They say lightning never strikes the same spot twice. The same could be said about that life-affirming and life-altering experience known as true love. Nashville's alluring captivator of vivid imagery and powerful vocal Kristen Brassel not only plucks that bone-shattering electricity once but five times on her forthcoming new project, Love & Lightning. Boasting five compelling tracks, the EP laces together varied aspects of what love means, peppered with plenty of romance and heartfelt tales of loss and redemption. "I always said true love is a flash in an instant, and it’s the moment you know. Lightning, too, is such an electrifying and bright and suspenseful moment. It happens in a second. That’s what true love is and that's once-in-a-lifetime," she shares with Popdust in an exclusive interview, of the importance of the title track.
Love at first sight is something she knows all too well, of course. "I am recently engaged, and this song is about my fiance. It’s about me realizing the first time that I really knew I loved him," she says. In fact, her fiance is her lead guitarist and certainly understands what it means to be a working musician. "He’s always rockin’ ‘n ‘rollin’ with me. We are gone so much on the road, or maybe I’m writing and he’s recording. I don’t think any other person would understand what it takes to achieve dreams. I’m happy I have someone right beside me doing the same thing."
Throughout her EP (expected to drop August 16, via Bluewater Music), Brassel threads together love in five very specific ways. She explains why: "It was the first time I had written a concept project, rather than writing a bunch of songs and throwing them together. I decided to do that as a challenge to myself, and I wanted to explore the different avenues of love. Each song has a specific moment or person in my life that have to do with love or relationships."
Here, she details the inspiration behind the remaining four songs:
Turn It Up: "[This one] is my memory song. It’s about my high school love. It’s the first moment I got a taste of what it’s like to be charmed by someone and start dating. It’s that youthful and ecstatic feeling."
Softly with Sin: "One of my best friends was going through that situation where she was committed to someone but was being pursued by someone else. She was debating whether to cross that line or not. When I was writing the EP and going through songs, I wanted to make sure there was at least one song in there that talked about the struggle of love, too. I think ‘Softly with Sin’ nails it on the head. You know, love can be tempted sometimes. The optimistic person that I am, the character doesn’t cheat but she stays true with her significant other. I like that better than her disregarding those feelings."
Rest of Our Life: "I love this song. I know I should love my title track, but ‘Rest of Our Life’ is my favorite. It’s about my mom and dad. It was during a time when I was exploring the idea of marriage and what it meant to me. I was looking at my mom and dad’s marriage and came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to grow old with someone. I wanted to stay young with them forever and keep that young and in-love kind of feeling. My dad has a picture of my mom when she was 17. He keeps it in his wallet. The first line of the song is from that. That symbolized this time capsule he has."
How I’ll Remember You: "This is the most personal song I’ve ever released. This is another type of love. It’s about my grandfather and I. He passed away in January. I started writing a song about him years ago and never finished it. He was the first person to teach me how to play guitar and how to write songs. He introduced me to music, in general. It was very important to me to introduce that love didn’t have to be with you and another partner. It could be you and your family, too. When he passed away, it was extremely important to remember him the way he was. So, I did my best to time capsule him in a song and carry that love around."
Having been a long-time songwriter, Brassel admits it's fairly easy for her to open up so emotionally and honestly. "It’s easier for me to open up emotionally if I’m by myself and pouring it all out. Over the years, as a writer, you learn to tap into that," she says. She then adds that she's never had to completely stop a song because it was too emotional to finish. "I’ve never said ‘I can’t finish a song.’ Finishing songs is never really the issue. It might be that if I write something really off the wall or it’s so personal that no one could possibly relate to it, I might be like ‘uh, this is a little too weird.’ That’s happened before."
Also on Love & Lightning, the singer explores a varied stylistic and rhythmic approach. "As I grow as an artist, I have developed these rhythmic elements. I don’t know where it comes from, maybe it’s the pop influence in me," she says. "It’s part of me when I start writing. It’s almost like breathing or blinking. I always start with a groove, when it comes to a song. The way it feels or moves really inspires the lyrics. My favorite part about ‘Love & Lightning’ is it talks about it never striking twice but at the same time the rhythm does. I love throwing in fun things like that." Throughout this record's creation, she says she listened to quite a bit of music that then found its way into her own special blend. "I was binging on Zac Brown Band, like his beachier stuff, and that inspired ‘Love & Lightning.’ For ‘Softly with Sin,’ I was listening to Striking Matches a lot. I had listened to the first season of the ‘Nashville’ TV show. The slower songs were really good. That’s what I was channeling with that one. My grandfather’s song is written in a different time signature. It’s reflective of what he grew up listening to, which was Conway Twitty and all these other Grand Ole Opry artists. ‘Rest of Our Life’ was my Maddie & Tae-style song. ‘Turn It Up’ is just bra-country, you know. It’s just fun."
Pondering her life, she recalls two specific moments that define her, musically. "I would say definitely the first concert I ever went to impacted me greatly, which was the Dixie Chicks. It was at the Pyramid in Memphis. We were at the very top in the nosebleeds. I remember looking down and hearing Natalie wail on ‘Cowboy Take Me Away.’ That was the moment when I was like ‘oh my gosh. I want to run on that stage right now and do that. I want to sing with her so bad!’"
"I went to the Orpheum in Memphis once, too, and saw Nora Jones when I was young. She’s such a huge influence. I love how every album is a different genre. It’s beautiful. She was the only concert I ever cried at. I remember thinking ‘wow! She sounds better than her recordings.’ That was when I thought ‘I want someone to say that about me. I want to have such a solid work ethic and make that statement true for myself.’"
Being in Nashville, she says she does, in fact, listen (and rather enjoy) mainstream country radio. "I wouldn’t say [radio] influences me. As far as subject matter goes, if I wrote about something that I didn’t feel was important to me, the song would lack the heart. That’s the whole reason of writing and performing. Yes, I do listen to mainstream country, and yes, I do enjoy it. There are beautiful songs in mainstream, but I try not to let that direct my music. I stay true to myself."
For the rest of 2015, Brassel hopes to perform a slew of shows in and around Music City. Details are still being ironed out, but she does offer up a little bit of what she will be doing this year. "I’m playing some shows around Nashville. I always try to stay here. Mostly, I just signed my first publishing deal with Bluewater Music. That was a pivotal moment for me. Right now, I’m doing a lot of co-writing. As far as looking three months down the road, I plan on even more co-writing sessions and gearing up for the rest of the album. There will definitely be a showcase this fall."
Speaking of songwriting, she dreams big and reveals several artists she'd love to cut her material. "I’m such a huge Kelly Clarkson fan. If I could get a cut by her, that’d be amazing. I’m really into Kelsea Ballerini right now. She’s so delicious and fun. I love what she’s doing. I really love Brett Eldredge, too. He doesn’t need me at all," she laughs. "He’s a great write by himself. If we’re playing dream world, I’d say him. Also, Charlie Worsham has got this Jackson Brown-ness about him. He’s so 1970s songwriter goodness, and I love it. I’d say the last one would be Cam. As far as females, she is a great singer and an interesting writer. I’m really excited for what she has in store."
Brassel has her sights set on 2016 for the release of her next full-length studio effort.
[PHOTO CREDIT: Storey Condos]