Do you think there's a Nashville equivalent to that game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?" Obviously, the premise is based on the original 1929 theory of Frigyes Karinthy that two people can become connected through a maximum of six steps. But no one cares that Frigyes Karinthy created the theory, they do however, love Kevin Bacon (this is a flimsy fact, but let it serve as such for this lede). Naturally, Kevin Bacon is not as key a figure in Nashville as he is in Hollywood, but the popular premise which bears his name is nonetheless applicable - everyone seems to know someone that knows someone else. Sometimes that's an incredible thing, and other times, not so much. But in the case of today's feature interview - Bre Kennedy - it very much the former. After some unfortunate proceedings in Los Angeles, Kennedy chose to uproot a promising young songwriting career and head to Nashville, a city where she knew only a handful of folks. But through her delightfully infectious personality, and truly remarkable talents, she's managed to find her own community. That community has gone on help Kennedy in a number of ways, but most recently in the release of her latest single, "Trouble On My Mind." Read on to learn how the California singer managed to navigate challenging terrain in the world of songwriting, and how she made Nashville her home.
Now/It's met with Bre Kennedy at Dose Cafe & Dram Bar in the Riverside Village neighborhood of Nashville, TN.
Bre - So I talked to Kelly [Soule Eberle] and she said that you worked at [a record label]?
N/I - I did, for a little while. But that’s neither here nor there.
Bre - Oh sure! I understand. The only reason I bring it up is because she said you wanted to be one of the “good guys.”
N/I - More or less, yeah!
Bre - I love that!
N/I - That’s basically the gist of it. I just want to serve people in whatever capacity I can help with.
Bre - No! I love that. I get it. I grew up in that label system for a little while.
N/I - Really?
Bre - Yeah.
N/I - Was that mostly artist development? Or something else?
Bre - It was, but it wasn’t…. But through that, I’m very thankful for the experience. I wound up meeting people at [the labels] from a really young age, and went through the ringer that way. I had no idea what I wanted to play - I was just a little girl. At one point, I was just like “I have no idea what I want to say, at all.”
N/I - Well how young was being “a little girl?”
Bre - So fourteen years old….
N/I - Okay. Wow.
Bre - And then I wound up doing the label circuit at sixteen. I’m super thankful for it, because it led to me meeting my publisher, and I ended up writing for other artists for a little while, which was really great.
N/I - I’m sure! It’s a good learning experience, especially at that age.
Bre - Oh, for sure. I would do two-a-days….
N/I - Oh my gosh.
Bre - It was awesome.
N/I - Well I would imagine you get some really good discipline started at a very young age.
Bre - Yes! Like learning to be on time.
N/I - Right!
Bre - So it kind of started there, and when I was around nineteen, I started getting the hunch that I wasn’t really making the music that I want to - I was in the pop circuit. As a songwriter, it’s awesome and challenging, in a good way.
N/I - I would imagine.
Bre - But for my stuff it wasn’t quite connecting with my vision, because I didn’t know what it was yet. So I had done a few writing sessions [in Nashville], and I was like “I think I want to go back!” And I ended up packing my car up on February 4th, of 2015 and I just drove across the country and was like “Maybe this will be a cool experience,” and it totally changed my life.
N/I - It sounds like it definitely did! So, you were how old when you decided to leave - was it California?
Bre - Yep! Los Angeles.
N/I - Los Angeles. And you were how old then, in 2015?
Bre - So this is 2015, so I was twenty-two. I’ll be twenty-five in… a week!
N/I - Well happy early birthday!
Bre - Hey, thank you!
N/I - So how long did it take you to make that decision to go from doing the writes here in town to actually up and moving?
Bre - I think it was after my third trip here - I walked into The Tippler, which isn’t here anymore….
N/I - Right! I remember that place. It’s gone.
Bre - You remember!? Wow. So anyway, it was out of recommendation from [the publishing company] Kobalt, and I went by myself, I got ready, and I was just totally overwhelmed with how much community there was in one room. I got my cocktail, I went down the steps of The Tippler, and it was Marc Beeson, Jillian Jacqueline, and I think Tofer Brown was playing with her at the time. I was just totally caught off guard with how great everybody was, and I thought, “If this is going on in this city, every night, everywhere - just great singers, great songwriters - sharing their shit, then I should be here.” Because Los Angeles, for me, I hadn’t quite found my music community….
N/I - Why is that? Just because you were young?
Bre - I think I was too young. And like I said, at that point, I was only writing for other artists, so I was in that circuit, but I wasn’t in a community of songwriters that were playing out live. So I didn’t find my voice there. So I wasn’t inspired in the organic craft of that stuff. So the minute I got here, I met my boyfriend, Kyle Dreaden. He kind of changed my perspective on putting music out.
N/I - Now, is he a musician? Or a producer?
Bre - He’s a producer and mixer here in town, and he actually produced “Words,” which was my first single.
Server arrives to ask for drink order.
Bre - We probably shouldn’t be having coffee this late….
N/I - You know, I think it’s pretty safe to say that I have an apparent and dependent addiction to caffeine. That’s not to say that it wouldn’t affect my sleep patterns, but sometimes it kicks in and others it doesn’t, depends on the day. And I’ve had ample caffeine today, so this might be one of those days, or it might not be [laughs].
Bre - This could be it!
N/I - Who knows?
Bre - I can’t really tell if it’s going to hit my bloodline in a certain way. Some days it’s not working, but, other times it does.
N/I - Well I used to think that being taller, I could drink more coffee than a regular person, but realistically, that’s a dumb train of thought and absolutely not how caffeine works.
Bre - It’s not based on body index and all that [laughs].
N/I - Right. It’s not as if there’s more room for the caffeine to fill in. It’s all the same [laughs]. So all that to said, I have a crippling caffeine dependency.
Bre - No, I understand. I actually stopped drinking this month, and everything that hits me - like caffeine, or anything I put into my body - I can tell how it affects me. I’m super aware.
N/I - That’s happened to me before…. I’m not certain if it actually does affect you the way you think or if it’s just a placebo because you know you’re actively trying to change something. It’s like your brain thinks you have this new super power where you can feel….
Bre - Everything [laughs].
N/I - Right. Who knows if it’s true or not?
Bre - I’m very much the same - I feel like it’s an artist thing, at least for me - any session that I’m in, everyone needs to have a liquid. You know what I mean?
N/I - Sure. I think there’s something to be said for that in terms of comfortability….
Bre - Right! And having something to hold onto.
N/I - Yeah. Not to say it’s a defense mechanism, or anything, but it’s a security blanket in one way or another.
Bre - It’s like “Me, My cup, and I.” You’re right.
N/I - And that’s why I try and meet up over coffee or something. There have been a couple of times that I’ve met with someone in a studio or in their home, and it goes just as well as any other interview, but there’s a little more easing into things and getting comfortable. For all intents and purposes, I’m a stranger they’re welcoming into their home under the pretense of an interview, which can sometimes take some getting used to. They’re letting me - if it’s a home or a studio - a very sacred place, so to speak, so it’s an interesting observation that you’ve raised.
Bre - Absolutely… But I love it!
N/I - Exactly. It’s great, and I think there’s something to be said for something that makes you feel comfortable.
Bre - I’m always fidgeting with something - if it’s a pen, or I’m chewing gum, or playing with my hair, or holding onto a cup of coffee. It gives you some form of comfort.
N/I - That’s right.... So, it’s been roughly what? Two, three days since your song “Trouble On My Mind” came out?
Bre - Yes! Friday.
N/I - And how have you felt about that thus far?
Bre - Really good. I will say that when I thought about putting this song out originally, it actually terrified me.
N/I - Why is that?
Bre - This is the first song that I wrote in my Nashville Airbnb my first of being here. I have the Garage Band link….
N/I - The demo?
Bre - Yeah! You can hear the tempo. It’s horrible. But I really wanted it produced out, because I had never recorded with a live band, so this was the first one I did with Matt Odmark, and I just did it for me. It’s a song about anxiety, and the anxiety I have at letting go of my life in LA. So I wasn’t going to put it out, but as I sat with it for two and a half years, three years almost, it became “Who cares?” Once you make art, it’s no longer yours.
N/I - Right.
Bre - You have to put it to bed. I also had a lot of encouragement from my friends.
N/I - That’s always good.
Bre - So when I put it out and I got a response from people that they enjoyed it, or that it meant something to them, it was awesome.
N/I - Of course. So you wrote [the song] in such close succession to when you moved here, but it’s not the first song you released since being here in Nashville, correct?
Bre - Correct.
N/I - And why is that?
Bre - Well, my first year here, I spent soul searching.
N/I - As most people do.
Bre - As most people do. And figuring out what the hell I was doing here.
N/I - Was there uncertainty in that?
Bre - Totally.
N/I - So you weren’t always full steam ahead on songwriting? Or writing your own songs?
Bre - I knew I was going to write songs for other people. I knew I was going to write, in general. I love writing for people, but I didn’t know what I was going to put out, or if I was going to put out anything on my own. Something just clicked the second year I was here, through the people I met. I met Matt Odmark, Charlie Lowell, Steve Mason…. And then Jake Finch, Hadley Kennary, Emma Hern, and this totally amazing community of people that pushed me to be a better musician. So through that, I’d shown a version of the song “Words” to my boyfriend Kyle, and he said “Just for fun, let’s just go in and record this.” And that was going to be the “Aha” moment soundwise, in terms of sound. I really love the 80s [laughs].
N/I - It’s funny you say that, because that was the first thing I thought when I first heard “Words” - it’s ever so slightly retro, but not over the top, “let’s layer as much synth as we can.” It’s very tasteful is what I guess I’m trying to say.
Bre - Hey, thank you! I got to thank Kyle Dreaden for that.
N/I - So with something like that, do you write the song and under Kyle’s suggestion to record it, who says “Let’s put this here, or add that there?” Do you get final approval?
Bre - I will say, “Words” and “Trouble On My Mind” are two songs that were written by me - my next single will be a song I wrote with Hadley Kennary - but these two were really close to home, and it was totally a group effort. None of these songs would have sounded the way they do without someone like Jake [Finch] counting it in ridiculously loud and awesomely, putting his two cents in, and Colin Pastore kind of directing what’s going on, and Matt Koziol being like “Let’s do this guitar part,” or Andrew Brown, and it’s just all of my friends, and then Charlie Lowell comes in and is like “Let me play with that.” The energy that is created in that live room environment is totally what created the sound. I can’t take credit.
N/I - Well that’s really cool that you have access to such a great group of people. Kelly [Soule Eberle] was talking about some of the same guys - Colin and Andrew….
Bre - They’re amazing.
N/I - Yeah! Out of a lot of people that I’ve talked to, your “crew” or “community” or whatever you want to call it, is one of the most incredibly collaborative groups. And to think that you came to town on a whim of sorts, three years ago, and somehow, you’ve managed to find and integrate yourself into such a strong group of people and musicians. It’s amazing.
Bre - It was quite serendipitous. We all have a moment every once in a while where we’re laughing at each other, poking fun at each other, being five year olds together, and then we realize that what we’re doing and who we’re doing it with is really special. It changed my life, and I’m so thankful for it. I don’t think I’d be making the music I am without them.
N/I - So just out of curiosity, let’s say you did not come to Nashville, do you think at this point, even though it’s just three years, do you think you’d still be in the pop songwriting circuit in LA?
Bre - Yeah, it’s funny, because I still am. I go back a lot….
N/I - So are you still with the same publishing group, then?
Bre - I am. It’s Curvature Music with Kobalt, and the publisher’s name is Jimmy Harry, and he’s wonderful. He’s been awesome enough to fly me out and convince me to try and move back to LA, but I’m a little bit more organic, so I think Nashville was the right place for me. But had I been back there? I think I would have tried to find a way to be around more songwriters, I definitely think I would have been writing a lot more pop, and I would have gotten to see the water a lot more. That’s sad.
N/I - That’s true. How has that been? There are lakes around here, but it’s certainly not the Pacific Ocean.
Bre - I know! Everyone’s like “There’s a lake!” Any body of water, I tend to I gravitate towards - because I spent a lot of time around it when I was younger - but there’s nothing like sea salt water, and the sound of the waves. I’m like a child, I get emotional when I’m around it.
N/I - For sure. You get a nice little sea salt brine. That soft dusting of salt on your skin.
Bre - Exactly! And I’m the type of person where I just jump in. I don’t care what the weather is like…. I went out with Colin Elmore, to Jacksonville, Florida, and he had promised we were going to go see the beach after this gig we were doing out there, and after we hit the water - I had had a few cocktails - and I just jumped right in. I was going in the water whether or not anyone else wanted to [laughs].
N/I - That’s great. So what is your approach to a new year, like 2018 - obviously, you just put out a song, and you have another that you’re going to put out sometime early Spring - but how do you come to decide that? As a solo artist and a songwriter, does that - because for someone as myself, I’m more or less uninformed on that stuff - how does it work out? Is it you and the group of people you trust most, or is it you and you alone?
Bre - That’s a good question. I think first, it was the stars aligning musically for once in my life. There was a group of songs that I was excited about and could rally behind, spiritually, towards the end of 2017. It was me going “I deserve to put my own music out for once,” and to experience that as a songwriter. If people like it, then great, if not, then at least I put my songs out. So 2018 is the first year of really going out on a limb with an EP’s worth of materials to share, and I’m going to play it out and tour it, and hope that people receive it.
N/I - So do you have a tour booked?
Bre - I don’t have a full tour booked, no. I have shows in different cities booked. I hope that 2018 brings a full tour. That’s the goal.
N/I - Of course. So are you mostly self-booking then?
Bre - Self-booking, and I’m having help from some good people. I’m really excited for this year.
N/I - That’s fantastic. Is doing all that a little more hands on than you would have expected?
Bre - Oh yeah. I remember having a conversation with Kyle [Dreaden] and being like “Yeah, I want to do the indie artist thing,” coming from an area where I was on a major label….
N/I - Quite the opposite.
Bre - Yes. And he’s like “Okay, you’re ready. This is great. This is good for you. It shows you how to do everything. That way, you’ll appreciate more, and it will be worth more.” And he was so right. Spending hours sending hundreds of emails to only get one or two back, and having to remind yourself that your music has worth. And convincing other people of that. I also think that selling a brand, and self-promoting is hard for me….
N/I - It’s kind of an unnatural thing to do.
Bre - It is, right? It’s like “Hey, look, it’s me. Also, do you want to buy it?”
N/I - In a nutshell.
Bre - But I think now, in this age of boutique shops, artisanal coffee, and whatnot, you have to find your niche and trust your vision, and hope people like what you offer.
N/I - So how did you and Kyle [Dreaden] meet, if you don’t mind my asking?
Bre - We met the first week. My friend Sam Lee, who’s an artist in town, he was having a rehearsal - Kyle produced his whole record, and was there - and Sam said “You should come out and meet some people.” So I did. He came to my show that night. My first show ever in town was at Party Fowl.
N/I - Oh, right outside the Gulch, right?
Bre - [Laughs] The hot chicken place! I had no idea. My roommate at the time was like “Do you want to come sing at Party Fowl?” and I was like “Absolutely! My first show!” But [Kyle] showed up to that, and we became really great friends. He’s an incredible producer here in town. I was first against dating him at all, because of that.
N/I - Just out of principle?
Bre - Just on principle. I was new to town, but you know, it just happened…. But it doesn’t take away from him being incredible.
N/I - No, not at all! That’s great. I’m always curious how people come to meet people in town. Being from here, it’s easy for me to lose sight in just how much, because I have the great fortune of meeting new people, and fostering old relationships further. But there’s a ton of social courage that it takes to “go out.” Having just met, it’s pretty apparent that you’re not reticent when it comes to meeting new people.
Bre - I like talking to people.
N/I - Very conversational and friendly, but to go out to Party Fowl, not knowing much about the place, that’s got to take some fortitude.
Bre - I think even having the guts to get in my car and come out here, I was initially like “What am I even doing?” But the minute committed to coming to Nashville and doing the thing, something took over, like a permanent adrenaline rush, if you will. I was going to jump off the edge and just say yes to everything. It was a season of saying yes, and so whatever I could do, I’d go play rounds everywhere. I also love to travel. I grew up with a single dad, so everything I did growing up was pretty much on my own. I find that whenever I put myself in situations that are uncomfortable, it’s the best.