When Dan Bremnes was just ten-years-old, he played drums at his local church while also learning guitar and discovering a passion for songwriting. As years passed, it was a six-month trip to Australia that re-shaped his perspective: "While I was there, something happened in my life, and God started working on my heart," Bremnes shares. "I started thinking about making music that was really intentional about reaching people on a spiritual level. I wanted to come right out and speak about God and my relationship with Him." As he was pursuing his professional dreams, Bremnes' faced the tragic news that his mother was killed in a car accident. An event that truly turned his life upside down, there was no better way to honor his mother's memory than by throwing himself wholeheartedly into music. He began to share his songs with anyone who'd listen and continued to hone his songwriting craft. It wasn't long before people took notice. In his career to date, Bremnes has collected a host of awards and accolades such as the 2016 Juno Award for "Contemporary Christian/Gospel Album of the Year" and five GMA Canada Covenant Awards, including 2016 "Album of the Year" and "Artist of the Year." Bremnes recently signed with Word Entertainment and is currently featured on Winter Jam’s 46-city Eastern U.S. tour. We caught up with Dan at the Pittsburgh stop where we talked with him about plans to release new music, his hopes for Winter Jam and future tour aspirations.
You kicked off 2018 with the release of two new songs. Talking first about “Up Again,” can you walk us through the story behind that song?
So “Up Again,” I wrote that song actually in Toronto with a few guys. And I remember the morning that I wrote it, I was feeling pretty discouraged. Music can be a really up and down journey, and I lost my mom a few years ago in a car accident. And I remember sitting in the writing room and just started writing a letter of what I would tell my mom. You know, when you’re down, you want to talk to your mom, no matter how old you are. But unfortunately, I can’t. So I just remember being really honest with the guys in the room and explaining what happened and how I was feeling. So then we just started writing the lyrics. And in the song, there is a callback of what she would probably say to me: "Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win. You can get up again." And so for me, it was an emotional day writing that song. And it’s also encouraging because no matter how many times you fall, you can get up again. If you’re alive today with breath in your lungs, there’s hope and a different story than the current one you have.
Your other new track “Going Together” is a beautiful love song that you dedicated to your wife. What has the reaction to that song been like?
We’ve been married almost eleven years now. And the whole time we’ve been married, we’ve been on this musical journey. A month after our son was born, we moved everything to Nashville. And it’s been a journey that even though I’m the one on stage, it’s a journey also for my wife and our kids. Someone told me once, and I’ve never forgotten, that "life is what you decide to make it." Sometimes we can feel that our story is written – we need to live in the town we grew up in and work a 9 to 5 job. And I tried doing that, but I just wasn’t happy. I wasn’t satisfied. One day, I decided that I was going to chase this crazy dream. And it’s been an adventure for all of us. And the last verse of the song says: "I can see us when we’re older. Moving a little slower with a life full of memories. And we’re going to look back on it and not going to change a thing." And I think that’s the whole thing. In life we have two options: we can sail or chase what God has put on our heart. So really it’s a song for my wife and my kids, and a thank you to them for coming on the journey.
It was recently announced that you have joined the Word Entertainment roster. What has that experience been like so far?
It’s been great! I recorded most of this record on my own before joining Word. I didn’t expect to work with another Christian label, but some friends over there heard it and loved it, and said they wanted to work with me on this. It was unexpected, for sure. So that was just a few months ago, and now Winter Jam, and it’s pretty fun to work with a team. Definitely better than doing everything by yourself.
Are these two songs part of a larger project? What is the timeline looking like for additional songs?
I’ve got another song coming out March 9th called “Wherever I Go”. I’ll actually be singing it tonight. And we are also releasing a video that’s pretty exciting. Last year I went around the world in eight days to do a video for “Wherever I Go” around that theme. So we went to Iceland, Italy, Jordan, India, China, and a few other places. So the video will come out a few weeks after the song is released too. Maybe a new song every month or two after that, and a new album TBD.
Switching gears a little, here we are in Pittsburgh on the second month of Winter Jam. What have the first set of shows been like?
They’ve been really good! To be able to play in stadiums to people is a dream. I keep telling myself that this is not normal – getting to do this all the time. To have this opportunity to get in front of so many people at once is really beneficial.
We have seen a few photos of you hanging out and performing for people lined up waiting to enter the arenas. What has that experience been like?
I do it every single night. It’s probably one of my favorite pieces. Because when you play in a big arena, you don’t really get to say hi to people or shake their hands, look them in the eyeballs or talk to them. But outside, we get to do that and really get to connect with people on a more intimate level. So it’s really fun!
What is your favorite song to perform live right now?
Probably “Wherever I Go,” it’s one of the ones that I really like on the record. And each night I’ll build loops. So I’ll put the guitar down, and the beat down, and the piano down all live. So it’s a tightrope walk, and if something gets recorded wrong, it will be like that all the way through the song that night. So it keeps me awake, and it’s a lot of fun to watch people try to figure out what I’m doing.
Do you have a moment of the night that is most special for you that you make a point to see or hear offstage?
It changes each night, but last night I loved hearing everyone sing along to “Forever,” one of Kari Jobe’s songs. Just having a song that everyone knows – there are so many things that people disagree on, even people within Christianity, but for one moment, everyone just worships God together. It’s pretty special.
When fans leave Winter Jam, what is one thing that you hope they take away from your set or the night overall?
That’s a good question. I hope that people walk away from a night like this with a reminder that God is real, He loves me, and He is still speaking. And I hope that people get that. Sometimes, we just need that refresher.
Are there any must-have items that you really wanted to take on the road for this tour?
There are a lot of bad food options around, so I’m a big fan of hummus and chips. Sometimes I bring my coffee machine up too, which is an espresso lever machine. But when everyone finds out you have it, they keep texting you asking if there is coffee being made. [Laughs.]
What have the Jam Church experiences on Sundays been like?
It’s a pretty cool experience. It’s fun to get everyone in the room. And usually, when you are leading worship, it’s not to a room of musicians, let alone this group of musicians. So when I was leading worship the first or second Jam Church, I was looking out and seeing Kari Jobe and Skillet and everyone else. [Laughs.] So it’s a little bit nerve-wracking, but at the same time, everyone gets it. Everyone is engaged, so it’s a pretty special time.
Is there anyone you haven’t gotten to tour with yet that you would like to work with in the future?
That’s a great question! I feel like one of the people I haven’t toured with yet is Michael W. Smith. I’ve toured with Stephen Curtis Chapman and Casting Crowns, and Chris Tomlin. I haven’t toured with TobyMac either. So either TobyMac or Michael W. Smith would be cool. I’ve met both those guys in passing, but haven’t collaborated.
Check back all week for sit-downs with Newsong, Skillet's John Cooper, Kari Jobe, Cody Carnes and Jordan Feliz. Also, be sure to read our feature 'God Continues To Work Miracles Through Winter Jam' featuring Pastor Bobby Joyner.