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On love and marriage and God

If that sounds like too much for 25-year-old Brooke Waggoner, guess what? It ain’t.

January 26, 2010
By Justin McIntosh
Brooke Waggoner’s one of those artists you discover on a whim and wonder how you had never heard of her before.

As soon as her sophomore CD, “go easy little doves,” arrived on my desk and got popped into my computer, I fell in love. Gorgeous and sweeping orchestral arrangements written by Waggoner, featuring a violin, cello, oboe, clarinet, harp and more, fill up your ears and carry you away. Meanwhile, Waggoner, just 25-years-old, plays piano and the Hammond B3, as her voice delicately tells a tale of courtship and marriage and God. If all this sounds awfully precocious, don’t worry — it’s not. Under lesser hands, perhaps. But these songs and arrangements speak of a fresh talent you’ll be glad to have known.

Waggoner recently caught up with Graffiti to talk about her upcoming appearance on Mountain Stage, her new project and how writing songs for the piano and an orchestra differ.

Graffiti: Catch us up a little bit with what you’ve been up to lately.

Waggoner: I’m currently working on a live DVD, kind of putting together some packaging and art ideas at this point, finishing up the audio. It’s something that we filmed a couple of months ago, it was sort of in a controlled environment. It was at a friend’s house so it had a small crowd. We got a bunch of players to create my latest record, “go easy little doves.” It was really fun and I’m hoping to release that this spring.

So that’s currently what’s going on. I’m also getting ready for a couple of shows in February and touring all of April.

Graffiti: You have a concert coming up at Mountain Stage. Are you familiar with this event?

Waggoner: I am. I played it probably a year ago. It’s so cool. I can’t wait to do it again.

Graffiti: Who did you play with last time?

Waggoner: Let’s see ... Jerry Douglas was kind of the main guy that evening. It was a bunch of other bands I wasn’t familiar with actually, like a Celtic trio and bluegrass music. It was really, really fun.

Graffiti: One of the things that first struck me about your music was the orchestration. Talk to me about that part of your music, your background. I understand you have something like 17 years of formal training and a degree in orchestration from LSU.

Waggoner: The 17 years of the formal side of training is specifically piano — classical piano and theory. But the composition and orchestration, I had about four years of official training; I went to school in that to get a college degree in that.

I love it. It’s absolutely my favorite part of putting together a record. I love songwriting but at the same time trying to take it up to another level. This latest project was sort of a testament to that, of wanting to approach it a little differently than I had in the past.

A lot more of the material is based around orchestra as opposed to piano, songs, drums and then adding little orchestral embellishments. It was different in that it played a little meatier role in the project. So that was really, really exciting to do.

Graffiti: So when you’re starting to write a song for a project, like your latest album, do you start the process on the piano, with a melody, or do you approach it from a more orchestral setting?

Waggoner: If I know that it’s going to play sort of the lead role, I guess, I might tinker with the melodies on the piano but I really try to write for the orchestra as a whole and not just kind of map it out on the piano. It’s just a different way of thinking, of viewing all the instruments as one big instrument and then finding each person’s place in the puzzle.

So it is a little bit of a different process, but a piano is definitely my most useful tool.

Graffiti: Going forward, do you have any ideas as to whether new songs will incorporate a mix of those two approaches, or will you try something new?

Waggoner: I’m not really sure. I think it will be something new. I have a few ideas for the next project. I think I might go the pop route on the next project.

This one was just an exciting time to get some classical out of my system, but I don’t foresee every project  being like that. I really like the idea of making a bunch of different records and once I’ve gotten it all out, I’ll be done making records.

Graffiti: So how will this come across live at Mountain Stage? Will you have a backing band with you or will it just be you and the piano?

Waggoner: Yea, I’m going to bring a band. I’m going to bring a drummer to play a few songs from my older releases and then I’ll have a cello and violin player and a girl who does some harmonies and does some miscellaneous instrumentation.

So we’re going to kind of pull from each project. I might do one or two songs from each release.

Graffiti: I may be off a little bit, but from listening to your latest album and pouring through the liner notes and lyrics, it struck me that the album touches a little on domestic issues, and specifically marriage. In the liner notes, you even mention how this album was with you through your engagement and wedding. That’s not a subject a lot of artists explore through music, at least none as young as you. Was that a challenge, were you nervous writing about that?

Waggoner:  Yea, well, it was a really neat time for me. A lot of the material was written before I was even engaged. I guess a lot of is subconscious. I like the idea that a lot of it wasn’t particularly thought out, but as I was compiling everything I realized a theme was  here. I think it is very genuine to what was going on at the time. I believe in being as candid as possible without laying it all out there.

As I was packaging everything, I thought that I should really give a prologue to this. The whole thing was just documenting — from the time of writing the material to recording it to actually mixing and getting ready to release it — it just followed the entire process of what that looks like — dating and relating and engagement and marriage. So I thought it was a neat time to capitalize on that.

Graffiti: Your debut, “Heal for the Honey,” was named the number-one faith inspired album in 2008 by Patrol Magazine, a New York City magazine. And your recent LP has one song that talks about fasting and praying and waiting for the word of God as a way to cope with the world. Is it fair to say your music is faith-inspired?

Waggoner: Yea, that’s definitely fair to say because I do have very strong beliefs and my faith is very much a part of who I am. So I think naturally it’s going to come out in what I’m touching and working on.

I have no qualms in putting that to the side, but if it’s who you are it should come out in your work.



Contact Justin at jmcintosh@graffitiwv.com

Fact Box

At Mountain Stage:
• Feb. 7 —Culture Center in Charleston; appearing with Dashboard Confessional, Clare and the Reasons and the Watson Twins.

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