“This is a bit different for us,” says Roses & Revolutions multi-instrumentalist Matt Merritt of “Dancing in a Daydream,” the Rochester, New York-based indie pop duo’s latest single. On it, they teamed up with singer-songwriter Brandon Jenner, and the resulting song (and a video showing them performing it in Jenner’s recording studio) were just released on May 29.
“Our normal stuff is in the indie alt rock world,” Merritt says – and “Dancing in a Daydream” started out in that style when the band recorded it with Weathers singer Cameron Boyer for their latest release, Under the Spell, an EP released in April. But then they decided the song deserved a very different second take. As Merritt says, “We had this idea of this very stripped down, intimate version.” Bringing in Jenner, they worked to transfer the song into an acoustic, beautifully atmospheric track.
Now they’re waiting to see how the song will be received. “You definitely get nervous about how it’s perceived,” says Roses & Revolutions singer Alyssa Coco. “Anything that you put out in the world, you’re open for criticism and judgment – but you’re also hopeful that it’s going to do really well after you put so much work into something.”
Jenner certainly knows what it’s like to be judged – sometimes unfairly. The son of Olympic champion and TV star Caitlyn Jenner, and hit songwriter Linda Thompson (and, growing up, the stepson of Grammy winning producer David Foster), Jenner is no stranger to having people make snap decisions about him and his work. But it should be noted that he’s been heavily investing his time in making music long before any of his family was on reality TV.
“I would say no matter what I choose to do in my life, I would be up against some of that prejudgment, anyway,” Jenner says, calling from his Malibu studio. “I think my last name would haunt me a little bit and follow me around and people would judge me before they got to know whether or not I was really credible in whatever field. That’s just a part of my reality in this life.”
Given that he would face this obstacle regardless of his career path, Jenner decided to follow his heart and play music. “When I was young and going through difficult times, I always turned to music – [it] really helped me process emotions,” he says. Now, he hopes his music provides solace to others: “I realized that music was such a wonderful thing to pour your creativity and artistry and energy and even your intellect into, because it has the ability to help other people process their emotions.”
Jenner’s persistence is paying off: his 2016 EP, Burning Ground, has nearly 30 million streams on Spotify. With his next EPs, 2018’s Face the World and 2019’s Plan on Me, he continued earning praise, particularly for his lyrical honesty and vulnerability.
Coco and Merritt both express respect and admiration for Jenner’s work; they are clearly thrilled that he agreed to work on “Dancing in a Daydream” with them. “We’re big fans of his solo stuff. He has a lot of music out, so we’ve known his stuff,” Merritt says.
Jenner met the duo through their shared manager and sent him the basic acoustic track “Dancing in a Daydream” for his consideration. “I don’t really collaborate that often with other people, so I wanted to go out on a limb and try something new and here we are,” Jenner says.
As to what it was about the song that made Jenner decide to work on it, he says: “I thought stylistically it was in a good place, and their artistic fingerprint came through – and I could just feel their kind energy through the song. I thought, ‘If I can contribute something that’s worthy, then I’ll say yes.”
Jenner recorded vocals and added some ambience and returned the track to Coco and Merritt. “He sent it, and we fell in love – we were like, ‘You killed it!’” Coco says. She and Merritt both agree that Jenner’s contributions enhance the song while fitting in with their initial vision for it. For example, Jenner suggested that he play the baritone guitar on the track (which he can be seen doing in the video), and Merritt loves the result: “He plays this low, really cool riff that really adds a whole dreamy vibe to it.”
Merritt and Coco also feel that Jenner really understood what they were going for with the words, as well. “Lyrically, the song deals with staying in a false reality so long that you don’t want to leave it, and it becomes your new reality,” Merritt says. “Living in that daydream and not wanting to wake up. It has this dialogue, so we thought it would be a cool idea to do it as a duet because it has this dialogue.”
Even with all his input, though, Jenner says he wasn’t going to overshadow Coco and Merritt’s work. “I only contribute as much as they want me to contribute because this is their baby, at the end of the day,” he says. “If there’s something that they don’t like or don’t want to use, it’s totally their call.” And, he adds, “I don’t think it would really be in my nature, anyway, to steamroll over anybody’s artistic expression. It’s not my personality.”
Now, with “Dancing in a Daydream” out, both Roses & Revolutions and Jenner are turning their thoughts to what’s coming up next. For Coco and Merritt, that means continuing to do the twice-weekly livestreams that they started when the current pandemic lockdown was enforced in New York state. It’s a good way, they say, to stay connected to the fans they first began winning over with their 2018 self-titled debut, even if it isn’t as exhilarating as the headlining tour dates they completed in March.
During these livestreams, Coco and Merritt try to keep things lighthearted. “I think people just want to smile and laugh right now,” Coco says. So, besides playing their music, they also “have a little story time in there, some jokes. I wear PJs and get slightly drunk at every single one, it’s great!” she says with a laugh.
As for Jenner, he is recording an as-yet-untitled full-length album. He says it will be stylistically eclectic, but he is continuing to use his lyrics to explore the personal themes. “I’ve always felt like I have a target on my back of, ‘You’re just a privileged kid,’ and so I just wanted to hide in my shell. I don’t want to stand out, necessarily. Just kind of want to blend in. And so, I have a lot of unraveling that I need to do with regard to that, and allow myself to be myself and express that fully to other people,” he says.
As he gets ready to go back to work, Jenner also expresses some parting words of wisdom for Roses & Revolutions and other young artists: “I will give other people the advice that I would still give myself, which is: learn who you are, learn what is unique about you, what is your voice, what do you really want to say, say it bravely, and connect. Even if there’s just a few people out there that love what you’re doing, connect with them. Make them feel seen. Because that’s really all people want in the world, is just to feel seen and appreciated.”