Poetry in Motion: Exploring the Creative Process with Singer/Songwriter Angie Bruyere

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Angie Bruyere is ecstatic — the kind of over-the-moon ecstatic that guitar players experience when they acquire a new instrument. The singer/songwriter recently became an endorsing artist for D’Angelico Guitars and the proud owner of a new acoustic. “They gifted me an Excel Gramercy, I have already written four songs on it, and I’ve only had it for two weeks,” she says. “It’s such an amazing thing to me when I get a new guitar and songs just flow.”

Her output is not entirely surprising. Bruyere is a prodigious writer, dating back to the poetry she composed long before she began setting words to music. She is never without pen and paper, always crafting ideas, drafting lyrics, and composing. The volume of work in her catalogue resulted in two EPs last year, Blood Like Wine and You, both recorded at the legendary Castle Studios in Nashville with producer Jeff Huskins (Clint Black, Keith Urban).

Since then, Bruyere and her band, The Deserters, have enjoyed radio and chart success, including a debut at No. 1 on the Radio Indie Alliance chart with the single “17 Days.” On March 1, they released a new single, “Stay,” accompanied by a music video featuring the new Deserters lineup: Chad Schlosser – bass and mandolin, Jinxx – violin and keyboard, Chris Lawrence – pedal steel, Michael Johnson – percussion, and Kyle Stevens and Danny Hulsizer – guitars. 

You were raised in upstate New York and later moved to California. How have your experiences on both coasts influenced your songwriting?

I was quite young when I lived in upstate New York, where a big part of the population of my town, Potsdam, was Amish, so it’s hardly the New York that people have in their minds. For me, it was that country living that I was able to embrace as a child that obviously I don’t have living here in L.A. The biggest influence on my music that I’ve taken from that is growing up in the country, obviously before electronics, spending days walking the train tracks, walking in the forest and such. I live in Topanga now, so I’ve gotten as close as I can to that while living in Los Angeles, but it’s not quite the same.

Do you ever go back to New York?

Not in the winter! But yes, I do. I have a lot of family there still. I’m going to try to get back this summer to play a little bar for locals in the area. I love it. It’s beautiful, and I’m so happy to have grown up there, but my heart is in Los Angeles now.

With that background, recording at The Castle in Nashville must have been special for you, particularly visiting the surrounding areas.

My god, I loved it! It was amazing, a dream come true. You’re right, I did feel a bit of nostalgia in the surrounding areas, which are so beautiful, and we did just that. We did a lot of walking and hiking and exploring the area every day.

Did that environment influence the outcome of the recording sessions?

This was my first time recording with studio musicians, let alone studio musicians of this caliber, so in the beginning my fear was the overriding factor that started me off. I’m used to recording with people who are familiar, like family, my band, so that was quite an experience and incredibly scary, to be honest. I think I didn’t even realize where I was at that moment! By the second day, when I got to know everybody, and everything was wonderful, my fear went away and I realized that This is the most amazing experience. I didn’t want to leave. I felt like I was home.

Why the decision to record with session musicians?

I had just recorded an album called West of the Night [2014] with my band, which was at that time a group of British rock and rollers. I had a bunch of songs that were so country-driven, and there was no other place for me to record them than Nashville, as far as I was concerned. I wanted to bring a different element, and they would have been more rock with the other band. I wanted to go 100 percent into the country world and let the songs see their full potential. It was a difficult decision, but it seemed like the right thing to do. In fact, it kind of found me. Jeff Huskins found me on YouTube and he reached out to me. I kept thinking, I want to record these songs in Nashville someday, there was an e-mail in my inbox, and it went from there, so it seemed the right path.

You began playing guitar during your modeling career. What drew you to taking up guitar at that point in your life?

I had purchased a bass. I was a poet, and I wanted to learn an instrument to be able to put my poems to music. I was living in Hollywood, I was modeling quite a bit, and I wasn’t learning to play it like I should. I had an unfortunate incident where my apartment burned down. I lost everything except for my bass and my small dog. I grabbed those two things and ran out the door. I lost everything, including hundreds upon hundreds of songs I had written. I think that is what really propelled me into discipline and learning and losing myself in the music. I got on a plane back to Milan with my bass and started from there. As soon as I got back to L.A., I decided it was time to take it to the next step and I bought my first guitar.

Was that guitar a Fender?

It was a Fender, as a matter of fact, and I still have it! It was a little beater from a pawnshop, and I absolutely love it.

What were the steps from what you’ve described as “performing alone in my room with a four-track” to taking your original work out in front of audiences?

I had a lot of musician friends at the time. So cliché, right? Musicians and models just go hand in hand.

I wasn’t going to say it, but since you brought it up …

Yes, I know what everybody’s thinking, but it’s OK! Sometimes I would become brave enough to let them have a glimpse into what I was doing, and people started to show interest in wanting to play music with me. It’s not so much that I went out to seek it out myself. Once again it came to me, in my room, with my four-track. It broke down my barriers of insecurity and that’s how it began, truthfully.

Where did you play?

In the beginning, all through Hollywood, everywhere. I played the Whisky, the Roxy, the Troubadour, the Rainbow, any bar. In the beginning I dragged my own little p.a., and there would be two of us in the bar with people eating and not paying too much attention, which was exactly what I wanted and needed at that time, to playing all the venues where I used to see my favorite bands, which was pretty exciting.

Was it tough to find gigs and make a name for yourself?

It’s the music business and it has been difficult. It’s also being a female singer. Sometimes I would find an aversion to that. I’ve heard on too many occasions than I’d like, “I never really enjoyed female singers and guitar players as much, but now that I’ve seen you, I have a different opinion,” which is meant to be a compliment, and I take it as a compliment, but man, I don’t know. I just think, How about just listening to the music and see if you like that? So yes, it was difficult in the beginning. I think playing L.A. is difficult anyway. It’s a great training course. Places like Italy and even London — perhaps it’s the Americana genre that they’re so interested in, but audiences there seem to really pay attention and get into it. The first time I experienced that, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to leave. But L.A. is a tough crowd, especially now, in this world of cell phones and all of what we face. I’m walking around with my book in my hand, writing constantly, so I still haven’t figured it all out. But sure, it was difficult. Even when it seems to be getting easier, there are other levels of difficulty to get through.

As you mentioned, the first incarnation of The Deserters, which is also your first band, was comprised of British musicians. Is that why you recorded your first album in the U.K.?

The truth is I was married to a British musician, Nigel Mogg, for ten years. He was in a band called the London Quireboys. There was a guitar player in that band called Guy Griffin, with whom I wrote most of my first record. He was incredible. I was on the road with them all the time, I started writing the first record, and once again one of those “I would never write or play with a girl musician,” and lo and behold, all these songs were born on the road with the Quireboys. We decided to record in Bedford, England, where a lot of the Quireboys are from. That was Riding The Belly, which is no longer available. There are some really charming songs on it that maybe I’ll be able to re-record someday.

Have your sound and style changed since then, particularly as you have gone through several lineups with your band?

Not for me. For me, it’s always been exactly the same. I think the songs change when other people come in. I guess it’s like making a cake: you start with the main ingredients, and whatever you put in makes it taste a little different. That’s probably a bad comparison! But not for me, honestly. I still have some of my four-track cassettes, and when I listen to old recordings, they sound similar to the voice memos from today that I leave on my phone. I think it’s a matter of who I surround myself with to play with me. That’s how the songs take different shapes. 

How in the world did you end up forming a band with members of Bang Tango, Gutterboy, and Black Veil Brides?

I just have a lot of great friends that I’ve had for a long time, and they’re incredibly talented musicians. When I wanted to go in a more country direction, you wouldn’t think I’d choose members of Bang Tango or Black Veil Brides, but why not? They’re all talented and they have embraced this music. Everyone has grown in such different ways. People don’t realize how many different interests someone has because of the genre they get pigeonholed into. We’re all good friends and we play well together. I’m so excited for the next record with these guys. I went to Nashville, I came back, my last band broke up, I went into my pity party feeling sorry for myself, and my friends started reaching out to me to ask if I wanted to jam or write songs. I was playing with all these guys individually, writing, trying to figure out what to do next, not wanting to commit, and one day I thought, Why not try to get all these guys together? Not to say that any of these perfect guys have egos, but sometimes it can be difficult! They were all a little worried and nervous to meet each other, because we were doing such wonderful things by ourselves, but everyone hit it off and it’s been incredible. My bass player, Chad, who produced West of the Night, is the the calming force of nature that called everybody and said, “This is what we’re doing and this is where you need to be.” We got together and jammed, it was a little awkward at first, and by the end of it we all knew that this is what we needed to be doing. It makes no sense, and I haven’t questioned it until you just asked me about it!

Obviously you are a Fender artist, going all the way back to the pawnshop guitar. How long have you used Fender guitars and amps, which models, and why?

I have always loved Fender. I don’t know what it is that drew me to Fender in the beginning; I think a lot of people around me just played them, a lot of rock people around me. My favorite guitar is my Fender Kingman, the Tom Petty signature guitar — my favorite artist. The sound is incredible. It’s beautiful. My strings are 12-52 Eloctrozincs. My Fender amp is the Vintage Reissue ’65 Twin Reverb Guitar combo. I only use a pick when I’m onstage, and I have a huge bagful/lifetime supply of Fender mediums. I’m mostly an acoustic player, but I love my Tele as well when I’m trying to channel my inner Chrissie Hynde and get my electric guitar playing going. I have such incredible guitar players in my band that I’m taking a back seat and playing rhythm, which I love to do anyway.

What made Jeff Huskins the right producer for your music?

That was so magical. First of all, I’m a little skeptical sometimes, but he had worked with an extraordinary number of artists that I respected, so there was that. The way that he had listened to my music, and knew every song and exactly what I wanted to get out of the recording of these songs, he spoke the language that I wanted to hear. We flew out to meet him before we agreed to do the record, and he was just the coolest guy, the real deal. He made me feel so incredibly comfortable. I think a lot of the complaint for me in the past has been my voice not being heard. He was able to capture my voice, which was wonderful. He built the music around my voice. He was my hero at that moment and is now my friend.

Did you go in with the intent to make two albums?

I have so much material that I kept sending him voice memos, and we had to pick through and decide which ones. I left that up to him because I trusted him so much, and it turned out that we were in agreement about the ones we wanted to do. We did all of those songs in three days, all live takes, first takes, and our p.r. company decided we would split it up into two EPs. In this day and age of shorter attention spans, people are putting out singles instead of records, so we decided to give people the chance to digest one before we came out with the next. We didn’t want any of the songs to get lost.

You are already thinking about your next album. Will you record in Nashville again?

I’m always thinking about my next album because I’m always writing. That’s one thing I can’t stop doing. I write everything with paper and pen, old-school. It’s going into pre-production very soon. I would love to go back to Nashville, and I plan to make another album there one day, but we’re going to record this one in Topanga with my band. I am so excited for people to hear it.

In one of your interviews you said, “I don’t do selfies. I really don’t like that stuff. Such strange times we live in, with our social media habits and definitions of beauty.” This from a woman whose previous career revolved around being photographed and definitions of beauty. Do you feel this way now because of that career, or is it because of how priorities have changed over time?

I think it’s both of those things. My past and what I used to do for a living — I was very lucky to be able to do that and to travel the world, but honestly, it was never in my soul. It was never me. It was a little embarrassing because I wanted to be known for so much more than the way I looked. I understand that looks fade, and it was always important to me to be more than that, and to be more interesting, too; to talk about the last book I read or the last place I traveled to. I would talk to some models, and they knew where the McDonald’s was in these beautiful locations but not where the museums were, or the historical landmarks, and that bothered me. I find that true again today. You can be in the most beautiful place, or at a concert watching your favorite artist, being in this amazing moment, and everyone is watching it through their cell phones. I truly don’t understand. How often do you go back and look at that video that you shot? I’m in amazement of your self-worth being the last picture you posted and how many “likes” you got and how people perceive you. It’s such a false world. It’s sad and worrisome to me to see where it’s going to lead us.

As a parent, does that weigh on you as well?

It absolutely does. My daughter is selfie-free. I must have influenced her in some way! She’s 13 years old, and I’m proud of her Instagram pictures and that she’s not afraid to look silly, she doesn’t choose to brag and make people feel less than, or to show off inappropriate photos. She’s very age-appropriate, I think. It’s so important to remain a kid. You’re one click away from so many things that can change your life and take your childhood away. It’s a difficult time to raise a daughter or a son, to raise a well-rounded human being when they’re surrounded by all of their friends doing this. Be the one that’s different. Be the one reading a book, the one walking the street and actually looking at the ocean or looking at the trees, as opposed to looking at your phone and almost being hit by a car! It’s a fine line to promote yourself, and I fought it tooth and nail, but I was doing a disservice to myself and to my band. It is the way of the future and I understand, but I cringe when I have to do a video. As uncomfortable as it makes me, because I’m not that model anymore, I understand the importance of the visuals that go behind the music, but there’s a way to do it and maintain integrity. It’s not about the way I look any longer because that’s not how I make my money. It’s about the music and the words, and if it touches somebody’s soul and makes them smile, that’s so much more important to me.

As new audiences discover your music, what do you hope they take with them after listening to your albums?

That is one of the things about social media — I was cutting myself off from so much of the world. I love when new people discover my music. I just got an e-mail from a fan in Pakistan. They are in a band, doing cover songs, and they’re doing some of my songs. That made me cry. That was the part I was cutting myself off from — that people in all parts of the world are listening to my music, and are touched by my music, and are so grateful when I write them back. That is the most beautiful thing. As far as people listening to my music for the first time, that’s a compliment in itself — that someone hears your music and wants to listen to it again. That’s pretty big. I just hope that they really believe me. More than anything, I want people to realize that I’m sincere and honest about everything I sing about.

Are there plans to go on the road?

Yes, there are. I’m going to do a couple of small bars in London over the summer, and after that we’re going to fill up some dates and hopefully do an American tour. It’s about time. Nothing makes me happier than playing live and feeling that energy.

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