The Brook & the Bluff, a five-man band hailing from the depths of Alabama, has been on the radar of many since they’ve exploded on Spotify with hits like “Everything Is Just a Mess” and “Masks.” Their music is the type you’d expect to hear in a coffee shop or at a backyard party – it’s comforting, the kind of music you can sink into as the afternoon sun shines down on you. However, this isn’t to say that they stick to one style indefinitely. While their music is soothing, The Brook & The Bluff have been pushing their creative boundaries, especially in their upcoming album, “Bluebeard,” which is set to release this Friday. As fans envision the house in Sky Valley where the band sat down to create the album, they’ll feel the passage of time as it weaves together childhood memories, the present, and what’s yet to come. I had the pleasure of sitting down with the band to discuss their new era, upcoming tour, and delve into the memories that have shaped who they are today.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity purposes
Chloe: Your new album “Bluebeard” is coming out soon, congrats! On your instagram, you have stated that this album is “a combination of where we have been, where we are now, and where we want to go as a band.” It is often said our identity is shaped by the experiences we have and the people around us. What is one childhood memory each of you has and how has that shaped you?
Fred Lankford: Alec and I actually signed up for a talent show when we were kids. We did a musical act except neither of us knew how to play our guitars. We just put the straps on our backs and pretended to play while we lip synced to a song. I had major stage fright back then, but after we finished it made me realize that I wanted to do something like that again.
Kevin Canada: There was this one time that my grandparents invited me to go to this party – ended up being the only kid there. They wanted me to play piano there and honestly was happy to do so. I was proud of myself because I was the only one there who was able to play.
Joseph Settine: Mine has to do with my choir teacher growing up. She always was pushing me to sing because my sister was such a good singer. It was because of her that I started to really pursue singing, giving me the push and encouragement that I needed. She has been an important person from my childhood.
John Canada: My memory has to be in the house that we recorded our album at, up in Sky Valley. Me and Kevin had been going up there since we were kids, and so I have these memories of me being like ten years old looking off this porch at this view from this mountain house. And then to think of fast-forwarding twenty years later and that view being our album cover. It’s kind of like a weird connection to draw back to your childhood and where you used to go on vacation growing up.
Since all of you had music or band-related memories, do you think your younger version would be proud of where you are now?
Joseph: Yes, I mean like my super younger version can be a little disappointed that I’m not in the NBA but this is like definitely it.
Fred: Especially because some of us on the way to get to this career had other paths that we could take, like John could have gone the accounting route. I could have used my psych degree and become a therapist – thank God we did.
From snippets that fans have gotten off the singles from “Bluebeard,” it seems like there’s some recurring imagery – as we discussed with time, but also limbs. You guys also mentioned on your Instagram that your goal was “to make a record that lives and breathes like our time in the house.” Even songs like “Headfirst” have been in development since 2016, bringing the past to the present. How are these themes, especially time, continuous within the record, and how does this record and themes uphold the feelings of the house that you created it in?
Joseph: Obviously, nature was a big theme, and part of the imagery-creating process came because of where we were, in that house. I’ve grown up with my mom, who is super country, so I always had a lot of ‘outdoorsiness’ around me. And when you think about things like how long trees are there, how long their lifespan is, and how long the house has been there, with John having gone to the house for twenty, thirty years… I think that part of it is realizing I get stuck in my head and feeling like I should I should be more figured out. When I think about time and how it relates to music, it’s all a process of trying to remind myself to slow down and be present in the current moment, as opposed to thinking about what could be or what has been.
Alec Bolton: We lived in the moment a lot while we were at the mountain house because you don’t really have to think about time up there. You aren’t on a schedule as you would be back home in the city. We really just got to relax and not even think about the day-to-day stuff, but got to live in the present moment, which helped the creative juices flow.
Joseph: When I think about our music, I feel like the goal is to create images rather than just linear things. So when you listen to a song, I’d rather there be a picture in your mind. And the whole record, we’re are trying to tap into a little bit of what it felt like for nostalgia purposes, creating that feeling we had at the house but also creating that feeling of what is your house or what the house is like for you or anybody who listens to the record– What is that release or escape? Like sometimes when I listen to the record, I think about dive meets. I was a diver when I was a kid and it was like the most fun that I would have in the summer, things like that.
What does the recurring symbol of the butterfly featured on the “Bluebeard” album cover mean to you?
Joseph: For us, I mean that’s a picture of the actual porch. It captures a moment in time. When I look at it, I’m literally transported to that porch. It’s like a gateway into happiness for me, because that’s probably my favorite place in the world. The times that we’ve spent there as a band making music together and now a full record there, it’s truly where I feel like the best version of myself. It’s also just a fucking insane view. I think the butterfly captures that moment in time for me as well as captures this feeling. It’s like a gateway into a world for me. And even the process of us getting to the house to make the record kind of came together very fast in a way like that – we were saying ‘Oh, we should record an album here.’ and then a month later, we were in the house doing it.
Fred: I think the butterfly is the magical element that is going to make the new album a step above the rest.
There seems to be a lot of lore to unpack with your latest album’s title. With previous, easy-to-digest titles like “Yard Sale” and “First Place,” why name your latest album “Bluebeard”?
Joseph: We named it after a Kurt Vonnegut novel named “Bluebeard.” It was my favorite book. And when we were doing a writing retreat in 2021 at the house in Sky Valley, Fred was reading that book at the same time. It was just this moment of ‘dude, that’s my favorite book!’, especially because Kurt Vonnegut is this big writer but “Bluebeard” is one of his later books. This book has kind of a different tone than a lot of his books. It’s more melancholy and more of a character study in a way and is about art and the nature of art itself – whether like the best version of it exists in an abstract realm, a natural realm, or somewhere in between. It [the album] is a reference to that book because we all ended up reading it and going into the record thinking about it and kind of having it as a common experience. Also, on top of that, there was a demo of the song “Bluebeard” that was made around the same time too. Just like all these things were coming together from the past, present, and future.
Fred: It was really crazy how serendipitous it was, like that weekend when we were up there I had literally just finished the book. And the book came to me through one of those neighborhood small little libraries. I saw one and I finished my first Vonnegut book a few months ago, so I read this one and fell in love with it. And then at the house we were hanging out, I saw this note that Joseph had written about how you already decided that you wanted to name the album this and I was like ‘wait a minute, this can’t be the same thing I was thinking of,’ and it was. Again, it’s capturing these moments, coincidental or not, and taking advantage of recognizing what’s there.
You guys have been here previously at The Troubadour, a very iconic and intimate venue. Now, you are performing at The Fonda, a venue that holds more than double the capacity of The Troubadour. Are you nervous that you’ll lose that sense of connection or intimacy that you have with these smaller venues and increasingly getting bigger as a band yourself?
Joseph: I don’t know. I don’t think we’re quite at that level where it feels like we’re feeling disconnected from the person. I haven’t been to The Fonda but there are venues that we’ve played with roughly the same capacity that still feel very intimate and where you still can have that like supercharged energy and almost that one on one feeling. I would say it’s not scary, but definitely a new challenge. It’s kind of like how do you stay just as welcoming as we had before?
John: It kind of feels like this is the last tour where the rooms, even though they are bigger than the Troubadour, still feel like you can maintain some of that intimacy.
Alec: We still have a range of venues on this tour, some of them larger than a thousand but some of them in the four hundred to five hundred range, which is really like the sweet spot, having a lot of energy there but still feeling very intimate. But the ones with a thousand seats will still have the energy and those will be even crazier. I’m so excited to just have an upgrade to the rooms of that size and I feel like they can still stay intimate. There’s such a big difference between a huge theatre or arena and then the venues that we still get to play so hopefully it’ll be a nice mixture of both intimacy and energy from all the people there.
Fred: To answer your question about if it’s going to be harder to do, I feel like as long as we want to reach out to our fans and have a personal connection with them, we’ll be able to do it one way or another- whether it’s through these fantasy leagues, keeping up with people on Instagram, and maybe at some point we will do more like meet and greets. That’s something that we’ve always really liked about the band, that we feel like we know our fans and that they know us, which is kind of the theme for “Bluebeard.” We really want people to understand what our process is, what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, et cetera. And so I think as long as we want that connection to be there, it’s going to be there. We might be reaching less people one on one but we’re going to make that effort.
How do you want to recreate the feeling of the house as we talked earlier about? Could it be just by the way you play it live or the set structure – how do you want to recreate that feeling on tour other than through your songs?
Joseph: We definitely have some new things that we’re bringing, like this is the first time that we’ll be touring with a serious lighting package so we definitely got things that will level it up and make it feel like a show just on the technical side of things. But as far as like the rest of us, it’s kind of like we have a flow every night to the show where we’ll do a full band and then go to this section which we call Louise, which we named after out microphone, and we’ll go back to where we started a little bit and play songs that are more geared acoustic and have that moment where it feels more like a journey and more like a true show. In the past, it can be more like a social event and now we are trying to make it more like a real show. We obviously still want it to be fun and social but I think we are trying to be more deliberate as musicians and on this tour.
We still encourage people to be singing and its the best thing for us, since all we all do sing, is to hear people also sing with us when we’re there. That’s one of the things that creates that intimacy. We’re big believers in the power of a human voice and especially a collection of them in one place.
Where do you want to go together as a band? How do you want to be shaped and seen as a band on this tour? Do you hope to collect more memories with each other and your fans, maybe even in ways that are different from your previous tours?
John: I think we want to enjoy playing the music every night – like we’re doing it for the first time. And to kind of maintain that feeling of what it was like, the first time we ever went out on tour. I feel like if we’re enjoying it in that way and having such a good time with the songs that the fans are going to enjoy too and pick up on that energy because that energy is symbiotic.
Joseph: I grew up playing basketball and watching the World Cup and now thinking about this tour and prepping myself for it more like an athlete would, treating it more like a higher level of focus and attention to detail. I want us to feel like a great team like the Warriors and when they first started popping off in 2014 or something like that. I want to feel like there’s a flow that you can get into as a group when you’re playing songs together. I think we’ve done enough preparation to get to that point on the front end, rehearsing and really paying attention to that stuff more than any other tour before.
Alec: And the way you get into that zone is by playing show after show and the fact that this is the longest tour that we’ve ever done as a band. I have a feeling that that last show we’re going to be completely in that flow state.
Check out The Brook & The Bluff’s upcoming record, releasing this Friday, Sept 15th. You can also get tickets to see them live at The Fonda on September 21st here!