By Caroline Paone
While chatting with singer-guitarist Bree, she was excited for her show later that evening at the Mercury Lounge in Nashville. “Yeah, it’s my birthday bash. I’m celebrating tonight with all my Nashville friends,” said the 24-year-old rising star. She seems wise beyond her years, rattling off names of classic rock and country performers, and sharing life lessons.
“It’s really disappointing when I’m talking to people my own age and they don’t know who Pete Townsend is,” says Bree. “Or they’re like ‘who’s Mick Ronson? Why do you keep bringing that guy up?’ How do you consider yourself a musician if you don’t know your music history? For me, you gotta research it, you gotta hear it all. Then formulate your own style, based on what you love to sing and play without copying anyone.”
The songwriter fronts a three-piece powerhouse that includes a stand up bassist and drummer. After moving to Nashville in 2011, she honed her chops along music row garnering a local following. But after meeting legendary producer Bob Ezrin (Alice Cooper, KISS) and his engineer Justin Cortelyou (Taylor Swift, KISS, Ke$ha) the plans for recording her debut album All American Girl began.
Bree’s life story didn’t begin as prettily and seamless as her entry into the music business. Under the thumb of a controlling father and step-mother, Bree learned about rebellion like no other kid: Her father was the leader of an Oregon-based religious cult and Bree’s early life was filled with struggle. First, at age six witnessing her biological Mother suffer and die because of the cult’s refusal of medical treatment. Then, was cast out of her home in her teens.
She recalls, “At age six it made me feel like if I get sick, Dad’s going to let me die. I was in this hell for years. I eventually got kicked out at 17 for having a boyfriend. It’s so wrong. It was complete and total hell and I hated it, but it’s made me the writer I am today. It makes every other obstacle in my life seem so small.”
When a new artist emerges on the music scene, writers and critics want to share her backstory. But few have a history as shocking as Bree’s. It makes you wonder if someday she’ll want to avoid talking about her past? “Oh never,” offers Bree. “It’s a part of my history. It’s a part of what makes my music the way that it is. I am very straightforward and I call it how I see it.”
There’s also a deeper underlying need to speak of the dark years: “I want people to know my story. I want to share it to give others hope who might be in that same situation or similar controlling situations. I felt very trapped. My Dad just wanted me to get married, make babies and serve my husband. I felt I was meant for something much larger than that. You can get out of a controlling situation and become whoever you want to be.”
It’s true out of hurt and struggle come artistic beauty. When an artist follows her true calling, inspired things happen. Songs “You Can’t Take the Heart Out of Me,” ‘Whiskey,” and “Not Today” contain bold lyrics, diverse vocal phrasing and aggressive rhythms. “All my songs are autobiographical,” shares Bree. “The lyrics ‘you’re just a real American girl’ are kind of tongue-in-cheek, and the fact that it’s the name of my album cracks me up. ‘Love me baby for who I am, I’m just an all American girl’ [means] for all of my mistakes and my messed up life, just love me for who I am.”
Being a “little rocker chic at heart,” Bree always dreamed about playing guitar. “I really wanted to be in a rock band. I had a blow-up red guitar that looked like a Fender strat and I would pretend to wail on it,” she recalls with a giggle. After picking up a real guitar at 12 or 13, she kept at it even though it was not accepted at home: “When I was 15, I saved up all my babysitting money and bought an Epiphone SG in candy apple red because I liked the pick guard–my Dad hated it, he was like ‘it looks like the devil.’”
When she was growing up though it was her father who let her listen to classic rock radio, she remembers hearing “Humble Pie when I was 4 years old.” However, she was later restricted from listening to punk bands and others.
Nowadays, with her go-to Gibson Flying V slung over her hips, Bree’s got an original look and sound. It wasn’t Randy Rhoads or Lenny Kravitz who inspired her choice of axe, but it’s pure sound and sleek feel.
However, a dose of admiration did come by way of Jimi: “I love the V Hendrix played. It’s beautiful, hand-painted and gorgeous. I never really saw a female playing a V, but every time I’d walk into a guitar store I was just so drawn to the V’s. They were sexual, fun and very lightweight. Whenever I put one on, I was like ‘this is my baby.’ It just felt really good.”
The Gibson fit her like a glove. “I even tried Les Pauls, then a strat. I wasn’t feelin’ them at all, so I was like this is it. I love the stock cherry Gibson, that’s my favorite.”
A classic rig helps facilitate Bree’s sultry crunch, a Vintage Marshall with a 50 Watt head. “It’s really the powerhouse in my situation,” she says. “I spent forever finding my tone, which I kind of based off of my favorite guitarists Mick Ronson and Pete Townsend. I tried to put those two together because they are my heroes. I get a very unique sound–it’s very classic and I love it. It really turns me on.”
Bree’s a rhythmic player taking a queue from the guitarists of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. With a stark single-note style and flavorful riffs, her playing has shades of the classic rockabilly players: the same guys who influenced everyone from members of the Who and Led Zeppelin to David Bowie.
“I like to solo but I’m not into arpeggios and all that crazy stuff, it’s just not me,” she says. “I’m more of a rhythm player. If I play a solo it’ll be more like an Eddie Cochran one. You know, I’m influenced by the ‘50s and ‘60s as far as soloing goes; very simple and melodic.”
Her less-is-more approach suits the trio’s vibe: “I’m a minimalist. I love simplicity because it brings a raw form to the music and an honesty. It fulfills me. Doing all that arpeggio stuff wouldn’t. I could easily learn how to play it if I rehearsed it, but I have no desire to.”
The three-piece has a striped-down sound, at times it calls to mind shades of the White Stripes. A straight-forward rock band tinged with the vocal nuances of a sexy rock/country singer. “It’s strange,” offers Bree, “when people first see me, they’re like ‘Oh rockabilly band’–my look is kind of pinup, but I mix it with rocked-out clothing. Then I’ve got a standup bassist [in the band]. I confuse the hell out of people. After the show, I guarantee you, they’re not confused. They’re like ‘you’re not rockabilly at all, you are rock-and-roll.’ They get it after they see me play,” she laughs.
Bree’s inspiration comes from the free-spirited rockers like Janis Joplin and Pat Benatar. “I recently saw Pat Benatar,” she said. “Oh my God, she is such a badass. I was shocked. I had never seen her live. She really rocks, and her husband (Neil Giraldo) is an amazing guitarist–they are so adorable and they rock together.”
In the end, Bree’s going to keep rocking–her way. “I like the fact that we’re simple and tight and just fun. I have such a blast doing what I do. I’m just being myself and writing what moves me. That’s why I stick to the classics, everything’s so safe and formulated now. I want to bring a little realness to the music.”
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Cover Photo credit: Rocky Browning