The Brummies with Vlad Holiday
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When Nashville trio the Brummies released their debut album Eternal Reach in 2018, they pulled off the rare feat of creating something timeless. With its blend of urgent rock & roll, dreamy indie-folk, and piercing songwriting, the LP could just have easily been recorded in the Sixties or Nineties as in the last decade. Almost three years later, the group continues to defy the elastic boundaries of time on their new album Automatic World. It's a record built around the theme of déjà vu — but the songs contained therein are like nothing you've heard before.
Tracks like the ethereal "Fever Dream," the vibey "After Midnight," and the searching "Cherry Blossom" resonate with a crisp and effortless freshness, the result of three players in possession of an almost telekinetic musical shorthand. In the studio or in the writing room, the Brummies (who wrote or co-wrote every track on the project) don't try; they just do.
"Have we been here before?/Because we're talking without speaking," they harmonize in the New Wave-y "Been Here Before," a song whose message sums up the inherent chemistry of core members John Davidson, Jacob Bryant, and Trevor Davis.
"When we started recording these songs, we were all on the same page, with everyone focused on the grooves that moved us. We locked into that," says singer and multi-instrumentalist John.
"Déjà vu, futures past, all of that comes together in this record in a musical way," says vocalist and multi-tool musician Jacob. "There are future sounds, but they are mixed with the old. Eternal Reach was all about recording to tape and capturing the vintage vibe. We recorded a lot of this the same way, but we expanded it sonically — there are a lot more synthesizers and production."
"We all wanted to expand and do different things," says Trevor, the band's percussionist and background vocalist. "We didn't make the same record twice."
Produced by the Brummies along with Jarrad Kritzstein (Ruston Kelly) and Austin Jenkins (Leon Bridges), Automatic World exists in those atmospheric notes that seem to soundtrack our subconscious. There are rhythmic guitar riffs straight out of the Seventies, hypnotic Moog passages that evoke the electronica of Giorgio Moroder, and even the bright tones of soul music. In "After Midnight," the Brummies — originally from Birmingham, Alabama, their name is U.K. slang for a resident of Birmingham — revel in what they call "dark disco."
"We had an old vintage keyboard in the band room, and we were down there smoking and jamming and hanging out," John says. "We hit on this 'bump bump bump' vibe and it made us want to move. It was born from us just getting together and playing parts that sounded natural."
"It's a dark and vibey song," says Jacob, who coined the "dark disco" phrase, "but it jumps out with a happy chorus."
"Call Me," a pleading offer of help to a friend, came out of another spontaneous jam session, with the members each picking up a different instrument. Its intro and lyrics call to mind Eternal Reach's "Drive Away," the band's celebrated collaboration with Kacey Musgraves. "It started off with Jacob on the drums and this piano pad thing," John recalls. "Each song has a different process in how it evolves, and that one went through many different steps."
"Fever Dream," with its slow-building tension and funky keys, sprung from John plucking a gut-string guitar. Like "Call Me," it grew into something larger when the band began preproduction. "We love that part of the process. You figure out what works and what doesn't pretty quickly," John says.
Sometimes inspiration would hit them square in the head. After being awoken every morning by sunlight creeping through a crack in his blinds, Jacob sat down and wrote the funky "Sunshine." Ebullient, joyful, and full of hope, it owes a debt to late soul singer Bill Withers. "He definitely inspired the beat to that song," John says.
Still other sounds on the project appeared as happy accidents. While Jacob was working on the harmony-rich relationship tune "Tomorrow," his guitar amp failed and began to emit a single droning note. He loved it and incorporated it into the track. "It's a sad song that we made into a love song," he says.
But it's the mystical, unexplainable feeling of being somewhere before that defines Automatic World. The songs "Fever Dream," "Cherry Blossom," and "Been Here Before" all allude to déjà vu. For a group whose members have been playing together in various bands since high school and spent the past few years on the road, it makes perfect sense: They have shared musical memories and a clear consensus about where the Brummies are headed.
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