By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
By Jena Ardell
By Mary Willson
By Bree Davies
By Tom Murphy
By Tom Murphy
By A.H. Goldstein
Brennen Bryarly is still terrified of heights. You'd think he wouldn't be by now, but he is. For a decade, he performed the most dangerous job in America, and he spent a lot of time looking down. Now he's soaring to new heights with his music.
Bryarly, of course, is better known locally as option4, a resident DJ at Lipgloss, one of Denver's longest-running club nights, and the curator of the Hundred, a regular showcase for emerging house acts new to Denver. This week, he's ramping up his burgeoning career by releasing a new EP, the dark-house-inflected Into the Night. Before any of this, however, he made his home in hotel rooms across the country, in between putting his life at risk while ascending and working on cell-phone towers, a job that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) once labeled the most dangerous job in America.
"It was strictly a lot of go-get-it attitude," says Bryarly of how he landed in such a deadly profession, despite a relative lack of qualifications. "I was terrified of everything," he admits. "I kind of forced myself to adjust and I got used to it." He had to, out of necessity. Like many in the past decade, his family had fallen on hard times, and Bryarly, who was only nineteen at the time, insisted that he was the family's best hope for climbing back to financial stability. "I'm young, I'm strong, I can do this," he remembers thinking. Initially, his father, Kelly, who had been doing his best to take care of Brennen and his siblings after his wife left the family, resisted. A lifelong musician who began playing guitar at the age of three with the Flying W Ranch house band, which his mother had founded, Kelly had moved the family back to Colorado from San Francisco when Brennen was fifteen. On the West Coast, Kelly had enjoyed a fairly successful career writing jingles, soundtracks and scores for movies and television, and he passed on his love of music to Brennen.
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Brennen was born in Colorado Springs, and he lived there until his father moved the family to San Francisco. A year or two after the family moved back to the Springs, Brennan saw his first electronic-music concert: the Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim at Red Rocks. "It blew my mind," he recalls now. "I loved electronic music more than anything else. I saved up for a year and a half and bought my first pair of turntables and a mixer, and I was just a bedroom DJ, but I played house parties for my friends."
By the end of high school, he'd had his first show at a small club in Colorado Springs. His cousin, a sound engineer at the club, helped him get the gig. Around the same time, he was learning to use synthesizers and program MIDI, making his first four-song EP. "The songs were terrible," Bryarly admits. "The first EP, I wrote four songs and we burned it on to MiniDiscs. If I could find that MiniDisc, I would be the happiest person in the world, because all those songs are gone now. I would love to hear how bad it is, and I would put it out in a heartbeat."
He hit the road not long after that in search of work, and he spent the years that followed living out of suitcases, returning home only occasionally. His passion for music remained, however, and he began working on it in his downtime with a portable studio that he took on his travels. At the time, he was heartbroken over a relationship that had gone sour, and to help console his son, Kelly gave him a MIDI controller to use with a copy of Reason that Brennen had acquired.
"I made so many songs it was ridiculous," recalls Bryarly of those long years on the road. "I traveled with a small desktop. I would pack the desktop in one suitcase and a monitor in another suitcase, along with the keyboard, and threw whatever clothes I had room for on top of it. So in hotels from there on out, I would work on music."
For the better part of a decade, Bryarly made music solo in this way, with feedback from his father on how to make it better. But when he finally felt that his family was in a better place financially, Bryarly stopped climbing towers and took a break before going back on the road again, this time as a disaster-relief technician, dehumidifying houses that had been ravaged by hurricanes. Despite realizing a great amount of success in that field, he eventually reached a place where he was able to focus far less on work and devote more time to his music, which is where he is now.
It's been a slow and steady climb that began in 2006, during the rare times that Bryarly was back home. He and his friends launched a record label with the aim of releasing their creative output. "Some friends of mine wanted to start a small record label called Dramatic, because they like to make electronic music, too," Bryarly remembers. "So we had a little record-label showcase at this bar in Colorado Springs called Union Station. It was this biker bar. They gave us a Sunday night, and we were really excited, so we got all our friends together. Five of us played music, and I deejayed a completely original set just on CDJs. I also played live percussion over it."