Exclusive Interview: bree
A ravishing red head who rocks a Gibson Flying V, bree’s story is like her – anything but ordinary.
Growing up in a religious cult — which her father actually led — the Nashville-based femme-fatale faced oppression like few of us could ever comprehend. At six-years-old, she endured the loss of her mother, who wouldn’t turn to traditional medicine to extract a sewing needle she had swallowed. Soon after her passing, bree started to endure much physical and mental abuse from her family and then cast out on the streets at 17-years-old for having a boyfriend. She bounced around the country for a bit and was even homeless at times. Through the chaos, there was one consistent comfort – music. bree adds, “I don’t think I’d be able to write the songs I do today unless I’d been through that hell. That may or may not be true, but believing it has kept me sane.”
bree settled in Nashville in 2011 and after a year of tireless gigging and hard work, she was recognized with the prestigious honor of RAW Nashville “Musician of the Year,” solidifying her status as the city’s rock ‘n’ roll bombshell. In 2012 bree was introduced to legendary producer Bob Ezrin (Alice Cooper, KISS, Pink Floyd) and his engineer Justin Cortelyou (Taylor Swift, KISS, Ke$ha, Alice Cooper).
“I had no idea what to expect,” said Justin Cortelyou. “I saw the upright bass leaning against the wall and was introduced to this young, beautiful redhead who spoke in a soft, almost baby doll, voice. My first impression was that we were going to hear some kind of pop country act. Then she straps on a Flying V, flips on her Marshall amp and starts rocking out like Townshend at Leeds with the spirit of Johnny Ramone flying around the room. Killer voice. Killer songs. Killer sound. We were totally taken aback. I didn’t see it coming and can honestly say I’d never been more shocked. At that point I hadn’t asked Bob if I could produce an act and I knew he was booked solid for a year. Bob was gracious and said she was my project.”
Recorded in Nashville, bree’s debut album All American Girl injects seductive sexy soul into swaggering rock ‘n’ roll. Backed by drummer David Castello and upright bassist Mayrk McNeely, the singer and guitarist has found a style of her own. She describes it best, “My personal kick ass slice of the rock-n-roll pie. Funny thing is that I don’t think many people today really know what 21st century rock-n-roll is about. They think it’s some 1950’s retro thing. Which I certainly am not – even with an upright bassist in the band. When I walk on stage with my Gibson Flying V and plug into a Marshall they start to get the picture.”
bree kicks off her very first US tour on May 10 at the 33rd Annual Tropical Heatwave Music Festival in Tampa, Florida.
We caught up with bree to talk about the motivations and inspirations in her career and how overcoming amazing obstacles in her life fuels the passion for her rock n’ roll journey.
I knew early on that I would dig you – I saw a list of your influences that included Eddie Cochran, Aerosmith and Slade for god’s sake!
Are you kidding me? I feel like I indoctrinate everyone around me! I’ll be out partying in Nashville and go to Red Door and put on six Slade songs in a row. This is Slade! I’m doing my best to indoctrinate the scene.
It’s obvious you’re a music nut, too. Who are some of the other artists that made you want to get into music?
I have so many influences from the 1950s and on. I’ve always been a huge fan of Patsy Cline vocally. I also love the simplicity of Buddy Holly’s music. I’m very simple. I don’t have a ton of pedals or a ton of gear. I get off on the sound of my Marshall. I base my sound off of Pete Townshend and Mick Ronson from David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars era. They just rocked my life. I love them. I remember when I was a kid my father would always listen to Humble Pie. I distinctly remember I couldn’t even touch the floorboards with my feet but I’d be kicking my feet back and forth headbanging to “I Don’t Need No Doctor.” He made me fall in love with them. I love Green Day, No Doubt. I was totally a 90s kid. I’m more into the 70s classic rock like Aerosmith, Slade, the Who, Bowie, KISS, Queen. I just love that whole era.
You’ve been in Nashville since 2011. Was the move to help you pursue you career or did you kick everything off once you got there?
My dream was always to do this. I was always going to be wherever the music scene was. I’ve been musical since I could talk. I’m just in love with rock n’ roll. I was classically trained on piano since I was eight years old. The love of my life is being a guitarist. My dad, being the pastor of a cult, didn’t exactly want me growing up to become a rock star! You could imagine his disappointment when I bought my first electric guitar at age 14 or 15. It was an Epiphone SG. It was candy apple red with a black pick guard and he hated it because it looked “like the devil.” Yeah! It’s awesome isn’t it? Eventually he kicked me out of the house for having a boyfriend. I wasn’t supposed to have a boyfriend but we were obviously getting it on. My dad hasn’t spoken to me since. After that I went kinda numb and went through a bad period, just trying to stay alive in survival mode. I did a ton of drugs, did a ton of partying. I worked at Safeway forever and bagged groceries. I was homeless a couple of times. It was really embarrassing. I didn’t tell my friends. I had so much pride. I’m fine! I don’t need a house! It got to the point where I was tired of working minimum wage jobs and I felt like a loser. I was working my ass off for little to no money. I couldn’t afford food half the time. I would buy a loaf of bread and literally eat a slice or two a day just to keep me alive. I was sick of it. I got my shit together and moved to Georgia with a boyfriend in 2010. That was obviously a mistake, right? I was working at the Smok’n Pig in Valdosta, Georgia. I worked there for about a year and I was done! I got tired of everything, saved up all my money and moved to California with my brother. I got myself into the Art Institute in San Bernardino for audio engineering.
That had to be a huge culture shock and very intimidating. That’s a big move.
Picture this: I walked into my class in a mini skirt and a black tank top. It was the most awkward situation I’ve ever been in because there was about 12 dudes and I was the only girl. It looked like they’d never seen a female before! OK! What’s up guys? It was interesting to say the least. I lasted three days! I busted my ass to get into that school. It was not easy. They want your parents to sign stuff and they base your grant off of what your dad makes. No – screw that guy! He hasn’t helped me or been in my life in years. I had to get a bunch of letters from non-relatives and get everything signed. Then – I was done after three days! It was then I met my manager David in Palm Springs. I told him I wanted to get into music as an audio engineer. He said, “I can already tell you’re on the wrong side of the microphone.” At first I was like, “Who does this guy think he is?” But I needed to hear that. I’ve always been a writer, always been musical. He got me writing away. I moved to Palm Springs and would write for hours a day. I wrote a ton of songs and it was time to look for a band. We heard there was this huge music scene happening in Nashville so we decided to follow where the music was going. We moved here and I was a little nervous because you always think of Nashville being a country town. It pleasantly surprised me. The underground rock scene here is just so full of intensely, incredible talent. It’s amazing.
You briefly touched on some of the things that happened to you in life along the way. Good, bad and ugly they all helped make you who you are – the attitude, passion, humor, smartassness – is that even a word? Besides your musical influences those things really influence you as a songwriter, too.
Absolutely. If I hadn’t went through the hell I went through in my childhood I don’t think I’d be able to write the way I do. I wouldn’t have that angst. I’m always gonna have something buggin’ me because of my past so I don’t think I’m gonna ever run out of things to write about! What happened to me happened and it’s not human for that to not affect you.
It made you the ultimate rebel, right? You had to be a rebel because it saved your ass.
Nobody wants to be in a cult. I didn’t want to get married, serve my husband and pop out kids. I wanted to make something of myself. I was pretty much told “You’re only going to be a wife and a mother to children.” Um, no. I don’t wanna! If I do I’m gonna do it my way. I was really great friends with my dad and he was the one that got me into rock n’ roll. Ironically, I wasn’t allowed to listen to secular radio. I had to sneak to listen to the radio and keep up with the rock scene in the 90s. I would rock out with my dad in the car to classic rock but it was really strange how I could listen to that but I couldn’t listen to alternative rock. I was home schooled. I was in a box. I wasn’t allowed to have boyfriends or go to dances. I was literally locked in the house all the time.
Were things always like that for your parents?
Everything was bliss for me up until six years old. I had an amazing mom who was the exact opposite of my dad, as far as personality. She was very feisty. She was also very crafty. She made decorations by hand. She was sewing one day and she put the needle between her teeth as she worked with her hands. Something startled her and she sucked in. My father only believes in faith healing. Nobody would take her to the doctor. Me and my three older siblings literally watched our mother die over a period of a few months. It was awful. All we knew was she was sick in bed and couldn’t keep any food down. She had a hole in her small intestines. All they said was, “Your mother is very sick, pray for her.” That’s it? At six years old I did what I was told but it was such a shock to me. It was a month before my seventh birthday and it hit me – if something ever happens to me my dad’s going to let me die. I felt like my whole world was turned upside down. I had a very happy life up until then. I didn’t talk about how I felt and really kept it to myself until I started writing music. Nine months later my dad marries this younger woman. He was 40 and she was 22. I went with it. I was just happy to see dad happy. When she had her first child with my dad when I was eight something triggered her. I was treated like a red-headed stepchild. She would beat the crap out of me. My dad would come home and she would tell him these insane stories making me sound like a psycho child. I was miserable. I was in a cult. I was home schooled. I’d never gone to the doctor. I moved in with a boyfriend and everything went downhill for a while. When I turned 20 I finally got my life together. It’s been crazy!
Forget the music. Just from a human point of view to go from that to where you are now is an amazing feat. You have to be proud of that.
I believe that whatever you put into the universe you get back. Even through all of that I never had a bad attitude. I always knew I would make my life badass and be so happy. My dad wants to see me fail and I can not give him that. He’s gonna know who I am. I’ll expose my past to anyone who asks. I don’t feel bitterness when it comes to my dad. I feel like justice needs to be served.
I’ve read you mention it before, but there may be other people out there in a similar situation that need to hear your story.
Oh my gosh. That’s another thing. I want to give hope to whoever is stuck in a controlling situation like that. You can change your life. You’re not a tree – you’re not stuck, rooted in the ground. It’s scary and it sucks but it’s so worth it. You’ll find out who you are and you’re just being yourself. Finding out who you are is really difficult in a controlled situation like that.
Let’s talk about guitars now. What’s your guitar of choice?
I love guitars in general. I tried out a bunch of guitars but there’s something about the Gibson Flying V. It just suited me. It was nice and light. People think I chose it just because of the looks, but it just feels right. It was like it chose me!
How many Vs do you have?
I have two. I do favor one over the other. I try not to give more love to one over the other. One V stays at rehearsal. Her name is Lucy. She was my second V and I just bonded with her better. The first one stays at home with me and I write all my songs on her. I bring ’em both out live. They’re both 2011 stock Gibson Vs.
You’ve gotta tell me about the new video for “I’m The Boss.”
I’m really excited about it. I had specific ideas for this video and every single one of them happened. The whole three-way thing was such a blast. It was such a fun night. Everything you see in the video is completely real. There was no acting! There really was a guy passed out. Everyone was wasted, smokin’ and partying! I know I was and it was a 13 hour day! People are throwing fits over the kissing part and it just makes me laugh. Dude, seriously? There’s much worse things in the world than two girls kissing.
Wait. There’s a kissing scene? I don’t remember seeing that…
That was really fun. I had a crush on the girl in that scene. I’d see her around Nashville and think “That girl is so fucking cute in a punk rock way.” Unless a girl gives me signals I don’t really go in for it. It’s too much work! David suggested I ask her to be in the video. Brilliant! That way I can make out with her all night! It would just be acting. When we got to that scene she kept smiling when I’d slam her against the wall. I didn’t realize how hard I was slamming her. I bet we did that kissing scene – I don’t even know how many times. It was a lot! Every take the director would tell her, “You look really happy. You’re making out with her boyfriend and she’s pissed. You’re supposed to be in competition mode right now! You’re supposed to be mad!” It took us a long time to get that scene!