“People dropped like flies in the church and it was – pray for this person, pray for that person. And I was like, “Can’t we just take them to the doctor?”
Let’s cut to the chase: at the tender age of seventeen, rock performer Bree was kicked out of her father’s religious “cult” for “fornication”. The “cult” in question, Church Of The First Born, may have originated in the 1700s but it’s still the same fundamentalist faith healing sect that believes “we live to die so we can go to heaven” and it’s still also the sect that indirectly led to the death of Bree’s mother, Dana, when Bree was six years old. Dana swallowed a needle – when startled – whilst sewing and her husband’s faith meant that neither Bree nor her fellow three siblings were allowed to call 911. Instead, they were all bidden to pray, as their mother – bedridden and unable to keep any food down – slowly deteriorated over a period of two months until she died just before Bree’s seventh birthday. Naturally, it was God’s will that she passed away.
Born (at home) in Yorba Linda, California, Bree relocated to Harrisburg, Oregon (via Junction City, Oregon) at just nine months old. Of course, this neatly coincided with the surfing accident – involving her drug dealing, surf bum father – that necessitated the religious conversion that led to God telling him to move the family some thousand miles further north. Bree’s parents had been baptised in the same church in California but the deep nature of her father’s new belief system meant his church was the only one ever going to heaven. The rest of the world was damned. Nine months after Bree’s mother died, her father married Valerie, a 22 year old woman who was also a member of his cult. Valerie became quickly jealous of Bree’s relationship with her father and would beat her after her husband left the house. Bree consoled herself by writing poetry and listening to “secular music” by artists like Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran, Patsy Cline, The Beatles, The Who, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Green Day, Save Ferris and No Doubt. She bought her first album, The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, when she was eight but, interestingly, her father banned her from listening to Aerosmith and by the time he ordained himself (when she was 11), Bree had taken to playing piano at his church. Fast forward to Bree’s 17th year and the cult had taken to placing tape recorders in the glove compartment of her car in order to ensure she wasn’t listening to anything they didn’t approve of.
“I was bumming smokes and snortin’ coke/ I stole shampoo from the local Bi Mart/Too broke to wash my hair/And I was too damn high to care.” Happier Place.
Of course, it was Bree’s church too – and her elder brothers and sister were very much a part of it – so when she was thrown out of the church – and her home – at the age of seventeen, it must have come as an awful shock? “I moved in with my boyfriend”, she says now, “but it didn’t work out. And then I moved in with my cousin and was sleeping on the couch and paying rent but he kicked me out. So I started sleeping in my car and kept it a secret for several weeks until a friend knocked on the window and said he’d help me out.” Things still didn’t go smoothly, however, as Bree seesawed from one broken relationship to another and brief sojourns to Eugene and Seattle just meant that a return to Junction City seemed inevitable. Around this time she was doing “too many drugs, in a ghetto part of town. I was an emotional wreck and constantly medicating myself to forget the pain. I have never felt so alone.” She worked in the local grocery store and every week her father would come in to buy supplies. “I’d bag his groceries for him,” she remembers now. “And he’d look right through me as if I didn’t exist.”
Bree moved to Valdosta, Georgia to get away (and get clean) but then had the bright idea of enrolling at the Art Institute of San Bernadino to study audio production. She rang her brother – who had also been kicked out of the cult and was living in California – and asked if she could live with him for a while. He readily agreed and before long Bree had managed to raise the $100,000 loan she needed to attend college. She lasted three days, as she explains now: “I woke up on my 21st birthday and my sister in law had put a new dress and a pair of heels on my bed. I had hardly any possessions at the time – just a tiny suitcase – so this was a lovely present. Anyway, she persuaded me to go out drinking at the Village Pub in Palm Springs and then leaves me with this girl who proceeds to jealously punch a guy who was chatting with someone else. He laughed it off and introduced himself to me. His name was David and at that point my life changes.”
“I’m sad, I’m crazy, I’m sweet, I’m lazy, I’m a loser, baby. I guess you have a thing for psycho ladies.” Damn, I’m Being Me Again.
That night, David (J. Castello) and Bree talked about music. David was especially taken aback by Bree’s opinion on the current state of rock ‘n’ roll; she felt it had lost its way, lost its passion and needed to rediscover its roots. When Bree mentioned that she was training to be an audio engineer, David pointed out that she was “going to be on the wrong side of the microphone.” Bree reluctantly concurred and when she revealed that she wrote poetry and played piano and guitar – and David revealed that he was a drummer – they agreed that she should quit school. David bought her a piano and they moved in together. Then, on a whim, they both moved to East Nashville – they’d heard there was a vibrant music scene going on – and on her 22nd birthday, Bree and David had their first rehearsal. By this point, Bree was writing in earnest and when she wrote a song called Forbidden Fruit, she “heard” a stand up bass all over it. In October that year, David and Bree procured the services of Maryk McNeely, a stand up double bassist who they spotted playing in a local rockabilly outfit. The venue was Nashville’s Whisky Bent Saloon and the next day, Bree – the band – had their very first rehearsal.
In November 2012, after a live performance at the Mercy Lounge, Bree was selected as the RAW Nashville Musician Of The Year, winning both the judges and the popular vote. Concurrently, Bree had already caught the attention of producer Bob Ezrin (Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, KISS, Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, The Hollywood Vampires) and his exclusive engineer, Justin Cortelyou, who was subsequently commandeered to produce All American Girl. (The title comes from a throwaway comment by David after Bree told him her life story – “Well, you sound like an all American girl to me!”) The long player garnered many plaudits – “edgy” “energetic” and “fierce” were commonly used epithets – hinting at a greatness to come but perhaps its chief attribute is that it cemented the band’s place in the East Nashville marketplace. Nashville itself may be “the home of country music” – and when Bree won the RAW award they were competing against four Country bands – but on the east side of the Cumberland River it’s anything but: Bree is currently spearheading an indie rock n roll guitar movement in the exploding East Nashville underground scene that’s spawned bands like The Blackfoot Gypsies, Kansas Bible Company and Alanna Royale and venues such as Basement East, The 5 Spot, fooBar and East.
“I guess I needed to grow up/Too naive to see right through/All of the red flags that went up/When my heart was beating for you.” Broken.
All American Girl may have whetted the appetite but it hardly prepared us for the acuity and vision of Bree’s debut UK release, New Skin. Kicking off with the terminally addictive Damn, I’m Being Me Again, this ten track track album is a genuine corker and set to ruffle a few feathers both here and across the pond. “Could someone please cure me/of this disease I call being me” sings Bree in sardonic splendor and you immediately get to wonder if you’ve finally stumbled across a reincarnated CBGB’s era Debbie Harry fronting a band that thinks it’s Slade with an upright bass. Subsequently, Broken (which follows) is garage pop at its finest and showcases Bree’s vocal dexterity to the full: concerning a relationship that “made me feel trapped and shook me to the core,” when Bree sings “I’m broken/And it’s all cuz of you/ I used to think I knew love/Until I met you” you know it’s not in a good way.
Broken gives way to the Blondie-esque I Wonder – a story of unrequited love about an ex-boyfriend still hung up on his ex-girlfriend – and this segues into Happier Place, perhaps Bree’s most autobiographical song to date: “Trash bags of my clothes piled in my Honda Accord/Took Highway 99, that’s when the tears began to pour/Seventeen and thrown on the street/Wondering if my daddy ever did love me” she sings and we know we’ve been here before. The album also features You’ll Be The Death Of Me (which showcases the worryingly fantastic/fatalistic couplet “You are the gun to my head/Please love me dead”) and New Skin, undoubtedly the finest song herein. Bree reveals that the song “really represents me right now and signifies my change as a woman” and there’s something apposite about the revelation that she’s “gonna raise my freak flag until the end” and the chorus line, “I’m moving on to this new skin/I’m waiting for my new chapter to begin.” We’ve got news for her: she need wait no longer.
It’s not often you come across a band like Bree and it’s rarer still you get to hear a life story such as hers. She’s a whirlwind alright, but, to be serious for a moment, Bree might never have ended up here at all – for a couple of reasons. David explains: “After Bree got her first car, she would sneak out (as soon as she heard her father snoring) and drive two hours north to Portland to see bands like Alkaline Trio and Reliant K. Then she would drive back to open the coffee shop where she worked by 4am. If she’d been caught, she would have been beaten.” David also reveals that when he first met Bree, she refused to play guitar – she is also a classically trained pianist – because she played guitar in a “family” band her father had put together. David eventually persuaded her that she shouldn’t let her past with her father’s cult affect her future – and she agreed and went back to guitar. So there you have it: New Skin may seem revelatory yet somehow instantly familiar – like the kind of record you’ve had knocking around the house for years – but classical piano’s loss is our gain and that “life-changing” meeting in Palm Springs has answered all our prayers.
New Skin will be released on Werewolf Tunes in the summer of 2016.