Musical Discoveries: Tell us how you got involved with singing and songrwriting.
Tracey Brenneke: I'm the youngest in a family of five from a council estate in Kentish town. All that you read in the press release is true: I couldn't afford instruments, etc. When I was growing up I became totally obsessed with music and used to make up my own little songs. I was desperate to play an instrument and learn about music, but music at school (in the 80s) totally alienated me.
The best thing that ever happened was meeting a really inspiring music teacher when I was in the sixth form. She showed me how to put music to my lyrics, and encouraged me to continue with the bass guitar. She also encouraged me to audition for the 'Weekend Arts College.' They had music workshops and jamming sessions--I just flew. That was when i set up my first pop band "Strickly Speaking," and recorded my first ever demo. I wrote all the songs, but was too shy to sing them. After Uni, where I got a jazz performance degree, I threw myself into session work, taking anything and everything. You name it- panto, cruises, the works. I auditioned for many names, but never got "the call."
So then what happened?
I was still writing, playing in loads of bands, and trying to get signed. It was in one of these bands that I met my writing partner, Gail-Louise. I enjoy writing on my own, but sometimes working with someone else gives your songs that extra edge. A singer friend of mine, who had management, asked us to write some songs for her new demo. We ended up producing her album and becomming part of her band. The problem was, it became "our" band. We had minor successes, and a single which was mastered but never released. We were asked by the management to write for some of their other artists. That's how I got my big break (so to speak). There was this amazing country singer that we wrote a four-track EP for. When all the tracks had been completed, all that was needed was for her to record the vocals. But she did a runner, and I had to "fill" in. The rest is history!
Tell us about how you signed to the label and if so can you outline the terms of your contract?
Well, I have a few different contracts. Firstly I had a management contract, a publishing contract, and a recording contract. I'm also kinda in a "Gentleman's Agreement" with my manager. I'm currently out of publishing, and never signed a recording contract. But my manager got so fed up of labels that he set up his own. Obviously he cannot be everything to me, so there is currently no management contract, and all other contracts are still in negotiations. But because its a indie label I'm prepaired to go with the flow and see what the future brings. My suggestion to anybody wanting to be in this business is to speak to a solicitor first; sign nothing. But offhand I think the term is two years, and three projects; that's two singles and an album.
Who have been some of your musical influences?
When I was growing up I used to listen to anything that my older siblings were listening to. So that was Rod stewart, Genesis, Queen and the Police. In my early teens I became obsessed with pop music, and then progresed on to Motown and early RnB--Aretha, Chaka Khan, Luther. Great songs, with strong melodies and fantastic hooks. Somehow I moved further into the "hard" stuff of 70s disco and jazz funk.
That's when I decided I wanted to play bass. That's what always stood out to me. Brillant basslines. I don't intend to write in a particuliar style. But I do favour strong melodies and catchy choruses--a la Diane Warren--and I do intend to write commercially.
And who have you found yourself listening to all the time?
I've found that since I've started teaching, I listen to music for pleasure less and less. I listen to the radio a lot of the time, mainly the poppy stations. I love singers with voices. I'm a huge fan of Eva Cassidy; she had the most amazing voice and her interpretations of songs is inspiring. Martina Mcbride, Sting, Bonnie Raitt, Aretha Frankilin, Bill withers. But I also love stuff by the Sugababes and Misteeq. So there you are. At the end of the day, a good song is a good song.
Where do you draw inspiration for songs and lyrics that you write?
Human interests really. I enjoy writing lyrics, and do try to play with words. Not so much now with my own stuff, but I had a field day with 'Slinky Minx.' Because the band was tongue in cheek. I was writing lines like. "Come with me and I'll take you to paradise, 'cause tonight is the night, pack your bags and enjoy the flight." Classic.
I still set out to write comercially, and I try to set the scene or tell a story with words. I think the secret is not to try to be too clever. I suppose it depends on your intentions. I make no bones about wanting to be taken too seriously. I write good, pleasant songs and hope that my musicianship speaks for itself. The test at the moment is trying to not write every song about love!
Can you give us some more specifics on the songs included on your EP?
"First to Know" is when you're in a relationship but your not quite sure this is 'the one'. It's a one way conversation, or letter, to your lover who is blackmailing you to say 'I love you,' basically saying " Don't rush me, I need to be sure." "Alibi is me refusing to lie for a friend that's cheating on her boyfriend. "Best of us" is a plea to 'my lover' not to give up on a relationship during a rocky patch, 'cause we haven't even reached the best bit yet. "Lovesick" is a little cheesy, but gets the point across. It how you feel when you fall in love ... sick!
What has been the reaction by and large to your EP now that its out there?
Well initially the EP was played by regional radio stations, and the majority favoured "First to know." Thats why it was decided to hold it back, and release that as a single, with "Alibi" as the B-side. The reaction has been very interesting and positive. Most people are very excited. You know, not many girls out there doing what I do, etc. Those in the know have said it's one of the best songs they've heard for a long time, and it could be a biggie (yada yada yada).
But it's also frustrating that the songs are not enough. I've had to go through a certain level of imaging and big wigs talking rubbish like they know me. The whole point is these stations played my songs because they liked them, not coz of how I'm marketed. I'm trying very hard to stay true to myself. I'm not a vamp, I'm not Avril Levigne. I'm me. Geeky, cheeky me.
Can you tell us some more about the songwriting you have done?
I think the quality of a good song, is when it can be recorded in a variety of styles. As I said before, a good song is a good song. As part of my previous publishing/producing deal, I wrote and co-produced in a variety of styles. Slinky Minx was funky disco in the style of Steps. But yet, I'm planning to re-record a few of those song for my album, in a country style.
Are you singing with any other bands?
I used to do backing vocals in a covers band. I think a lot of people will be surprised when they find out about this. I've kept it pretty quiet.
So are there a lot of recordings you've done that nobody outside a small local circle around you have heard?
Aw gawd, I've played on hundreds of recordings as a bassist, but I think I've only sang on a few.
Does the material on your forthcoming album combine in any way that our readers would find interesting?
The EP was recorded over two years ago, and I've changed a lot since then. But I'm going back to the same studio, and using the same musicians so hopefully we can re-create the same sound: a poppy, country, English girly vibe. At the moment the release date is set to Easter 2004.
Who else will work with you on the album?
Recording is a two-tier process. The backing tracks are recorded in Wales. My co-writer is also my drummer. That's Gail-Louise. She's brillant because she dosen't just bash through the songs. She knows them inside out and hits every beat to emphasise the song. The engineer is a guy called Tim Hamil, who also plays the guitars. He's a real counbtry fan, and knows exactly what the songs need. and Finally Mr Keyboards Nige. He's fantastic! I then record the vocals in London with the help of Stevie Van Lange.
Will there be a tour to promote it when the album is released?
I bloody hope so! I know 'my people' are putting the feelers out. But it all depends on the sucess of the single really.
Please tell us about your musical training both on guitar and for voice. Do you play any other instruments and did you receive any formal training on them?
I taught myself to play the bass, and then went on to study music at Uni. It was a Jazz degree, and I really struggled. But now I can play any style with conviction. I can play a few instruments to an intermediate level--guitar, piano, drums and recorder!. The singing is a brand new one. Up until October 2003, I had never had a vocal lesson. And remember before this I never considered myself a singer. So I consider my voice a new instrument, I'm constantly practicing and strengthing it.
What is is like performing in front of a live audience for you?
I get a real kick out of it, I always have. Someone once said to me, "Don't get nervous, get excited," and that's how I look at it. The singing is a new. I'm halfway through a song, and I suddenly think, "Oh my God, these people are listening to my voice!!" I want the audience to have as much fun as I do.
Do you have another career outside of music?
I'm a full time music teacher in an all boys secondary school. It's good, but knackering. When I thought the music wasn't going to take off, I went back to Uni and qualified. Typically, no sooner had I taken on a post, the music started to take off!
What would you say has been your biggest challenge in a musical career so far?
Becoming the front person of a band. As a bass player, I could hide at the back, and have a laugh. I didn't have to worry too much about stagecraft, presenting and correct breathing. In some respects I feel like I have a job to do.
And what would you say has been your biggest achievement?
Having my songs played on the radio. And working a full time job and doing this!
What are your hopes, dreams and fantasies for 2004--in life and of course in music?
To be a success! To be myself, and to be rich!