It’s rare that we chat to an artist who’s as refreshing as their music, but Bruno Major is certainly one of them. Talent is no stranger to the Major family (his brother is London Grammar‘s Dot), but Bruno’s approach has been diametrically different. Releasing a new track every month independently – aptly titled A Song For Every Moon – he’s managed to win an organic following through the heart, depth, and honesty of his charming tunes. But, as we find out in this candid interview, it hasn’t been easy. After the release of the entire collection, we caught up with young Mr Major on the phone to talk inspirations, label drama, and personal pronouns…
You’re from a family of musicians. When did you realise that this is was what you wanted to do?
I’ve played guitar since I was little – my dad played too, so we had all these guitars lying around the house. But I don’t think it was till I was 15 or 16 when I got really into it. I used to play guitar for 6 hours a day. I’d bunk off PE to go play; it really became my whole life.
Obviously your brother Dot has had huge success with London Grammar. Was being in a band ever a consideration for you too?
I was in shitloads of bands! I was in jazz bands, metal bands, emo bands, indie bands. I didn’t write my first song or sing before I was 22… I’m 29 now. I was on a mission to become the greatest guitar player on the planet, which I realised was impossible! I wanted to play guitar for Elton John or Stevie Wonder or someone like that. When I moved to London I just got so inspired by the city – I grew up in Northampton which is a bit of a cultural vacuum, to be honest. Moving to London and seeing different cultures was very inspiring; as soon as I wrote my first song it was immediately apparent that this is what I should be doing.
We actually saw you support London Grammar years ago. What was the moment that you decided it’d just be you and your name out there performing?
I didn’t really think of it like that. I just like writing songs – I record them on my phone and put them on Soundcloud, almost just to document them rather than anything else. But that’s how I got discovered and got a publishing deal, which led to my whole career. But even now, the way I’ve done this album, it’s more of a document of where I am at that given time.
Let’s talk about the label deal for a bit – when did the alarm bells start ringing?
It was made pretty obvious – I recorded a whole album at great expense under a major label. I was only there for 6 months and they said we’re not going to release the album, and you can’t have the album. I was dropped, I had no money and no record deal and my life’s work was gone. So yeah, it was a really tough moment. It’s a cliche but the toughest moments are the ones that you learn and grow the most. With what I had left of my record advance I bought a laptop and Logic and I started making my own records. That’s led to my career now and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
That’s quite a big thing to deal with it. How did it affect your personal life and your songwriting?
My music is my whole life. I remember talking to my godmother about it and she said outside of work, how are you? And I realised at that moment that I didn’t really have a life outside work. When my music’s going well, I’m doing well; when it’s doing badly I’m doing badly. It was nearly 18 months at least before I wrote anything again; I tried every day but 90% of being able to write a song is to convince yourself that what you’re doing isn’t shit. It’s so much of a mental battle. I ended up composing a score for a couple of Shakespeare plays; it was an amazing experience, writing for the most beautiful words. During one of those productions I wrote a song again and it was an amazing moment.
We imagine those 18 months were quite tough. And then of course looking at your brother and his success, did that make things harder in any way?
I’ve learnt it’s never good to compare yourself to anyone else, it’s entirely futile. It was a bittersweet thing; I was going through the worst time of my entire life and conversely Dot was going through the best period of his life. It was not made any harder; the battle was really in my own brain.
“It was a bittersweet thing; I was going through the worst time of my entire life and conversely Dot was going through the best period of his life”
Major labels seem like the Holy Grail for a lot of new acts, but what would you say to others who are now in the same position as you were?
I just think the world is changing so fast musically, now you are capable of making your own records on a very cheap budget. You can do it all yourself. You can put it on Spotify and earn a living. I think if you have a product that’s ready to be promoted, in that case a label can put money into it and market it. But I think in terms of developing yourself as an artist – I personally couldn’t do it under the pressure of a label. Ultimately I’m an artist and I should make the decisions about my art.
Of course. It’s almost like letting someone edit your autobiography yet they have no idea who you are.
You could argue that it comes down to the dichotomy of having art as a product, between art and the selling of art. All you can do is be honest – whether you’re a jazz musician playing a bar in Yorkshire or Ed Sheeran playing stadiums, so long as you’re honest. Ed Sheeran’s music is honest, and he’s lucky enough for it to connect with so many people. Labels don’t care whether it’s the Crazy Frog or Carole King’s Tapestry, as long as it sells.
In a way, you cut out the middleman by flying solo. You present your canvas and let people interpret it…
Yeah. When I started doing a song for every moon it was a process of catharsis – I had this recurring nightmare where I couldn’t leave the house; I didn’t have my trousers on or my wallet was inside, I couldn’t get out. I think it was linked to unreleased music. I did it as catharsis and I had no expectations. I remember I put up the first song and the first week it was out nobody listened to it. Then slowly it gained traction. A year later we’ve had 30 million streams, but it was never about numbers.
Your sound does have an old-world charm to the music – timeless, romantic, but also a bit dark. Which begs the question: who hurt you, Bruno?
(Laughs) Different songs are about different people, not all about one person! I suppose that’s a boring answer.
You’ve said in the past that you think love is quite a dark emotion. Is that still the case?
It can be a dark emotion. I don’t think romantic love is always a positive thing. The quote was in reference to Just The Same; it was written when I was in love with somebody who lived in another country and we didn’t get to see each other.
We’d quite like to talk about Cold Blood – is that song written from your perspective?
That song is written in third person from the perspective of my record label talking to me. It does have sinister undertones to it, but yeah that’s how I hoped it was perceived.
Well this is the thing. It starts with the words ‘come here boy’…
(Laughs) I did think that when writing it! But it was the other perspective.
We’ve noticed that you don’t reference pronouns often in your interviews or much in your songs. Not that it matters in the slightest, but as people who look for small signs of solidarity in music we’re just curious as to why that might be?
I don’t know if I want to disclose that information. I don’t think it’s important. I think I write songs and want them to be understood by everyone. The omission of pronouns is a deliberate things, not because I don’t want to disclose my own sexuality because I think it’s nice for it to be understood by everybody. That’s what I like about Sam Smith – he’s openly gay but his songs can be understood from a heterosexual perspective as well. I love that.
“The omission of pronouns is a deliberate thing, not because I don’t want to disclose my own sexuality because I think it’s nice for it to be understood by everybody.”
Absolutely, and to be honest it’s no one’s business but yours – and so long as the music is good we don’t give a shit who you are… you know, so long as you’re not a rapist or a paedophile. Moving back to the album – was it always the intention to release the whole thing together at the end?
When I first had the idea, I thought how cool would it be to do a song a month for the rest of my life till I ran out of things to say. I was convinced by everyone that it was stupid! It was a compromise on my behalf to do it for a year. In the back of my mind I was always going to release it as a collection.
What’s next on the Major agenda?
I’ve just announced tour dates for November. I’m not going to hang about, I’m going to keep the creative momentum going.
And finally, the question we ask everyone: your favourite Beyonce song?
Love On Top, for the key change thing she does at the end!