It’s hard to believe that it was just a little over a year ago when we first became aware of musician Melanie Brulée, seeing her perform a handful of ‘unrecorded’ tracks live in Ontario. We soon found ourselves striking up a conversation with this Cornwall, ON musician, and quickly learned that she was splitting time writing and recording brand new material in both Toronto and Nashville. Hearing both “Pretty Wasteland” and “We Get Lost” last year, we immediately recognized Brulée as a performer who had some very unique stories to tell, and her guitar-heavy, alt-country sound was the perfect vessel for delivering such tales. Fast forward to October 19th, 2018, and Melanie will officially unleash her highly anticipated “Fire, Floods & Things We Leave Behind” album to her growing legions of music fans.
Having spent time seeing Melanie perform at various events this summer, we have already become familiar with several new songs set to appear on this album. Tracks such as “Whiskey & Whine,” “Can’t Rely On Rain” and “Tennessee Years” have all sounded amazing when performed live, but upon hearing the finalized studio versions of these songs over the last few weeks, the polish and feel to these tracks is simply outstanding. With a distinct alt-country, Americana-noir vibe, the inspiration for “Fire, Floods & Things We Leave Behind” was born during a road trip taken by Melanie and some friends from Nashville to Las Vegas along the historic US Route 66.
Go ahead and immerse yourself into the opening track “I Will,” and appreciate the atmospheric start that transports you to those badlands, complete with barren landscapes, sun scorched scorpions and red-rock canyons. “You’ll see the music unfold in widescreen, with western textures influenced by Ennio Morricone and Quentin Tarantino soundtracks,” explains Brulée, “I wanted to create an album that sounded like a soundtrack … that is meant to be listened to during a road trip.”
Surrounding herself with a top notch supporting cast, Melanie is joined by Kevin Neal, Champagne James Robertson, Kyle Teixiera and Adam Warner to create this unique cross-country sojourn. Expect plenty of low end twang from Robertson, best known for similar works with the cowgirl-noir sounds of Lindi Ortega; and from Neal, his pedal steel skills that will grapple constantly with your emotions here. The quality of the musicianship is consistent throughout the album, but for me, one track in particular that delights the senses is “Weak.” With a wonderful (yet brief) banjo intro, the listener is quickly returned to the darkness of this western-noir, and the echoes within the instrumentation provide a perfect temporary loss of concentration and ‘lost in the crowd’ sentimentality. Curious to learn much more about this album, we are delighted that Melanie took time recently to chat with us about “Fire, Floods & Things We Leave Behind.”
“Fires, Floods & Things We Leave Behind” is your new album, the result of an inspiration that grew during a road trip that you and some friends took from Nashville to Las Vegas. At what point during that journey did this concept start to develop?
I was in a writer’s block when I left for this trip so I really wasn’t expecting to come back with an album written, that’s for sure. The songs started coming right away. The first night of the trip, the sedan busted a tire (three of us rode in the RV and three other friends were following us in a car) so we ended up spending the night in a WalMart parking lot (we parked near the garden centre in an effort to feel like we were surrounded by nature). “Oklahoma Rain” was written that night in hopes of manifesting a sexy mechanic to help my single girlfriends, kind of as a joke. I think that was the key. The fact that I wasn’t writing specifically for any result and without judgement on whether or not the songs were ‘worthy’ of being cut on a record probably helped the channel flow. I knew that I wanted my next album to have more of a country-roots edge but other than that, I was open to whatever wanted to flow through me.
Delving a little deeper into the territory you were driving through at the time, what exactly was it about old Route 66 and the Badlands that spoke to you?
It was really special to be on a road trip with songwriters and photographers; it gave us each different views on the landmarks and things we were seeing. We didn’t stop all that much, to be honest- we had to make it to Vegas to drop off the sedan in 10 days and you can’t really comfortably drive an RV past 60 miles per hour so we drove most days and arrived at our destinations at night. Palo Duro Canyon was my favourite. We pulled in at night (I was driving) and the drive in was precarious. I couldn’t see far past my headlights in the pitch black. When we drove out on the same road, we realized what an insane drop there was mere feet away. We were literally living on the edge and we all felt really alive.
The architecture and landscape in New Mexico left a mark on me too. It feels like there’s a much stronger connection to the earth in that state. The desert makes the sky look a brighter blue. The buildings look like they were built by mother nature herself. Taos is an especially special place but you really have to experience it yourself- it’s indescribable and everyone’s experience is unique.
The album title suggests that you are hitting the road to escape both physical and personal tragedies? How did you come up with this title and why does it resonate with you?
I came up with this title before I chose which songs would be on the album actually. Picking the title is usually one of the first things I do once I’ve decided I’m cutting a record. ‘Fires’ is for my namesake and ‘Floods’ is for tears and for the crazy amount of flooding that happened in my hometown area this past spring. Originally it was Fires, Floods & Manual Labour (I was working a landscaping job at the time). I took ‘Things We Leave Behind’ from a line in “Pretty Wasteland” which I felt was a good summary of the theme of album considering so many songs were about addiction and sobriety. I’m not sure if it’s so much tragic as it is meant to be empowering actually. It could be translated to ‘Passion, Problems and the Way We Move Through It All.’
This is not only a fully blown alt-country album, but is a soundtrack of life on the open road in the barren wastelands. Is it fair to say that if most modern country music veers towards a little ‘Disney’, yours is much more towards ‘Tarantino?’ Edgy? Dark at times? Importantly, what is it about your music that finds you at your most comfortable when on the outside looking in?
I am absolutely inspired by Tarantino as a curator in the music industry and I naturally gravitate to edgy, dark songs. To me music can be a tool to explore the darker rooms within oneself in order to heal. I’ve been listening to a lot of psychedelic rock lately. I think a lot of modern country is written according to certain equation and it works in attracting a capitalist mind. I can’t stand most modern country, it sounds like a series of brainless lists to me. I’m not saying the world doesn’t need a bit of bubblegum now and then but you won’t find me bathing in the themes that are sung in modern country songs. I’m extra careful about lyrics and I like to be impeccable with my word as much as possible so that if a 14 year old me was singing along to my songs, she wouldn’t be manifesting shitty things for herself. A lot of new country revolves around the consumption of alcohol and encourages a lack of thinking. I’m no longer interested in surrounding myself with people like that.
The album opens with “I Will” – complete with an atmospheric start to create that perfect desert scene. You paint a picture of being somewhere close to the border, cactus and tumbleweeds in the distance, maybe even a scorpion or two. But the tone hints of trouble ahead for our heroine here. With the horns repeating your cries of “I Will” at the close, your journey is about to begin. Tell us how “I Will” became the lead off track here for you.
“I Will” is a track that Kevin Neal, my former roommate (and best bud) Brigid Charlebois, and I wrote together in my backyard in Toronto. Kevin had the music written and we wrote the lyrics together. Right away I had this vision for a music video or a short film about a woman dancing with the ghost of her lover at his funeral, the people around her unaware of this fantasy that feels so real to her. It was such a vivid vision for me, which inspired the album to allude to a soundtrack. Having been in many relationships with addicts, I can relate to this feeling of dancing with a ghost.
It’s the huge attention paid to the smallest of details here across the album that stands out for me. The simple brushing of a tambourine to commence “I’ll Get Over You” (a perfect diamond back rattlesnake, if I ever did hear one); a snake that I am eager to sidestep too as the listener sharing this journey with you. How much fun was it to get this creative and stick to the theme?
It was so great to work with a group of people who really understood the sonic vision for the album. Kevin Neal (pedal steel, electric guitar, banjo, nylon string guitar, backing vox) and I worked together on soundscapes, ideas and structure for a long time leading up to the production of the album. When we got into pre-production (rehearsals), Adam Warner (drums, percussion) especially added a lot to the sound and pushed me to experiment with time signature changes and adding new chords here and there.
“I’ll Get Over You” in particular was a song that sounded completely different before pre-pro and it was James Robertson who messed around and wrote that intro riff which made the song take flight in a totally different way. To me the best part of making a record is getting talented people in a room and giving everyone the space to explore sounds and bring new ideas to the table. I get off on collaboration like that. Jadea Kelly did a great job on the backing vox too.
We’ve discussed “Pretty Wasteland” with you previously, and learned of the motivations for both the title and content. But now, upon hearing the final studio cut, the ‘pain’ is apparent with your haunting whistles, the eerie guitar and heartbreaking pedal steel. Only when the softening strum of your acoustic guitar pulls us back into some gentle arms do we feel less vulnerable once more. Did this final cut become the track you envisioned when the original concept was born, and how hard was the journey to get this particular track down as we hear it today?
“Pretty Wasteland” sounded quite different prior to pre-pro as well. Adam’s drum beat and Kyle’s bass lines really added to the ‘cowboy’ feel of it, like someone walking through the badlands. The bridge was the toughest and most rewarding part of producing this song. We originally had (what sounded like) a million mandolins on top of musical saw on top of baritone guitar and it just sounded too disconnected. So we muted a ton of it and I added the whistle. I wanted this song to feel like you’re walking away from something and then you get pulled into a sort of tornado or storm and then are left naked to rebuild and continue your journey.
Let’s talk about “Will You Love Tomorrow.” For me, this was a wonderful curveball that you threw into the mix. With an amazing intro, this just oozes that late 70s/early 80s Honky Tonk era, and sees our heroine gazing at the glass of whisky from her barstool, with somebody singing for tips in the background. How did you discover both this track and the desire to give it some real retro love?
Kevin and I wrote this track in my apartment in Toronto – he had the line ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow the Way I’m Gonna Love You Tonight’ and it made me think of how different dating is today than it was in our parents’ and grandparents era. My grandparents met on a skating rink before the war; my parents met at a bowling alley; most couples I know met online. I wanted it to sound like a one-night stand from a fierce female’s perspective. This woman knows what she wants and makes no apologies for it. She won’t stand for less, either. The song seemed to beg for a southern rock 70’s/80’s treatment so that’s the direction we went in. Again, we recorded a whole bunch of extra instrumentation and cut out a lot on this one to give it space to breathe.
“Bust It Up & Fix It” is another song that stands out for me. The pace is much slower, your vocals a little deeper, a little sultry even. And above all, that smooth bass gives this track more of a David Lynch feel than an all out guns-a-blazing Tarantino affair. What are the origins of this track for you?
This song was originally written by Cindy Doire and I during the road trip – it was called ‘Fuck It Up & Fix It’ and was fast and upbeat. Nashville songwriter Robby Hecht and I rewrote it in a more PG friendly way and again in pre-production, the band suggested we slow it down. The vocals you hear were recorded live off the floor on the first take. Interesting note: every instrument on every song of this album was tuned in 432hz at the time of recording, as opposed to the industry standard of 440hz. I have read some research implying that 440 may have anxiety-inducing effects on people so we took it down a notch as a social experiment in mental health.
If this album is the soundtrack of a journey/movie, then “We Get Lost” is the big finale. Everything pulls together here through this track, the great instrumentation, and most importantly, the incredible range of your voice. Your vocals are as powerful as I’ve heard here, as are the emotional overtones too. You even pull down the curtain and have the credits roll to a reprise of the opener once again. Rollercoaster ride over. Story now told. How does it feel to finally share this one with your audience?
I’m so lucky to have friends like Liz Stringer who sang backing vocals on “We Get Lost.” That’s her wailing in the instrumental bit. I said something like “Do a ‘Gimme Shelter’ wail” and she freaking nailed it. The first couple times I listened, it made me cry. The album feels like a complete journey to me. I especially wanted the reprise at the end to bookend the album and make it feel like a proper soundtrack. It’s as exciting as it is nerve-wracking to put it out into the world. Part of me really hopes people love it and the other part of me doesn’t give a shit. It’s served its purpose for me in expressing what I needed to and now it doesn’t belong to me anymore. It belongs to the listener who will interpret it in their own way and do with it what they will for as long as they need to. That’s the beauty of music, it belongs to everyone and no one.
I’m sure comparisons will be made to your closest contemporaries here, such as Lindi Ortega or Margo Price, who have carved successful paths in the alt-country genre. Of course, James Robertson’s signature twang is firmly rooted in Lindi’s sound too. If fans of these artists were curious and wanted to know what Melanie Brulée brings to this genre, what would you tell them?
Oh that’s an interesting question. I guess my ‘thing’ is an honest, multi-layered, catchy song rooted in tasty guitar tones with a bit of French flavour. Some people see this as exotic AF.
Photo credit: Emma Lee