Interview: Brigitte DeMeyer Shares The Little Miracles Behind Writing And Recording ‘Seeker’
Brigitte DeMeyer’s new solo album, Seeker, arrives on March 26th from Proper Music and tackles changes that DeMeyer faced in her own life in a very universal way by digging into the emotional challenges that life can throw at us. It’s an album about meaningful places, but it’s even more strongly an album about meaningful relationships, finding them, keeping them, and at times seeking in order them to bring balance to our lives. Though those ideas may seem heavy, they are conveyed in an effervescent way through DeMeyer’s lyrics and vocals as well as through songwriting duties shared by Jano Rix. Together with a small army of close friends contributing to the album, DeMeyer and Rix create an atmosphere that’s recognizably earthy but also colored by the magical moments that real life can also bring.
Brigitte DeMeyer spoke with us about the transformative methods of songwriting and recording that make Seeker an unprecedented album for her and also about the relationships and changes in her life that inspired these songs.
Americana Highways: I know that the music for the album was recorded before Covid, but I think you filmed your video for “Louisiana” at a distance using interesting strategies. How did you go about that?
Brigitte DeMeyer: We were supposed to film that in November, but our engineer, unfortunately, became ill, so half of it was filmed in Nashville, and half of it was filmed in San Francisco. My parts were filmed in San Francisco. Then we edited it together, with the same lighting, to make it look like the same video. That was masterminded by team in Nashville who are awesome. That’s by Jano Rix, who not only helped me co-write and play, and produce the album, but also directed the video via Zoom. He’s the type of guy who is meticulous in a good way. Where there’s a will there’s a way. We’re doing two, so there’s going to be another video after the album comes out, too. We’re excited.
AH: I’ve noticed that a lot of the videos that you’ve done in the past are based on live playing, as is “Louisiana”. Is that based on a personal philosophical approach or choice?
BDeM: For me, it’s always better to play together live, and that’s how the majority of this album was created. The album itself was created with us all in the same room, and the reason being that there’s an energy that happens when you’re playing live together that you can’t mimic when you are in a recording booth, in a room by yourself. It’s way different. There are benefits from being able to take your time, but I always feel like it’s better to try to capture it live. Like the song “Louisiana” on the album, that was done on the second take. I was standing right next to Jano Rix and he was playing the piano. I reacted to him, and he reacted to me, and we kept that one. You just feed off each other’s energy and I can’t wait to get back to it when we’re in a healthier world.
AH: Do the songs on the album sharing a particular history in terms of how and when they were recorded?
BDeM: This is the first time I’ve ever recorded a record in this way. Normally, I’ll go into a studio, when the songs are all written and rehearsed, and I’ll record them in ten days or two weeks because we’ve blocked the studio out for that time. This album was written and recorded in chunks and we actually started recording this album in the Fall of 2018. I had lived for a long time part-time in Nashville and part time in San Francisco, splitting my time. I’d come out every two or three months and we’d record a new chunk of songs. The whole album was recorded in about a year and a half. In that time, some personal things happened. I’m an equestrian, and I had an accident. I had a concussion and broke my ankle, so I was in the hospital. So songs came from that. But I really loved doing things that way since every chunk of songs had a refreshed energy to it. It was a really good way to do it.
AH: Like making your video, it sounds like a triumph of planning and commitment over circumstances.
BDeM: Yes, and desire to do it. It was a really good partnership with Jano, and he has a really good team of people out there who became my people, with engineers, and production people. I was very good friends with all those guys in The Wood Brothers, anyway, Oliver particularly, and I met Jano through him. So it felt very comfortable and relaxed. It was like working with family and friends.
AH: I feel like I can hear that on the record, and I’m sure other people will feel the same way.
BDeM: That’s a very big compliment to me. You go where the love is. When you are comfortable when you are performing, you go for stuff, or get it faster. Jano co-wrote most of the music with me. He wrote the music based on the lyrics I would send him, and melody ideas. We did it long distance and never sat in a room together to write together. It was a fascinating way of doing it, over the phone and long distance. I’d send him one or two songs at a time. There were no rules to it, though. Each song was approached differently. I actually wrote Louisiana on the piano, and then he took it to a whole new level.
AH: I really appreciated seeing him play the piano for that on the video. It gave me a sense of that relationship and his role on the album, too. Was it helpful for you to add context and biographical information from your life when you sent him lyrics, or was it just the words that you sent?
BDeM: At the beginning of the project, we were friends, and now we know each other a lot better. When you co-write projects, you usually have to make yourself vulnerable to the other person and talk about where things come from. But with Jano, he’s very smart. He would just get it and what it meant. On the song “Wishbone”, about me sitting there with a broken ankle, and realizing how good my life was before, he never pried and wanted to know where things came from. He was just looking for grooves or melodies that matched how I sang. He had to understand me as an artist, and in that way, I think he paid really close attention.
AH: Is Nashville something that you have in common, that informs you both?
BDeM: Yes, though neither of us was born there. It’s been my watering hole of kindred spirits. It was really hard for me to move away and leave that connection with people, but my closest friends have kept me close, even though we are distant.
AH: Given the timeframe you mentioned for recording this album, were you writing some of these songs when you were out on the road for Mockingbird Soul? I know that “Louisiana” was written in Paris.
BDeM: I was not touring with Mockingbird Soul when I was in Paris, but I was touring opening for John Mayall and you write down lyrics when they come to you. I was on trains all the time, so I was listening to music. I was there for a while, and seeing other places just wakes your brain up in a different way. I remember driving in a cab past a sign that said, “Hotel DeVille.” I’d already started writing “Louisiana” but I thought, “Maybe there’s a place in New Orleans called Hotel DeVille.” That part of the song is fictional, but I used it. You get inspiration wherever you can. In Paris, there’s so much visual candy that it helped me write songs while I was out there.
AH: There’s so much shared culture and reference between Paris and New Orleans.
BDeM: The age of buildings in Europe and the decrepit beauty reminds me of New Orleans. There are sculptures of horses all over the city of Paris, and also in downtown New Orleans. Since I’m a horse person, that struck me.
AH: Since you have mentioned equestrian things, how does your love of horses connect with your life as a songwriter and performer? Do you see the natural world as something that connects with your music?
BDeM: I love that question. I have loved horses my whole life and ridden off and on over the years. But I’m a mother and a working person, and I haven’t always had the time to do it. I stopped to have a baby, but in the last seven or eight years, my husband encouraged me to pick it back up again, and now I own a horse. Wherever I go, I come back to riding and there’s something about the nature of it, it’s something where I feel God. When I’m out there in nature, I feel the presence of something higher. There are a lot of levels to that, since you have to be super-present because it’s a big animal and you have to be careful. All your cares of the day just kind of melt away. Then there’s the question, “Does this big creature understand me?” I’m full of wonder.
I’m such a geek because there are plenty of hardcore horse people out there who are just doing their jobs. But I geek out in awe whenever I go out. Then there’s the physical endorphins of actually riding. But also, there’s being outside and seeing the rolling hills, though I train in an arena, since I’m more of a competitive rider. When I’m out there, though, I feel a connection to nature, which is, in a way, a connection to something higher. It’s the same thing that I feel when I’m super-relaxed and in the zone of singing, but in a different way. It’s a feeling of something coming through you, like you’re channeling something, and it’s a natural high. Sometimes you get there when you’re playing in front of an audience, and sometimes you do when you’re just playing your guitar in your bedroom, but it’s that same kind of high.
AH: I get a sense from the artwork on this album, as well as from some of the songs, that it’s a little more explicitly cosmic in its ideas than on previous albums, similar what we’re talking about. People often us the word “seeker” for someone who is on a spiritual path and the hand symbol on the cover also chimes with that.
BDeM: Yes. I love Mexican folk art and that hand symbol is a Milagro. That whole front cover is basically me heading West. That’s actually my horse on the cover in the distance. We put him on there because he’s a huge part of my spirit. “Milagros” means “little miracles” or “blessings.” I was seeking that because I had to leave Nashville. It was somewhere that I finally felt that I fit, but I had to leave because my son was not thriving there and I felt like it would be better for him to be surrounded by family, like he is now. It was very difficult to leave, so I had to make it very spiritual in my mind, a spiritual journey to find peace. It involved a lot of airplanes going back and forth, but I did what I had to do because none of it means anything if your family is not okay.
AH: It sounds like this took you on an internal journey.
BDeM: I was always kind of seeking, but this was big. In hindsight it was that. I’m always seeking for enlightenment, and I hope everyone is, but this was a whole other level.
AH: Do the songs on this album relate to these personal events?
BDeM: Except for “Louisiana,” all of them were written since I moved back out West. I think they are my journey since I’ve been here, the longing and the seeking. “Salt of the Earth” was a song that meant a lot of me, since I was singing, and Oliver was singing, and my best friend, Freda McCrary, was singing some little fills in the background. Chris Wood is playing the bass, so all my best friends are on that song with me. That song is about trying to find my gang out here like I had back then. It’s kind of about seeking.
AH: The term “seeking” kind of implies that someone keeps going because they expect to find something, or else they’d stop.
BDeM: I think you either do or you stop and give up. But I can’t. I’m not good at unrest. Seeking is how you find balance, and you have to find balance, I think. You have to seek to find.
March 23, 2021 – By Hannah Means Shannon
Read the interview at Americana Highways.