Classically trained multi-instrumentalist Teri Bracken, who goes by the songwriting name Brontë Fall, will be releasing her latest album Finishing School next month. Inspired by the Brontë sisters-Emily, Anne and Charlotte-and their fight to amplify the voices of women, she embraces their fight against the ever-evolving societal restraint on women. Deriving her songwriting name from her love of the Brontë sisters and Emily Brontë’s poem ‘Fall, Leaves, Fall’, Bracken views her music as a way to embrace the changing seasons of her life and express herself through her art. Originally from Chicago, Bracken grew up in a traditional home but felt the drive to do more. To have a career and pursue her music rather than getting married, have kids and settle down. With roots in classical, orchestral music, Bracken graduated from Berklee College of music, having entered the school as a classical violin student. She now lives in Nashville and has embraced the collaborative spirit of the city, which has influenced her songs in a way that embodies new genres and sounds that gives her songs a more Americana, pop and soulful sound. Having formed Brontë Fall in 2015, she released her debut album Silhouette Dream in 2017 and has grown her sound since, reflective of her move to Nashville and growth as a musician over the past few years. With songs such as “Six Years”, which rebels against our culture of youth to embrace the value of getting older and wiser, and “White Dress”, which dresses marriage and how it’s it’s so closely tied to a woman’s place in society, Finishing School is autobiographical in nature. “As a musician, I almost feel like I’m defending who I am and what I want,” says Bracken. “Perhaps I feel pressure to be a certain way. These songs were written about feeling proud of where I am and what I’m doing. It’s about feeling empowered wherever you are in life, and celebrating the past while building your own kind of future.” Finishing School is set to be released on August 21st. You can connect with Brontë Fall and stay up-to-date with all album news via the following links. Photo credit: Ashtin Page.
Your new album Finishing School will be coming out in August and embraces the Brontë sister’s fight against the ever-evolving societal restraint on women. What can you tell me about your process of making the album and the fact that it’s autobiographical in nature? What message are you hoping to convey with the album?
Yeah, it is funny. When I chose the name, I loved the whole idea of it. I don’t even think I realized how much my songs would come to reflect their legacy. Really, a lot of what I do is just writing from experience and it is a female experience obviously! A lot of it is particularly female. I think with what I do, and it’s so funny…I think quarantine has helped and putting this record out has helped me to reflect on what I want the album to say and the message. I think, in general, I do want to have a loud, honest voice about what my experiences are and maybe things people aren’t talking about. I wrote these songs to make myself feel better, but I think I hope, in general, whether they can relate to them or not, that people receive the message and become more mindful of the different themes. I wanna move people and touch people and I want them to feel less alone, so I hope “White Dress” and “Warrior” and “Six Years” and those different themes help people to understand they’re not alone in their journey and with what they are experiencing. “Six Years” came out today actually, so that’s pretty fun!
With regards to “Six Years”, you wrote the song about the way our culture values youth so much and you speak to the value and beauty in getting older. What can you tell me about the value you see in aging and the benefits that come along with it? What kinds of experiences have you had personally with this issue, being a woman in the music industry? Do you see more and more women fighting back and saying “It’s ok to get older”?
Yeah. For me in particular, I did write the song a lot about coming back to Nashville. When I was in my early 20’s and I went to music school after undergrad, there were people there saying “If you don’t make it by the time you’re 25, you’re done for and might as well give up!” and “Oh, 27 is the cut off!”. It’s so funny that those milestones were so scary for me. I had kind-of a traumatic time in my mid-20’s. I went to Africa with my family and came back with a parasite, an undetectable parasite, and I ended up having to drop out of music school for like 2 years, when I was 25 and 26. I was like “Oh man. I’m supposed to be making it right now!” and I was literally living on my parent’s couch because I didn’t know what was wrong with me. But, I think it’s our culture. In this industry, and the country music scene for sure, they want to sign you when you’re 18. There’s this pressure to be younger, but you’re not a fully formed human. The beauty about being an artist and aging is that you can write about your experiences and really have your own voice. With me, I initially came to Nashville in my early 20’s and was so in awe of the talent and the music, but I was also super intimidated. I felt like I’d never be good enough and wasn’t ready to knock on all of the big doors. I didn’t have the confidence and I didn’t have the songs yet. I was just so intimidated and it was a bummer to get sick and feel like the clock was ticking on me. I came back six years later when I was better and finished music school and was trying to figure out the next steps and I just felt so different. I felt so much stronger and more confident and ready to take on Nashville. I just thought that was so amazing. I just wanted to celebrate that because everyone talks about how aging is brutal, but really you just become more full of yourself and more confident. There’s so much good in growing older.
I read that you used Justin Beiber’s cover of “Love Yourself” as the musical inspiration for “Six Years”. Do you feel like that surprised a lot of people?
Yes! I think it even surprised me (laughs)! I was just picking up the guitar in the past few years, when I moved to Nashville, and I was just listening to a lot of different genres, like country and pop. I was just trying to mimic what I liked so that I could put it into my writing. It’s interesting, because Ed Sheeran actually wrote that song and then Justin Bieber covered it. I like that it’s really snappy and poppy and really grabs your attention and it pulls you in for some reason with that pace. It wasn’t so much the idea of the song, but was just the musical inspiration. I was just trying to make some cool, poppy, catchy hooks on the guitar. It’s just so funny that that’s the song I was listening to! I don’t really listen to Justin Beiber very often.
You have talked about your love for how Emily Brontë saw poetry in the darkest seasons and beauty in the shortening days, so how do you feel that art and music has helped you to embrace the changing seasons of your life?
It’s funny, because I feel like when I have a broken heart, all I do is listen to songs about being broken-hearted (laughs)!
Sometimes it makes you feel better!
Yeah, it just makes you feel better! Miranda Lambert, after she divorced Blake Shelton, she put out the most incredible album called The Weight Of These Wings. I don’t know if you’ve ever listened to “Tin Man”, about being jealous that tin man doesn’t have a heart. It just rips your heart out and I guess that’s what a lot of music does, when people write about their heartbreak and their hard times. It’s so funny that we like to listen to sad songs when we’re sad, but it does make us feel less alone. Music has really run my life. If I’m in a fun, getting ready to go out mood, I’ll put on Lizzo. For me, music helps me work through my pain and work through what I’m struggling with. Even with “Six Years”…yeah, deep down I wish..at 25 or 30 you wish you were further along in your life, but at the end of the day you do really have to celebrate what you’re gaining. I feel like music, whether I’m writing it or listening to it, helps me to celebrate my life and stay positive or feel less alone when I’m sad.
You came from a very traditional background and have said that you used to try to plan out your life and that one hard lesson you’ve learned over the years is that plans change. What has that journey been like for you? With so many people in your life following a more traditional path, when did you realize that wasn’t a path that you aspired to follow?
It is interesting. I come from the suburbs of Chicago and have a big Irish Catholic family. I think it becomes more apparent, even in your late 20’s…I thought, honestly naively, this is what everyone wanted, to have this awesome career and want it all. I think for me, when I did get sick, and this is insane, but there was this pressure, like oh, because I’m a woman and do eventually want a family, I have to figure out and have my career before that starts. I think I was putting so much pressure on myself. I was going through my mid-late 20’s and now I’m in my early 30’s and was sick for two years and felt that I lost time. I really had to come to terms with it. I thought I would move to New York at 25 and then do this and then that and then I was sick for two years and didn’t have my degree. I had a year and a half left and my whole life changed with that and I ended up moving to Nashville. All of my plans had changed, like where I wanted to be when I hit 30. It’s not where I wanted to be, but my life is still wonderful and I’m accomplishing my dreams right now. I think that when I go home, I’m surrounded by people who wanted to get married, have kids and settle in the Northern suburbs of Chicago. They’ve made it. They have the house, the suburbs and their babies and I think that for me it was just a struggle to be like “Ok. Is that what I’m supposed to want? Is it wrong that I want to have this career and live in a cool city like Nashville?”. I feel like this album is about celebrating where I am and where my life is going and staying positive in this life and celebrating milestones.
In a world that’s dominated by male voices, in what ways do you feel that women today are fighting to have their voices heard and hold prominent positions in the workplace? What kinds of parallels do you see in the fight today that maybe the Brontë sisters had? What strides to you feel are bingo made in our day and age?
It is so incredible again, that when I picked this name, I didn’t even realize that these parallels would come to fruition and that their legacy would really live on in what I’m trying to say. They couldn’t be authors because they were women. Publishers denied them and wrote them back and their response was to say women are not authors. That’s when they changed their names. Obviously, women can now hold prominent positions and in music, we have voices in music. But obviously, with what’s come to light in the last few years, you really do see, and I see it, how it’s still such a male-dominated world. I think it’s, in the last few years with Me Too, you really see that there are so many more men in politics and everywhere. I’m not an expert in anything besides the music industry, but I think it’s sort of like a movement in the past few years and women are taken more seriously. At least we are now acknowledging that there’s still room to grow and that’s probably the first step. I do feel like it is really wonderful, the energy right now in all aspects of politics and business and music, women are like “I’m going to do this. Listen to me.” and celebrating their voices.
You have said that during your music school years, you saw your entire self-worth as being tied to your ability to play music well. How have you grown as a person since then and how did you learn to value yourself outside of your ability to play music?
I started as a classical violin student and got in playing Mozart. Berklee is really cool because they admit students who have all sorts of different backgrounds, as far as genre. I was taking classes with these phenom children, who literally started school, were homeschooled and got into college at 16 and all they did since they were 4 years old was play the fiddle. They were slaying me in bluegrass music and swing jazz and Irish…every genre under the sun. These kids were insanely good and I think I didn’t recognize that we all have different backgrounds and strengths. I think one of my strengths, and it took me a little while to appreciate this about myself, is that I played piano growing up and switched to violin but I also sing. I’m not someone who’s going to be someone who focuses on one thing. I’m not going to be the best phenom on any of these instruments, but I realized that my goal was to touch people and to move people and that’s what I want to do with music. I don’t need to play the coolest, sickest solo in the world. I just want to move people. That’s one thing I’ve realized with my voice. And I do like to read and to write and take what I can contribute, and figuring out what’s special about me, and even using the Brontë sisters and liking literature and poetry. I feel like it took a few years, but I had to ask myself “Ok. What are my strengths? What can I contribute? What am I really wanting to do with music?”. It’s not to play the sickest solo that’s better than everyone else. I want to move people and make people happy.
You’ve played more melodic and classical instruments for 20+ years, which is what your songwriting style has been tied to. What has it been like to evolve your songwriting into different sounds and genres of music, such as americana and indie-pop?
I think a lot of that has come with collaboration, because I’ve played melodic instruments and melodies. It’s been so interesting writing with other people and thinking “Oh, they think up the chords first”, whereas my knowledge of chords is not as deep as someone who’s been playing guitar for years and years. I learned classically and to read music, and so I think it’s made my songwriting better because if I can contribute my words and melodies, which I think are my strengths, then I can team up with my producer Lars and he can help. We tweaked some of the chords during production, like changed them. And his reasoning…I’d ask him “Do you want to change this chord?” and he’d be like “Yeah” and I’m like “Why?” and he had the most elaborate reason and it was so good. I was like “Ok. We’ll keep that chord because that sounds right”. And just the flow of an Americana or pop song, you really collaborate with producers so they can smooth out the edges and make it more in sync and fit these genres.
You have talked about how one of the most difficult processes for you has been finding band members who share the same goals as you and having to learn how to operate with others in a way that satisfies both of your needs. What has that process been like for you and how did you go about achieving that balance?
Even back at the beginning, I started Brontë Fall with my best friend from music school. When you are in your mid-to-late 20’s, you’re still kind of figuring out what your journey is going to be and what path fits you best. I think that for us, we had both just finished music school and loved music and wanted to create music and do something unique, so we were really excited to start Brontë Fall together. But then, in that first year and a half, I was going in the direction of doing this full-throttle and going on the road and making an album, and she was sort of more into teaching and it wasn’t as satisfying for her as she had wanted it to be. We started to have those differences, and I think it was hard for me in the moment because I was so into it and wanted to conquer the world. Looking back, I guess that was like 4-5 years ago, we were just trying to figure out where we fit in this musical life. Even some musical directors I have had were like “I wanna get on the road. I wanna do that”, but my last musical director was like “I just had a second baby and I don’t want to travel”. So, you do constantly have to adjust and change. The move to Nashville has been so great for me because people move here because they want to be roadies and they wanna go on the road. There is such a system here and it’s like an institution and it’s really easy to operate down here because that’s what a lot of people are doing…touring, professional musicians. I’ve learned that I think I took it more personally 4-5 years ago, but now I’m realizing that we all have our own journey and it’s not always going to fit. I’ve always liked playing with people and not being a solo artist. I’ve always wanted Brontë Fall to be a band, but at the end of the day I think it’s like, I do own it (laughs). It’s mine and it’s kind of nice to be able to call the shots and be like “I’m moving in this direction regardless of where you’re at”.
What would you say is the most inspiring part of being in Nashville and how do you feel the community of musicians there have helped you to grow? I’ve heard a lot of artists talk about the collaborative spirit of Nashville and how everyone works together and how inspiring that is.
I think even just going out…obviously we can’t do that right now…but I feel like I get so many of my song ideas from just going to a round and hearing other people. It’s inspiring. I’m like “Oh my god! Your song is so good! I can’t wait to go home and write a song that’s almost as good”. I think just going out and seeing other people do it, and everyone’s doing it, you feel like you belong and you’re inspired all of the time. I say that because, having lived in Chicago, it’s a great city, but there wasn’t that community. I couldn’t go out every night and see amazing songwriters. There was nobody. I had no friends doing what I was doing. It was lonely. I went to Chicago during quarantine for a month or two and in coming back to Nashville and talking to my friends, we are all going through the exact same thing. Everybody needs a community, right? Being a musician is a particular one. I’m not doing what my sister-in-laws are doing or my brothers or my friends. When I was in Chicago, I would question if this is what I was supposed to be doing. Here, I just feel free and that I’m right where I need to be.
You released your debut album Silhouette Dreams in 2017. What can you tell me about how you as an artist and your sound have evolved in the process of making the new album? What would you say are the differences between making your first album and where you are now?
Oh my gosh! It’s been so interesting! Making the move down here to Nashville has been really cool, and my sound has definitely changed with the move. I still play with my band in Chicago when I’m there and now I have a band here. My sound in Chicago was, I guess, a little more rock. I don’t know how to explain it. Now it’s just smokier and more soulful and I feel like, with working with Lars and Jake, Lars’ dad was a fiddle player. I actually met Lars at Berklee in a fiddle class. He has this cool country, Americana vibe. His friend Jake, my other producer, he loves the pop and indie scenes right now. I think working with those two, they work with artists day in and day out, and it was really cool to experiment with me coming in with just songs, just chords and words, and they contribute equally as much musically. When I was in Chicago, not much had changed between playing…I’d played those songs out so much and we basically took exactly what I was playing out and put it to music. I feel like we really took our time experimenting and talking about what we wanted out of each song on this new album.
What’s next for you?
It is so tricky because of Coronavirus. We’re planning to have an outdoor concert in September, here in Nashville. We might do a Drive-In movie concert. I have a few shows booked in Georgia and Alabama in October/November, so we’ll see if those happen. In the meantime, I’ve actually started to record and I’m writing right now and I have two songs recorded for the next project. I just figure I might as well start working on the next project because there’s so much time to write right now. I’m really, really liking that because last summer I traveled so much and toured so much that I didn’t have as much time to sit and write. That’s all I’m doing right now.