Nosh on Dean Haakenson’s Bold hodgepodge
Between the ages of 17 and 20, Be Brave Bold Robot’s coolly casual leader Dean Haakenson worked at Noah’s Bagels. And so the bearded, now 32-year-old singer-songwriter divulges a culinary tip: Instead of plopping cold lox on top of an already-cooked Egg Mit breakfast sandwich, go for broke: Infuse the lox with the raw egg, zap it and voilà—a very French “hot smoked fish” dejeuner.
Said sandwich is what Haakenson nibbles during a recent late-morning talk outside the Noah’s on J Street. He’s chatting BBBR’s sophomore album, Take a Deep Breath, a couple of hours before a BBBR noon gig at Sacramento State. The sun is bright and the conversation is as quick-moving as Haakenson’s hilariously literate lyrics.
In a way, BBBR is lot like Haakenson’s lox-egg-bagel concoction: The band fuses folk rock with spoken-wordlike storytelling, epic arrangements and indie-choral tendencies, one-upping the casual singer-songwriter fare.
And the new album, Deep Breath, is a hodgepodge mash-up. Track three, “The Bliss Before the Blackness,” combines acoustic guitar and fast-spoken lyrics—a rich man’s Barenaked Ladies—during the intro, but then saxophone kicks spice up the dissonant, funky dynamic, which eventually gives way to grand pop-rockerness. Haakenson’s lyrics are reflective, optimistic and clever, the balladeer frontman singing, “The roots are all around me / I will start laughing more” with a dry, trebly baritone as the song crescendos before cutting away to a lullaby guitar-and-piano arpeggio.
“They’re stories—and I write them slowly,” Haakenson explains of his methods. This is surprising—he almost raps his songs’ verses, stream-of-consciousness style—but also makes sense: BBBR’s songs are inordinately complex and unpredictable.
“If I had it my way, I’d write a song every four years,” he says of the painstaking process.
Haakenson writes mostly at home, and the songs, which start as guitar riffs, are like piecing together puzzles—uniting “two things I like that shouldn’t go together,” like lox and eggs, he explains. Later, when he introduces a new song to the rest of the band—Carly DuHain on backup vocals, Catie Turner on viola, Tony Ledesma on drums, Matthew Gerken on bass—they put a spin on the ditties, which is where the jazz and folk garnishes enter the equation.
“I wonder if they’re humoring me when they say, ‘Yeah, I like it,’” Haakenson jokes of the process and his songwriting savvy.
On Deep Breath, “Coloma” is the crown jewel: An epic, seven-minute ode to the gold-rush town with a lovely, wandering-lost-on-a-trail banjo, piano, viola and whistling outro.
Dana Gumbiner engineered some of the album’s tracks at Station to Station in Grass Valley, and Gerken engineered the rest here in town.
Haakenson, who lives in West Sac’s Broderick neighborhood and spends his days laboring as a state worker, calls the sound not folk rock, but instead a catchy “acoustic guitar people” music. This is spot-on: The songs are fun, rickety, human ballads and bits, like a giant mishmash of life’s recipes.
And the flavor’s just right.