INTERVIEW: Brandon De La Cruz Talks Bond With Folk Legend Michael Hurley, New Single ‘I Love You Babe’

While working at a popular cafe in Portland called Sweedeedee’s, singer-songwriter Brandon De La Cruz came to recognize a familiar customer.

That patron was none other than folk legend Michael Hurley.

While Hurley frequented the establishment, De La Cruz got to know him more and more, increasing his fandom and admiration. And when he started working at Mississippi Records, where much of Hurley’s music was released, the acquaintanceship between them grew.

Flash-forward a few years later, and De La Cruz planned to record and release a deep cut cover of Hurley’s, “I Love You Babe,” which officially dropped July 14th.

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Hurley himself had this to say about De La Cruz’s cover of his song:

“That song of mine [“I Love You Babe”] he did was recorded at one of the sessions for the second Folkways album I was supposed to record, but I never finished it due to a move to Boston from Bucks County, and when I came back to New York some months later, the Folkways office had been closed. I had no knowledge of what to do then but get back on the train to Cambridge… I couldn’t see how anybody could like [the song], but Brandon De La Cruz brings it into a new day, don’t he? It sounds like new music to me.”

“I Love You Babe” is the second single from De La Cruz leading up to his new record, Two Kilos of Blue, scheduled for release August 25th. He was also recently featured on Radio New Zealand’s (RNZ) program, Bookmarks, promoting the new single and upcoming album.

We got to chat with De La Cruz about the new single, his relationship with Hurley, Two Kilos of Blue, and more.

“I Love You Babe”

Can you talk about your upbringing and what made you want to pursue a life of music-making and songwriting?

I grew up in the Inland Empire area of LA, and radio stations were always part of my memories. My dad listened to almost exclusively The Eagles and Billy Joel. So those two are big in my musical background.

A song came on the other day, Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You,” and at one point it was the most important song in my life. That song is heavy about grief, and it was a big pop/hip-hop song, but it resonated so much with me. That mode – a grieving one- that emotion feels powerful and important to me to create a space for when I write and perform. It’s not really conscious, it’s just natural to me to sing songs that are around grief. It’s weird because I listen to sad music about 10% of the time. I grew up in the Catholic church, and I wouldn’t say I identify with it anymore, but I do understand how it shaped who I am.

So last week you dropped your new single and Michael Hurley cover, “I Love You Babe.” Tell us the story behind it and why you chose to cover this particular Michael Hurley song.

When I was in Portland, I started working at this cafe called Sweedeedee, which is named after one of his songs, and was in the same building as Mississippi Records, which is a label that put out a lot of his music.

I started working at the cafe without much knowledge of him, and I worked there for 4-5 years, and he’d come in a couple times a month. I just thought he was this quiet old man that people had a lot of reverence for. After getting to know him a bit, his records slowly grew on me. Eventually, I worked at the label in the store room and got to know him even more. I just dove deeper learning about him. It was around the pandemic while I was bored, so I decided I’d record like 20 covers of different songs of his. I was just learning them for fun, and I wanted to share them with him because I knew he’d get a kick out of it.

When I started working on my record, that song in particular, I just knew I loved it. It’s so little known, and I love the way it feels when I sing it. You know how there’s certain songs, you can’t really explain why, but they make you feel so good to sing? That one hit me in that way, and so I made a lot of different versions of it, and decided on this one for the record. 

“I Love You Babe” Recorded Live

What more can you tell us about your time at Mississippi Records and how it influenced your new album?

So right when the pandemic hit, Mississippi started digitizing all their stuff and selling on Bandcamp etc. So all of a sudden, I had all these digital versions of these really old songs, and a lot of what they put out were compilations of really old country-blues, world music, and that kind of stuff. So there was a mix of all this, and I always wanted to experiment with sampling, so I had all these really cool old files that I’m familiar with, and was able go through for these arrangements. So every song on the record has old samples from Mississippi built in somewhere, except for the Michael Hurley cover. 

Do you find determining the order of songs on an album like your new one to be a challenge, and how important is that to you?

It was hugely important. I spent so much time. I had so many diagrams and voodoo ways of figuring it out. I had like paintings, the key, the tone, and played with all these different orders. Even up to the very last minute, I had a couple songs where I was like, “okay, this needs to be broken up.” You start to go a little crazy- like how many people even listen to full albums now? I know I’m not the only one, so it’s not a fruitless effort. But I definitely spend a ton of time on it. It’s definitely a whole piece more than just individual songs.

Is there a song on the album that was the most difficult to write/record for one reason or another?

There’s one towards the end, it almost sounds like just a snippet of a song, which it is, but it’s a piece from a longer song. It’s called “Forget My Love,” and it’s a longer ballad, and it works well live, because I can tell it connects with the audience. I did lots of recording of it, and had one I was building up that was the best one, but it got to a point where something about it didn’t work. It was either too long, not enough variation, or as it is it doesn’t fit into the set any more. I worked with it a ton, so now on the album it’s just [another singer] singing with the sample arrangement in the background. 

Brandon De La Cruz

What has been your favorite or the most rewarding part of making this album?

It was the first time I ever had my own studio. Because I was living in New Zealand and living in a small town, having the studio space to share with a friend was super affordable. That was part of the process I really relished. Having the time and space to chase ideas down. Before, my time was limited. I just did things I never did before, experimented more than before. It was very much a process of experimentation. 

Is your experience with Michael Hurley one of the bigger milestones in your career?

For sure. Getting to the point where I got feedback from him was huge. He says what he means, and for him to offer the praise that he did really meant a lot to me. And just to have the opportunity to share it with him at all. When you’re around somebody like that a lot, you might take them for granted. And in his case, he’s just kind of a fixture in Portland, a big fixture, but when you’re away, you realize it was such a special time in your life. I feel so lucky to have met him and have developed some kind of acquaintanceship with him. It’s a big deal for me, and it’s validating. 

Who are some artists you think you sound like or people have told you you sound like? Artists you look up to?

I got one somewhat recently that I never would’ve thought of, but I had a song that someone said, “I can hear Lou Reed singing this song.” And that was a huge compliment, and wasn’t something I heard before. That was a cool one. I’m hugely into Leonard Cohen, and sometimes people notice the sparseness and focus on the poetic parts, and people point that out from time to time. I don’t think I sound like him, but people can tell the inspiration is there.

If you could tour and open for any present-day artist, who would it be and why? Maybe a dream gig?

I’ll just say the first person that popped into my mind, which is Frank Ocean. I would like to just be around him. He’s very inspirational and would be a dream person to go on tour with for sure. 

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