Bruno Major's Key Changes

A record label dismissal, a worldwide pandemic; Bruno Major returns with Columbo—the third album speaks of the musician’s resilience—but how does he stay on track in a changing world?
Published: 13 September 2023
Overshirt and turtleneck, ZEGNA

There's no love song finer /
But how strange the change /
From major to minor /
Ev'ry time we say goodbye

- "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" by Cole Porter

As a child, you're a blank slate. When people say, it is written in the stars, they are basing it on long-dead planets, their light burnt out long before their rays could reach us. Was it a sign of things to come when Bruno Major, aged seven, took up the guitar? Or maybe, we're reading too much into it.

But it made sense, in hindsight. Of course, he'd gravitate towards music. It was always a constant in the Major household—a brother who would later be part of London Grammar; a father who plays guitar; a tickle of the ivories of the piano in the house.

At seven, Major was gifted a guitar for Christmas. Six hours a day, he'd play on it; his red-raw fingertips giving way to calloused bumps.

It was like wearing a coat tailored made for him: music felt as familiar as it was exciting. Major knew at the time—as certain as children knew about the rising of the sun or that the love from their pets would never leave them—that he would end up being a musician.

Metal appealed to the teenage Major. As a teenager, changes to his body and emotions swept over him like a tsunami. He saw his first Korn concert at 13; wore eyeliner; painted his nails black; played in a metal band, the culture spoke to him and, contrary to the general misconception, the genre has a high level of musicianship that Major appreciated.

"There was a lot of crossover between metal and jazz," Major says. "In some way, metal was my foray into jazz because I started to learn about modes and scales like 'that's the Dorian mode or that's the Phrygian mode', which are the basics of jazz."

He became a session guitarist at 16 and pursued a jazz degree at Leeds Conservatoire (formally Leeds College of Music). Moving to London, Major tried to find his voice in the music world. It was after talking to a homeless man that he felt inspired to write his first song. Unable to find anyone to sing it, Major sang it himself. And then he sang another of his song. And another.

Major uploaded his compositions to his Soundcloud account, where it caught the ears of the music labels. He'd signed to Virgin Records, who flew him out to LA and gave him the star treatment as he recorded his first album.

Then the label unceremoniously dropped him. Calling the album "rubbish", Virgin Records refused to release it. (An EP called Live was the only recording that was released with the label; three of the four songs would be featured in his future albums.)

Devastated, Major returned to Northampton. He lived off what was left of his advance and took up a job with a local theatre company to pen music for Shakespeare plays. His confidence as a songwriter took a nose dive, he tried writing but didn't think they were any good. Major was tethering, the option of quitting a looming possibility.

It was a car ride with his mother that would give him a fresh perspective. She imparted a balm: that what he was going through are all "part of [his] tapestry". That stayed with him. (Days later, he would pen "Tapestry", which later be included in his 2020 album, To Let a Good Thing Die.)

Major decided on an ambitious project of writing a song every month for a year.

Turtleneck, ZEGNA

"Originally, the idea was a song a month for the rest of my life," Major explains. "My manager was like, Dude, I don't think you should do that. Maybe just try for a year? But it was pretty intensive. The songs had to be delivered a week before the monthly deadline. So actually, it was a song for three weeks, then I deliver it, take a few days off and then start again."

He had no expectations. The project was an exercise in whether he could write a song with an imposing deadline. Some songs were easy ("Just the Same" was written in 20 minutes), others were hard (Major almost missed the deadline with "Easily").

All 12 songs were compiled into an album called, A Song for Every Moon. It was released independently and garnered 30 million streams in a year. The experience taught him a lot. Major learnt how to let go, to put something out even if he thought it sucked. By not having to overthink, Major made better music. This was the start of his career

The world is made smaller by the Internet. He'd want to perform in South America; he'd want to return to India. ("I was in India playing for another artist.") That he is able to reach people all over the world, that magic isn't lost on him.

"Being on tour is wild. You get up, work out, you eat, you do the gig, you travel, repeat. After a while, you get to enter into a flow." He gestures to our interview, "This sort of breaks it up. It's fun.

"I love travelling and I can understand why people would find it boring after a while but I love it. In fact, the only problem for me is when the tour finishes because you have to return to normalcy."

Bruno would post a video on his Instagram about the 24 hours he'd spent in Singapore. It's a whirlwind affair with snippets of our photoshoot, a visit to the local Spotify office, rehearsals and then the big sold-out show at The Capitol. At the end of it, he looks relieved, energised even before the video cuts out.

With all that he has going for him, imposter syndrome sneaks in. "There's a weird thing with writing where it doesn't feel like you've accomplished anything. Like, with the latest album, Columbo."

Turtleneck, ZEGNA

After touring for Moon, Major rented a home in LA and worked on his sophomore album, To Let A Good Thing Die. This follow-up to Moon was about the arc of a relationship; Major had broken up with a girlfriend and while acknowledging that it's better to let things go, love is ever-present.

He was about to embark on a world tour to promote it when travel became heavily restricted thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. He moved back into his parents' Northampton house; he played video games and drank. As an independent artist, Major's main form of promotion is touring. He pivoted to placing more emphasis on his social media presence, performing online and interacting with his fans. Like the rest of the world, Bruno was waiting out the pandemic.

"I was extremely fortunate. I was in a nice place; I was with people that I loved, we were healthy."

But still, he wished something more could be made with the second album. It's one of those youthful yearnings, both envied and forgiven, where a man in his life of 30, needed to make something of himself.

So the moment travel restrictions were lifted, he booked himself on a plane to LA and stayed in Silver Lake. For the next six months, he lived twice as hard as he could, trying to make up for all the lost time. It was a prolific period in his life; an explosion of creativity.

The pandemic was a period of introspection for Major: who is he if he couldn't tour or make music as he once could? It forced him to examine who he is on the inside. Borne out of a rebirth from Covid, this would be the theme of the third album.

He started driving around in a vintage car that he christened "Columbo" as its paint job matches the colour of the trench coat of Peter Falk's endearing TV detective. This represented a renewed freedom post-pandemic. Even after he'd crashed the car, Columbo would become the album's title track.

"I made Columbo in my bedroom. I converted one of the bedrooms in my house into a studio," Major says. "My success is defined by having created the thing that I am proud of. And I'm more proud of Columbo than I am of any of my previous albums."

Cardigan, trousers and boots, ZEGNA

Studying at the feet of jazz masters, Major cites his heroes like a devotee reciting the psalms by heart: Kurt Rosenwinkel; Biréli Lagrène; Wes Montgomery; Joe Pass; Cannonball Adderley… these are famous jazz musicians but they're not household names.

Major once saw Rosenwinkel play in London. Despite the modest attendance, Rosenwinkel performed like the absolute master he is at his craft. "He has more talent in his fingernail than 99 out of 100 of the artists that are on the top 100 popular music charts," Major says. Success does not equate to the greatness of one's art and inversely, the lack of success does not mean that you're a terrible musician.

At the end of the day, it's always Major and his songs.

"I think it helps when you do not have preconceptions or expectations. I never really thought anybody would want to listen to my music, I'm grateful to be here. It's mostly just me and my songs. Everything else that comes along with it is a wonderful bonus.

"[There are perks] but they are temporary things. As Pharrell says, if you have a library card, make sure that you use it because at some point it will expire. It's highly unlikely that in 30 years' time, people would want me for interviews and photo shoots… maybe, I dunno. Who knows? But my music will still be there and people will be listening to it."

We see the stars at night, our awe is caught by their luminance. And we marvel that in the empty blackness, a light persists.

Photography: Shawn Paul Tan
Styling: Asri Jasman
Grooming: Christian M
Photography assistant: Xie Feng Mao
Styling assistant: Lance Aeron

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