The Popdose Interview: Brooke White (free holiday MP3)
Brooke White is one of the sharpest, most prolific singer/songwriters in pop music today — her natural beauty, charm and style are simply sprinkles, whip cream and Cap’n Crunch atop an already perfect sundae. Sure a certain TV juggernaut catapulted her to international fame in 2008, but of the 120 American Idol Top 10’ers to date, she’s one of the few who still has bankable name brand recognition more than a season later.
You can read all about my beef with the show here — but in a nutshell, what is now a popularity contest used to be about talent, and talent is something White has in spades.
I drank the Brooke White Lemonade long before Idol. I bought her self-released debut CD, Songs From The Attic, at a rousing club show in LA two years before she went face to face with Simon, Randy and Paula. Attic steadily became one of my favorite pop albums of the decade; it is packed with powerful, exquisitely produced, full band originals that would have sounded as good on mid-1970’s FM radio as they do on Pandora today. Hunt down “Like I Do” — this beautiful song still slays me every time I listen to it.
Radio was the theme to her first post-Idol single, “Radio Radio,” but the lovely, yet prophetically titled album High Hopes and Heartbreak lured only a fraction of her millions of TV fans to the checkout counter. So much for the “Idol Bump.” That said, for an indie artist, selling more than 100,000 units of two albums nothing to shake a stick at.
I’ll admit, I underplayed High Hopes the year it came out and that is my loss. I was in a big Against Me!/Gogol Bordello/Dropkick Murphys phase at the time. White won me back the moment I heard “Life is Okay,” her spellbinding duet with Season 7 cast mate, Michael Johns (who, like Brooke, has an equally under-appreciated post-Idol album Hold Back My Heart).
In 2011, Brooke pulled a Daughty and formed a group called Jack and White with Jack Matranga. The duo (that gradually expanded into a full band live act) took the best elements of Brooke’s Attic era songwriting prowess and hit the accelerator. Jack and White’s sound is a bit darker, a bit richer and abundant with world-class hooks, harmonies and melodies. The duo produced two solid EPs of originals (Gemini and Winter) plus Undercover, an ambitious EP that featured one cover from each of the past six decades.
What I assumed would be a Jack and White holiday album was recently released as White’s third full-length solo LP, White Christmas. This week POPDOSE caught up with the singer/songwriter/mom/actress/TV host/painter/photographer/fashion designer as she tests the very limits of multi-hyphenate-ism.
POPDOSE: Congratulations on your newly minted Motherhood, how is London doing today?
BROOKE WHITE: Honestly, she has a cold, so she’s not doing as well as usual. She is an awesome little person. I love her so much.
I was looking at the cover of the three EPs and you see London coming into the picture with the baby bump on the Winter cover.
London was born during the year we did that project and was exposed to music from the very beginning. Before she was born, I often had my guitar propped up against my belly. She responds to music so well — I don’t expect her to follow in my footsteps as a musician but if she wants to, I’m sure she will be able to speak the language.
I guess you’ve been singing Christmas tunes to her all month long.
We have been listening to Christmas music since July, preparing to make this record. So we’ve been singing songs, listening to the Carpenter’s Christmas, it’s been really fun.
So, how did you come up with the tracklist for White Christmas — picking the covers, traditionals and new songs?
It was pretty hard. Honestly Keith, the list got pretty long. I sat down with a guitar and piano to see which songs felt the most natural, which we could make sound original while maintaining the integrity of the song. I wanted a good mixture — traditional Christmas moments, some spiritual — I just wanted to have fun. “Wonderful Christmastime” was my producer’s idea — it is not my favorite Christmas song. He pitched it and I was like, “Huh.” So we sat down and stretched it out and made it brand new. The way it turned out, I really love it. “Last Christmas” was kind of an afterthought. We had recorded 10 songs and decided to do one more. I had overlooked it because it is overdone, but it is one of my favorite Christmas songs so I said, “this is my Christmas record and I’m gonna sing it if I want to.” So we did. And then I wanted to write some originals, so three made the record. It was trial and error. Looking back, I think we have a really perfect mix.
So how did you connect with producer Chris Seefried?
Chris is amazing. I started writing with Chris two and a half years ago. We were set up for a co-write and we hit it off right away. Chris has a really keen sense of 60’s and 70’s music — the stuff I was raised on — so we spoke the same language. His style of production is a throwback to that era, but with a modern flair — it’s the perfect combo. When I first started working with Chris, he was recording the Fitz & The Tantrums record. The moment he played a track off that, I was sold on him as a producer. While we’ve written a handful of songs together, this was the first time we got to make a full record and I just couldn’t have been happier — he’s just a brilliant guy.
Randy Lewis of the Los Angeles Times said, “(Brooke White) exhibits a real flair for injecting new ideas into ultra-familiar music.” — that’s pretty spot on. Especially the McCartney cover; about 2/3 of the way in, it blossoms into a completely original song.
Yea! So glad to hear that. Covering Paul McCartney or the Beatles is super risky and ambitious — it wasn’t my idea, this one was Chris’s baby. We came up with the arrangement and with his beat, we really fleshed it out and made it new.
All of your records have included some interesting covers. From Coldplay (“Yellow”) and Aerosmith (“Dream On”) on Attic, to Kings of Leon (“Use Somebody”) on Heartbreak. I was nervous about all three — but they work!
One of the originals on White Christmas is called “I Love Christmas (The Girls With Glasses).” I assume this is a nod to your web series, Girls With Glasses. Does co-host Summer Bellessa sing on that with you?
Summer doesn’t proclaim herself as a singer. When we started the show, it made sense to bring a musical aspect to it since I am a musician. Summer has a knack for writing funny and quirky lyrics and poems. So she wrote the lyrics, I wrote the music and we married the two — I tell her she just needs to sing louder.
With Jack and White and now this series, you seem to thrive in dynamic duos — do you two film new Girls With Glasses episodes every week?
We live in different states, so we’ve been doing this long distance. Summer lives in Arizona, I live in LA, we get together once a month and shoot 5 to 8 episodes. In 2013, it’s gonna get more serious. I’ve been super focused on making records, so come January and February, we’re gonna focus on the show.
Is Girls With Glasses a fashion show or is it more about your lifestyle?
It’s really lifestyle based — we were looking for a niche for ourselves — we’re girls who are creative; we love fashion, thrifting, motherhood and music. Creative motherhood is such a big part of our lives now. Just because we have kids, we can’t throw our creative energies out the window — so the show is sometimes about how we marry those two worlds.
You have such a signature style, any thoughts of designing your own line?
Never say never — I can see myself putting together some sort of line in the future – Summer and I have talked about that a lot. I really enjoy fashion for myself and my daughter — baby clothes is a whole new way to express style, so I can see that happening.
You’re right — baby fashion is a goldmine.
Motherhood opens up a whole new avenue of creativity and opportunity.
Now with acting, you’ve dipped your toes into the water with the family movie Change of Plans.
Acting was just a pleasant surprise for me — I love it way more than I could have imagined. I don’t want to say I loved it more than music, but there was a passion there I have not felt in a long time. I would love to do more of it, but acting itself needs a great deal of dedication, attention and energy — I’ve been dedicated to other parts of my career and haven’t been able find time for the constant auditioning and acting workshops. But if the right opportunity came up, I would be there in a heartbeat.
How about touring with Jack and White or as a solo act. Have you outfitted the touring van with a baby seat?
I don’t see touring happening this year. To be honest, musically I am going to take time to write. This is the year of songwriting — for myself or other artists, I really want to get back behind the piano and write some really great songs. Never say never. I don’t have a concrete plan but I want to fine-tune my writing skills. While I watch my baby grow up, I want to have the opportunity to be creative. I want to be close to her. I think songwriting is the right thing to do this year — and Girls with Glasses — and I want to do an art gallery by the time I am 30 years old — which is in June, so I am also doing some painting, photography and art projects.
With all of that, please say the Jack and White project isn’t over. Will there be more music from the two of you?
Jack is a dear friend to me and a true musical soul mate — we write really well together — as far as this year, I don’t see another Jack and White record happening. He’s releasing a record with a new project. He recorded piano at my house and it sounds really amazing. Jack and White was one of the greatest times ever, it’s a body of work we’re really proud of so we’ll see what happens in the future.
POPDOSE named the three Jack and White EPs — Gemini • Winter • Undercover — to our Top 12 Pop Albums of 2012.
Incredible, thank you. I’m gonna call Jack after this. We have a drive there — it’s magic — it’s unstoppable. The two weeks before I gave birth to London we were finishing the Undercover EP.
Everything you’ve done post-Idol has been on your own label. Does owning and operating June Baby Records give you more control and independence?
Definitely, but I’ll be honest — it also presents some challenges. There’s way less money than if I was on a major and it limits my ability to reach a big audience. It requires a great deal of grassroots efforts — promotion, marketing, media — so those are my biggest hurdles — I absolutely love the records I have released – they are very pure — they don’t need to go through a lot of hands to get to the listener. But from a business standpoint, it is takes a lot to deliver that music to the masses.
What percentage of your music is sold on CD these days?
Ninety percent of our sales are MP3’s — it’s cost effective. That said, some people love CDs so we make them. We’re not in Target or Wal*Mart, but we sell them through our website, select bookstores, our shows and record stores. When White Christmas came out, people were ordering 20 at a time — there’s a demand for it. iTunes is huge, but we’re seeing a shift to Spotify, Pandora and YouTube. It’s a different day and age — and a difficult time to survive as an artist.
Licensing is also a large part of the new model.
You couldn’t be more right — it’s about reinventing the industry and figuring out new ways to make money. This a big focus in the coming year as well.
Before American Idol, I frequented your shows at LA hotspots like The Mint and Hotel Café. When you do play live, you’re still packing those same types of clubs. What were your big lessons learned from your run on American Idol?
I think the lesson is. Hold on. Ride it out. One minute people care, the next they make you feel invisible. It’s easy to become discouraged and lose sight for why you got into it in the first place. The reason has to be the music. You have to love it so much that you can’t do anything else. Hold on to your joy and your love. Don’t allow the business to derail your joy. That’s been the true test.
Is June Baby Records co-founder, Randy Jackson, still involved with the label?
I haven’t worked with Randy in quite some time. Randy is such an incredible and giving person. He spends so much time helping so many people; it’s difficult for him to be as hands on all the time. If I were to pick up the phone to call him, he would take 20 to 30 minutes to chitchat with me; he’s just that kind of guy. I run this operation with the incredible help of my manager Brad Fuhrman over at Sanctuary — he’s been such a key player, I couldn’t have done all of this without the manager I have. Randy is not at the forefront, but he’s always supportive and willing to help if I need it.
In addition to Jack and Summer, you have recorded stellar duets with Michael Johns, Justin Gaston (Nashville Star) and Michael Fitzpatrick (Fitz and the Tantrums) — you’re half way to a Tony Bennett-style duets LP.
(Laughs) I never looked at it that way.
So who is still on your wish list?
Daniel Tashian of the Silver Seas — “What’s The Drawback” (from Chateau Revenge!) is incredible. He’s so brilliant.
I can’t wait to hear that — if you can squeeze it into your busy 2013. Until then, I wish you the happiest of holidays.
Thanks for following along all these years; I really appreciate it.
As her holiday gift to you, here is a limited time download of her holiday single:
To download: PC (right click/save file as) • MAC (option/click)