Emotional Release and Relentless Creativity: Inside the Mind of 0-Brien
Speaking with alternative hip hop artist 0-Brien is an enlightening experience; one which dives into the depths of the human condition, and which provides an insight into music – specifically, its importance as an emotional outlet – that is mature and wise beyond his years.
The 19-year-old Connecticut native has tapped into the most primal offerings of those depths on his breakout album, Red, which was released earlier this year.
The album – and 0-Brien’s blunt, no-holds-barred style – gathers its rawness from myriad influences, from the spirit of experimentation that fueled The Beatles’ later work; to the emotion and uncaged ethos of punk, screamo, and metal; and the continued creativity and innovation that drives hip hop.
“XXXTentacion was the main artist to make me think I can do this, hearing his approach,” 0-Brien noted.
The subject matter of the late rapper’s music – namely, the focus on mental health – is another common thread he and 0-Brien share in their writing.
“As far as life, I had a troubled childhood emotionally,” 0-Brien recalled. “It was always like I needed to escape. I need to express myself, and ever since I was a child, I’ve always been writing.”
The healing (yet vicious) cycle of creativity
“Usually, my music stems from being at a lower point. Sorrow, depression. So, there’s a reason to write and make music,” 0-Brien said. “I get that out, and then it goes out to the people that listen to it. They hear it, they know they’re not alone, and that gives them someone to have that release with. That gets back to me, so then, I’m uplifted. It’s a good energy.”
That energy does fade, however, concurrent with the rising hunger that 0-Brien feels to create, and to develop another outlet, for himself and listeners alike.
“I want more, and I go back to that low point. It might be a little bit of a vicious cycle on my end,” he acknowledged. “But, to me, I release that music and it’s not mine anymore. I had my place with it, but now, it’s yours.”
“That cycle is really important to me.”
With Red, the cycle began a couple years back. With questions and uncertainty abound after high school, 0-Brien used dissatisfaction and inner turmoil to shape the project’s beginnings.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wasn’t ready for school just yet. All my friends and these people I had grown with, they go away, and I’m by myself,” he recalls. “I was stuck at a shitty job; it was a receptionist job, and the building was always empty. So, I was at work alone. Car rides, alone. Hometown, alone. Then, in the house alone.”
“It was a lot of festering frustration, anger, and depression. All of these coinciding emotions,” he continued. “I was in a screamo band in high school, and I dabbled with a couple singles with screaming on them. I was like, ‘I need to (scream) right now.’”
As far as content, Red gives a voice to the rawness we feel through life and relationship challenges – a choice made to grant listeners permission to acknowledge and release their emotions.
“The main goal with the content – something my manager and I
fleshed out before we released the album – is, ‘Fuck censorship,’” he said. “It’s
related to the punk side of the sound, and that whole movement of, ‘You can’t
stop that. This is us and what we do. If you don’t like it, oh well.’
“It’s that, but to the point of, ‘Don’t censor your emotions.’”
The release is freeing for 0-Brien and his fans, who use the music to channel their emotions – particularly, the unpleasant or extreme ones – in a healthy, non-destructive way.
“What if you’re having a bad day? What if it’s not something that a sappy love song can fix,” he asks. “(Red) is every bad day. It’s every bad experience. It’s everything you feel when you’re in that mood or that zone. This is so you don’t act on it, and so you know that you’re not alone.”
“That’s what’s most important; bringing people together, and letting them know that it’s OK.”
As his profile continues to grow, 0-Brien hopes that his music can be part of a larger societal conversation – one that inspires more openness and acceptance of the full human experience.
“Things need to change. We’re afraid to cry in front of people. Just think about that. That’s fucked,” he lamented. “People need that expression; they need to get that out and feel what they need to feel. It may have its time and place, but most of the time, it’s, ‘Suck it up. You’re sad? We’re all going through it, so you’re fine.’”
At the time we spoke with 0-Brien, he was on a tour stop in Nashville in support of rising alt-pop duo, PuffHost. As we witnessed that night, those in attendance can expect him to give his all onstage.
“I love doing these songs; it’s a good release for me and it’s fun,” he acknowledged. “When you go to a rap show at this point, you expect a crazy crowd and a good performance.”
To 0-Brien, that means getting every last drop out of his own performance from start to finish, with the goal of creating a collective catharsis for each audience along the way.
“Whether it’s the mosh pit, the level of applause, or the way they look at each other when the song’s over, I take note of all of those things,” he said. “If I can push myself to the level of possibly passing out backstage to make sure that they got that out, then I push to that limit. I make sure that I can feel that energy in the room.”
Continuing to create
Red was planned as the first in a series of four releases – as 0-Brien puts it, a “quadrilogy” – crafted to serve as emotional outlets for anyone willing to listen.
The shapes those releases take, however, are not bound by genre.
“We have things planned that aren’t punk, that aren’t rap, that aren’t fast-paced or high tempo,” he said. “We have a lot of things in the works. As an artist, if you switch things up and you’re constantly evolving, you’ll see who the real fans are.”
0-Brien looks to the continued, successful re-invention of artists like Kanye West and Tyler, the Creator proof of that philosophy.
“(Kanye) went from this backpack, boom-bap style, to electronic and autotuned, to something orchestra-esque and using choirs,” he noted. “I look to those people now when I’m planning out these releases. I want to experiment. I don’t necessarily want to be put in a box forever.”
In the end, it’s that re-invention that fuels the cycle of creativity – and the hunger that keeps artists like 0-Brien always striving for their next masterpiece.
“If you don’t crave more, you’re not going to last.”
Stream 0-Brien’s breakout album, Red, below!