Born in America, Brendan Hannigan is probably best known to Praguers as the guitarist and vocalist of Not A Phase Band, which plays, among other venues, at Vzorkovna on Wednesday and Friday nights.
He can also be found playing covers at Irish Times with his co-project with Vlaďa Hajek, 2Mofos, as well as at The Dubliner and the Marriott Hotel. In this interview, he shares his almost-accidental story of coming to Prague, his thoughts on song covers, and his advice for musicians and expats.
What brought you to Prague?
I was living in Colorado Springs, Colorado, literally a few blocks away from my childhood home. I was working as a guitar teacher, which I enjoyed up to a point, but I turned 30 and I could start to see the trajectory of my life unfolding. I would get married and keep working as a guitar teacher less than a mile from where I was born. And I wondered: is this really all there is for me?
And so for a better part of a year, I ruminated on this question – and then finally my sister, who was living in China at the time, invited me to come to visit her in China. And so we ended up spending five days in Hong Kong and five days in Tokyo, and that trip blasted my mind open. I was coming from a life that was, you know, just work, home, work, home.
I really wanted to get a TEFL certification, so I could work abroad as an English teacher. I had this gut feeling that I needed to do this as soon as possible or else it wouldn’t happen. At the time it seemed like one of those moments where you get an idea and if you don’t act on it right away, it just sort of fizzles. Of course, this was in November of 2019, so I was in some ways extremely lucky with the timing and with that sense of urgency that I felt because if I’d waited any longer, everything would have locked down and I might still be in America today.
And, as it happened, the course in Prague was starting the soonest. I didn’t know anything about this place, I don’t even think I could have found Prague on a map. But I thought, why not? I quit my job and within two weeks I was on a plane to Prague.
Then, when my course ended, I started questioning why I was in such a rush to leave. So I decided to stick around, teach some English, and explore.
And right in the middle of applying for my visa, COVID hit and put all my plans on hold. I ended up staying with my girlfriend at the time with her family in Svitavy during the first lockdown. I feel so lucky to have had the support that I did during that time.
And then when things started opening up, around the middle of 2021, I started getting invitations from other musicians that I knew to come and play gigs in different places. I hadn’t really been playing professionally, but music was always a really big part of my life, so I decided, why not?
What kind of music do you play?
Well, we [Not a Phase] are a cover band. There are a lot of musicians who don’t like playing covers, who think that it sort of threatens the artistic aspect of it. For me, it doesn’t. I really enjoy playing and singing, period. I add my own interpretations and my own experiences and emotions to the song.
These super popular songs that everyone knows – they’re connected with moments in people’s lives. It reminds them of home or it reminds them of a person or a time in their life. So you’re actually creating a very powerful experience for them, especially if they can sing along with you.
The experience is not about you as an artist onstage, it’s a collective catharsis. You’re not asserting your artistic vision, you’re helping to create an experience for someone. And when I look out and see people happy and singing with their friends, that makes the job so rewarding for me.
Do you have any advice for people who are living in Prague or looking to move here?
Every day I wake up and I’m like, how did this happen? And the answer I can come up with is that I kept saying yes to things that sounded interesting, and I showed up and did a good job. I truly believe that if you’re nice and you put good energy out there, and you show up for things, good stuff will happen.