Brenda Carsey presents the value of Cognizance

Brenda Carsey presents the value of Cognizance

Wednesday, 11 January 2023

I have followed Brenda Carsey over the past ten years, first as a solo artist with an acoustic guitar to keyboardist with alt-rock band Feral Kizzy, to leading her own band Brenda Carsey and the Awe and beyond. I have consistently been impressed by both her talent and her dedication. She keeps pushing the boundaries of her music, but always has fun doing it. Her music is hard to pin down; bringing together soul, pop, folk, jazz, and much more, blending them into her unique voice.

Carsey’s new album, Cognizance, was released January 9. The music for this album was written over a period from 2017 to 2019. At the end of 2019, Carsey ran a successful Indiegogo campaign with plans of going into the studio in the spring of 2020. This plan was curtailed by the CoVid-19 shutdown. After over a year of eager waiting, Carsey began tracking Cognizance at the end of April 2021.

Carsey describes Cognizance as, “An album of awareness, experience and growth…. I wanted to push myself sonically beyond anything I have ever created and reach into the depths of my soul to bring to life art with a message through music that keeps the mind guessing and the heart happy!”

Cognizance is a powerful and varied album. It opens with “Just Trying to Do My Thing,” which sends an agenda for the album: staying true to herself while speaking her mind. Which she does throughout, giving us her feelings on subjects such as love and loss, the search for a safe place (“Home”), feminine energy (“Unfortunate Men”), street violence (“Bang Bang”), self-integrity (“I’m Sorry”), and much more. The music ranges from the rolling rock of “Bang Bang” to the dramatic sweep of “Unfortunate Men” and “Rebel Walls,” the heartfelt simplicity of “I’m Sorry,” the delicate acoustic feel of “Goat and Bull,” the tender, loving “Man of Mine,” and the playful conclusion “Life Can Be a Bitch.” Throughout her voice is powerful and emotive, giving full expression to the range of feelings in the songs.

The album was produced, composed, and co-mixed by Carsey in collaboration with Grammy award winning engineer Mark Rains of Station House Studio in Los Angeles, CA. The album features an all-star lineup of musicians including Kyle Crane (drums), Nick Campbell (bass), Michael Day (guitar), Rebecca Schlappich Charles (violin), Jean-Paul Barjon (cello), Jonah Levine (trombone), Leider Chapotin (trumpet), and David Otis (alto saxophone).

Cognizance is Carsey’s second full-length studio album and crowns a discography of adventurous self-recorded/produced releases including Box Cutter (2020), Sirens (2020), Satya (2014), Lazy Daze (2012), and Side Show (2011).

I recently asked Carsey some questions about the album and her musical history.

Ground Control: You’ve been recording music for at least ten years. I see seven albums on Bandcamp, plus several singles. There is also your work with Feral Kizzy. Am I missing anything? How long were you playing before that?

Carsey: I have been playing music my entire life including singing and touring in choirs, playing clarinet in orchestras and marching bands, singing in cabaret stage shows, emceeing weekly music variety shows, and singing and playing keys, guitar, and hand percussion in a myriad of groups/bands including my own ever-changing project, Feral Kizzy, and many other bands that I sit in with. My very first EP I recorded and released was in 2006 followed by a full-length album in 2010. Neither of those exist online anymore. My online discography begins in 2011 and includes 7 albums. With my old band Feral Kizzy we were lucky to record and release an EP and an LP, both pressed to vinyl.

I have been featured as an instrumentalist and vocalist on many projects in partnership with Netflix (Easy Bake Battle, Babysitter’s Club, Better Call Saul, Tiger King The Musical), The Voice (TV Show), Joy Ride (award-winning short film) and Rapture (Versa Media show), as well as on albums by Whitney Tai, Cesar Saez, Phoebe Silva, Kid Lightning, Clark Chimp, and Feral Kizzy.

Ground Control: Over those albums, you have played in a variety of styles – from folk to soul to hip hop and beyond. How have your musical interests changed over time? How about your goals with your music?

Carsey: I’ve always been a curious and open minded person when it comes to art and music. I love to experiment, I love playing with other people, and I love changing. I was also a very late bloomer in regards to having any sort of taste or scene or opinion honestly so much of my curiosity and genre/aesthetic change is a representation of the grand journey of me trying to find, discover, and constantly rediscover myself as a person. My goals are to keep playing primarily organic music meaning music made by and with people coming together with instruments they directly effect and make sound from. That’s my favorite. That being said, I am open to any and all opportunities that find me in any genre and am open to collaborations.

Ground Control: In some ways, Cognizance seems like a follow-up to Solitary Refinement (your first full length album). But Solitary Refinement seems more inward directed (like you are singing to yourself), while Cognizance is more outward directed, out to the rest of the world. Would you agree? What are your feelings about the differences and similarities between the two albums?

Carsey: You are absolutely correct. Solitary Refinement was written during a time of great personal change, challenges and confusion. It was written very much from a firsthand perspective. Cognizance was written during extreme change but from the witnesses perspective. While there are a few songs on the album written about specific things I have experienced and witnessed first hand, the way I wrote the songs was in reflection of how those experiences, feelings, societal constructs, etc. affect all of us. It’s a larger picture. A macro perspective one could say.

Ground Control: You write a lot about personal issues and struggles. Without going into details about any individual songs (unless you want to), how has music affected your personal life? And vice versa?

Carsey: Simply put, music is my life. It’s something I choose to do every morning that I’m lucky enough to wake up. It persists because of my choice to recommit everyday to the path I am on and I do my best to stay as open as I can to the ever unfolding nature of total unknownness that is being an artist and musician in a society and a profession filled with gatekeepers whose sole purpose is to limit access. In regards to the subject matter of my writing, I write what I experience, what I feel, what I observe and witness in the world around me. It’s all there.

Ground Control: I notice a recurring theme of body paint in your album artwork and videos (especially the video “I’m Sorry” off of Cognizance). Care to comment?

Carsey: I had a paint splattered face for my 2014 album cover Satya and in my 2022 music video for my single “I’m Sorry”. I have not used body paint in any other creations between those two. One could argue I had some minimal body paint in my “Don’t Sell Yourself” music video from 2017 but it’s very minimal and primarily consists of powdered makeup. If I had to reach for or force a meaning it would be simply that paint is one way I can participate more with my art. Also, the way in which I use paint is based on letting go and total imperfection. However things turn out or look is what we commit to because I only ever want to do one take, one pour, one flick, etc. It’s a great exercise for the unfolding present moment, a great exercise for detachment for how things will turn out, a great exercise for not caring about how I look, and a great way to connect with my sonic art in a visual way.

Ground Control: In between the two albums, you released Box Cutter, which is quite unlike either album, both musically and lyrically. Can you tell us a bit about how that came about?

Carsey: In between Solitary Refinement and Cognizance I released two albums: Sirens and Box Cutter. Both were released in 2020 and both are very different from one another.

Sirens is an all-acoustic album of processing past pain and past relationships. It was an album I didn’t know if I’d ever make or release but both ended up happening and I’m very happy it did. It’s a very different, soft, feminine side of me. Sirens is a sonic and visual journey navigating the balance between softness and power, painted with melodic sweetness, passion, and longing. A sphere of mist and echoes, of growth and healing, of a past brought to the present, of the warrior goddess that is woman, both soft and nurturing, strong and ferocious. The songs are subjects of memories past from which I have long since moved on, brought back to life through new musical capturing to share a story many in my life have told me they have experienced as well. Music I felt that needed to be recorded and brought to new life for release and connection with others. We are all connected in so many different ways… Smokey vocals wrapped in a blanket of haunting harmonies, lush strings, rhythmic guitar, and floating keys.

Box Cutter is a multi-genre electronic album that began not as a planned album but as a means of me attempting to process my anger, frustration, and pain from all that was happening in 2020. For two months – from March to May 2020 – I fell into depression that fully physical and mental combination which drags you down into total darkness. A feeling of worthlessness and loneliness was unshakable. A feeling that my dreams and visions for the next couple of years may be forever stomped out. A feeling that my greatest joy is long-paused with no end in sight. I had lost all of my work and all forms of income. I watched an immoral, selfish, compassionless narcissist continue to bring my country to ruin. I watched thousands of people die at the hand of a disease that should have been dealt with quicker and better. I watched friends being attacked, shot, and arrested while peacefully protesting against deeply unjust, unhealthy, racist systems. After two months of depression, a voice inside reminded me to play, to create, to be weird and expressive during this time. With studios being closed and not owning any professional engineering equipment of my own to be able to properly capture organic instruments, I jumped back into the saddle of producing electronic music for the first time in six years. I created to release feelings of sadness, anger, and frustration. I created to reconnect with joy and play. I created to give myself purpose and something to put energy into each day.

This album poured out of me. I sat down once a day for two weeks and created one two minute beat per day. At the end of it all I decided to release it to the public. The title, Box Cutter, was suggested to me by my man as I expressed to him my desire to be free from the confines of genres, boxes, brand, image, and the idea of ‘likes’ and money determining what success is. Box Cutter was born from a need to reconnect with creation and to acknowledge the diverse taste and love of sound that swims within my mind and spirit. For me, it’s about creation. It’s about the music. It’s about connection. It’s about the constantly changing self. It’s organic. It’s real. It’s freedom. It’s love.

After some time I realized how important it was for me to share this music with everyone during this dark period of time in history. This is for anyone who hears it. This is for all of us. Feel your feelings and dance! [G. Murray Thomas]


Cognizance is available on all the usual music services. Buy it here on Bandcamp.

Comments are closed.