Gay as Fuck: An interview with pop artist Brendan Maclean


Meeting Brendan Maclean at a Sydney pub a few days ahead of the release of his EP, funbang1, was admittedly a bit of a surreal experience. Brendan’s fearless, confessional pop often seemed to mirror my adolescent romances ever since I first saw him play live at a Mardi Gras Fair Day performance when I was sixteen or so. Maclean has had an impressive set of years since then, appearing as Klipspringer in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, releasing three EPs, performing alongside Marcia Hines in the original cabaret, Velvet, as well as achieving the notable recognition of a Wikipedia page. In person, he is charming, decidedly casual, and generous: ‘Go and get yourself something to drink, too,’ he said, as he offers a $20 note when I ask if he wants anything from the bar.

Mclean performing as Klipspringer.

To begin with, Maclean walks me through his day. He took his pet Chihuahua for a walk, filmed a part of the music video for a song from funbang1, ‘House of Air’, and geared up to release a cover of Bat For Lashes’s ‘Laura,’ in collaboration with Amanda Palmer. He warns me that I’m going to bawl my eyes out.

The name funbang1 comes from an epithet given to him by Marcia Hines, ‘Brendan MacBang,’ apparently given to him because on stage he ‘Goes off like a cannon.’

He can confirm there will be no funbang2, and wanted to raise the question to be obnoxious — ‘It’s just to irritate people, really. Music is obnoxious, and PR is obnoxious, so we might as well make it fun.’ However, there will be a sadbang1.

Cover artwork for 'funbang1'.
Cover artwork for ‘funbang1’.

My next question is how Maclean defines pop, a query born from his previous EP, Population, which seemed to play with notions of what pop is at its essence. ‘Pop music is music that strives to be ‘up’. That’s the word that comes to mind when I think of pop. It doesn’t have to be corny.’

He talks about the recent trend of adding adjectives like ‘indie’ or ’alt,’ but is still proud to call funbang1 straight-up pop. He cites this kind of distillation as a result of modern cynicism, or a fear of being fabulous or theatrical. ‘I’m certainly not afraid of that,’ he says.

As to how he feels about the term ‘queer pop,’ Maclean confidently announces that ‘All pop is queer pop. “Queer” would just be redundant. It’s gay as fuck, and I love that about it.’

He cites so many great queer people working on pop behind the scenes, such as an idol of his, Linda Perry, who has written songs for artists like P!nk and Christina Aguilera. Brendan also makes a point to hire as many people as possible on his recordings and videos.

In particular at this point, I’m reminded of his phenomenal video for ‘Hugs Not Drugs (Or Both)’ which featured a number of queer faces I’m familiar with, including prominent emerging writer Jonno Révanche.

His music videos are consistently innovative and interesting. From the sparse beauty of ‘Beat Me To It’ to the sassy chaos of ‘Stupid’ – a song I long believed to be about Triple J’s Tom Ballard, which turns out to be a lie Maclean made up to get people talking about it. We discussed this and he confessed his aim in music videos is ‘To do what makes people laugh. You know, like, what makes people go, “What is going on here?”’

funbang1 is notable for Brendan because it is the first EP he’s released while feeling comfortable calling himself musician. I asked him when that moment was and he told me about an emotional nadir in New York, post-Velvet, when he’d just been dumped. ‘I was at a real low and I still got a song out – you know, I’m a professional now.’

Finishing up, I ask him which artist he models himself on – who he wants to be. ‘I used to want to be the next Ben Folds, and then it was Regina Spektor for a while, and then it was Troye Sivan.’ He pauses. ‘I want to be someone who can sing whatever they want. I want to be the first Brendan Maclean.’

Words || Cameron Colwell