Now in its 20th year, MoPOP’s Sound Off! is the premier 21-and-under music showcase in the Pacific Northwest. This year, we’re celebrating a milestone anniversary of the program, which has built upon an incredible legacy in the local music scene. Celebrate with us at 7 p.m. PT on Saturday, May 15 with a virtual music showcase featuring performances and interviews with eight artists from across our region.
Brenna Bruce captures a folk sound that makes you nostalgic for voices from the past. Moved by the honest writing and soothing melodies of Americana, she is inspired by the universality of telling stories through song and sound. She has one of those voices that captures all the air in the room, leaving the listeners stunned, curious, and viscerally connected to the present moment.
We took some time to get to know Brenna Bruce during filming at MoPOP ahead of Sound Off! 2021 on May 15.
How did you become aware of Sound Off! and what led you to apply for this year's program?
Brenna Bruce: I was drawn to the Pacific Northwest music scene because of Fleet Foxes. And actually, my sister and I were so obsessed that when we were looking at places to move here with my mom, there's a song, "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song," and we moved right next to Tiger Mountain. I always thought of the Pacific Northwest as a very musical place. A lot of artists come out of here. I started with More Music @ The Moore and I had some fellow participants in that tell me about Sound Off! This year kind of felt like a very strange year, but it's the last year before I'm past the age [to apply], so it felt like a great time actually to just submit online and see kind of what I could do as a standalone artist outside of my band, Save The Bees. Now we're here.
What was your reaction when you found out you were going to be part of Sound Off! 2021?
Brenna Bruce: My reaction when I found out that this was the year we were going to do Sound Off!, I was kind of surprised and excited that it was still happening. I was just very excited and it felt a little bit validating to have my songs get a chance to stand alone. It was very vulnerable submitting them because they were kind of just rough demos and I'm excited to see how far they've come in this performance and with some new instrumentation and everything. So, yeah, very excited.
How would you describe your sound?
Brenna Bruce: I think that my guitar playing is very folk-inspired, so a lot of finger plucking, soft rhythm guitar, and then vocals that I write around thinking about harmonies a lot. I think as far as song writing, I try to keep things pretty simple and I'm inspired by country artists, the four chords and the truth. So I keep it pretty minimal in arrangement.
xxXXSpeaker 2: (02:16) My reaction, when I found out that this was the year we were going to do sound off, I was kind of surprised and excited that it was still happening. And so I was just very excited and it felt a little bit validating to have my songs get a chance to kind of stand alone. Um, and it was very vulnerable submitting them because they were kind of just rough demos and I'm excited to see how far they've come in this performance and with some new instrumentation and everything. So, yeah, very excited.
What has it been like for you as an artist this past year during COVID-19?
Brenna Bruce: The past year has been tough to navigate, but I think especially at first because my band and I were playing more shows than we had been. So we were getting some momentum in live music and we really enjoy live music more than any other medium. So that was tough. And it's hard to get the creative energy out of just sitting in your home, but luckily over kind of getting used to it over the months, it's been more about looking inwards and trying to write out of that place that feels really stagnant, but it's kind of empowering to be able to create something in a time that everything feels so still. So I think that's been a great challenge and I think it's OK to not generate a bunch of ideas in this year or a bunch of songs. It's OK to sit in what you're writing at the moment and not try to stress yourself. I think I'm a very introverted person, so I have liked the time and I do get a lot of energy from being by myself, but a lot of people don't, and I think don't put pressure on yourself to create out of this year. Reconnect with what you liked in the past in your own music. That's what I found has been helpful. Also, I started taking classes online that I've never really done classes when it comes to music, but it kind of felt like a good way to get things rolling. I've done that through School of Song and I took a song writing class through them and it was so strange, but it was a really great way to feel connected to other artists again and push myself in my writing as well.
Brenna Bruce: I make music because I don't think there's another choice. I've always felt the most myself when I'm singing and I think writing songs is such a special human thing that I don't think will ever go away. I mean, it's been around so long, there's something so cathartic and therapeutic. ... Emotionally, life events, whatever, just songs are a great way to take it out of you and put it aside and then you have it forever.
What excites you most about being part of Sound Off! 2021?
Brenna Bruce: Definitely most excited to play on a stage and have a sound check and feel normal. I'm so excited. And then to have articles of this experience with video and recordings, it's amazing. I'm hoping to stay connected. Unfortunately this year has been a little bit more distance between the participants, but I think we're all motivated to try to keep ties. So I'm excited for that as well.
This program takes a village to build, and we are grateful to The Looking Out Foundation and Mackie for their generous support of Sound Off! 2021.
We’d like to thank our community partners in helping to amplify the work of these young artists and for their support of Sound Off! 2021: KEXP, London Bridge, and The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter.