Born in New Haven, CT; son of a concert and band director and a jazz singer. Education: Attended Berklee School of Music, Boston, MA. Addresses: Website--Jon Brion Official Website: http://www.jonbrion.com.
While his talents have touched dozens of albums, musician/producer/composer Jon Brion is a relatively unknown name outside of the music industry. To insiders, Brion is a much sought-after producer and session player (working with Fiona Apple, Rufus Wainwright, Aimee Mann, and Tom Petty), but his most high profile work has been as film composer for the scores to Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, I Heart Huckabees, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, among others.
Brion's retro pop style and multi-tasking bravado caused Rolling Stone to comment, "...His mastery of countless kooky instruments and his jaw-dropping creativity have racked an impressive resume." Although Brion's busy schedule prevents him from full-scale tours, he holds a weekly residence at the Hollywood club Largo. The "anything goes" set at Largo demonstrates Brion's diverse and impressive style of arrangements. Neil Young, R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, the late Elliott Smith, and Elvis Costello are just some of the musicians who have stopped by to witness Brion's amazing talent. "Brion is a self-contained success story, a quintuple threat songwriter, arranger, producer, multi-instrumentalist singer," remarked Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune.
Brion was born into a musical family in New Haven, Connecticut. The son of a jazz singer mother and a father who directed Yale University's marching and concert bands, Brion learned how to play numerous instruments at a young age. At 17, after dropping out of high school, the young talent moved to Boston to attend the Berklee School of Music where, while gigging in Boston, he met and became romantically involved with a young singer named Aimee Mann. Brion eventually toured as a guitarist for Mann's band 'Til Tuesday in the 1980s. The relationship he formed with Mann would prove to last through the next few decades, albeit not in the same form as it started. After a move to California, Brion's new relationship with Mann was as friend, producer, and songwriter. Brion's influence on Mann's solo albums was great, causing Kot to remark in the Chicago Tribune, "The Mann albums stood out amid a glut of digitally overproduced California pop albums, Brion framing her songs in eerie, evocative soundscapes."
Hanging out in California, Brion became friends with numerous under-the-radar pop bands, including the much-heralded group Jellyfish. In 1994, Brion joined Jellyfish guitarist Jason Falkner and fellow friends Buddy Judge and Dan McCarroll in a pop supergroup called the Grays. Epic Records released the band's only record, the moderately successful Ro Sham Bo. Although the indie-pop hooks and clean arrangements were a musician's dream, the troupe never really planned on making a career out of it.
In the years following the release of Ro Sham Bo, Brion became an in-demand producer, working on various albums, including the eels' Beautiful Freak in 1996, the Wallflowers' Breach in 2000, and Fiona Apple's stunning 1996 debut Tidal. That same year, Apple's boyfriend, film director and writer Paul Thomas Anderson asked Brion to try his hand at creating the music for his debut feature film, Hard Eight (he filmed Boogie Nights the following year). Brion collaborated with Mann's husband, singer-songwriter Michael Penn, to create the jazzy soundtrack heard behind Anderson's gritty film noir.
Brion was hooked onto the process of penning a song that captured a visual moment on film. When Anderson asked him to produce and score his next film, Magnolia, Brion again signed on for the challenge. The result, which included a collection of instrumental originals, garnered the composer a Grammy nomination in 1999. As Kot said in his 2003 article, Brion's "...art is bringing out the atmosphere and intent of the song rather than merely packing it with sonic details." His palette for backing a visual film proved to be just as successful and intriguing as his solo efforts.
Fresh off the buzz of Magnolia's success as a film, and its equally stunning soundtrack, Brion intended to put out his first solo record, Meaningless. But despite Brion's heightened profile, the musician's label (Lava/Atlantic) didn't like what they heard. Brion told Time magazine's Christopher John Farley, "I was treated as if I had handed in my 'art record,' as if I had intentionally done some horribly self-destructive thing. I thought I handed in something that was reasonably commercial." Brion decided to buy the record back from his label and release Meaningless himself via his own label, Straight to Cut Out in 2000. David Medsker of Pop Matters said, "There is such an abundance of inspiration and influence that pours from Meaningless ... It's the work of a man who should have been going solo from day one."
At this point in his career, Brion became one of the most popular contemporary composers in pop music, garnering comparisons to pop great Burt Bacharach. In 2002, he scored yet another Anderson movie, the Adam Sandler romantic comedy Punch-Drunk Love. Collaborations with a very diverse group of artists--including Marianne Faithfull, the Crystal Method, Robyn Hitchock, and Lisa Marie Presley--kept Brion busy, all the while returning for his weekly Largo gigs. Brion was back in the spotlight in 2004, when he wrote the music for two critically adored major motion pictures; Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and David O. Russell's I Heart Huckabees.
Ben Friedland of Rolling Stone commented on Eternal Sunshine, "Brion's piano driven songs are sweet and romantic but also jerky and wacky. He weaves creepy fuzz and silly noises into grandiose strings and tinkering keyboards--happenstance arrangements that somehow work." Continuing to work as the main producer for both Fiona Apple and Aimee Mann, as well as a wanted man by musicians everywhere, All Music Guide summed up his influence. "Whatever music he was involved in, his eclectic touch undeniably shaped the sound of many progressive alternative musicians throughout the '90s."
Working to release his sophomore solo album, a live disc recorded at Largo, Brion also fills his spare seconds playing with yet another pop group, Bunny (with drummer Matt Chamberlain and bassist Sebastian Steinberg). Brion just may be the busiest man in the music business that no one knows about. "I'm this freak who has a career of doing things I like, that is neither underground or overground," Brion told Friedland of Rolling Stone. "I'm too polished for the underground and too completely cockamamie and harebrained for everyone else, and I delight in that."
by Shannon McCarthy
Jon Brion's Career
Toured as a guitarist for Aimee Mann's band 'Til Tuesday in the 1980s; formed pop group the Grays and released Ro Sham Bo, 1994; produced the eel's Beautiful Freak, 1996; produced Fiona Apple's Tidal, 1996; composed score to feature film Magnolia, 1999; composed score to Punch-Drunk Love, 2002; composed score to I Heart Huckabees and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004.
- Selected discography
- As composer
- Sydney 1996.
- Magnolia 1999.
- Punch-Drunk Love 2002.
- Home Video: The Making of Mad Matt 2003.
- Blossoms & Blood 2003.
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 2004.
- I Heart Huckabees 2004.
- Solo albums
- Meaningless Straight to Cut Out, 2000.
- With the Grays
- Ro Sham Bo Epic, 1994.
- Boston Globe, August 13, 2000.
- Chicago Tribune, February 12, 2003.
- Entertainment Weekly, December 17, 1999; October 15, 2004.
- Time, December 13, 1999.
- "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Review," Pitchforkmedia, http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/record-reviews/sdtk/eternal-sunshine-of-the-spotless-mind (December 20, 2004).
- "I Heart Huckabees," Milan Records, http://www.milanrecords.com/ihearthuckabees/ (December 23, 2004).
- "Jon Brion," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (December 30, 2004).
- "Jon Brion: Meaningless," Pop Matters, http://www.popmatters.com/music/reviews/b/brionjon-meaningless.shtml (January 1, 2005).
- "Jon Brion Springs 'Eternal,'" RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com (December 29, 2004).
- "Til Tuesday," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (December 30, 2004).
- "Unsung Composer Jon Brion Brings Heart to 'Huckabees,'" MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1492279/20041014/brion_jon.jhtml?headlines=true (January 1, 2005).
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