Photo Credit: Beth Crane
It takes a bold person to not only hold up a mirror to the world around them but to accept the highs and lows staring back at them. Whether that was living in a country riddled with centuries of race-based issues or giving into a night out on the town, every aspect of that reflection has the power to push one forward. At least that’s what happened with Brandi and the Alexanders when all was said and done on their September 2nd release, ‘Reflection.’ We talked about the album, the darkest side of America, the best of the ‘70s, and more in this back and forth.
Kendra: I’ve never been one to have a lot of friends or someone who can fare well in large groups so the idea that y’all started with nine covering R&B songs is a bit overwhelming to think about! Nevertheless, how and when did you sort of realize it was time to whittle it down and start focusing on crafting a sound all your own?
Brandi Thompson: We got to a point with our first iteration of the band where we needed to decide whether we wanted to go pro or continue being a “bar band.” Eric Gottlieb, our drummer, and I decided to split from the rest of the group and pursue our own version of Brandi and the Alexanders, which whittled the group down to five people with background vocalists and horn players added as needed. As a result, we’ve gotten to work with some amazing people and create new songs that constantly evolve with the people and personalities we add to our group, which definitely keeps it interesting and fresh!
Kendra: Since then you’ve dropped some albums and many singles, and next up is your 2022 EP, ‘Reflections.’ With a title like that, we can sort of guess you held a mirror up to yourselves, but you noted it’s also about reflecting on what’s been going on in the world – which to say has been a lot would be an understatement. I’ve said this many times before, but art 100% is the cornerstone of capturing history in a way that textbooks just don’t. So in 50 years, how do you hope ‘Reflections’ is perceived by someone who comes across it?
Brandi Thompson: There is so much happening in our little corner of the world right now and ‘Reflection’ was created out of that. I began writing some of the songs for this album starting in 2020 during the heat of what I like to refer to as our nation’s “second civil rights movement.” That’s how and when “Fire” was born.
Thanks to Covid-19, the last few years have also given me time to think and be alone with my thoughts a little bit more. That’s how songs like “Amen” and “Where You Belong” came to be. The thoughts and experiences I convey in these songs aren’t unique to me, however; I think everyone has their version of these ideas and moments in their lives. We’re human – how can we not, right?
We’ll always experience conflict and struggle and sadness and pain and happiness and hope and love. That’s why I truly believe these songs will be accessible not just to people listening to them right now, but for all time.
Kendra: Listening to what’s dropped so far, ‘Reflections’ also pays homage to my favorite aesthetic era, the ‘70s. I feel like with “Fire” you delivered the Black Power Movement with this song of strength but you were more moved by the present as…America still has yet to figure out race relations. Black people today have a lot of generational strength to pull from, but speaking personally – where do you find the power to get up and go about your day because lemme tell you, some days in 2020 – I just laid on the couch unable to function.
Brandi Thompson: “Fire” was born not out of pain and sadness and grief, but power and resilience.
When I wrote “Fire,” I didn’t only think about the people standing in the streets back in 2020; I thought about my mother who faced discrimination and racism and segregation in her lifetime, and the ways she fought back against it, even when I was a child. I thought of my grandparents, who were one of the first to integrate their all-White neighborhood in Chicago in the face of death threats, along with firebombs and bricks thrown through their windows. I thought of my ancestors, who were brought here on slave ships hundreds of years ago and survived for centuries so that I could be here.
I think we as Black people need to remember that there’s more to us than this present moment or even American history. There are a lot of people who have contributed to this fight that has been going on for generations. I hope “Fire” can continue that effort, but also remind us of how far we’ve come and who we have to thank for that.
Kendra: On the flip side, “Watch You Dance” highlights another aspect of the ‘70s and that was the sensuality of it all. Was this song inspired by anyone in particular?
Brandi Thompson: Not really, much to my husband’s chagrin…hahaha! I wrote that song from my own perspective as a “taken” woman who wants to go out and have a night of fun and maybe even find someone to have fun with, and maybe she’s enjoying that person a little bit too much. I think the idea of temptation and infidelity is interesting from a songwriting perspective; the thought of being a “bad girl” can be fun, as long as it remains a thought. That’s what the song is about more than anything.
Kendra: Throughout writing and recording, it’s been said that the group took in ‘70s gangster movies, with that – if you had to place one song off ‘Reflection’ in ‘The Godfather,’ what scene would you overlay one of y’alls songs on and why?
Brandi Thompson: I personally have seen “The Godfather” once, and only in bits and pieces, but my drummer, Eric, is a huge fan, so I’m going to let him handle this question.
Eric: When we were recording the instruments for “Mama Told Me,” we worked a lot on getting the vibe to fit the story of Brandi’s lyrics; it needed to be loose enough to swagger but called for a “rubberband” kind of G-Funk bass and drums. Once we nailed the feeling down, we over-dubbed different kinds of bluesy organs and synths to give it a ‘cautionary tale’-like feeling on the chorus – a ‘be careful who you cross’ kind of texture.
So, if you sync “Mama Told Me” to the Corleone baptism/five family assassination montage, it oddly fits really well with the domestic family scene and all the shady stuff happening that Michael – the father – is doing at the same time.
Kendra: Time for a not-so-side note – with it being summertime, I’d love to know your favorite memory from this season whether it was from your childhood or more recent…
Brandi Thompson: I’m not a huge summer-season fan – Spring and especially Fall have always been more my vibe – but I have two little twin daughters who love everything about summer: splash pads, learning to swim, beach days, etc. So, my favorite memories are now the ones I have of them and experiencing summer through their eyes!
Kendra: Lastly, with ‘Reflection’ out on September 2nd, are there any fall tour plans in the works?
Brandi Thompson: Right now, we’re focused on gearing up for our BIG EP Release show on September 23rd at Rockwood Music Hall on NYC’s Lower East Side! We’re going all out for this one and we expect the place to be packed, so get your tickets via our website, or on Rockwood’s site and come rock out with us!
We’re also playing out regionally in the Northeast, but looking to get a booking agent to take us to the next level (hint hint…) We hope to see folks on the road across the country – and the world – really soon!