The simple story of Brooke Waggoner’s life belies the complexity that is her artistry. She grew up studying classical music in Louisiana – though plump with music, it’s not exactly a state known as a classical hotbed. That didn’t stop Brooke, though, who earned a degree in Music Composition & Orchestration from LSU before trotting off to Nashville to make some noise.
Once in Music City, she wasted no time getting noticed. That old “When E. F. Hutton talks, people listen” campaign could be resurrected as pertains to Brooke. Every time the young pianist tickles the ivories, a hush falls over the room. Every time. Without fail. And so it was, with all of Nashville’s ears turned her way, Brooke set out to making records.
Her first EP, Fresh Pair of Eyes, was touted by the London Sunday Times as “one of the most exciting releases to come out of America in 2007.” Its follow-up, Heal for the Honey, debuted in the top seat of iTunes’ Singer/Songwriter Chart upon release. Same same for Go Easy, Little Doves in late 2009. Now, she’s offering Heal for the Honey on NoiseTrade.
NoiseTrade: Most songwriters use the standard verse-chorus-bridge structure as their compass when crafting a tune, even if they make a few detours along the way. You don’t seem to do that. When a song starts to formulate, how do you navigate into and through your own creativity?
Brooke Waggoner: In all complete honesty, I really try not to think too much… I incredibly value the art of spontaneity and pure reactions to feelings while playing music. Of course, I’m aware of what’s going on, but after playing piano for so many years, I really let my fingers do the walking and talking. So I rarely go into it with a “plan of attack” or specific structure I want to achieve. Sometimes that definitely does happen, but the gems are the ones that just… flow.
NT: Sticking with that metaphor, your songs really are journeys in and of themselves. Where one may start out feeling sort of sentimental, it can quickly take a turn into whimsy – as if they are following a story as it unfolds. Do you attribute that to a filmic vision of music or something else?
BW: I totally do. I love old musicals and the power that film scores have to help assist the story and visuals. They really are a huge component to telling the listener what to feel, the mood. And there’s something incredible about altering moods one minute into something – because that’s how I am in real life. I feel like a mix of personalities all the time. And I think people are truly complex with different levels of thought and feeling. I love to try and hone in on that specific aspect.
NT: When you start to play live, stunned silence is the standard reaction. Is there a performance – and a corresponding audience response – that stands out for you?
BW: Hmmm, well first of all, thank you. Second, I don’t know… I’ve had some pretty amazing shows where I feel completely connected to the crowd. It’s the best feeling to have people give you a chance and really try to get what you’re wanting to share. I love playing the NPR Mountain Stage shows; I always have a good night in Toronto; and there’s nothing like a really intimate set at The Living Room in New York City. Those are the ones that stick out for sure.
NT: If you could travel back in time to be a contemporary of some of the classical greats, who would you choose? And how do you think your compositions would have been regarded in eras past?
BW: Oh wow, that’s an interesting question! Hmmm, I’d love to spend an afternoon with Stravinsky – what a mad scientist! Chopin always holds a deep place in my heart. But I also love jazz and consider some of things that have happened in that realm so closely related to classical. If Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson wanted to get coffee, I would probably make time in my schedule. And then, of course, moving up into Elton John and Carole King territory – they are both my heroes! These aren’t all “classical,” but they all have the same thread in my book. As for how I would have been regarded back in, oh, I don’t know… 1839..? I wouldn’t have had a chance. Fanny Mendelssohn definitely helped pave the way, though, for us female classical aficionados.
NT: The leap in sonic expression between Fresh Pair of Eyes and Heal for the Honey was fairly sizable. Then you took the production helm for Go Easy Little Doves which wielded a lighter touch. What can we expect from your next project?
BW: Well, I’m getting ready to make a new record this fall and I’m very excited about it! I think the approach at this point is using a lot more space – I always love to cram eight billion ideas into one song, but my next challenge is to see if I can use more sparse instrumentation, create more of a moody vibe with lyrics that challenge me. I want to talk about different kinds of things on this project (a little less ‘love, life, and marriage” focused…) So… as always… we’ll see. *fingers crossed*
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