Cool Woman: Bri Bryant
Brianne Bryant is an amplifier. She exudes volume—not in an exaggerated way, but through her magnitude and presence. She’s the kind of person that when you’re in a room with her—in our case, sitting on the floor of her magazine-like living room with cathedral ceilings, with our feet by the fire—you just want to absorb her light.
I admire how serious and philosophical she gets talking about her ideas of life and work and motherhood, and how animated she gets when she talks about her love of music and fashion (she studied fashion design!). She makes you feel like you have something special to offer, because she herself offers so much uniqueness to the world. Hilary and I left our interview feeling inspired and energized.
Bri is a vocalist for her own project, Lady Bri, as well as the band Welshly Arms, which is gaining traction internationally at festivals, on television (“I twerked on Jimmy Kimmel!”), and in commercial music. She sings and collaborates with her husband Jon Bryant, not only for Welshly Arms but also for their project together, JABtune. She’s the “Martha Stewart mommy” of two preteen boys. That’s where Bri and I have some things in common: we are both in musical projects with our husbands, we both are mothers, and coincidentally, we both contributed vocals for the same song our mutual friend Steph wrote, unfortunately never crossing paths in the studio. Coming from my perspective as a musician “on the side,” I wanted to hear more about Bri’s world: The world of being a musician for a living, licensing music, performing on stages across the world, touring… She shared it all with us while we gathered around her velvet green sofa.
BRI: My mother is a singer. She studied music at the Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music, but she is from New Orleans, and that’s where this entire heritage starts. My father was from Cleveland.
My dad was a minister, who baked, and traveled the world doing mission work, whether it was Europe or whatnot, and he could sing so good. He sang to me all the time. We would write songs, and he would call me over the phone, and he’d try to whisper into the payphone in the airport: “I’ve got this song, don’t forget it, it’s on my heart.” I would have to remember it really quick, and I’d have to go write it down in my broken ability to write, and then when he would get back in town we would sing the song and we would harmonize with my brother. And my mom would just be over there marveling.
MEGAN: What sorts of artists or influences were there in your life when you were younger that helped shape who you are now as a musician?
B: If we weren’t listening to gospel music, my father was pushing Mozart and pushing all the other classical agendas, because he played trombone and tuba.
Then there was the voice. Who can ever forget the day you heard Whitney Houston’s voice?
Playskool had this little tape player, it was red and the buttons were all different colors. I had one—it had a mic on the side of it. And the tape I remember getting was The Bodyguard. There were two songs on it, “I Will Always Love You” and “Jesus Loves Me”, and so I was allowed to have it because there was a Christian song on it. I would just be singing that song with this handheld karaoke.
Whitney did it. Whitney started it.
Not that I wanted to sing like her. It wasn’t that I wanted to look like her. I think what it was, was she attacked me in a way that I was okay with being attacked. Musically, it was a blanket. It made me think. I watched her, everything she did, and I was just like, “Oh wow, so that’s cool.”
M: For me, the first thing that did that was the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around”. And now harmonies are like my jam, still. It was those stacked harmonies—I feel like that just injected something into my personality.
B: It definitely does, it’s like that thing that gets you in your subconscious and you can’t get away from it.
So, how did things change when Welshly Arms started to gain traction? I know you had other projects before, so did it feel weird to transition to that a lot?
B: My faith in God—and I say that personally, not corporately—has allowed for smooth transition. With that being said, the smooth transition has been because of appropriate application of everything we’ve learned on the way. Moving to Cleveland—huge David and Goliath learning experience there. You know? It’s just like, here’s a big, giant, “How are we going to use this not to be a problem, but a challenge that we could overcome?” So that prepared us [Bri and her husband, Jon] for something that we had no idea that we were being prepared for.
Working with Jim Stewart was the icebreaker. That first interaction with Jim Stewart was with Lauren Lanzaretta, and that was awesome. That got us in the mode of dialing back, or honing into some aspects of ourselves that are needed by other musicians. And that was in harmonies, and laying the vocals in the studio, and you know, just creating a great rhythm there. And that presented the project of Naked Soul, that we helped vocally produce and reconstruct, and then present a live show.
From that, we’re like, “Okay, JABtune—let’s work.” We just went out on faith. “Here’s a chunk of money that we have, we’re gonna use it maturely, and invest it into ourselves.” And that’s how Uncovered came out. What a challenge. “I don’t love you no more!” type of challenge, while singing love songs! And then we get the product in the mail and we’re like, We did it!
That was awesome, and we were able to really stay afloat with the music culture of Cleveland, build relationships—that prepared us for Welshly.
All of it worked together. We got the call [from Welshly Arms] to do the same thing that we had done for ourselves and for Lauren, which was to come in and do some harmonies. They’re like, “Hey, I like this relationship. How about you sing when we have a show for the Double EP release at the House of Blues?” And we did that. We go to South By [Southwest] and the live performance is just infectious. There was an element that the four guys agreed they really wanted to add to their show.
I think it’s just now coming into my mind that this was the process.
Every time we go on the road, I feel like I’m learning so much. Whether it’s through camaraderie, being a woman, being an African-American—stuff that no march, no Black history can teach you. You’re like, wow, I’m a mother, and I am miles away from my children. And I’m hurting. Who do I share this with? Does anyone else know about this stuff? Maybe this is why Lindsay Lohan went crazy! All of those questions start to go through your head very, very naturally.
The transition to Welshly was awesome, and is something that we pride ourselves in. It’s that being clear-minded, even in the foggy moments. A lot of the things we’ve done that have been most profitable to our family both in wisdom and in monetary earnings, have been through a leap of faith. Huge leap. No bungee. Just jump.
M: And it seems like you started to just kind of realize what you and Jon’s strengths were, and you really started working at those things. Like that collaboration element that you guys do so well. It’s just something I feel like you didn’t realize was building up to where you’re at now—
B: Yeah it’s like, we just wanna be honest, good people… and I know that that’s become very cliche to say, I wanna be a good person. I think every day I break that down like, What can I do to be a better person today? When we go into the studio it’s the same thing. It’s like, how can I make sure that you know that I care about your insight, your vision for this project—and how can we execute that? And how do I assure you that it matters that this is what you intended for your project to sound like?
And then we reserve all of those creative controls for our catalog of either something that’s with JABtune, or something of Jon’s individually or myself individually. Which is now birthing, Lady Bri...
M: I saw that on Spotify!
B: I know, it’s crazy, right? What does all that mean?
M: What does it mean? Are you trying to write with a specific purpose? You’re doing a lot of collaborating with other writers too, right?
B: Yeah. I’m learning AF. I am learning as fuck right now.
I work with Position Music which is also the publishing company with Welshly Arms. They apparently saw something that I could offer in the commercial area. It’s birthed Lady Bri. Lady Bri gets to write. Lady Bri has some creative control—on a big platform. I don’t even know how to celebrate. I think the day that we found out that the album was streaming, we were in Oklahoma on tour, and I’m like, “It happened today.” And I looked at Jon and he’s like, “What are we gonna do?” And I was like, “I think I want some oysters.”
So we found this dope place for some oysters in Oklahoma and they were so good, and after then I made myself go buy a Polaroid camera. Something that wasn’t “social platformed.”
M: Are any of those songs currently being licensed?
B: Yeah, they are. I’m a huge hip-hop fan, and T.I. has that show with his family… My aunt sends me this clip: it’s Tiny walking down the strip ‘bout to go meet up with her girlfriends, and it’s me singing in the back, Okay, who’s the boss? I’m like, “Oh my god, that’s me!”
So that was one. There’s been like—this is crazy, but in my heart of hearts I think that I can be a lingerie model, with sneakers on.
M: I like that you just have that vision in your mind.
B: Right, like, I love Calvin Klein, so I always think he’s going to hire me to do something. Then I see my friend on Instagram tags me in this commercial for this underwear line, and it’s my song in the background and I’m like, I’m almost there!!
So those are small victories. We’re really aiming for iPhone and Google and that kind of thing.
I just got done recording the second project in January. They pair me up working with different people.
M: Like the company does it?
B: Yeah, ‘cause this is still, like I said—I have some creative control. But I’m still just an asset to a bigger picture. And I’m okay with that because I didn’t know this area existed. Not only do I get to learn about it, I get to be a part of it, and I’m so hands-on that that’s the way that it actually starts to make sense for me. You learn how to execute what they want you to do. That’s a big thing.
M: Something we are talking about in our next podcast [Releasing Feb 25] is Creative Confidence. I just feel like Imposter Syndrome is such a thing, especially with women, and especially in creative fields. It’s like, I’m not doing anything new, and What do I even contribute? Do you ever feel those lows? How do you get through those when you’re in the creative process?
B: I had a very, very crazy creative block for a while. That can be quite depressing, ‘cause you wanna know if you still got it. And a lot of that was attributed to how much time we spent with Welshly. I’m like, Do I know how to sing for me anymore? Are those riffs still there? Has my fan base been like, “She was a one-hit wonder?”
As it pertains to me, confidence… Oh my gosh. You’re asking a girl that, amongst a bunch of men. So definitely, confidence is not a 10. And there used to be this statement that people would go, “fake it till you make it.” That works until you break it. Until you cry in front of somebody. I haven’t lived like that. I’ve faithed it.
I could compare myself to a ton of different people that “do it better,” but then we risk not having that freshness. Every day is a new commitment to that.
M: I’ve never really bridged that Confidence and Faith thing like that, but you did that really well. It’s like, I have enough confidence to have the faith to do this. That’s a really good way of looking at it.
B: Yeah. I’m not sure how it’s gonna come out…
M: But I have enough faith to try it.
Hilary: I like what you said about faking it till you make it too, that it doesn’t really work all the way. It only is getting you part of the way, and it kind of falls apart at a certain point.
B: ‘Cause when you’re exposed, now what?
M: I think that kind of breaks people, because like you said, it puts you in this position where you’re like, “I should’ve done it better, or I should’ve done it my way.” There’s so many ways that that could fall apart.
B: It’s really hard to identify with a fake persona. Now you have to hold yourself accountable for what you introduced to the people. They’re thirsty for what you showed them, but then because that’s not true to you, you have nothing else. It’s expired. It’s just a book with an end.
But for us—we can be series, we can be movies, we can be episodes, when we are the author or the producer.
As a Christian, when I grew up, the perspective of self-identity was not really respected because we were more taught to identify with the morals, and the rules. Having children, I have realized that the number one job is to make sure that we have a person at the end of this conversation.
Presenting a real aspect of yourself is a daily task. I mean, a daily task. And so now, when people ask me questions, I ask myself, How do you want to respond? Do you feel okay with this answer?
H: You want to make sure it’s actually representing you.
M: When you’re in your early 20s, or in college, you really try so hard to be what you think other people want you to be. “I need to say the cool thing,” or “I need to be accepted,” and you forget to ask yourself that question. And it’s really hard to get to the point where you’re like, “Oh yeah, I should wonder how I feel about things.”
B: You know what I think started that? It’s the structural system of schooling. Your whole high school, you’re auditioning for something: whether it’s a best friend, cheerleading club, yearbook committee. You’re always auditioning. Then, your senior year, you’re applying to another thing: Accept me, accept me, accept me. Then you realize, Oh, have I ever chosen myself in any of this? That’s where I am right now. It’s like, we can all have fame. We can all be super rich. But, do you care about being by yourself? Are you your best friend?
M: I wonder, as a mother, how you’re trying to teach that self-acceptance to your children.
B: Everything I do now is like, lifestyle. When the kids come home from school, the first thing we do, you know we have like their snack, and it’s like a system. System is everything. When they wake up, they go to school, and they come home, it’s a system. And I love doing that, I’m very Martha Stewart mommy. I am. When they bring us these things, like their statements, like, “I don’t mean to be racist” or they show concern, like, “Is it bad to say…?” Those are like those icebreaking questions. That’s the exact route that we take to instill you being comfortable with [talking about] it, because we don’t just say, “You can’t because we don’t!” [Instead] it’s like, “Here’s why.”
Depending on whatever the conversation is, even if it’s like the exact question that you asked, like, “Mommy how can I be more confident?” or, “How can I be okay with not being accepted all the time?” It’s an opportunity to hear what birthed that question, like actually dig into it and take time, instead of always being like, “Well I got something to do so let’s make this the quick version.”
It’s just crazy how learning situations can be dual. I learn something from them.
M: I feel like you have so many awesome ideas, so many paths that you could pursue. You seem like a very goal-oriented person.
B: I’ve put it all down, and now it’s just a matter of being diligent, and executing, and recommitting myself every day. Having the stamina.
One of the books that I’ve read that I really, really love is by Carl Lentz, Own the Moment. It’s really good to help dial into just, right now is the season of Motherhood. Or right now is the season of Creativity. And you know when it’s not the season for other ideas. It’s like, I am trying to make “fetch” work, and it’s not going to work. But when it’s the season for “fetch,” it’s dope.
Bri gave us a list of some of her favorite tracks she’s worked on. You can listen to them on Spotify below.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
All photographs © Hilary Bovay Photography. All Rights Reserved.
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