Bre Kennedy photo by Chelsea Rochelle
Bre Kennedy on Seeking and Finding “Clarity”
Singer/songwriter Bre Kennedy spent much of 2021 and 2022 enjoying getting back to live performance, and on top of that, delivered an album in 2021 followed by the EP, Clarity in December of 2022. It was a tremendous time of growth for her, but also one that came about through reflection and consideration of her writing processes and her perspectives in life. While she was in search of clarity itself, the songs on this EP eventually took shape as a kind of answer that continued to suggest the enduring qualities of hope.
Collaboration with other songwriters proved as key to that process for Kennedy as spending time interacting with audiences after a long silence, both encouraging her engage with uncomfortable boundaries and move beyond them to discover greater inner peace. While the EP’s songs show that journey and, ultimately, a positive discovery, Kennedy has also written an entire new album for 2023 which shows the further positive developments this reflective time created. I spoke with Bre Kennedy about the productivity of the past couple of years, touring, collaborating, and the role of hope in her life.
Americana Highways: When I look at your releases in recent years, you’ve really done a lot, there’s really been a lot of touring too. It wasn’t necessarily an expected thing that you would also release this EP, Clarity, at the end of 2022.
Bre Kennedy: I know, I’m asking, “Why am I so tired? Why am I loving staying home with my dogs?” [Laughs] But it’s what I asked for. After 2020, I realized I had no real love for the industry. It’s really, truly about getting to play live and connect with people. During 2020, I was really feeling burned out because everything was on our computers and calculated. I was thinking, “This is not the thing that makes me get up every morning. I just want to tour again!”
AH: For music people, I think that aspect of life during the pandemic was like getting up every day and having to eat your vegetables, and only your vegetables. Or doing only chores every day.
BK: That’s exactly what it felt like! So, after that, all year it was go, go, go. I had just come back from a tour when I signed with my new label and they wanted to put out a new record. Once I was off the road, I went out to California to write a record. My spirit was ready, it was caffeinated by human connection, though I was tired.
AH: I was wondering when you found time to write Clarity. Thank goodness you were able to do some performing before that.
BK: The EP really was an amalgamation of a lot of change for me, and once I was on the road, I had a lot of time to think. I was doing a lot of my thinking in Malibu Chevys! I was writing music and knowing that the songs would go towards the next project. The songs “Clarity,” “When I Have a Daughter,” and “Ribbon” were all written before I knew what the next project would be. With the song, “Clarity,” I was asking for clarity before having it. I wanted to honor that crazy year by releasing these, but I’ve already written a whole new record for next year, too. I’m also really excited about that.
For some of this songwriting, I felt like I didn’t have any North. I was asking, “Who am I now?” Then I wrote “Clarity” and “Ribbon.” Later I had a Zoom writing session with Lori McKenna, who I had never met before, and when she asked me if I had kids, we instantly dove into “Before I Have a Daughter.” Then, for the song “North,” I wrote that in December 2021 wondering where I’d be going next.
Shortly after that, I was asked I wanted to work with Davis Nash, who’s a producer. He’s a dear friend of mine but we’d never collaborated. We instantly hit it off and wrote five songs. It was beautiful. It launched me into being excited and we did four more songs together. Those songs just feel happy and excited, and that’s kind of what I’ve been waiting for, that feeling again.
AH: Collaboration seems like a consistent way of life for you. Do you find that it help your process?
BK: Most of my work has been done with my collaborators here in Nashville, and I still love collaborating with them. All of the Clarity EP was done with them and one other songwriter. I actually felt really scared to collaborate with somebody else, but when I did, I realized, “That’s why we push ourselves out of our comfort zone.” It was a new environment, a new perspective, getting to share my “whys” in life with someone who could meet me where I was at. My next album is about finding that song in you again and shaking off the fear.
AH: There’s certainly been a lot of fear in the world for a long time and it’s hard not to get that embedded into you lately. With this EP, I do see an emotional connection between these songs and this era in your life. Is it hard to talk openly with collaborators about such personal things?
BK: I grew up in the songwriting circuit since I was 15, so I’m really used to saying “This is how I feel.” But because of the isolation [of the pandemic], I find I’m more aware of not throwing emotions on other people, but I have been going through a lot. It’s been a learning curve to trust people again and also asked if people have the space for it. More often than not, they say, “Absolutely.” I had to learn how to trust people again and also how to trust myself. The songs this year are very vulnerable and I’m really thankful for the space I was given by collaborators and my bandmates. They helped me find the words when I didn’t know how to. They helped me find clarity.
AH: Are you also someone who co-writes on songs that other people record?
BK: Oh, yes, I actually started that way. I used to write only with other artists and for other artists’ projects. It wasn’t until I moved to Nashville in 2019 that I felt that I started to find my voice a little bit with Jealous of Birds. I still love it. I’m going into a session today to write for another artist’s project. I feel like that equally fills my cup.
AH: I find the song “Ribbon” really compelling because it addresses the things we need to remove from our thinking but the difficulty of doing so in a way that’s not going to do more damage.
BK: “Ribbon” is the first song that I wrote in 2022. I remember sitting on the floor and talking with my friends in Los Angeles about limited beliefs at first, and the outward fears we have. Even if we were able to shake those, what are some deep-down stories that we have learned to adopt? We talked about the unlearning process that comes with getting older and how that’s our responsibility. We have to “go into the garden” in our brains and hearts, so to speak, and ask, “What narrator told me this? Was it in fourth grade? Was it my dad?” How can we address those stories or limited beliefs and say, “No more.”?
When we were playing the first chord, without even thinking about it, I introduced the word “ribbon.” It was a really cool image of a ribbon getting caught on a chain-link fence. It can definitely fly away, but it’s caught up right now. It was very ethereal and a visual concept. We wrote it really quickly.
AH: I think all humans might need to hear something like this. The two videos that go with that song are interesting in different ways. The visualizer has the hanging, ribbon-like cloths, but your choice to do the acoustic live play outside is also really interesting.
BK: I was on tour and a friend is an amazing photographer. I was on my way to see my mother and grandmother between shows, having just found out that my grandmother was sick, and she came with us. We were driving through what I believe were the Rocky Mountains and it’s some of the most stunning, vast, landscape. We were all so inspired and I happened to have a tulle dress with me, and my thought it would be so cool for me to play the song in this pasture in the wind. There was nothing for miles.
For the visualizer, we used so much material! It was all one shot, and it was so much fun. It was just me literally getting stuck in this ribbon, but it still being beautiful.
AH: The video for “Clarity” looked like it wasn’t exactly the easiest thing to record, either! It looked cold and uncomfortable.
BK: It was so cold! But I love that stuff. I actually love starting my morning doing something inspiring. With the “Clarity” video, we didn’t even plan going in the water, but it was so calm and serene at six in the morning. There were these two guys fishing in the distance wondering what we were doing because it was so cold. But that’s what this year felt like for me. I got rocked. It was a big year of learning, and discomfort, and pushing myself to just get in the car and go. Through that, I really did find a lot of peace. I’m only now integrating that. Giving a name to the things that are hurting you can be really hard, but it’s literally what sets us free.
AH: I’m sure sometimes it’s about getting the right name, too. Sometimes we can limit things and not look at the bigger picture to really put things to rest.
BK: Absolutely. There’s still stuff where I’ve only just opened the door.
AH: I noticed that you mentioned that “North” is an older song but I think it’s really cool that you included it in this collection. It’s a pretty hopeful song, but I don’t think it offers false hope. It suggests that you can’t eradicate hope.
BK: I think that’s true of the human condition. One time I got a tattoo from a guy of “hope” on my arm because on one of my songs, “A Note To Self,” I say, “I hold onto hope like an invisible string. I follow it blindly wherever it leads.” When I went to get the tattoo, the guy said, “Hope is bullshit.” Something made me want to talk to him a little more. I said there was some truth to that but that I believe it’s the seed of every intention. It really is an invisible string pulling us all the time. Then I saw a photo of his daughter on the wall and asked about her. Then he lit up, changed his whole demeanor. He ended up telling me how much he hopes she has a good life and hopes she finds herself. I didn’t say anything, but I thought, “There it is. It’s inherently in our wiring.”
I don’t know why I’m a songwriter of instilling hope, but maybe it’s my way of offering it to myself. Obviously, life’s not beautiful all the time, and you can’t just be toxically positive all the time, but it’s really beautiful that we get to be here at the same time. I really feel that way. I come from a family where depression and sadness are very real. I just feel like if I can walk through those dark corners and share my perspective from the other side, maybe that can be helpful to someone. If it does find someone on a day that they need it, that’s pretty amazing to me.
Thanks very much for chatting with us, Bre.
Find more information about Bre Kennedy, including tour dates, here: https://www.iambrekennedy.com