Welcome to the first installment of "Could've Beens," a semi-recurring feature where we look back at local bands that should've made the big time — but didn't. By exploring the Valley's musical past, we can better understand our shared scene and celebrate the unique art emanating from this wacky desert.
Some musicians are lucky enough to approach one big break. Sean Brennan's technically had three.
The first came in the early 2000s with the band Ember Coast, which Brennan describes as "Make Yourself-era Incubus." But after a few years of releasing music and regular gigging, Brennan found himself more interested in experimenting. When the band "fell apart" in 2006, Brennan hit the road.
"I went to Europe and traveled for four months," he says. "I had this guitar my roommate let me borrow. It was never in tune. I'd sit down at the hostel and play some piano. I'd make beats with Reason. It was just a way to get stuff out of my head."
When he arrived back in the Valley, Brennan already had birthed a new project: Yellow Minute. The earliest iteration was more like a free-form collaboration. He relied on friends like Tony Patiño (of Attack of the Giant Squid fame) to help expand the bulk of his European efforts.
"Tony knew how to use Ableton enough to really make it textured," Brennan says. "He added a lot of what Yellow Minute was at the time." Brennan refers to 2009's you+you+you+you=me EP, which exemplifies his aim of creating "folk that that's absolutely as raw as possible if you strip away those backing tracks."
For a time, Yellow Minute played regularly across the Valley as a loose collaboration. But Brennan admits that he "never wanted to be in a jazz band," and found himself thinking "this wasn't the expression [I] wanted."
He hooked up with new musicians, namely David Moroney of What Laura Says and P.J. "Paul" Waxman of Dear and the Headlights. Together, "Yellow Minute 2.0" made what Brennan calls "really beautiful and awesome music, with a lot of undertones of Grizzly Bear." That description encapsulates the 2012 song "Gods in the Mud" and 2013's Ostrichland Soundtrack: more intense and driven music created by a tight-knit band.
"We would really try and feel each other out, but not in a jam band way," Brennan says. It was also his chance to step back and support Waxman. Brennan relished playing the "sideman" role, adding, "I just want to connect with the most strangers as possible in one night."
Between 2010 and 2011, Brennan got his wish when he played bass with Tim Ellis' band Skybox. Despite minimal experience ("Moroney gave me streamlined lessons"), Brennan calls this period his "golden moment." When he got back from the road, Yellow Minute picked up again, opening for the likes of Passion Pit and Miniature Tigers.
Riding the hype, Brennan and Waxman relocated to Los Angeles around 2013. He says they recorded a few things as Yellow Minute, but given their new dynamic, the duo rebranded as Party Gardens. Moon arrived in 2015. Despite the name change, Brennan says "there's a common thread of continuity" from Yellow Minute to Party Gardens. It's also a clear maturation of the earnest and emotional core of Brennan's earliest efforts.
As they'd done twice before, Brennan and Waxman built some solid buzz in L.A. But when Waxman stepped away for personal reasons, Brennan says the "Yellow Minute saga" ended with a whisper.
"Every time something happens, I didn't get much of a say," Brennan says. "I felt like a victim in a way with both bands."
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Brennan eventually bucked his initial frustrations and learned to better appreciate things after his mother died several years ago, adding, "You won't catch me complaining about bad coffee." He sees his time in Yellow Minute as having much larger value.
"That Tempe scene from 2006 to 2013 was really, really important," he says. "Everyone from Black Carl and Future Loves Past and What Laura Says supported each other. We were all part of something, and if more people had paid attention, a lot of those bands could've been signed."
Brennan's still plugging away in L.A. and hopes to one day release another new project. Does he think he could make lightning strike one more time?
"I used to think about the pain of how close I got," he says. "But now I'm just grateful I even got to do it. I'm not going to stop making music, because it's just like it was when I was 19, that same shimmer of light. If you're creating from the heart, that's what all the labels got interested in the first place."