Pittsburgh-based singer-songwriter Brooke Annibale certainly knows a thing or two about getting help from her friends. Her fourth and latest release, the phenomenal Silence Worth Breaking, might not even exist were it not for the support she received from a Kickstarter.com campaign last fall. Of course to be fair though, she probably wouldn’t have had the same impetus to start said campaign were it not for a friend who worked with producer Paul Moak at his Smoakstack Studios in Nashville and got Brooke dreaming about working with him.
“I studied at Belmont University in Nashville,”and one of my friends I graduated with started working at a studio down there a couple years ago with Paul and he was like, ‘You gotta work with this guy. He’s great,’ Annibale recalls. “So in September I went and visited the studio with my friend, and it was just the best studio I’ve come across. All the instruments you could want to experiment with were set up and ready to go, and everything was in the studio to work with already. It was like a dream come true.”
Even as she recounts the story you can hear the excitement in her voice, like she is a kid in a candy store all over again.
“I wanted to do anything to make it possible to work with Paul,” Annibale says with a laugh, putting a lot of emphasis on the word ‘anything.’ “So I started a Kickstarter campaign after I had spoken with Paul and his manager for a while, and it did what it said: It kickstarted the project and I started recording in December.”
The Kickstarter campaign, in addition to helping bring Silence Worth Breaking to life, provided her with a number of thrilling and surreal moments along the way as well.
“Every day I’d get a couple more backers and it was almost like opening a Christmas present every day, you know?” She laughs when she says this, and it’s not difficult to imagine what she is talking about or how great that must have felt each time she received word of new support coming her way.
“It was so exciting to see a lot of people I knew, and some people I never would have expected. Some people I had no idea who they were!”
Armed with a groundswell of support, Annibale set to work creating her album. Filled with gravitas, passion, joy, sorrow, humility and boldness, the ten tracks that make up Silence Worth Breaking are done in a stunning, hypnotic fashion, encompassing the genres of folk, rock, Americana and pop in masterful ways. And the fact that this is coming from someone who isn’t even 25 years old yet is all the more astounding given the wisdom that bleeds from every corner of this record. Considering how loaded the album’s title is—and how much it could have backfired if the album had been done wrong—the achievement is all the more mind-boggling.
“There was one song I made that didn’t make the cut of the record that was called ‘Silence Worth Breaking,’ and when I shared that title with Paul he was like, ‘Oh! That sounds great!’ But I was like, ‘Wait, doesn’t that sound a little pretentious?’ And he said, ‘No, no. It makes me want to listen to it and see what it’s about. That title intrigues me.’”
Despite the encouragement of her producer however, Annibale still wasn’t convinced right away. She pondered whether or not this was the right title for the record, and the more she considered it, the more it seemed to make perfect sense.
“It felt a little weird picking a title of a song that didn’t make the CD,” she admits, “but I think that the song is more about having difficult conversations that need to happen. So in that sense, it’s silence worth breaking. So I thought it was kind of a cool way to label this record.”
The album is a smorgasbord of emotions, sounds and character traits, never quite being the same thing twice. And just when you think you’ve got a handle on what Annibale’s doing, she throws a change-up. It’s this dichotomy of being comfortable listening to her songs and yet constantly perking up at each new wrinkle in the formula that makes her record so memorable. A lot of this comes from the fact that she is exacting and hell-bent on getting every last detail right.
“I’ve always been a thinker and an over analyzer,” Annibale confesses. “I’ve found that sometimes people are frustrated with me in a conversation because I take so long to express my thoughts or feelings because I have to analyze my thoughts before I express them. And so that’s why I put a lot of time and thought into lyrics—especially on this record—to make them say what I want them to say in a new and interesting way, hopefully.”
The album is loaded with subtleties that give the songs added depth. Whether it’s the bluesy grooves of “Bullseye,” the John Mayer-meets-Colbie Caillat sounds of her first single “Yours and Mine,” or even the dreamy, ethereal “Feels Like Home,” Silence Worth Breaking is filled with a number of critical decisions that enhance the record’s power in a multitude of ways. One of the best examples is on “Tryin’” where her vocals are barely more than a whisper throughout. She could have sung this normally and the song would have sounded fine, but when these vocals are paired with the fact that she’s trying to get up the courage to face one of life’s most epic moments—telling someone you love them—it turns the song into a quiet powerhouse of a performance.
“Leading up to the recording in December I had been sending Paul some demos that I had done on my computer,” she says, “and that song in particular, the demo version on my computer was something I recorded really late at night and I had to be really quiet. So I had recorded it really quiet and he just loved it that way, just almost as a whisper, so he said, ‘I’d really like to try to recreate that in the studio.’
So they did, but it wasn’t as simple as that. There was a catch, and each of the song’s musicians had to be in on it too.
“Paul set these ground rules that each musician would play an instrument that they hadn’t yet played on the record,” she says. “We would do it live, and then my vocals I’d be in an isolation booth and everybody else would play everything and we’d get it all in one take. So Paul was on that big bell that you hear sometimes after the chorus, the drummer was on the xylophone, the bass player was on some keys and the guitar player was on another piano and we just ran through it like three or four times and kept the one we liked the best.”
Stories like this are a large part of why she was so stoked about working with Moak on this record, and the fun doesn’t end there.
“When we first started talking about doing this and he listened to some of my demos, his reaction was he really loved the stuff and he wanted to create this vibe,” Annibale says with a bit of a laugh. “I think that’s the best way to describe Paul is that he’s always trying to create a vibe. You know, you walk into the studio and there’s all these candles lit and the lights are low and it feels like a very creative environment. He always has incense burning. The environment that he’s created for people to make music…it’s just amazing!”
Creative environments aren’t exactly new territory for Annibale either, having spent her share of time in Nashville before moving back to Pennsylvania after college.
“Being around other people that are so creative and are doing what I’m doing, you know, other singer-songwriters, other musicians (at Belmont University)…it was just really inspiring. And it challenges you to be better because you realize how many talented people are out there!” she exclaims with a laugh. “There’s also the larger Nashville community. There are a lot of independent singer-songwriters and bands that are making great music there, so being exposed to those peoples’ careers and watching peoples’ careers grow really helped me too. Just sort of being a student of all that.”
And in the end maybe that’s why her work resonates the way it does—because it means so much to her and because she is always trying to glean things from music, from other artists, from life. She never stops trying to connect with others, or with music.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else for my living,” she states simply “I can’t imagine not doing music. Music is my passion. I love being able to have the opportunity to connect with people, to relate with people, because all my life, whatever my favorite record was, you connect with that artist and what they’re saying and you relate to them and you sort of feel like, ‘Hey, I’m not alone in this world.’ So if I can do that for other people that just kind of blows my mind. So that’s what I hope music will be in my life for a long, long time.”