Southern California native, Brigitte DeMeyer has been steadily releasing albums every few years for twenty years now and her latest, Seeker is a collection of ten songs showcasing her unique soulful, jazz meets blues vocal style along with exceptional songwriting and sparse, groove-filled arrangements. Produced by multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix of The Wood Brothers, Seeker is a laid back, swampy and spicy joy to get lost in. Bassist Chris Wood said, “It’s Bob Dylan meets Sly Stone.” I would say spot on with a dash of Rickie Lee Jones too!
AnaLee: You wrote most of the record with your producer, Jano Rix, I believe pre-pandemic, was that here in Nashville? It had to have been a bit frustrating waiting to release the album, but now that it’s been out for a couple of months and enjoying time in the top twenty of the Americana Album Chart, how are you feeling about the release and what the rest of 2021 looks like now?
Brigitte: Jano and I decided to work together back in early 2018, I think it was. We weren’t sure how the process would work out, but wanted to do it so we just sort of figured it out as we went. We wrote most of this music long distance with him being in Nashville and me being in San Francisco. I wrote all the lyrics and some of the music, and would send him one song at a time, either just lyrics, or lyrics and a piece of music with it. He sent them back to me with his recorded music ideas either finishing the music, adding a section or writing the music completely to lyrics. We recorded them in small batches over the course of a couple years. It was very organic, and was completely recorded by February of 2020. It was definitely hard to sit on it for year due to Covid, but worth the wait. So far, we’ve been taking it as it comes, making videos to support the music, including a WMOT Finally Friday set, and I’ve been doing a great deal of radio interviews. I’m hoping later in the year I can get out with my little band and tour some, as things open back up. Would love to get back to the UK, and Europe as well. In between Wood Brothers shows of course. I am very proud Americana Radio listeners have taken to this music. It was a bit of a departure in a way and I did not play an instrument this time. I focused on singing only.
AnaLee: Your recordings over the past twenty years have covered a variety of styles under the Americana umbrella, but your soul-baring vocals are a constant throughout. Was it singing or songwriting that got under your skin first? Tell us a little about your journey from growing up in San Diego, California, what inspired you to write and want to perform and how you ended up in Nashville and San Francisco.
Brigitte: So, I can try and nutshell it, but it won’t be easy! Ha. I would definitely say singing got under my skin first. It was a combination of a lot of factors over a lot of years that fueled my inspiration. I was obsessed with music from a young age. Around age 7 I got my first record player, and always loved listening to different styles of music. Singing along, trying to find harmonies or my own parts to the songs no matter who was singing. It was a feeling I got every time I sang that was the thing. I would sing whenever I could as I got older, and started doing little talent shows, and musical theater in school, and would sing in church, parties, wherever I could. When I got to college, I started getting in really deep. I started this little 3 girl harmony band, and would sing back ground vocals where I could, and then I discovered a band called the Beat Farmers. They heard us sing and would invite us to sing on their band breaks. It was raucous and fun. I’d gig at night and have finals in the morning during college. Not every night, but enough to remember studying in cars heading to and from gigs. I don’t know how I pulled that off! The university where I went heard me sing in my church folk group and invited me to sing for the baccalaureate at graduation in the University stadium. The energy of singing in front of large live audiences was an incredible release, and a privilege I felt, and. I came to realize it’s the energy exchange that makes playing live shows so rewarding. The collaboration is one part, and the audience energy is the other. After I graduated, I moved to the Bay Area and started working a full time job, and on the side seeking out live music scenes, which were slim pickings at the smaller level, compared to Nashville especially. I met a few folks who were good musicians, and eventually we started doing little coffee house gigs in town. It was when I discovered the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and saw Shawn Colvin playing solo with just her acoustic guitar, I knew what I wanted to do. In between all that I was a closet song writer. I decided to try collaborating and grow the songs test driving them in front of small audiences, which was a cool experience that I feel really helped me develop as a writer. A PR person from L.A. heard me at one point, sitting in at a party, and sort of pulled me in to the business at a whole different level. We started getting CD’s made, press clippings, and I started getting pitched for opening slots for well-known artists. It’s been an adventure ever since. Bob Dylan was my biggest opening slot. Over the years I’ve cultivated relationships with musicians, and radio, and fans, making records, collaborating, and touring when I can. When I got married and had a son, life took on a whole new meaning. I’ve been blending in music wherever I can. It’s been an amazing journey. All seeking out that “feeling” I would get when singing, collaborating and connecting with other musicians, and ultimately the audience I was talking about earlier. It’s a feeling of connection to something higher I suppose. It comes through me when I sing and do all these things. Hope all this makes sense it’s hard to nutshell decades of my life.
AnaLee: I was first introduced to your music at a live show you played with Will Kimbrough on tour for your 2017 duets record, Mockingbird Soul. I couldn’t believe the treasure trove of music you’d already released at that point! I was especially drawn to your 2014 album Savannah Road, which I understand was inspired by Gregg Allman?
Brigitte: Well, thank you for mentioning those two records. Will Kimbrough and I worked together on 3 of my albums, toured together extensively, and he and I wrote both Savannah Road and Mockingbird Soul together. Eventually, after writing Savannah Road, I got to do a show with Gregg, in my home town of San Diego. It was a great day. He was very kind to me and told me I had a beautiful voice. I’ll never forget that. I met Gregg at a book signing in Nashville for his book My Cross to Bear. That’s a story in itself, ha, but I could not put that book down. His story really haunted and inspired me. It got me thinking about Savannah, GA where Gregg lived, and I started drilling down on places in the South. His life was tragic really on a lot of levels, although prolific music wise. Quite thought provoking.
AnaLee: You were in Nashville recently to record your Finally Friday performance for WMOT and gathered with some of your album crew. I know Alfreda McCrary and the McCrary Sisters have been frequent collaborators of yours over the years, but had you worked with Jano Rix and The Wood Brothers previously? Another Nashville artist I am a fan of, JP Ruggieri contributed some guitar to the album and the live performance. Tell us about your crew and the recording experience this time around.
Brigitte: The album was recorded at The Studio Nashville, which is home studio to the Wood Brothers. Jano suggested it, and it’s become a home away from home for me. It is operated by Brook Sutton who engineered Seeker, Trina Shoemaker mixed it at Dauphin Street Sound in Mobile, Alabama, and it was mastered at Yes Master Studios by Jim DeMain. Yes, I had worked with the Wood Brothers on previous albums, each band member separately. I’d co-written with Oliver as well. He played and sang with me on the Mockingbird Soul record on a song he and I wrote called Carpet Bagger’s Lullaby. Jano has played percussion on two of my previous records, on Honey Hush, The Juke, to name a few, and Chris Wood created and played a great bass part around my vocal for a song called “Rainy Day”. Around all that work, those guys have been personal friends to me as well as my family and vice versa. Especially Oliver and his wife Rebecca. Freda McCrary is one of my dearest friends on the planet, is the real deal when it comes to soulfulness and beauty inside and out. Having these dear friends on the record was like home for me. Jano pulled together great musicians to come play on Seeker I hadn’t met before as well, JP Ruggieri and Ted Pecchio to name a few, who played guitar and bass, as well as Viktor Krauss whom I of course knew, but had never met. They added so much soulfulness.
AnaLee: The cover art for the record and how you worked your horse into it is not only pleasing to look it, I love the imagery of you seemingly walking off into the sunset - and riding off into the sunset, maybe in search of something?
Brigitte: Most definitely. The image is of me heading west. Definitely seeking. I had to leave Nashville for personal family reasons a few years back, and go west. I had become so attached to my family of friends and my Nashville community; it was a big thing for me to overcome. The hand, filled with milagros, is my tribute to Mexican folk art which I love, and represents the west, as well as little miracles and blessings which I’ve discovered along the way. The sky is loaded with stars and spirit symbols. My horse is a big part of that symbolism and my spirit. The connection I have with him, like many people with their animals, is my connection to nature, and something higher. Much like music. The artwork is done by Gina Binkley. The photography was done by her husband David McClister. They do all my covers and photos and have become dear friends in the process.
Brigitte DeMeyer, Finally Friday From Home on WMOT