The Brummies Highlight Reconnection in an Automatic World

Photo Credit: Natalie Osborne

Jacob Bryant, Trevor Davis and John Davidson owe a debt of gratitude to their high school history teacher, Mr. Johnson. Growing up as childhood friends in the small town of Pinson, Alabama (just outside of Birmingham), they often ditched history class to play music in the band room, fibbing to Mr. Johnson that they had “photography class.” When Johnson found out about their ploy, he took the three students aside at the end of the school year and was ultimately gracious, not taking any disciplinary action outside of scolding them for lying. Perhaps, if Mr. Johnson had been more punitive, the trio might never have formed The Brummies. “We gave him enough hell that we probably should give him a big old thank you,” Davidson shares in a phone interview with Audiofemme. “At the time, it felt like we were doing something cool – we just fed off each other’s energy. It just naturally happened.”

In November, with the release of their sophomore LP Automatic World, The Brummies showed how far they’ve come since those days skipping class – or even the ensuing years they spent playing in Davidson’s parent’s garage using his father’s hand-me-down equipment, becoming so invested in the music that they skipped prom for band practice. “We loved music and loved playing it, and wanted to keep doing it and get better at it, and try our hand at writing original songs and found out that we had a natural ability to be able to do that,” Davidson recalls.

Their passion and hard work translated into gigs at 21+ clubs in Birmingham when they were still underage. Yet it was these gigs that instilled them with the buzz for live performances. “That was our way in,” Davidson recalls. “As soon as you play in front of somebody for the first time, we were hooked. It’s just that initial feeling, that adrenaline rush that you get that makes you want to do it some more.”

In spite of their talent and live show appeal, Davidson admits they didn’t envision themselves playing music professionally until a songwriter cousin in Nashville set them up with a meeting at the publishing company where he worked, Major Bob Music. “I don’t think we ever knew we could do it professionally,” Davidson says of music. “It just morphed basically out of wanting to do it.”

Walking “blindly” into the meeting, the group decided that if they didn’t get a deal, they’d return to Birmingham and continue to be the band they were at the time, which admittedly didn’t have “big aspirations.” But as fate would have it, all they needed was two acoustic guitars, Bryant on trumpet and a batch of original songs to be offered a publishing deal on the spot, making Music City their permanent residence five months later. “It’s evolved into what it is today, which is somehow a career,” Davidson reflects. 

Thus began the journey of truly honing their sound, pulling influences from The Beatles to Bill Withers to indie gems including Mac DeMarco and dream pop duo Beach House. But the haunting sounds of Bryant and Davidson’s harmonies began to take shape long before their days under Music City lights. Born into a porch-picking bluegrass music family, Bryant continues to lean into the bluegrass harmonies he was raised on. Meanwhile, Davidson received his own voice lessons through the Church of Christ that was strictly vocal a cappella, Davidson maintaining heightened awareness for ear-catching counter melodies. Eventually, the two would blend their distinct vocal styles to create the ethereal harmonies The Brummies are known for. “We just love singing together, and some kind of natural desire that I think we both have to sing harmonies and to figure out what kind of cool counter melodies or harmonies you can put on a main melody and make it a little bit more special. Or if it doesn’t belong, there’s also beauty in the silence too,” Davidson explains. 

The Brummies introduced their eclectic sound to the world with their 2018 debut album Eternal Reach, which includes the dreamy duet with multi-Grammy winner and former tour mate, Kacey Musgraves. The project also taught them about the intricacies of producing, tying in their love of sonics while catering to what the song requires.

These lessons led into their latest album, Automatic World. The title acknowledges how we operate in a fast-paced world with constant access to resources at the touch of a button, the beauty of simplicity and human connection fading in the process. “Everything’s so quick and responsive now and it’s all tech driven… that I think working hard for something is becoming a lost art,” Davidson explains. “[The title says,] slow down and value the human relationships that we have and taking the time that we have here together.”

The album’s cover is a visual representation of this concept, as Bryant sits poised at a restaurant table draped in a yellow cloth, the camera focusing on his hands, holding a triangular folded napkin. “It represents us waiting at a table and having something served to us, so it goes along with the thought of Automatic World,” Davison notes. The project boasts several themes, but one of prominence is the concept of déjà vu that manifests as a lyrical thread across 13 songs, from the falsetto-sung “I’ve got the feeling that I’ve been here before” on opening number “Cherry Blossom,” a theme that’s echoed in the cinematic-meets-psychedelic “Been Here Before,” which comes after questioning “is déjà vu only a familiar feeling?” on the trippy “Fever Dream.”

Davidson says the exploration of déjà vu arose subconsciously after the group had an “experience” in Joshua Tree that led them “somewhere out in the universe.”

“It’s an interesting concept and there’s a lot of different theories, and you can believe whatever you want to believe and make your own assumptions or interpretations of what that is,” Davidson says. “We’ve had our experiences in different places and it’s fun to question things, but also ponder on what all is out there: have we been here before and will we be here again? It’s going to look at things from 10,000 feet every now and then.”

Automatic World was a direct result of that Joshua Tree trip, sparking the creativity that inspired the music. “It’s one of those coming-of-age stories where we’re all there together and we all learned something from it and took something from that experience together and we’ll never forget it. One of the most memorable and joyous experiences that I think we’ve all had – we were able to have that together,” Davidson professes. “Really, at the core of it was love. You prioritize and see things for what they are, and the overarching theme for me, and I think for everybody, was love.”

That love pours through in songs like “Sunshine,” which radiates positivity. Album closer “Island” harbors a transcendental vibe that Davidson says brings him to a “different place,” while “Call Me” ties back into the meaning of Automatic World through human connection and the desire to slow down. “I feel like the beauty of an album is that you gotta listen to the whole thing to take it all in,” Davidson observes. “Otherwise, you’re missing out on something.”

Follow The Brummies on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for ongoing updates.

BAND OF THE MONTH: High Up Premieres “Alabama to the Basement”

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Photo by Andy Lachance

Ever been to a karaoke night and heard a voice rise up that actually sounded… really good? Christine Fink has one of those voices. She’d relegated her talents to karaoke nights in crowded Alabama bars – that is, until her sister Orenda, well-known for her work with Saddle Creek mainstay Azure Ray, dragged her into a bigger spotlight.

Christine moved to Omaha to form High Up with her sister, brother-in-law Todd Fink (also of The Faint), Josh Soto, and Matt Focht. This month, they released a self-titled four-song EP that blends classic Southern rock and soul, with a little punk vibe thrown in for good measure. Thematically, its songs capture longing and love in the tradition of Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin, but also critique the Capitalist machine with sassy bangers like “Two Weeks” and “Your System Failed You.”

Whether belting out a protest anthem or crooning an ode to a crush, High Up is a band that feels good to listen to, like slipping on a favorite jacket you haven’t worn in a while. Their debut album You Are Here, slated for release next month via Team Love, continues along the same lines, mixing up bluesy, heartfelt ballads and raucous shout-along refrains, like on album opener “Alabama to the Basement,” which we’re premiering below.

The song is a celebration of letting go and rocking out, with clear autobiograpical vibes regarding the band’s origin story. As a kid in middle school, there were certain songs I would set my radio to wake me up to; this song has that same rush, that energy you need to fight through another day, or push through a shitty situation on your way to something better. It’s the perfect introduction to an album that that tonally runs the gambit from high energy cheer to soulful sorrow.

We sat down with Christine to talk about loving your parents music, what it’s like writing with her sister, and when we can see High Up out on the road.

AF: You’re originally from Birmingham, Alabama correct? What did you grow up listening to as a kid?

CF: Yes, born in Birmingham, but spent varying years of my life in other towns – Ashville, Oneonta, and Muscle Shoals. My parents exposed me early on to stuff like Pink Floyd, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Hank Williams, Graham Parsons and the like. I was really into oldies as a kid – Frankie Valli, Beach Boys, etc. My first real exposure to soul I think was when I saw Smokey Robinson on Sesame Street in the late ’80s. I was never really the same after that. As I grew older, I developed a taste for punk and indie as well, and all those styles kinda melded to form my tastes as an adult.

AF: I always find it funny when people initially reject their parents music, only to come back to it later on with more perspective. Music can be so interesting when styles collide.

CF: Absolutely. I don’t remember really ever having disdain for what my parents listened to. They have great taste! Of course, they might remember differently!

AF: The story goes that your sister and band member, Orenda Fink, saw you perform karaoke in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. She was blown away and immediately thought you should start a band together. Was this a scary proposition?

CF: I jumped at the idea. It was really a big reason for me moving to Omaha to begin with – giving up the corporate grind and pursuing more creative endeavors. I’ve always had such great reverence for Orenda and her work, and wanted a chance to work with her creatively. The scariest part is probably the financial instability of playing music more or less full time. And rejection of course. But those fears come with the territory and the rewards outweigh the risks in my eyes.

AF: What were your go-to Karaoke songs?

CF: I love trying out all genres, so I pepper in a little bit of everything. My go-tos are usually midnight train to Georgia – Gladys knight and the pips, whole lotta love- Led Zeppelin, sometimes I’ll throw in some Radiohead or Dolly Parton for kicks.

AF: Can you tell us a bit about the songwriting process for High Up? Is there a lot of back and forth between you and Orenda? Or does she take lead when it comes to composition?

CF: Orenda does the bulk of the songwriting, but I co-write and we have a few other co-writers. The whole band collaborates on the tunes to varying degrees. It’s very open and collaborative.

AF: I love the video for “Two Weeks.” It really nails the playfulness and soul of the band. What was the production process like?

CF: Thanks! We recorded the video over the course of two days I believe? Harrison Martin directed and filmed and we had so many friends help. It was a blast and very low stress. It’s important to have a good time and we wanted to reflect the good vibes of the group who gathered to help us. It was a relatively quick and easy process because of the professionalism and talent of everyone involved. The scariest part was probably me having to stand on the table without busting my ass!

AF: “Blue Moon” really hit me in the gut. Can you give me a little background on its genesis?

CF: It hits me too to be honest. I’ve struggled with mental illness most of my life, and the song is really a way to express an almost constant sinking feeling, of feeling like I’ve exasperated those I care most about. There’s a little glimmer of hope in there: “I can’t take it much longer… Or so I say.” Because I can, I hope we all can, and can learn compassion, patience and love for those in our lives who are struggling.

AF: It’s wonderful that you felt comfortable sharing that kind of emotion. I myself struggle with anxiety and depression. It can be comforting to hear someone else’s journey. Were the lyrics difficult for you to share with the band? Or was it more of an unburdening?

CF: I feel like not sharing that emotion would be disingenuous. It’s who I am and I’ve gotten such comfort from other musicians who have been brave enough to open themselves up. Orenda and Morgan Nagler of Whispertown actually wrote that song for me, culled from many tearful admissions on my part. They took what I was experiencing and their reactions to it and wrote the song. It was heartbreaking to read for the first time, but also very cathartic. I’m so very grateful for their talent and ability to fine tune my messy emotions.

AF: Many of the songs on the album take their subject matter loosely from the Bible, such as “Glorious Giving In.” How does spirituality (or your reaction to it) play into High Up’s themes and material?

CF: I can’t speak for other members of the band, but I don’t have any kind of religious belief system. I love religious iconography and many of the allegories associated with religion, but I don’t subscribe to the actual belief system. We use spirituality and references of such because they do speak to the human condition a lot, and I appreciate that. I’m more of a nihilist, with a heavy dose of the Golden Rule.

AF: Can we expect to see High Up on tour soon?

CF: Yes!! We have a nationwide tour in the works for the month of March in support of our first full length, You Are Here, which comes out February 23rd on Team Love

AF: What do you hope the audience takes away from a High Up show?

CF: Lots of merch! Just kidding… My goal is to entertain and connect. I want people to have fun, get mad with me, get sad with me, laugh and cry with me. We’re all pretty fucked up, right? And so many times we feel like we’re the only ones, but we’re not. It’s important to reach out to others and say hey, you’re not alone, we can get through this together. If you can dance and sing along through the anger and tears, so much the better.

Preorder High Up’s debut album You Are Here via Bandcamp, and be sure to check them out on tour this Spring.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]