“As a singer-songwriter, I don’t have any barriers,” says Brooke White with a disarming ease, the piercing calm of her eyes only enhancing the soothing tone of her voice as she speaks. “For the type of music that I play, I think it’s important that I remain unguarded and open and vulnerable. That said, there are times when I wish I wasn’t so vulnerable, but it’s the only way I know how to be and it sometimes allows for things to get in that can be really damaging.”
It’s the way Brooke White deals with that damage that makes her music so inviting, her personality so compelling, and her company so endearing. Even meeting her in a crowded restaurant amidst the bustle of a Los Angeles lunch hour, she makes a connection that feels so personal, you feel like you’ve known her your entire life.
That is the magic of Brooke White, and that magic resonates within High Hopes & Heartbreak, the first full-length release since she became an “American Idol” finalist in 2008. During the seventh season of “Idol,” the Phoenix, AZ, native drew rave reviews for her passionate swirl of willowing soul and ‘70s flavored gold.
“The show was really big for me,” she explains, referring not to the exposure “American Idol” provided her, but rather the psychological impact of the larger-than-life reality surrounding the contestants. “Early on, I was really naïve about the process. You’re in this very protective bubble where you’re away from the media, you don’t look online if you don’t want to, and you just go out there and you do your best each week. It wasn’t until I got farther along that it started to become very emotional for me.”
For many, it was that emotion that made Brooke’s music so engaging. And for Brooke, it has always been the music that helped her keep her emotions at bay. She credits that to her upbringing. The oldest of four siblings, her parents passed their love of music on to their children, and that love has blossomed in Brooke. “My upbringing is entirely the reason that I am the artist that I am today,” she says. “My parents are big music fans, and we grew up in a small house where music was always playing. We’d go on drives just to listen to a Carole King tape, or Fleetwood Mac or the Carpenters. Music was the therapy that made us very happy as a family… I’m not an average music listener. I do this because I really do love it.”
High Hopes & Heartbreak is a remarkable testament to not only Brooke’s talents as a singer and songwriter, but also to her love for the music that shaped her. The album bristles with an airy warmth and humble resolve, her pitch-perfect timbre evoking modern day comparisons to Carole King and Carly Simon. What makes it even more remarkable is that White, now 26, was born more than a decade after the release of King’s Tapestry and Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” a song that Brooke made her own during “Idol,” leading Carly Simon to tell the Associated Press, “This girl is so talented, and she sings the song so much better than I ever did or could.” Brooke glows as she recalls the praise of one of her own idols. “That means so much to me, because from a young age I was attached to classic music. It was all so special to me.”
High Hopes & Heartbreak is a brilliant composite of contemporary styles, washing America’s love affair with singer-songwriters in a bath of bare-naked pop. The title track could follow James Blunt just as easily as it lends itself to a disco-dance remix, “When We Were One” and “Little Bird” unfold like country chart-toppers, “California Song” is an acoustic explosion of summertime pop, and “Sometimes Love” and “Be Careful” offer a silky weave of heart-on-a-sleeve vocals and stripped-down instrumentation that would make John Mayer stop and take notice.
Each of the twelve songs on High Hopes & Heartbreak has its own pronounced character, but they are bound by Brooke White’s voice, a beautiful blend of tone, texture and character. “Music is a sensory experience, that’s what it’s all about, and that’s what I really wanted to capture on this album,” she says. With that in mind, she decided to release this album through her own label, June Baby Records.
“After meeting with a number of labels and discussing which producers and writers they wanted to team me with, it just started to feel like I was losing myself. It was like, here I am, but there’s a record way far away that I can’t even touch. I was afraid there were too many layers, and I wouldn’t be able to create without all of this other stuff getting in the way of the music,” she says of the decision to start June Baby Records. “I knew in my mind the type of record that I wanted to make, and I think I would have come away feeling disappointed had I let someone else have that much say in the process. I felt like I was losing the vision and I just needed to go, so I did.”
As much as High Hopes & Heartbreak is unadulterated Brooke White, she is quick to credit producer Dave Cobb [Chris Cornell, Shooter Jennings, Jamey Johnson] with helping to shape the sound. They co-wrote half the album together, including “Hold Up My Heart,” which was written within their first hour of working together. Their musical chemistry was immediate and undeniable.
“When he pressed ‘record’ and the band started to play, that moment was so poignant for me, it was like a drug. It was music happening in its purest form, so instantaneous, so human, so organic. I listened to it all night and called my dad in the morning and told him that he had to hear it – he started laughing, and I was crying. It was exactly what I wanted. I met with other producers, but in the back of my mind I knew for certain that this was the way to go. I had to have more of it, I was addicted.”
In an era that leans heavily on technology with every passing fad and fleeting sensation, Brooke White wants nothing more than to embrace music in its purest strains. Rather than sucking the soul out of a song, she wants to let its spirit run free. Like all the music she grew up loving, it’s the essence of the human being that keeps the songs from sounding the same. And that essence, that emotion, is what she captures vividly on High Hopes & Heartbreak.
“I’m a very emotional person,” she concludes, bringing the conversation full-circle, and back to the vulnerability that drives her art. “I definitely feel like I have certain scars from exposing myself that way, but it’s the way I am. And I’m sure it’s the way I’m going to keep being.”
As we get up to leave the restaurant, she flashes an uncertain smile: “I hope there’s some stuff there for you to work with.”
Don’t worry, there’s plenty. The beautiful thing about Brooke White is, her story tells itself. She is living and breathing the same dream that she has reveled in since her childhood. Music is her love, her pain, her joy and her sorrow. It is her life, unguarded and open, vulnerable…
And with High Hopes & Heartbreak, her vulnerability becomes our reward.
–Paul Gargano, 06.09 | Brooke White’s Biography on MySpace