An artist who can plumb the depths of sadness in a single note, then release it in the very next breath, Chastity Brown melds folk, pop and soul on her Red House debut, Silhouette of Sirens, weaving together a poet’s lyrical ear and a soul-laid-bare quality. The album’s 10 original tracks introduce us to a new voice – a songwriter of power and conviction who isn’t afraid to bare her heart as she sings of heartbreak, need and love. Brown premiered the first single, “Wake Up,” with KCMP The Current, which has officially added the song.
Based in Minnesota, but with roots in Tennessee, Chastity grew up surrounded by country and soul music. In the full gospel church of her childhood, she played saxophone and drums and found her singing voice and a passion for music. Her first show was in Knoxville, TN, and then it was on to Minneapolis. Since then, she’s been featured on NPR’s “Favorite Sessions,” CMT, American Songwriter, The London Times, Paste Magazine and others. Chastity has toured the US and abroad, appearing on the UK’s Later…with Jools Holland. For much of 2016, she toured alongside folk icon/ activist Ani Difranco.
“What I’ve realized is that the personal is political,” Brown said in a recent interview. “Just by me being a bi-racial, half-black, half-white woman living in America right now is political. Just being a person of color, a queer woman of color, for that matter, is freaking political. My focus, as far as this record, I guess it’s really been psychological. I’m really intrigued by the perseverance of the human spirit and the complexities and contradictions that we embody as human beings.
“I grew up in a trailer park in Union City, TN, with an incredible mother, brother and sister and a very abusive stepfather. There have been times throughout my life since leaving home when I experience debilitating flashbacks both while waking and asleep. Music has been my lifeline. A week after an episode, my long-time writing partner, Robert Mulrennan, sent me the music for the song now titled ‘Carried Away.’ I wrote the song over the course of that following week. It is as though some of these songs have come from a portion of my psyche that would not allow my thinking mind to filter through it.
“Silhouette of Sirens is comprised of snapshots of memory, both lived and imagined. Some are love/sex/relationship-inspired, which in my opinion make the pain one might experience more bearable. In James Baldwin’s essay, ‘The Artist Struggle for Integrity,’ he says, ‘I tell you my pain so that I might relieve you of yours.'”
Light is a central character on Silhouette of Sirens. Even the title speaks to this push and pull between danger and safety, shadows and shiny lights, and the things we can reach out and touch as opposed to the things we only hear in the distance. “What is even happening? One can only guess,” Brown sings in the opening track “Drive Slow,” embracing an uncertainty and sense of wonder from the beginning of the record. By the third track, she’s carrying us along with her on a journey inward. Like many masterful songwriters, she has the ability to make her stories feel intensely personal yet open-ended; even in “Carried Away,” it’s hard to tell whether she’s singing about a romantic rift, an abusive friendship, or the havoc that anxiety and depression can wreak on an unguarded mind.
“Don’t leave me here all alone / For so long you’ve been my light in the dark,” Brown sings on the album’s centerpiece, “My Stone,” while the sexy, Prince-channeling acoustic funk jam “Whisper” beckons the listener to come closer, to dance with her in the dark, to “whisper in my ear all that you need.”
“I think it’s about different types of heartbreak, and how one deals with it,” Brown says of the album. “And not the heartbreak of a coupled relationship; just living life, and the experiences that break your heart. There are these moments on the album where it’s like, ‘this is intense.’ And then hopefully, there are moments where it’s alleviated — as I feel like life is. Life is hard. Every tree, every plant, everything you see in the natural world, just through a growth process, you see how hard it is to grow and bend towards the light.
“I write for and from the marginalized experience,” Brown says. “For the truly triumphant spirit that’s been through some shit, and has fought her/his way through it to maintain a sense of dignity and peace of mind.
“My hope is like that of Alice Walker’s, ‘Where there are tears, there will be dancing.’”