By Eric Althoff
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The D.C. musician who goes by the handle BRASSIE is loath to be pigeonholed into one specific genre or another. Her sound, especially on the tune “A Song About Nothing,” is perhaps reminiscent of the singer-songwriter mode familiar from the likes of Alanis Morissette, but the artist herself insists that her musical influences and DNA are difficult to pin down.
“I feel like I’m influenced by everything I’ve ever heard,” BRASSIE said recently during an interview. Accordingly, she said “A Song About Nothing” was inspired partially by Phoebe Bridgers, but that she used that only as a starting point. Its video is simple, with the artist playing in the foreground in her kitchen. “I talk about ‘making it to the kitchen’ in the song,” she said. “It’s supposed to symbolize hope in the context of the song.”
BRASSIE says that her other inspirations have included Shakey Graves, the Lumineers, Delta Rae, Lewis Del Mar, and Billie Eilish. BRASSIE lived in Brentwood, Maryland, prior to the pandemic and now resides in Alexandria, Virginia. In between, she moved back in with her parents in Fredericksburg, Virginia, to wait out COVID-19 lockdowns.
“It was hard not being around live music for a while, but I was really lucky to have support from my family,” she said. “I wrote a lot of songs during that time and focused on making more online content for YouTube and TikTok especially.”
She said that pandemic songwriting wasn’t much different than during “regular” times—only that she had more of it to work. BRASSIE and her producer Elijah Cruise sent ideas back and forth from his home in Tennessee, and then they would confer over Zoom calls to refine song ideas.
“I did visit his home studio in the summer to finish up the major recording bits on one single and start them on another,” she said, adding that they kept the creative circle small and vaccinated. “From the first Zoom session to the release date, it took us almost six months to create the studio version of ‘friends like these.’”
“By the time I release my next single, we will have been working on that one for almost two years.”
BRASSIE writes when the muse strikes, which can be frequent. She has been inspired by something as quotidian as a line in a movie or even a passing remark by a friend.
“Anything could spark an idea—anything that elicits an emotional response,” she said. “From there, I just freely associate words until I have a verse and eventually a whole song. I try not to think too hard and just let myself feel what melody and lyrics make the most sense. My very best songs take the least effort and seem to write themselves.”
A testament to her increasing reach and impact as an artist, BRASSIE was nominated recently for two 2022 Wammie Awards (Best Rock Artist and Best Rock Song for “friends like these”). Voting is open through January 31.
On ‘friends like these’ (lowercased on purpose), BRASSIE modulates her voice and arrangement to suit the song, not the other way around. She says the composition was partly influenced by the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma,” a film that essentially posits social media keeps us “addicted” and coming back for more, almost like a drug dealer. From that genesis, BRASSIE began writing “friends like these,” a song with no small amount of agita. BRASSIE said the song was premised partly on a fallout she had recently experienced with someone in her social circle.
“Although that incident sparked the chorus, I think the rest of it was fueled by every person who has ever abused my friendship,” she said matter-of-factly of “friends like these,” whose stamp bears hints of The White Stripes and Olivia Rodrigo. “Fake friends are a great (and obvious) metaphor for social media.”
Unsurprisingly, there is quite a bit of darkness on another recent song called “Tomb,” which features electronic elements overdubbed on top of BRASSIE’s voice. She said the original version was spartan, and needed something to make it sing. To achieve the alchemy for the song, she called in a few favors.
“I’m not much of a producer, so I relied on the musical expertise of my friends and colleagues, Erik Deutsch and Spencer Zahn, when we were in the studio together,” she said of working on “Tomb.” “I wanted the studio version to have that same rootsy simplicity but with some dark electronic elements as well.”
Her emails to Deutsch and Zahn were rather specific. She asked for, among other things: “Haunting, soulful, minimalist”; “Acapella, strong harmonies, back and forth rhythm”; and “Similar to Delta Rae’s ‘Bottom of the River.’” She also asked for some “subtle hints” of pop and electronica, similar to “Bellyache” by Billie Eilish and “Loud(y)” by Lewis Del Mar.
“While in the studio, Erik jumped on the Moog, and it ended up adding that great dark texture I was looking for,” BRASSIE said. “Some more dark elements that made it into the track were some improvised guitar wailing from guitarist Will Graefe and some spooky vocal panning by engineer Phil Weinrobe.”
Of the D.C. music scene, BRASSIE said that she finds artists tend to be collaborative and supportive rather than competitive, unlike in more dog-eat-dog markets.
“There’s so much talent here, but not nearly as much ego as I think you might find in larger, more competitive music cities like Nashville and L.A.,” she said. “I do think there may be a ceiling here for those major, career-growing opportunities, but so much in music happens remotely nowadays, so I don’t think that’s necessarily a problem.”
And with pandemic restrictions somewhat easing, BRASSIE says she looks forward to getting back on the road again. “After that, you can expect more shows, more collabs, and more music coming in 2022,” she enthuses. Speaking of shows, go see BRASSIE at Jammin’ Java on February 25, where she will open for Jon Tyler Wiley & His Virginia Choir.
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