A life well traveled has the capacity to enrich your knowledge of the world and provide experiences beyond what any textbook, classroom, or McDonald’s restaurant kitchen can possibly offer. Brett Newski recently set out to perform in as many unconventional venues as possible throughout the world. With an open mind, he brought his music to places that few would brave performing in. Filled with honesty and hilarious anecdotes Brett (sometimes also known as The Ninja – Man) shares some of his stories with Music Existence including how his music career started off thanks to McDonald’s, his experiences while making music in a jungle of Sri Lanka, and his estranged friendship with former L.A. Lakers center, Shaquille O’neal.
ME: When would you say that you discovered music was your calling?
Newski: Well I remember being a little person sitting around the boombox listening to alternative rock radio and waiting for Green Day to come on and just being so pumped. I was always pretty obsessed with them. When I was thirteen or fourteen I got a job working at McDonald’s flipping burgers and taking orders, making five bucks an hour. I spent all my money on CDs and then got a guitar. Started learning how to play some Weezer and Bush songs, learned the power chords on a crappy starter guitar. I was pretty obsessed with it. I pretty much owe my music career to McDonald’s.
ME: While doing some research, I read that you were aiming on achieving the ‘weirdest venues’ tour. How has that come along?
Newski: Cumulatively it has already happened. I do a lot of club shows but then I’ve played so many weird places. Played at this guy’s tool shed in southern Germany. A weird rooftop in Hong Kong a long time ago. An attic during this last tour in Belgium. I’m working on a blog right now that lists the top ten weirdest places I’ve played last year. There was this cool venue under the subway like right under the train tracks in Vienna. I played a happy ending massage parlor in Vietnam once, played in the lobby. That was pretty cool, it didn’t pay at all, not even any free handjobs. It was a joke. Worst paying gig I’ve ever played.
ME: You have pretty much lived everywhere around the world. What was the biggest takeaway from your travels and practically living as a nomad?
Newski: The biggest takeaway? I think that traveling and posting up in cities for a week or two is the closest thing that you get to time traveling. That’s what it kind of feels like for me. I’ll go to Cape Town this year and it’ll probably be just like I left it two or three years ago. Then all these people re-emerge that you haven’t seen in years. Then at the same time aesthetically you’re kind of time traveling to a different time in South Africa, all the buildings are old and classic.
ME: Where haven’t you been to yet that you’d like to perform at?
Newski: Oh that’s a good question. Iceland would be pretty cool. Japan is way up there. You know it might not be the best place for a lyrically-driven English-singing songwriter but, I’m gonna go. I’m gonna go no matter what. Playing in South America would be cool, again I don’t know if that’s the right market. Just did Ireland and that’s always a favorite. Maybe I could be the second band to play Antarctica behind Metallica. That’d be a good move for my career.
ME: That’d be another for the weird venues. It’d definitely be a little cold.
Newski: Actually I just thought of the way I want to die. I’m gonna be the first songwriter to play a gig on the sun. Like late in my career.
ME: Gotta get NASA to help you out there.
Newski: If you’re gonna go, you might as well go down in history. Coolest suicide ever.
ME: What would be the most difficult aspect of being a wandering musician?
Newski: I guess it’d be the inconsistencies, unpredictabilities, and it could get pretty depressing when you have to play a gig and you’ve played twenty nights in a row. You don’t wanna talk to anyone, you just wanna go into a bed, curl up, and watch Seinfeld. But instead you’re forced into a bar and you just have to socialize. That could be pretty hard and it could give you the “depresh” as they say. But it’s 95% pretty awesome, I love it. You can’t afford to be tired. It’s when you get tired, you’re always moving, you always gotta talk to people, you gotta play a gig and be on. Keeping that energy high and not eating too much dog shit.
ME: Do you feel that where you are at a certain time and place influences your inspiration when you create new music?
Newski: I feel that you write your best songs when you’re on a really high or a really low emotion. Places can give you those polar opposites you know? So being in a place that pushes towards one of those emotions can be good. But at the same time if you’re not on the move too much it’s pretty hard to write. Setting aside time to try and crack something out. Listening to as much music as possible, makes you want to write a song. It’s pretty important you know? If you’re not listening to music, ever, it could be pretty tough to write.
ME: Who would you say you listen to the most?
Newski: Recently, I’ve been pretty obsessed with Nada Surf, classic 90’s guitar band, Kevin Morby. Some more like tongue-in-cheek anti-folk stuff too like Andrew Jackson Jihad. I’ve alway been into lyrical music. There’s this old protest singer Phil Ochs was recommended to me and I’ve been pretty into him lately.
ME: Which one of your songs would you pick to introduce someone to your music and why?
Newski: I think ‘D.I.Y.’ is the most auto-biographical, it’s about playing the worst show of your life to four people in St. Louis who were in the D.I.Y. space that was terrible. There was two homeless guys, some metalhead guy because he was at the wrong show, everyone was there by accident. Everyone just hated us, we were an indie-rock-pop band. The one homeless guy was just sitting there glaring at us and he told me after the show that he wanted us dead. He hated our band so much. It’s funny now. You need these things as a point of reference for sadness and happiness.
ME: Which artists if any would you like to collaborate with?
Newski: I need to do more collaborations. One of my lifetime goals is to be on the Joe Rogan show. I think my collaboration goals right now would be to be on Norm Macdonald’s podcast and Joe Rogan’s podcast. I just love those guys so much. Joe Rogan is a man that can absorb more knowledge than anyone I’ve ever seen and Norm Macdonald is probably my favorite comedian, favorite comedy writer for sure. Playing music is super fun and then you realize that you can learn so much from people outside of music. That helps you directly in music. Rather than just kind of riffing about records or listening to just your iPod all day. It’s cool to mix it up so you still have an appreciation of music, avoid burn out I think. At first I thought I’d never get sick and tired talking about music ever, now I’m like let’s talk about Joe Rogan or whatever, you know what I mean? I’m now enjoying talking about music because I took a big break talking about music.
ME: From your most recent album, what was the most difficult song to put together?
Newski: Well we recorded all our songs and gave it to our European label guy who’s this old school German guy. He gave them back to me and said, “Four of these songs are shit!” He hated four of the songs and then I had to go back. I was in Sri Lanka with my tour manager, Danimal, who is the sound engineer so we recorded four new songs in Sri Lanka, in the middle of the jungle, in a surf camp. So four of the songs were a huge pain in the ass to make. But, I think it made the album better in the end, it gave the album different looks and different perspectives recording it all over the earth. The internet would crap out, the power would crap out, there’d be weird sounds coming through the crappy concrete rooms.
ME: Do you still get nervous before a performance?
Newski: I don’t really get nervous to play anymore, but I think it’s mostly anxiety you know? Days of gigs is just waiting and waiting and waiting around to play. Playing the waiting game. I have trouble relaxing I think. But once you’re on stage it’s like pheew all the pressure goes away.
ME: Last but certainly not least, any shoutouts?
Newski: Shoutouts? I wanna give a shoutout to my man Shaquille O’neal. We hung out once when I was thirteen or fourteen, I met him in L.A. ‘cause my aunt was recently fired from the Lakers. She got us in the parking lot and we met Shaq and Kobe Bryant and like hung out with them. Shaq like never wants to hang out anymore and it’s really lame. Like we’re barely ever talk never calls me.
ME: Well he’s a little bit busy with his commercials for The General and Gold Bond.
Newski: Have you seen that hot sleeve?
ME: YES! Well his joints probably ache now from all those years of playing basketball.
Newski: (Impersonating Shaq) “This is four time champion Shaquille O’neal, when I’m not shattering back boards and doing endorsements for Icey-Hot Sleeve and Taco Bell I’m hanging out with my favorite musician, Brett Newski. Check him out www.brettnewski.com. Buy all his shit or I’ll come and sit on you.”
The indie musician will be releasing his new album, “The Worst of Brett Newski: Songs to sink the American Dream” on April 28th through Nomad Union. With an upcoming album on the way, make sure to check him out at the following links below for more information and tour dates: