On September 21st, 2019 I got to sit down with Bre Kennedy at Pilgrimage Festival. Kennedy is a indie-pop/singer-songwriter from Nashville,TN. We talked about her opening for Sheryl Crow at the Ryman this year, modern pop songwriting techniques, and the greatness of Brand Carlile.
T: The first thing I wanted to talk about is just that you’re opening for Sheryl Crow at Ryman so I wanted how that came together? I read an interview you did a year ago, were you joked about playing the Ryman.
Bre Kennedy: Absolutely, I love that you read that! Yeah, I never thought this year I would play the Ryman and I was in awe when I found out. Basically I put my EP out, and my agency kinda put me up for some opportunities. And I guess Sheryl wanted a fresh face for her second show. It’s amazing, I really couldn’t believe them when they told me a week and a half ago.
T: I wanna talk about the song “Slippin.” You talk about the theme of moving out in your songs because you moved from LA to Nashville. After you came to Nashville and you Got inspired by a writing session?
T: So I wanted to talk about the theme of uncertainty in your songwriting.
BK: Oh man, I think my whole twenties have been uncertainty, but that’s allowed so many amazing things to happen. The people I’ve met and the opportunities it launched myself into. The first half of my twenties were spent me just not totally feeling at home in Los Angeles. Even though I grew up in California.
T: And you started label work at fourteen?
BK: Yeah. I was very young and it just didn’t feel right inside, but when I came to Nashville in a writing trip in 2014, I saw Julia Jacklin at a place called The Tippler which is no longer opened. I cried because I was overwhelmed with community, just took me to a whole new place.
T: Does the LA scene feel more corporate or was it just not the right community for you?
BK: If you would have asked me when I was twenty, I would’ve said from my own experience I had not found community. LA is still home for me and I’m actually finding a new love for it that I’ve never had. I Think LA is just a different community of artists and songwriters. And I’m excited to spend the last half of my twenties spending time finding home there again.
T: Would you say your sound at the moment is pop rock or?
BK: I think some songs are. I come from a pop writing background so for a good half of my early twenties I only wrote for other artists. I didn’t know quite what I wanted to put out in the world and so I was writing for people like Nina Nessbitt and Echosmith and pitching these songs until I found my sound. Early stuff like “Love You Like That”, and “Slippin” was going to be pitched to another artist, but I loved that it just spoke to me personally about my quarter life crisis. So I kept it for myself and that’s more pop because I wrote it with Kyle Dreaden who is an amazing pop producer. And there is “Jealous of Birds” which is more of me just sitting down with a guitar. My next record is trying to find a balance of indie-pop with the organic sound.
T: Did you enjoy performing at first, or did you have to find a performing voice?
BK: Definitely had to find my voice, but I always loved performing. I think it actually is my favorite place to be in the music realm. Its where I have the most fun.
T: We’ve started to see a return of the singer-songwriter, and most of the acts in that field are female dominated, like Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus. Why do think there is a new boom of singer-songwriters?
BK: One, it feels amazing to be in a time where women are actually heard in music more. I think people are gravitating to what’s real and this is a real movement and voice of young women in music who are writing whatever the fuck they want. Feeling good about the music and getting up on stage, these generational cycles always come back around. I remember listening to Alanis Morissette when I was nine years old and being like “This speaks to me.” And a few years ago, I felt like I was in the wrong generation like “take me back to the nineties.” It’s cool to see this cycle happen again where artists can attach to a fanbase with a real conversation. A raw conversation that people are gravitating towards authenticity.
T: I think for a long time there have been able to be multiple white guys famous at a time and then in the past only one woman famous per year.
BK: Yeah, right now is one of the coolest times in music because everyone has things in the palm of their hands where they get to choose what they respond too, and like I said people respond to authenticity. Woman right now deserve to stand up and ask “why is there a one woman to five guys ratio on this stage and certain festival lineups.”
T: I don’t remember the artist or person but somebody put a bunch of festival lineups from the past few years.
BK: Yeah I saw that!
T: They removed the male artists, and posters were barely full.
BK: It could be happenstance or not, but what’s exciting right now women are talking about how much they work their ass off and finally getting recognized. One of my favorites right now is Brandi Carlile, I mean she’s creating a whole movement that’s very inspiring.
T: Did you go to the makeup show last year?
BK: I didn’t! Wait are you talking about the city winery?
T: It was amazing.
BK: So no joke when Brandi Carlile…I didn’t have tickets to Pilgrimage last year and I was at home and I believe it was Sunday, I had Sunday off. I went on instagram and I saw the post. I think it was like two minutes after she posted. And I screamed “Ben were going to see Brandi!” And went to go buy tickets. She shut down City Winery’s online platform.
T: Yeah that happened to me last year! I went to Pilgrimage last year and in the middle of the Counting Crows set, he (Adam Duritz) goes “sorry guys were shutting down. And people tried to stay and they just kicked us out and I just remember saying “Please just give us some hope” But it was also shut down for the next day. I’m just sitting at home bummed out and my friend Natalie who is a huge Brandi Carlile fan, texted me, “I’m waiting for tickets!” So her and her girlfriend Olivia went to go stand in line for hours.
BK: Yes! Me too!
T: I felt so bad because I was just on the site’s line and I got them, I got the three tickets.
BK: Well Bless you, I was on the site for two hours and I was just like “Screw that, I’m going.” I went to Burger Republic and got two handles of whiskey and we stood in line and I just bought cups for a bunch of people. And we stood in line for like three and a half hours. So very little phone battery by the time we got in. My first job was at Starbucks when I was sixteen. And “The Story” would play on repeat because the radio was broke at our store. Brandi’s voice spoke to me as a teen like nobody else did and it was such a guttural experience, I felt understood. And it takes a lot, I don’t get that way for a lot of artists. And I’ve been a fan ever since. Seeing her at that show was one of those Nashville moments where everyone realized how important the community is, and she’s spearheading it.
T: With The Highwomen especially, that album is incredible.
Bre: I love Amanada Shires, I love Maren Morris, and I actually got the chance to write with Natalie Hembly.
T:No Way! Can you talk about that experience?
BK: Yeah. So I had told my publishing company, here is my dream list of people to write with and Natalie was second on the list. And basically it just kind of came to fruition. She asked me to come to her house, and we wrote about my sister who passed away. And it was like the simultaneously the saddest, most intense thing to write about, but I also sit and talk with this incredible writer for like six hours. And got to hear her experience as a female songwriter. And just took it all in.
T: That must of been very cathartic.
BK: Very, I felt like I was talking to a peer, someone who just wanted to share their experience and she actually talked to me about her experience with Dave Grohl. Which was really rad.
T: Going back to songwriting themes, do you try to think of a theme and find a situation to connect that too or does it come from the situations themselves?
BK: It’s very situational like with “Slippin” I had no title or idea what I was going to write, but I knew going in that I was freaking out about growing up and trying to get my shit together. And “Slippin” came out. With “Jealous of Birds”, I had that title because I was in the car and I looked to my boyfriend and I said “man Im jealous of birds.” And he said you should write that down and it took like six months for me to finally write the song.
T: I have a lot of songwriting friends,
BK: (Laughs) Yeah mostly songwriting friends in Nashville.
T: What general songwriting advice for navigating art in these anxious times, I feel like there are a lot of articles blaming my generation or asking us to solve the problems of the world.
BK: Yeah that’s a lot of responsibility. I think it’s been proven time and time again that when the world is under a lot of stress art is particularly more expressive. And it’s this wild yin and yang, I don’t think any songwriter should be doing anything other than writing whats true to themselves right now. It is a crazy time in our world, Im 26 and I have a 16 and 18 year old brother and sister and I constantly ask them what did you do today and what did you read, or what kind of articles are you looking at. Hearing everybody’s experience. There is a lot of stress and anxiety right now so I think art is going to reflect that. My advice to songwriters is one, don’t be precious with your stuff just get it out. The world is waiting to hear it and you have everything at your fingertips to get it out there. Right what’s real to you, there are a million people out there and there is one person that wants to listen, keep writing. I went through a hundred plus songs to get where I am today.
T: Lots of people are afraid to put their art out there.
BK: I was guilty of that for so long and it took a community of my best friends to give me the push. Let people have these songs you’ve created and move on.
T: To wrap up here, what song themes and topics that you think haven’t been explored enough yet by the songwriting community and you would like to see explored?
BK: Man! I think songwriting community… are you talking about Nashville in particular?
T: Most songwriters in general, and exploration on more modern generational topics?
BK: I think our generation is making awesome music, I have no advice on what people should write ever. For me, I like to write about overcoming hard shit and I find solace in things that are hard and not cute, and the awkward moments in between that. That’s what I like to write about personally.
Check out Bre’s latest EP and look out for future projects.
Featured Image by Erika Goldring/Getty Images for Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival
Other Images by Haley Gjersten and Tristan Sickles