his first pursuit was as a jazz guitarist. He learned songwriting from standards like “All the Things You Are,” “There Will Never Be Another You,” “Autumn Leaves,” “Stella by Starlight,” “My Funny Valentine” and “The Way You Look Tonight.”

“You know; these are the jazz standards that bebop players use as vessels to improvise over, and I was learning the chord structures, and I was learning the melodies, unwittingly,” he says. “It was like that style of writing was just really deeply ingrained in me, and I still write that way to this day.”

He started playing shows when he was 16 and left school two years later. When he was 20, he moved to London to pursue music, but he didn’t start writing his own songs until he was 22.

He pulled from the guitar playing of Joe Pass, the songwriting of Randy Newman and the production of D’Angelo, James Blake and Radiohead. Other influences included Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and Tribe Called Quest, as well as classical composers Bach, Chopin and Debussy.

Two years later, he signed to Virgin Records—at which point he hoped that he’d made it. He got the chance to live it up in L.A., but the label dropped him without ever releasing an album.

That forced Major into a yearlong writer’s block during which he couldn’t write anything he considered good.

“I came back to London and with no confidence and no money,” he says. “It was a really tough time for me. … If you don’t have confidence, it’s very difficult to write songs.”

So instead, he took a job at a local theater company writing music to score Shakespeare plays. It wasn’t until a conversation with his mom that he had hope again. She told him that all of his struggles would be part of the tapestry of his life.

Bruno Major

Bruno Major performs at The Chapel in San Francisco during Noise Pop on Feb. 20, 2018. Alessio Neri/STAFF.

“Tapestry,” which appears on To Let A Good Thing Die, gave him the confidence to get back on his horse, and that inspired him to write a song a month for a full year and post the songs online. That turned into his popular 2017 independent debut, A Song For Every Moon.

“I think being surrounded by the greatest words that have ever been written, arguably, really influenced me and unlocked me in some weird way,” he says. “After I wrote ‘Tapestry,’ the floodgates opened, and I was able to write very freely.”

Major credits the song for giving him the spark to not only create his debut but be in a position where others would want to listen to his music, which is why he included it on the new album.

The remainder of the album, which, unlike the debut, was recorded in an actual studio, is a similar collection of mellow, smoky musings about interpersonal relationships and life learnings.

Major describes “Old Soul” as an ode to wallowing in pity following a breakup.

Co-written with Finneas, “The Most Beautiful Thing” is a lovestruck, nostalgia-inducing wish to the love of Major’s life—whom he hasn’t yet met: “I don’t know who you are/ But I’ll save you a seat/ Hang my coat on the chair next to me/ I tried to reassure the waiter, say you’re down the street/ He laughed at me/ So here’s to you/ The most beautiful thing that I have never seen.”

Bruno Major, metalhead
“Harmonically speaking, I love jazz. I think metal has a lot of [similarly] interesting harmony in it. … In metal music … there’s interesting and complex stuff going on, and I think that’s what drew me to it, more than anything; the brilliance of the musicianship in that music. It was through that music that I discovered stuff like Yngwie Malmsteen and like the shred metal scene. And then through that I kind of got into jazz and Meshuggah. I am a huge Meshuggah fan; they are kind of just like jazz with metal guitars.”

The specific, detailed song pulls directly from Major’s own experiences. Written in the wake of a breakup, it pulls apart the traditional definition of “soulmate,” and how so many partner up with their childhood sweetheart.

“The likelihood of everyone’s soulmate being born in that same place is infinitesimally small,” Major says. “What if your soulmate was born in the other side of the world, and you’ve never been there? I suppose that idea always fascinated me, and I don’t think it makes the idea of love any less beautiful. I think there’s something more beautiful about two people meeting through circumstance and compatibility, who then work at their relationship and form a bond based on mutual experiences over time. I think that’s more beautiful than some kind of cupid arrow being sent from the heavens.”

The title track, which closes the album, lyrically plays a bit like the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” serving up a dose of bittersweet truth while summarizing the entire record. The album was written over the duration of a relationship, Major said, and this song arrived as the relationship was ending.

“It felt like the whole the whole album was defined by that relationship,” he says.

At the same time, he says, the song is the conclusion of the creative arc that began with his debut. While he hasn’t yet started working on his next project, he already knows that what he writes next will be new. “To Let a Good Thing Die” refers to both the end of a relationship and the current period of Major’s life.

“It’s like one big breath, and it’s now ended,” he says. “I’m going to going to need to go somewhere very different. I feel like it’s necessary.”

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