A Conversation With Brandon De La Cruz

April 7, 2021

Having grown up in the suburbs of Southern California’s Inland Empire, Brandon De La Cruz found himself stranded in New Zealand due to travel restrictions put in place because of the Covid 19 pandemic. 

After his flight to Portland was cancelled Brandon decided to stay in Aotearoa splitting his time between Hamilton and Tāmaki Makaurau.

De La Cruz recently released his debut album “Visions of Ovid,” which was mixed and mastered over the New Zealand lockdown period with the help of Wellington-based sound engineer Thomas Lampert. De La Cruz intertwines his passion for folk music with his love for Greek Mythology resulting in an album that is rich in mythological narrative. Katy Waldum, in a piece for the New Yorker, wrote that “Ovid feels strangely present these days, as if the country is reckoning under his righteous star.”

Having just performed his album release show which De La Cruz described as being “Incredible! Really good crowd and really good vibes.” We sat down with Brandon to discuss the new album, adjusting to life in New Zealand, and how he crafts his songs. 

So tell me about the new album.

“The album is called Visions of Ovid. It’s inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses tales which are based on Greek Myths. There is a particular translation of the myths by Ted Hughes that I found lovely. It just resonated with me deeply to the extent that I started writing songs in the voice of some of the characters. I wrote 28 songs altogether. Then I sort of just whittled those down, over a few years, recording different versions of what they could sound like, so it’s been in the works for a while now.” 

When you’re writing a song what comes first: the lyrics or the melody?  

“I always do the lyrics first, but I write the lyrics with the melody in mind. I think about the way there is a kind of natural music in language so that when I sit down to write the music it’s already taken a few steps in the direction I have in mind, but I always start with the lyrics first.”

Greek Mythology is a running theme throughout your music. What makes you decide what myth or tale you want to tackle in a song? 

“It’s really intuitive, it’s a gut feeling, it’s really if something is hitting me on an emotional level at a certain time, then I can enter into it and write about it. It’s very much on that level, I don’t think about it too much. I kind of follow what I would be interested in, or what’s exciting me at the moment.” 

Would you consider it a concept album? Is there a running narrative arc? 

“I mean I would. I didn’t go into thinking that I would be making a concept album, but it is more so than probably most records people make. But it really is the source material that is the common ground for it. All of those tails, what they have in common, is that they are moral tails and they have to do with people making mistakes, relationships, people hurting each other, desire, and situations people get into when they want something and what they learn in that process. At the end of them, they always get transformed into spring, or a tree, or an animal. That’s what ties it all together that way of storytelling and that way of looking at the world.” 

Did you study Classics at University?

“I studied philosophy at University, I didn’t study classics. Well, you read a good amount of Greek stuff, not so much mythology, but the mythology is some of it I mean. I read The Odyssey and I was raised Catholic, which to me is very mythological, more so than maybe manifestations of Christianity. The reading of the Bible is very, you’re looking at the symbols and the broader thing going on it. I think that was my doorway into mythology, now I’m just interested in it, now I just read whatever I can get my hands on. I read a lot of different stuff, and the Greek Myths are that collection that sort of hit me in a big way.”

You started recording the album a couple of years ago in America. Was it hard to find a new recording set up in New Zealand to finish the ideas? 

“I came to New Zealand a year ago and it was all recorded. So I had finished recording before I left but I had just barely started mixing it. It was tricky, I didn’t know how long I was going to be here, when I first came here it was pre-Covid, so I didn’t bring any real equipment with me to do any kind of mixing. As it became clear that I was going to be here longer and longer I found some monitors on Trade Me, and I had my mom send me a few little pieces I needed. I spent a long time sort of mixing and arranging it on my own. And then near the end of last year I met this guy, Thomas Lambert who does music in Wellington, he has a studio there, and he is super great, very talented, and great to work with. He helped me with the final mix and master which I would have not been able to do on my own, I really needed him and he came through in a big way for me.” 

Who did the album artwork? 

“Duncan Grant, he is an English artist, and it was painted in the early 20th century. I spent hours online going through all the different paintings. That was the interesting thing about the Metamorphoses, it’s been an inspiration to writers, painters, and all kinds of people for hundreds and hundreds of years. So there is so much material, and so many different interpretations it’s really really rich. I spent a lot of time looking at all of these different paintings, I printed them out and had a lot of them around. The actual artwork I used was one I found later on in the process and just fell in love with it. It’s one of the more abstract ones which is cool, just the colours… it’s a beautiful, beautiful piece.”

Did you play the extended instruments on the album as well? 

“I played electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and bass. I made the drum beats on a little drum machine, I played the piano. I had friends who came in and did harmonies. I did strings, those would be the main things.” 

In terms of coming from America and being in New Zealand longer than you expected to be, performing wise have you found it to be different playing to a New Zealand audience as opposed to playing to an American Audience? 

“I wouldn’t say it’s that different, I’ve only performed in Hamilton, and I had a show up on one of the beach towns in the North West Coast. It’s hard to talk about New Zealand broadly because I am curious to see what it would be like to play in Auckland and what it would be like to play in Wellington. But the people who have come out in Hamilton have been great, they have been very receptive, very good listeners, just big fans of music in general. I feel like I have had really good shows here and people have been very engaged. Compared with the United States I don’t know I’ve had such a mix of experiences, I wouldn’t say it’s any different necessarily but most of my experiences have been good. 

Do you perform as a solo artist or do you have a backing band? 

“It’s solo and I don’t have my instruments that I normally would have with me. But I have a nylon string guitar and I sing, I’m able to do something close to what I was doing in the States. But I’ve performed solo before.”

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

“Well, I have a partner here now. I’m starting to make little roots, but I am eager to go back home when I can. I’m waiting for travel to get a little bit more normal, which I’m hoping will be towards the end of the year. But I’d probably go back for a little bit, come back here, and try and go back and forth.” 

You can listen to Visions of Ovid here: