Brigitte DeMeyer’s Seeker lounges with Southern charm and tingles with cool West Coast vibes showcasing a dedication to family, musical or otherwise, wherever it may reside. Having lived and worked out of Nashville for over a decade, DeMeyer found herself necessarily returning to San Francisco where she’d previously honed her singular vocal style. The move was followed by a series of personal tragedies– family loss, a bout with pneumonia, a horse-riding accident, not to mention a coming pandemic– that combined with a sense of displacement and anxiety at leaving her Music City tribe. The songs on Seeker reflect the emotion of those experiences but also the realization that change can usher in prosperity and that a misstep or two can eventually lead to stronger strides. With the help of Jano Rix of the Wood Brothers (as well as the actual Wood Brothers, Oliver & Chris) in the producer’s chair and featuring a stellar lineup of friends and musicians, Brigitte DeMeyer seeks and finds that her roots can be wherever she chooses to grow.
AI- You put this [album] together, one session at a time, meetin’ up with your friends to record when you could. Especially right now, where we’re at as a planet, I find that very comforting– being able to get together, pickin’ up where you left off each occasion, pluggin’ into that moment. I’ve been separated from the majority of my friends and most of my family for over a year. So I miss and completely understand that connection and how we can take it for granted. Tell me about that process of getting everybody together at different points in time. Because this was all before COVID right?
BD- Yes, it was. I was livin’ in Nashville for a really long time. I’m originally from California, and my whole family’s out here. I had a situation arise where I had to move back home rather suddenly. I was so embedded in my music community, it felt like family to me, and so that spurred a lot of the songs on this record (laughs)! Anxiety of missing your people spurred a lot of the songwriting part! I got together with my friend, Jano Rix from the Wood Brothers, and I said, “Hey, are you interested in workin’ together,” and long story short before COVID shut everything down, I just flew back and forth. We did stuff over the phone, recording and sending back and forth. I would write lyrics and music or I would write lyrics and he would send me back music. It was just this labor of love! I’d show up to Nashville like every other month, and we would just record two songs here, three songs there– and pretty soon we had an album! It was all done by February of 2020, and then everything went into lockdown! So at least I had it in the can (laughs)!
Another amazing thing, so many of the songs on Seeker sprang from very strong moments in your personal life. You talked about leaving Nashville. I believe there was a horseback riding accident involved, and you had some personal losses. To go through all that, write these songs, and then for the world to just shut down? It had to be extremely frustrating!
I’m not the only person that’s felt the frustration of this global pandemic, but yes, you’ve done your homework. All that did happen. I’m an avid horse enthusiast and I had a… Well, first of all, movin’ and just missin’ my people was very hard. And then tryin’ to find where I belong here in San Francisco. It’s a great city. It’s not the South, you know? It’s not the South! And so it’s different, very different. And then I had an equestrian accident where I was laid up for a few months. That was very hard being grounded (laughs)! And then right when I was bouncin’ back, the world shut down! That’s tragic on multiple levels, not just my own. Being removed from everything normal, right? Just to stay safe is such a weird experience, isn’t it?
Isn’t it (laughs)!
Isn’t it, though? Understatement of the year, I’m sure!
And we’re still navigating! We’re still tryin’ to figure out how to deal with it. And then in your case, when it comes to the music business part of it and how to move forward… It’s been my goal to in some way chronicle this pandemic from an artist standpoint through the interviews that I do and the music that we play because it seems like it’s such a transitional series of moments for artists. After this is over, because eventually I have faith that it will be over, but I can’t see us returning to doing business the same way that we did. So I’m always curious how artists are preparing for this next moment in their careers.
What I find is that technology has been a huge friend to artists trying to perpetuate their craft, right? I’ve had to, from a long-distance perspective, record, send files. We made this video called “Louisiana”. The band recorded it in Nashville, I recorded my part here in San Francisco, and we edited it all together, like one video. And it looks like we’re all in the same place! It’s amazing how it all worked out! But on some levels, I think musicians that are touring and like to perform and connect with their audience want to get back out on the road. So there’s gonna be limited capacity venues, there’s gonna be outdoor venues, and little by little people are makin’ it work. People are playing in drive-ins, wherever they can. And technology has been helpful, not just to musicians, but I look here in San Francisco, it’s a major city and downtown in a thriving metropolis, all the big high rises are for lease! People are movin’ out and workin’ from home!
In a way it’s weird, but in a way, I’m tryin’ to find pearls, you know? Lemons, lemonade, or whatever! There’s less commuting. There’s less traffic. I guess I’m goin’ off on a tangent, but I think musicians just want to get back on the road and do what they do and play for people. But in the meantime, they’re makin’ it work with technology and livestreaming and radio and videos and doin’ everything through technology like TV and all the other main sources of media. Don’t you think?
You talk about being back in San Francisco and how it’s not the South, however, I got to say that the songs on Seeker, a lot of them being piano and that great upright bass-driven, in a way, it’s exactly the kind of album that I would have expected to come from a songwriter based out of San Francisco. Though it does have that Southern flare too, there is a very jazzy feel to it that I do associate with San Francisco music.
Well, that’s a huge compliment ’cause that’s what I was goin’ for (laughs)! I’m just tryin’ to stretch my wings a little bit. I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz since I’ve been out here. I’m tryin’ to develop my own personal tastes further. There’s this place called the San Francisco Jazz Center out here. Before COVID hit and it shut down, we would go out there and just listen to these cool trios and quatros. And I even saw Dr. John out there!
Right place, right time!
And it’s such a different vibe! I just tried to change it up a little bit. Jano Rix, who produced and co-wrote this whole thing, he’s just incredibly adept at bringing forth what I wanted to from the bare roots of these songs. Brilliant guy!
Working with Jano, I know you were already an admirer but was this the first collaboration in the studio with him on Seeker?
At this level? Yes, but he’s played percussion parts and keyboard parts on two albums prior along with Oliver Wood and Chris Wood. When you live in Nashville, those are really good friends. It felt like family so I feel that brought that energy to the music as well. But yes, it was my first full-length collaboration with Jano.
I saw that for this album, he also included the shuitar for the sessions. Is there like an unveiling whenever that instrument appears?
He is the guru of that instrument. And for people who may not know what that is, Jano Rix is not only a prolific keyboardist, but he’s also a great drummer, and he created this percussion instrument out of a guitar where he has hung all these things that make percussive sounds on it, like jangles from a tambourine. I can’t even describe it. You just have to look it up!
Oh, I’ve seen it!
He is just fierce! He has a blast when he plays that thing! You pay attention, sit up when that thing is played in his hands, you know? There’s a definite reverence to that instrument that I just have.
I am sitting here in Macon, Georgia, and if there wasn’t a building in the way I could see Capricorn Studios. I could walk out the back door, hit the street, make a left, and then a right, and walked directly to Duane, Gregg, and Berry’s resting places. You made your album Savannah Road, inspired by Gregg Allman and his autobiography. Vocally, I hear his influence on Seeker, particularly on “Louisiana” and the way that you work off the piano when you sing. Tell me about that influence.
I was livin’ in Nashville and he was doin’ a book signing at the BMI building downtown on Music Row. I went to it and I bought the book and took it to him. It was a super long line, it was a long day, and I met him briefly and they said, “Just open to the cover page and don’t ask him any questions. Don’t say anything to him, just open it up and he’ll sign it and move on.” It was really strict guidelines (laughs)! That’s Gregg Allman! He’s signin’ my book! I mean, of course, I’m gonna say somethin’! I said, “Could you make it out to me please? And he goes, “Well, what’s your name?” I said, “Brigitte,” and he goes, “That’s a pretty name.”
We started talking and then, you know, I’m holding up the line. And I said, “Well, I’ve had it for a long time.” And he goes, “Couldn’t have been too long.” He’s flirting with me! Did anyone see that? He’s flirting with me! And then I opened the book… Such a great book, My Cross To Bear! It’s such a great book and sad and deep and true, and I could put it down! I was obsessed with that book. I took it on the road with me. I took it everywhere! And I couldn’t get him off my mind! I started looking at all his old videos and I was sort of obsessed. Little by little, I started envisioning Savannah, Georgia, where I’ve never been, I’ve been to Atlanta and Decatur, played at Eddie’s Attic a bunch of times, but I’ve never been to that part of Georgia.
There’s a warmth that was coming from there, and there was just this essence about him in the book that I was haunted by. Long story short, I started thinking about Savannah and I started looking at pictures of it, old South mystical, just the things that drew me to the South in the first place. And the next thing you know, he’s goin’ on tour! My agent sent his agent or whoever did the tour booking the record, and they said, “Would she like to come open for Gregg?” So I flew out to San Diego where I actually grew up and he was playing at this big venue on the water called Humphreys. He stood in the wing and listened to my whole set and told me afterward I had a beautiful voice and I was just, “Uhhhh… Well, thank you, Gregg Allman!”
I gave him a copy of the record and he was so kind and a little shy and it was like this full-circle moment. I just couldn’t believe it! I just couldn’t believe it. So that’s it, in a nutshell. He inspired [Savannah Road] and it came all the way back around. I got lucky and got to do this gig with him and have a conversation with him and actually have him stand there and listen to me when he didn’t have to do that. You know, most people are in the green room or the hotel room until five seconds before they go on stage. And there he was– just listening. It was just so beautiful. Just a very rewarding experience. I was very happy.
I read an interview you did a few years ago, and you were talking about co-writing and collaboration and learning to be comfortable making mistakes during that process. How are you feeling about that now? Movin’ down the road as a songwriter, the way that you had to put this album together, how does that process look to you now?
I love that question! Feeling insecure or protective of what’s in your heart that you want to write about, you’re always afraid of judgment or someone thinkin’ you’re weird or whatever. And over the years, I find that in working with a lot of different people, everybody makes mistakes in the studio or wants to make it better. Or not necessarily a mistake, but they play a part, and it’s, “I wanna fix that. Let me go in and fix that. Let me just…” And I don’t ever care when I hear people tryin’ to perfect themselves, right? So why would I be any different? Through trial and error and a lot of different collaborations, I’ve found my own level of confidence. I feel like any young, aspiring songwriter, just do what you do and be true to yourself. Don’t try to sound like anybody else and the right people will magnetize to you and vice versa. I hope that made sense.
It does. And it leads me to my next question. According to the title track, your “seeking days have just begun.” So what has come out of your pandemic experience this last year? What are you ready to start seeking now?
Well, I mean, “seeking days have just begun” is like a whole new way of working. I had a partner, Will Kimbrough, for many, many years. He’s a great musician. And working with Jano Rix is a whole different experience, right? You get used to working with somebody and touring for many, many years, and then when you branch out and go in a different direction, it’s refreshing. It makes you feel like things have just begun, right? So just looking for inspiration is always something I’m seeking. And the constant quest for balance and peace, you know? And a connection to whatever comes to you that makes you create the music. I hope that doesn’t sound too hocus pocus or San Francisco!