While Philadelphia’s live music scene seems to have nearly shut down with the Pope’s visit, that’s not actually quite the case. This Saturday, September 26th, acoustic singer/songwriter Brooke Annibale will be joining Joy Ike and Wylder for a house concert in West Philly; details can be found here. Brooke is touring in support of her upcoming album, The Simple Fear, which is out next Friday, October 2nd. The album is elegantly haunting and reminiscent of some of the ‘90s best alt country and coffee shop folk.
The Simple Fear marked a transition for Brooke, who recently moved back to her hometown of Pittsburgh from Nashville, whose music scene she’d become a staple of. However, music’s been a driving force in her life from pretty much the beginning. With a grandfather who worked in the music and live-sound business since the ‘60s, Brooke began writing songs as early as age eight and learned guitar by the time she was a teen. By 17 she released her debut album, followed by two more full-lengths and two EPs, whose songs have made their way the likes of Pretty Little Liars and The Vampire Diaries. Brooke recently took some time to tell me about her lifetime of musical adventures, what can be expected of her upcoming album, and her local live show here on Pope Weekend.
Izzy Cihak: Not to start with a relatively huge question but, considering that music has always been a pretty profound part of your life and even your “professional music career” began at a relatively young age: What have been some of the highlights of your time writing, recording, and performing, whether they be things that garnered a lot of public attention or just things that felt especially significant or gratifying for you, personally?
Brooke Annibale: I’ve had some TV placements that’ve gotten a lot of great attention and have been huge career highlights for me. However, some of the most significant and gratifying moments of my career aren’t based on the biggest amount of attention. About a year ago, I started a project with another songwriter friend taking custom song orders. Recently, I wrote a song someone used to propose to their partner with. They actually proposed while I was playing the song live! Personally touching peoples’ lives with music like that is really powerful. Obviously, it’s extremely gratifying when people feel that way about my original music, as well.
Izzy: I understand you recently relocated from Nashville back to Pittsburgh, your original hometown. What was the motivation behind that decision and how has Pittsburgh and its music scene treated you since you got back?
Brooke: Yeah, it’s been great being back in Pittsburgh! I still traveled to Nashville to make my record because I love making music there. There is so much talent to be inspired by. I just didn’t feel like I needed to be there 24/7 to make music. I missed my family and my city. The Pittsburgh scene has definitely been welcoming. One of the biggest motivations for me moving back was maintaining a better life balance. I’m still able to work on music, but now I have a bigger community of family and friends and things to do in my city that keep it in balance.
Izzy: Your fourth full-length, The Simple Fear, is set to drop in October. How do you feel like it compares to previous releases, both in its sound and just your process of writing and recording this time around?
Brooke: I made my first album in high school at 17 years old and then another album at age 19/20, while I was in college. Those records were kind of like my warm-up rounds. Parts of them make me proud of what I accomplished so young and some parts make me cringe, but I learned a lot from the process. This led me to making my 2011 record (Silence Worth Breaking), which I consider my actual debut. I had finally found the sound I was looking for with my writing and with the producer’s style.
This is my third release with roughly the same team of musicians. Justin March produced The Simple Fear and my 2013 EP. He actually introduced me to Paul Moak (producer of my 2011 release). I met Justin in college (in 2007) and we’ve been working together for almost five years now. He’s been so invested in my music; always putting in extra effort, whether it’s mixing until 2am or not giving up until we have captured the perfect part on a song. He really understands and encourages my songwriting. The musicians, Eleonore Denig (violin), Tyler Burkum (electric guitars), Will Sayles (drums), etc. are so essential to the sounds we’ve built. It’s been amazing working with them over the last five years and watching them really bring my songs to life.
Izzy: What would you consider to be the album’s most significant influences, both musical and otherwise?
Brooke: I’d been listening to a lot of newer folk-pop records, like Kathleen Edwards (Voyageur), Rose Cousins (We Have Made A Spark), The Swell Season (Strict Joy), First Aid Kit (Stay Gold), Gregory Alan Isakov (The Weatherman)… These records were inspiring me to make a record in the same vein. Records like those are timeless sounding, and are going to sound good for a long, long time. They’re not trying to emulate the latest fad. That was my goal with this record.
Also, I was very much influenced by the idea, whether subconscious or not, of my fears in life and facing those fears. I ended up calling the record The Simple Fear, which comes from a line in the first song on the record. The interesting thing about this title is that fear is always complicated, but it’s simple in the sense that we all have certain fears in common at some point in our lives… Whether that’s the fear that we’re heading in the right direction with our careers, families, relationships, or just the fear of letting go of something. I had to deal with the fear of the unknown future and the struggle of letting go of the past. Those two conflicting feelings are woven throughout the songs on this record.
Izzy: Your music has had a lot of pretty big media placements. Is there anywhere you dream of your music one day winding up, whether entirely realistic or not?
Brooke: Like I said before, those placements are definitely career highlights for me. As far as dream placements go, I’d love to write for a movie one day. I’d love to take a script and write the story into music and get to hear it on the big screen.
Izzy: You have a handful of upcoming live dates. What can be expected of the live show this time around?
Brooke: It’ll be a lot of the new record with some older songs mixed in. Even though the shows will be solo and more stripped down than the record sounds, my solo acoustic performances are usually where I’m the most comfortable and expressive. Though the more I play with my band in Pittsburgh, the more fun those shows are. I’ve never felt more in sync with a live band before than I do with these guys. So if you’re up for traveling across the state, come see a full band show in Pittsburgh sometime! Maybe one day I will be able to take them on the road with me, but for now I am playing Philly solo style.
Izzy: And what’s next for you?
Brooke: I am booking my own shows and still working on several fall dates. I’ll be playing a house concert in Philly with my friend and Pittsburgh native, Joy Ike, on September 26. And then hopefully I’ll get back across the state again very soon. I heard the Pope is in town that weekend so I hope people can still make it!