Anyone writing about Pieta Brown would be remiss to not mention that her father is the incredibly prolific and thoroughly respected singer/songwriter Greg Brown. But for the writing to stop there, would be negligent because the younger Brown has certainly made a name for herself with five albums and three EPs. On her latest studio set, ‘Paradise Outlaw,’ she churns through 14 tunes that are more than just well-crafted and well-produced; they are also interesting — captivating, even. For her Folk Alley Session, Pieta sets three of those gems in a spare, duo setting accompanied by guitarist Bo Ramsey. (Click HERE to watch videos from that session.) Her father’s shadow may be long and wide, but Pieta Brown shines just fine.
Kelly McCartney: You grew up in Iowa and Alabama, the daughter of a noted singer/songwriter. How would you say both nurture and nature have influenced your work?
Pieta Brown: Hopefully the songs and the music speak to that directly. I had a lot of time around people playing music together, as a kid. I also spent a whole lot of time alone as a kid and a teenager, too. I felt the music and heard the internal voices early on. The way that all converged — and continues to — has led me this far.
KM: Even though you’ve been around music and musicians your whole life, what’s it like to work with legends like John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Mavis Staples, and Mark Knofler? Does it ever not feel surreal?
PB: The music doesn’t feel surreal to me. And working with great musicians doesn’t feel surreal to me. It feels very real and charged. It’s fun and deeply inspiring, and always an honor to work with great musicians and great artists. The songs and music and writing have become my life’s work and the artists/legends you mentioned have all become masters in some way. They have all remained dedicated and driven and vibrant. That is an endless inspiration.
KM: What led you to self-produce the new album? And what differences do you think that made?
PB: The vision I had for ‘Paradise Outlaw’ was very strong and, though it shifted a bit here and there, it really was a clear vision and was easy to follow. The songs and the music were driving me and I just went with it. Because I felt so close to the songs and what I was hearing inside, it made taking the reins as the main producer easy. I didn’t have to think about it much. It just seemed natural. April Base (the studio) and the players I called on for the session all felt right. Besides just the obvious line of having some experience in the studio to lean on, the songs and vision gave me a lot of confidence which over-rode some of my natural shyness that has been a factor, at times, during other recordings. It was freeing. Hopefully that comes through in the music and the way the record sounds.
KM: As with a lot of projects over the years, ‘Paradise Outlaw’ found inspiration in the Beat Poets. What’s different about your take on that genre?
PB: I don’t feel like ‘Paradise Outlaw’ is a take on the Beat Poets or that genre. If anything, it’s just a “hats off” or “three cheers” for all the sparks those writers and that movement created… in poetry, music, and beyond. I feel like the Beats were part of a continuous collective, you know? Go back to William Blake and others and you can feel that fervent quest! So, I’m just chiming in with my own variations and explorations of all of that here and now.
KM: You’ve said that this record is about “artistic activism” rather than “political activism.” What’s the distinction there?
PB: The lines are blurry for sure, but I think the “artistic activism” thing came out of someone’s questions to me about some of the songs on ‘Paradise Outlaw.’ The interviewer described feeling/hearing political undercurrents in some of the messages of the songs. Now, I don’t really understand politics, but “political activism” seems to me to be acted out in the political realm… through demonstrations, laws, meetings. It seems direct and specific and action-oriented. “Artistic activism” seems to me to be about calling names, about calling things into view, about making sure all the questions keep getting asked. I reckon maybe all art and music is artistic activism in one way or another.
For more from Pieta, see Folk Alley’s in-studio video session and hear the interview – HERE