Brion at The Sunset Tavern in Seattle, September 2004
December 11, 1963 |
Glen Ridge, New Jersey, U.S.
|Genres||Pop, rock, jazz, hip hop|
|Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer|
|Instruments||Vocals, keyboards, guitar, bass guitar, drums, trombone, cello, vibraphone|
|The Grays, 'Til Tuesday, Jellyfish|
Jon Brion (born December 11, 1963) is an American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, and composer. He performed with The Excerpts, The Bats, and The Grays before becoming an established producer and film score composer. Brion has produced music for artists like Fiona Apple, Kanye West, Aimee Mann, Brad Mehldau, of Montreal, Rufus Wainwright, Robyn Hitchcock, and Sky Ferreira. His film scores include Hard Eight (1996), Magnolia (1999), Punch-Drunk Love (2002), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and I Heart Huckabees (both 2004), Synecdoche, New York (2008), ParaNorman (2012), and Lady Bird (2017). He released his debut solo album, Meaningless, in 2001.
Brion was born in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. He comes from a musical family; his mother, LaRue, was an administrative assistant and singer, and his father, Keith Brion, was a band director at Yale. His brother and sister became a composer/arranger and a violinist, respectively. Brion had difficulties at Hamden High School and at the age of 17 left education, opting instead to play music professionally. From 1980-85 Jon was part of the band The Excerpts, along with Stephen Harris, Dean Falcone, Jim Balga, Bobby Butcher & Spike Priggen.
In the early 1980s, Brion and musician/producer Bill Murphy began a writing collaboration in New Haven, Connecticut. They eventually enlisted bassist Don "Riff" Fertman and together formed The Bats, (not to be confused with the New Zealand group of the same name). The Bats released a single, "Popgun" and one album How Pop Can You Get?, on Gustav records in 1982. The recordings had much critical acclaim, but little commercial success, and the trio eventually disbanded.
In 1987, Brion moved to Boston, where he played solo gigs, formed the short-lived band World's Fair and became a member of the last touring version of Aimee Mann's new wave band 'Til Tuesday. He contributed guitar work to Jellyfish's 1993 album Spilt Milk, and in 1994, joined Dan McCarroll, Buddy Judge and ex-Jellyfish guitarist Jason Falkner in the short-lived pop band The Grays. He also played guitar on The Wallflowers' hit song "One Headlight." Brion played numerous instruments on Sam Phillips' 1996 release Omnipop. Brion is featured as keyboardist and drummer on Marianne Faithfull's 2003 album, Kissin Time, and co-wrote a song, "City of Quartz", for her next work, 2005's Before the Poison.
After being recognized as an accomplished session player, Brion branched out into production on then-girlfriend Mann's 1993 solo debut, Whatever, and its follow-up, I'm With Stupid. He has also produced albums by Fiona Apple, Rufus Wainwright, Eleni Mandell, Rhett Miller, Robyn Hitchcock, Brad Mehldau and Evan Dando, and co-produced Kanye West's Late Registration in 2005.
In the fall of 2002, Brion began producing the album Extraordinary Machine with Fiona Apple, but she later brought in producers Mike Elizondo and Brian Kehew (a friend of Brion's) to complete the album. Brion's versions leaked onto the Internet, where the album gained a cult following long before its official release.
Brion worked and performed on some of the tracks for Sean Lennon's 2006 album Friendly Fire. Lennon said that working with him was "how I would imagine it's like to work with Prince. It's like having a weird alien prodigy in your room."
More recently, Brion has produced recordings by British pop performer Dido, Spoon, and Keane, as well as 2010's False Priest by Of Montreal. Brion also produced Best Coast's second album which was released in early 2012.
He is rumored to be working on his second solo full-length album at Abbey Road Studios.
Brion is an accomplished film composer, having started scoring by frequently working with director Paul Thomas Anderson, with whom he has a preferential working relationship. In addition to scoring many of his films, Brion contributed music to Boogie Nights and had a cameo in the film as a moustached guitar player.
Particularly in his film soundtracks, Brion is noted for his use of early analog sampling instruments, particularly the Chamberlin and Optigan, to create near-realistic emulations of certain instruments.
Brion was hired at the last minute to write the incidental music for The Break-Up. He has also scored the films and provided original music for I ? Huckabees, Punch-Drunk Love, Step Brothers (with help of fellow musician Chris Thile), Paranorman, The Future, and Synecdoche, New York. He also did live composition for a musical commentary on the Step Brothers DVD.
He also composed the score to the Disney/Pixar short film, The Blue Umbrella, working alongside Sarah Jaffe.
He dated comedic actress Mary Lynn Rajskub for five years until they broke up in the fall of 2002.
Brion is renowned for his regular Friday-night gigs at the Los Angeles club Largo, which feature covers and original songs, a variety of instruments and occasional guest musicians and comedians. He works without a set list, instead using audience suggestions as a jumping-off point. His extraordinary use of layered loops and frequent adoption of a "jigsaw puzzle" approach to performing songs (starting often with drums, then adding piano, bass, guitar, and vocals in turn) have captivated the capacity crowds at Largo and earned Brion a strong following. Recent shows have featured spontaneous appearances with singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, Gillian Welch, vocalists Fiona Apple and Rickie Lee Jones, singing old jazz standards like "My Funny Valentine", with upright bassist Stephen Patt (ex-Chambers Brothers), percussionist Matt Chamberlain (Tori Amos), bassist Sebastian Steinberg (ex-Soul Coughing), and fiddler Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek).
In April 2006, recurring tendonitis in Brion's right hand forced him to cancel all of his upcoming Largo shows. As a temporary 'farewell', he played one show only using his left hand, even looping his songs as he normally does and playing the drums with one stick. He is now back to playing at Largo on a regular basis.
Recalling his approach to the Largo shows with Chicago Tribune music editor Lou Carlozo, Brion said: "I taught my hands to follow whatever was coming into my head--and wherever my consciousness would go, I had to push my hands to follow. And at some level, you just had to abandon any concern about how you'd look. Performing without a set list: That was special."
In March 2016, Brion performed his score for Punch-Drunk Love with Wordless Music Orchestra in both Los Angeles and New York City, at the Ace Hotel and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, respectively. Norah Jones provided guest vocals in New York and Joanna Newsom in Los Angeles.
In February of 2018, Brion performed before John Mulaney during Mulaney's special, Kid Gorgeous. Brion performed during Mulaney's New York City leg of his tour, playing packed houses at Radio City Music Hall. Brion's appearance surprised audiences, but his versions of classic rock songs on Radio City's Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ were welcome warmups for Mulaney.
With Nels Cline