Music

American songwriter Pieta Brown follows her dreams down nature’s Freeway

Alberta is scoring big on shows this month as American singer-songwriter Pieta Brown joins Ani DiFranco for her Calgary performance at the Bella Concert Hall Aug. 9 and will continue on to Edmonton for the annual folk festival at Gallagher Park.

Brown’s next album, Freeway, is set to debut on Sept. 20 on DiFranco’s label, Righteous Babe Records, but two new singles — Ask For More and Morning Fire — have been released ahead of the tour.

“We were looking for a label for the album, and someone sent it to (Righteous Babe Records),” says Brown, whose decade-and-a-half career has already seen her tour with such songwriting luminaries as Mark Knopfler, JJ Cale and John Prine, and collaborate with acts such as Calexico, Mason Jennings and Amos Lee. “They were into it. I was excited by that — obviously I am a big fan of DiFranco’s … her presence and her energy. I felt like it was the perfect place.”

For the album, Brown travelled out to Bon Iver mastermind Justin Vernon’s April Base Studios in Fall Creek, Wisconsin — where she has recorded in the past — and had the team set up audio outside to capture the natural sound of the area.

“I am extremely fascinated by that connection between land and music — a lot of us are disconnecting ourselves more and more from nature,” she says. “We were hoping to take those sounds and use them as maybe loops or have them really be a part of the soundtrack. I was interested to see what they would bring to the songs. We wove them in, but because we did it so fast, and the session went so fluidly, they are really subtle. You might not be able to fully hear it, but you can feel them a little bit.”

Freeway was recorded live in only three days. “We were playing live all in one room with no isolation really. We were really responding to each other.”

She says that recording and co-producing the album with S. Carey (also of Bon Iver) was very experimental. “We hadn’t played together before and it felt actually quite natural. It happened rather seamlessly.”

For Brown, songwriting is a response to the present moment. “I have some really great artist friends that have a lot of technique and process, but for me, songwriting has always stayed the same.”

On this particular record, themes that were extracted from her dreams played an important role. 

“I am not really waking up, taking out my guitar and trying to write about a dream, but (instead taking) the visuals that come from the dreams and what those things seem to mean. Songs are like paintings a lot of times, you’re just transmitting.”

Morning Fire was born of this — a track that develops sound from a light, sweet poetic birdsong to a full and robust arrangement. Brown says, “There is a line in there that’s from an image in my dream where I was diving way down under the water and looked up to see all of these amazing scenes playing out above me.”

Brown’s appearance in Calgary will be her first, and she’s excited to play more dates across Canada as she reveals that she has noticed a warmth here that doesn’t always come through while touring back home. 

Pieta Brown performs Friday, Aug. 9 at the Bella Concert Hall in Mount Royal University’s Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts. For tickets click here.

Sarah Allen is a recent graduate of Mount Royal University’s Journalism program. She is an arts advocate and has taken a recent interest into Calgary’s blooming circus community. A self-proclaimed storyteller, her work focuses around photography, videography and written content. 

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