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By Andy Argyrakis
Plugging in and rocking out with Brooke Barrettsmith
"One on One"
Aug. 1, 2008
In an age of female rocker clones who've either idolized Avril Lavigne or Kelly Clarkson, it's refreshing to find a singer/songwriter/guitarist who really plugs in with power while putting her own introspective pen to paper. Enter Brooke Barrettsmith, the Chicago-based string slinger whose grandmothers were Broadway and opera singers respectively, with a father who played the Windy City blues scene alongside the legendary likes of B.B. King and Buddy Guy. Add in an appearance on "American Idol," plus plugging away on the local scene, and the newcomer recently inked a record deal with Sony/BMG/Essential, the home of her new self-titled CD (which sounds like early Liz Phair fronting fellow "Idol" alum Daughtry). Here's more from a recent ConcertLivewire conversation with Barrettsmith from her hometown.
Livewire: What are your earliest memories of your father's time in the blues scene and who were some of the people he worked with?
Barrettsmith: My earliest memories of my Dad's music is hearing him always rehearsing in our basement. He was so dedicated to his art and I learned so much from himÉHe played with some of the blues greats like Buddy Guy and B.B. King and eventually formed a successful rhythm and blues band with some of their back-up players.
Livewire: How did your grandmothers' time in Broadway and opera give you additional inspiration to dive into music full time?
Barrettsmith: Because of them, I have grown up deeply loving Broadway music and classical music. I even studied classical voice in college. In some ways, that type of music is music at its best. You have to be so disciplined and passionate to sing it. Learning about these music genres makes me feel closer to my heritage and truly admire and respect both my grandmothers' huge talents.
Livewire: How did being from Chicago help expand your musical foundations in general?
Barrettsmith: Chicago is home to the best music and musicians in the world! I am challenged to never settle for mediocrity, and to be the best musician I can possibly be.
Livewire: What were some of your most exciting shows on the local scene prior to getting signed? Any big opening act opportunities?
Barrettsmith: I've had the opportunity to open for so many great musicians in sweet home Chicago [including] legends like The Guess Who and Mitch Ryder [and The Detroit Wheels].
Livewire: How did trying out for "American Idol" help raise your profile locally and nationally?
Barrettsmith: It definitely made my name searchable on Google- ha, ha! But seriously, I am very thankful for the amazing exposure "A.I." gave me...Chicago was so excited for me and supportive. I did countless interviews and appearances around the whole Chicagoland area because of that experience.
Livewire: What led to your record label deal with Sony/BMG/Essential?
Barrettsmith: "American Idol" helped give me the courage to finally pursue my dream of a career in music. I had a new approach to doing music professionally after "A.I.," and so ultimately, it all worked together to help things finally fall into place securely with an amazing record label.
Livewire: Who are some of your musical influences on your self-titled CD?
Barrettsmith: My Dad is my primary musical influence. Some other influences are U2, Daughtry, Jimmy Eat World, Nirvana and Tracy Bonham.
Livewire: What are some of the songwriting subjects you deal with on the disc and why was it so important to write your own material?
Barrettsmith: It's important for me to write my material because I want to relate to my audience on a personal level- maybe some of my experiences or failures will encourage them or give them hope during a hard time. I want listeners to know they are not alone.
Livewire: What are you looking forward to most about hitting the road?
Barrettsmith: Being able to meet the fans and supporters who make this career possible. To be able to personally thank and shake the hands of the people who believed in me enough to go buy my album. That's amazing to me!
Livewire: Any final thoughts on the Windy City artistically or otherwise?
Barrettsmith: Chicago is home and always will be! It's the best place for any artist to find inspiration because it's literally around every corner. And I'm hoping the Cubbies bring it home in '08!