sensual desert soul
Brandy Butler is a force. She’s outspoken, politically active and can sing her ass off! Her music is strong, earthy, sensual and fiercely honest. Listening to it almost feels like you’re lost in the desert with her, watching mind blowing shadow and light play. Her voice has that timeless quality about it and she can do things with it that most vocalists only dream of. And she’s also one of the kindest souls you’ll ever get to meet. This Friday she will be releasing her debut LP entitled “The Inventory of Goodbye”.
Let's get deeper.
Listening to your record made me think about the sacrifices that artists have to make to create resonant, honest art. It’s not easy to drop your guard in life, in general, yet artists do it in the public eye and under real scrutiny. What drove you to write such an honest record?
Wow. Well that’s an intense question to start with! I think a lot of things aligned for me at the right time. The story goes that I was definitely craving to make an emotional record, but the process started out as a Jazz standards album. I wanted to pick the toughest texts, written by incredible lyricists and give each story it’s due. While I was recording it, someone close to me kept encouraging me to dare to write my own music. To dare to believe that I could tell a story as effectively as “Gloomy Sunday” or “Lush Life” does. I began to pull away from a traditional jazz sound in the recordings, and then from traditional jazz songs, and then before I knew it, I was in a studio in Geneva recording “Crying” by Roy Orbison (I was already pretty heartbroken at this moment) and it felt so right. The sound. The words. The honesty of it all. I literally cried during the take on the album. I left the studio feeling like, I can write songs like this and this song is where I will start my story. “Crying” is the middle of the album, but it’s the beginning of how I started taking personal inventory of all the stages one needs to get through before letting go of someone or something.
Was there a point in which you felt too exposed, maybe? Did you ever have any doubts or second thoughts while writing and recording this?
There were definitely several moments where I stopped the process because I got scared. Making a body of work that was this incredibly honest, raw and exposed is really new for me. But at each step along the way, I had such a strong circle of support from my producer, my band and my friends, I always managed to pick myself back up and get the momentum rolling again.
How long did it take you to write this material?
From the first song to the last, it took me 8 months. As the story unfolded, the songs came pretty easily. The majority of the time was spent searching for the truly right way to begin and end the album so it felt aggregate.
Do you think that you would have been able to record something so brutally honest without these painful circumstances in your life?
I think that I would haven’t been able to record this album, if I hadn’t been ready to open myself to feeling the contrasts of life. Shortly before the story begin, I dedicated myself to learning how to let go. I gave myself as many opportunities, and as in as many different formats possible, to learn how to let go. That was already so painful sometimes. You can ask the guy who I took private Lindy hop lessons from! (laughs) When you learn how to let go then you can be truly receptive to the beautiful fringe edges of both joy and pain.
It seems like it’s the perfect time for this record to drop. It seems like honest music is making a proper come back and that there’s a real demand for it. I guess the circumstances are right...
Well, with the beginning of “alternative facts” it brings us straight back to the idea of how contrast functions. Where some people are clearly craving any information that makes them feel indefinitely secure, whether true or not, there are absolutely more and more of us who are hungry for truth and depth and human connection.
And it’s a time for strong ladies as well, right?! It was great to see the massive turnout at all the Women’s Marches the other day. Were you also out there?
(laughs). If you are a strong woman, your battle to fight stereotypes and projections is constant. But it’s clearly true that there is a call for leaders, and I am glad that I have been been close to, and remain dedicated to staying at, the frontline of defending all oppressed groups. That’s why I attended the Women’s March in Geneva on January 21st and even had my 5 year old daughter in tow. There is nothing more empowering than finding we have more in common than we don’t.
So Switzerland was representing, huh?
Switzerland was representing for sure!
Back to the record. How in the hell did you get such a rootsy American sound out of Swiss musicians?
For me the elements are not necessarily American. I think they grow out of the way that I wanted people to experience my memories. I had this idea of being committed to images which was inspired by synesthesia. I wanted to create the sound of heat; the colour of sadness, the taste of grief. We (the band) really united on these images, and the chance to be so freely creative and also, all of us being a little broken at the time.
Were you tempted to have a yodelling feature? Sorry, I had to. It was easy game. ;)
(laughs). Shortly before I started this album, I was touring with one of the most famous Swiss artists, Erika Stucky. She is like a Tom Waits with a Swiss Folk twist and she yodels in her programs. It’s very original and special. It for sure did not make me want to yodel, but it gave me a new respect for the technique as well as for the craft of reinventing something everyone knows to fit you personally.
On a serious tip, did your music change in any way since you left the States and settled in Switzerland? You’re from Philly right?
I am originally from Reading, Pennsylvania, but I spent 7 years in Philly before moving to Zürich. I think I changed a lot since I left the states. I grew up being an entertainer. I did a lot of theatre and musical theatre, so in the beginning I think most of the music I made over the years was meant purely to entertain. I also had these very strong musical boundaries set by my father as to what is good and of value musically (and no, Rock music was not one of them). As I have grown more in myself, I dared to challenge both of these worlds and ideologies, and from this, something new grew inside me artistically.
How’s living in Philly affected your musical development?
It’s such a potent hub for music. I was just barely 17 when I moved to Philly. Back in 97’, Philly was the hotbed of NeoSoul Music at the time. The Roots had just released Phrenology, I could go listen to Jill Scott read her poetry or sing up at Rich Medina’s old record store or I could go to the Five Spot and listen to women jam out at the Black Lily Open Mic. It was an incredibly rich time for me and I am so grateful to have been able to intake all the influences that I could during that time.
I’m curious if you've seen the Nina Simone Montreux concert, the film?
I’ve never seen the film, but I have seen the portion that is in the doc film “What ever happened to Miss Simone?”. I am going to have to check it immediately afterwards now.
As far as I know she was living in Switzerland at the time and was highly critical of the place and the people. What do you think about her critiques?
I don’t know what her critiques specifically were, but I think Switzerland is about Utopic as a place can be. It’s a very safe, protective place but it can also feel oppressive and overly conformist at times. If you read Huxley’s “Brave New World” then you know all about the beautiful dangers or utopic society.
Is it a different place now? I mean how is it to be openly queer and African American and to live there?
I have lived in Switzerland for 13 years and it definitely has progressed a lot since I got here. When I arrived I was one of two black people in the village I lived in and the kids had never really had experience with people who were not white. Now it’s my experience, especially if you live in the major cities, multiculturalism is becoming more and more apart of everyone’s daily life. In my daughter’s Kindergarten most of the kids are coming to school already speaking another language besides German (we live in the german speaking area). It’s slowly becoming a mixing pot, but of course, there is still a long way to go.
This is your debut LP, yet you’ve been making music professionally for so many years now – why did it take so long?I’ve made so much material over the years, but it took me a long time to identify what it is that I actually do. You know I started playing jazz flute, and I grew up doing theatre, and I play a bunch of other instruments, I have worked for years as a backup vocalist and I was just so flexible for other people’s works that I really couldn’t find my truest self in my own work. At some point I really had to question what is it that I actually do, and what separates me from others. I’ve come to release that what I truly am is a storyteller. I can bring people together and captivate with my stories. This can be expressed across different mediums: theatre, or dance, or music. In the end, it’s always about the story. Since I have connected with what I feel is my personal artistic purpose, it’s made me so free to create on a level that I just wasn’t able to access before. It feels good to have finally arrived.
Are you itching to record new material now or just celebrating this release?
I am already conceptualising my next story but I am also really ready to celebrate this body of work and share it!!
interview by oro del mack