Featured Musician - September 2015  

(Last Update 09/22/2015)

(Previous articles are available at the Featured Musican Archives page)

Barra Brown
Barra Brown

Name: Barra Brown

Instrument: drums, flute.

Early Years/Education: I started playing music seriously in middle school when I joined the wind band. I’m from Roseburg, Oregon. I went to Winston Middle School, and the band director would have the high school students come to the fifth grade and present instrument demonstrations. I decided to play the flute. Mom used to be a musician. She’s from Dublin. Once she took me to the Oregon Symphony and they played the Mozart Flute Concerto in G. I turned to my mom and said, “I want to play like that.” She started me on private lessons. Then my parents bought a drum set. I think my dad used to plays drums. I taught myself to play. My friends and I started a punk band, and I started learning songs. I’m essentially a self-taught drummer. I took a few lessons with Alan Jones and was in some of his ensembles.

After Douglas High School I went to Lewis and Clark College. I didn’t do the whole visiting colleges routine. The reason I knew about Lewis and Clark was I got into the state solo and ensemble competition and it’s held there. I could see myself there, then I got lots of scholarships. It was a great fit. I was studying flute in the classical program and also played in the jazz combos that Dan Balmer led. I was writing songs for the jazz combos too.

I think that’s why I play music the way I do. I play a melodic instrument and did all the classical theory. That’s informed how I approach my writing. I compose at the piano and on guitar. I play mostly drums now. When I was in school I was focused on flute, but as I was graduating I was getting all these opportunities to play drums. I was actually going through an identity crisis: am I a jazz musician or a classical player? Graduated from Lewis and Clark in 2012 with a BA in Music with honors, cum laude.

After graduation is when I started gigging. All the heavyweight jazz players from PSU are in AJAM (Alan Jones Academy of Music), so that’s how I met Nicole Glover and all the other jazz players in town. I probably grew equally as a person as I did as a musician studying with Alan. I learned a lot about myself and a lot of conceptual ways of playing music. My first group was The Wishermen, then Barra Brown Quintet. I’ve toured with the Shook Twins, Ages and Ages (indie rock), Old Wave (Adam Brock), Alameda, etc. I also have private students, work at School of Rock summer camps and Thara Memory’s after school program—[I] mostly work with kids.

Musical Influences: Radiohead, Shara Worden, Becca Stevens, Mark Guiliana, Brian Blade, Alan Jones, Dan Balmer, Randy Porter, Marcus Gilmore, Justin Brown and Ambrose Akinmusire.

Most Satisfying Experience: It’s about to happen. The album that just came out (Dreaming Awake) I’m super proud of. The way we recorded it and the sound quality is a lot higher than on [my] previous recordings. We were able to do some overdubs. The band had matured (when we recorded the first album we had never done a show); for this album we had been playing for a couple of years. We all got comfortable with my sound, what I was going for.

Barra Brown

What I’m doing now is I’m finishing up a RACC (Regional Arts and Culture Council) grant so I can produce a show titled “These Souls too Are Us.” It’s a multimedia song cycle, with 3-D map projections to go along with the 60 minutes of music. We’ll be telling the story of someone’s mental breakdown (a true story) and we’re wanting to partner with a mental health agency to do a panel discussion before the run of shows. It’s about how to de-stigmatize mental health issues and getting people the right information about that; part of it is advocacy. We’re doing it at Disjecta. I think that’s going to be the highlight for 2016 for me.

Favorite Recordings: Ambrose Akinmusire - “When the Heart Emerges Glistening” (Blue Note, 2011); Jeff Buckley - “Grace” (Columbia, 1994); Jonna Newsom - “Have One on Me” (Drag City, 2010); Kendrick Lamar - “good kid, m.A.A.d city” (Top Dawg/Interscope, 2012); Kendrick Lamar - “To Pimp a Butterfly” (Top Dawg/Interscope, 2015); The Smiths - “Hatful of Hollow” (Rough Trade, 1984); Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band - “Season of Changes” (Verve, 2008); My Brightest Diamond - “Dreaming Awake” from the “None More Than You EP” (Asthmatic Kitty, 2014); The Beatles - “Rubber Soul “ (Capitol, 1965); The Mars Volta - “Deloused in the Comatorium” (Universal, 2003).

Discography: PDX Pop Now! Compilation (2015); Barra Brown Quintet - “Dreaming Awake” PJCE Records (2015); Old Wave - “Old Wave” (2015); Barra Brown & The Wishermen -“Epoch” (Cavity Search Records, 2015); Alameda -“Live from the Banana Stand” (Banana Stand Media, 2014);

Barra Brown Quintet-“Songs for a Young Heart” PJCE Records (2013); Alameda-“Frozen Architecture” 7” False Migration/ Ash From Sweat (2013); The Wishermen - “Drawing Purple Orbits” (Self release, 2012); Alameda - “Live at Daytrotter Sessions” (2012); Julia Lucille - “Flowers and Bones” (self release, 2010); Radiation City - “Animals in the Median” (TLE Records, 2013.

Gigs: With Ages and Ages, 9/4-6 @ Four Corners Festival, Colorado; Barra Brown Trio, 9/10, Verite! Launch Party, Vibe of Portland, 7 to 10 pm; with Doug Dietrick’s Tale in the Telling, 9/ 11 @ House show; Old Wave, 9/ 27 @ Kelly’s Olympian.

If you look at venues that aren’t Jimmy Maks, there’s lots of stuff happening. There’s more cross-pollination that could be happening. People need to identify as a musician rather than as a singer/songwriter or as a jazz musician.

Future Plans: I really like touring. I play with the Shook Twins and Ages and Ages. Ideally, I’d be doing my thing. My goal is to play, write and tour. The more I keep my schedule open to do that, the more I can do that. For example, I didn’t know I was going on a month long national tour with Ages and Ages. They just called me, they needed a sub and now they offered me the gig permanently. Another future plan is to do commissions where people ask me to write for them.

Other: Another thing I’ve noticed is the insane amount of venues that have closed in the last 14 months. On the other end of that is the insane amount of people who are moving here because it’s such a “vibrant music and art scene.” When they move here they bring money, then the artists can’t afford to live here anymore. Or, the venues are closing because there’s noise complaints from the new apartment building across the street. Then you ask, “Why are the people here now?” That’s something I’m really concerned about.

Because I have my hands in so many different communities- -the indie rock scene, the jazz scene and the creative music scene, what I’ve noticed is the older jazz people don’t seem to go out to other people’s shows. They complain about no one coming to their shows, but then they don’t show up to your show.

-- by Rita Rega