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Pieta Brown Experiments With Dreamy, Ethereal Sound On "Freeway"

Cameron Wittig
Pieta Brown's eighth studio album "Freeway" is out now.

Pieta Brown’s eighth full-length record “Freeway” is prime Pieta Brown music.

“If you’re listening to your own voice that’s about the best you can do right?" she says about her sound. "There’s a great quote from Miles Davis that I think of often:  ‘It takes a long time to sound like yourself.’  Maybe I don’t sound like myself yet, maybe I do.”      

The Iowa native (and daughter of Greg Brown) has released her new album on Righteous Babe Records, which is Ani DeFranco’s label.  The songs on the album were recorded at Justin Vernon’s studio April Base, located just outside of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  Vernon is primarily known for leading Bon Iver, and band member Sean Carey (who has released several records of his own as S. Carey) co-produced “Freeway” with Brown.

She stopped by IPR’s Cedar Falls studio recently to talk about the new record.  


You recorded this album in just a few days, what was the experience like?

“It was pretty much the most open session I’ve been a part of. This one was all the way in the experimental zone because I had never recorded with any of those players before. Sean Carey plays drums and keyboards and does a lot of beautiful harmonies. Mike Lewis plays bass and does some saxophone and some keyboards. Jeremy Ylvisaker plays lots of guitars and keyboard.

The session came together really fast. When I met those guys in the studio, pretty much within an hour, we were recording. It was just a super open process, and we just explored the songs together. We just let it bloom.”

The last couple of Bon Iver albums recorded at April Base have been pretty overtly experimental in nature. Did that vibe of unbridled creativity influence you when you were working on the album?

“I mean, yes and no. I think of course, as artists, it’s part of our job to be really open. So, you go into a room, and you feel a lot of different things for sure.  

Right outside the door is woods and the countryside, and we actually had a really interesting microphone that’s supposed to mimic human ears outside the studio that was on the whole time. So there are some little layers of that that are woven into the recording as well, just what was going on outside. Some of it you hear, but some of it is a feeling thing.

Music is always a collaboration of some kind, even down to the songwriting. I guess that’s more philosophy than anything. But, I don’t know. Music is such an open and experimental place for me and always has been, and that’s what I like about it.”

The new record “Freeway” is out on Ani DiFranco’s label Righteous Babe Records, and the impression that I get is that they are pretty particular about who they sign. How did that come about?

“I got lucky honestly. I was working with a couple people just trying to find a proper home for “Freeway,” because I had experimented on the last album I made called “Postcards” doing all of it myself. After I did “Postcards,” ideally, I needed a little help. Most musicians out on the road feel that way. You need somebody somewhere stationed doing the groundwork.

So, I was working with Erik Andersen, a publicist, and he had sent the album out to a few people, and we got some really sweet and kind feedback and some really encouraging response from Ani. I’m such a big fan of everything about that. Ani DeFranco being an independent artist as a woman - it just felt like a great place to connect. I got lucky, and it just came through the music, which is always where you hope things connect.”

What’s next for you this fall? You’ve got some shows coming up with Iris Dement, right?

“I’ve been working on and off with Iris for the last few years, and I can’t say enough good things about that. Working with her has made a big impact on me just as an artist, songwriter, singer. It’s fun to work with Iris, so I’m always excited about that.

I’m super excited about a show that I get to do at CSPS. Even after touring around the country, it’s still one of my favorite places to play. I get to do a show with Alpha Consumer, which is a great band out of the Twin Cities. A couple of the guys who are on “Freeway” are in Alpha Consumer, and they are going to join me for that show. It’s kind of an album release show. That’s on November 9 at CSPS in Cedar Rapids.”