To many of us at Tufts, The Burren is associated with little more than inebriated Scattershot sing-a-longs surrounded by familiar faces. With the closing of Johnny D’s, I believed Davis Square to be devoid of live music, with street performers as the only occasional exception. Au contraire. Our very own college pub hosts ‘The Burren Backroom Series,’ which has been bringing a milieu of artists to the stage since 2011. According to their website, “the shows are now well known for their intimacy, pristine sound, and affable audience and the unique atmosphere,” and Rosemere Road’s sold-out show last Saturday night is put any predisposition about The Burren and music in Davis to shame.
Following a set by seemingly Jeff Buckley-inspired duo Gentle Temper, Rosemere Road wasted no time before gracing the sold-out audience with textured harmonies. The women are gifted with the kind of distinctive voices that make people like me simultaneous envious and enchanted, and original songwriting and musical grace to meld their respective talents into songs both relatable and intimate, sometimes catchy and others haunting. As they played through their modern folk repertoire, the trio made up of sisters Emmery (piano and vocals) and Carson (percussion and vocals) Brakke, and their cousin Kara McKee (guitar and vocals) carried themselves with both the poise and passion of far more experienced performers. To anyone in the audience, it would be difficult to believe that Rosemere Road has been playing together for less than a year. I had the pleasure of asking these Rhode-Island born and Cambridge-based women a few questions.
Thanks so much for talking with me; I’m blown away. How do you think tonight’s show went?
Emmery: I’m sure there are technically things that could have gone better, there are always things to improve on when it comes to the technicalities of a song or a performance, but for us the whole experience just felt like a dream. And honestly we’re so proud of all the material we have and it feels so rewarding to get up there on that stage and share it with people and really, genuinely feel like you’re sharing something worth hearing with people who want to hear it. Just a few months ago we were scrambling to play at open mics and hoping to get our songs out to a room full of maybe, 20 or so people? We were so honored and excited to even have the opportunity to play this show, so to sell it out is mind blowing to us right now. I’m sure it was pretty obvious that a lot of our family was in the audience, and that made it all the more special. To have our 88 year-old Gramma and our year-old baby cousin both in the same room listening to us share our music with such an amazing and receptive crowd is just so beyond anything that we could have imagined for ourselves when we started this 6 months ago. We just can’t wait to get out there and do it again!
I can imagine. And so from what I understand, Rosemere Road is both a product of coincidence as you all found yourselves living in Cambridge after years apart, and a product of your shared childhood experiences that influenced the love of music you all still share. I understand you grew up surrounded by a very musical family, and learning to play various instruments at a young age. Did you ever play together as kids or teenagers?
Kara: There was always music around growing up; lots of piano players from our 88 year old grandmother right down to our youngest cousin, “baby” James (he’s 16 now but we still love the James Taylor reference). Musical collaborations were pretty much limited to Christmas Eve family sing alongs (yes, we are thatttt family). It wasn’t until a few years ago that we started harmonizing just the three of us… and very recently that we transitioned from cover songs to originals.
And all of tonight’s set was originals, sounding totally polished and natural. I’d love to hear about your songwriting process.
RR: Our process definitely varies from song to song. It has a lot to do with who has the initial idea. We don’t really write anything from start to finish as a group, someone always brings something to the table and then we work from there. Usually one of us will bring either a full set of lyrics or a partial set of lyrics to the group and see how they feel about them, and we’ll decide if we want to keep working on them or skip it for now. The lyric writing is definitely the most singular part of the process-a lot of our songs are entirely written by one person, with the exception of a bridge or a line. Musically we are very collaborative. A huge part of our sound is our vocal harmonies, so we spend a lot of time working those into songs. Occasionally someone will bring a song to the group where they have a vision already for everything, from the lyrics to the melody all the way to the arrangement, but usually it’s more like someone comes to practice and plays through the basic structure they had in mind and then we all go crazy with ideas together.
In what way do you think the shared childhood experiences (learning from the same piano and vocal instructors, and singing in the same high school choir) and also time apart affects, if at all, your individual styles and tastes, or cohesiveness playing together now?
Carson: I think the time we spent apart developing our own interests and discovering what our individual musical styles are made us stronger as a band. We all share a foundation in the way we learned music, and the music we grew up listening to, but then we each draw on our own unique influences as well.
Are there any specific bands or musicians you draw from collectively or individually?
Emmery: For me it’s hard because I know the musicians who have most impacted me as a musician, but I’m not sure I can say that I draw from them because I don’t think our sound is anything like them! Fiona Apple and Tori Amos are definitely songwriting idols of mine, but it’s hard to really channel their sound because the uniqueness of it is part of what makes it so impactful. When I need to get really focused on writing I feel like I listen to a lot of Dawes and Aoife O’Donovan.
Carson: I agree with Emmery– I think in our content we’re really influenced by the confessional female singer-songwriters we grew up listening to, but since our sound is so based in our three voices we draw on other musicians in our actual arrangements.
Can you imagine transitioning into a different genre of music?
RR: You never know! We feel pretty settled into the Folk pocket at the moment, but we intend to keep making music together for a long time, and the three of us are influenced by a wide range of music, so there’s really no telling what the future holds.
That said, the definition of modern folk is always changing a little bit. There are bands that are teetering right on the edge of rock, or bluegrass, or Americana, but all get to fit into this big umbrella of modern folk. It feels like a fun place to be and really be able to be anything you want, which is good for us since our sound is definitely not traditional.
What can we expect from Rosemere Road this upcoming year?
RR: A LOT of new material. Our biggest focus right now is writing constantly so we can get together a solid set of songs to make a record. We want to be very intentional about our approach; we know there is a lot to consider when piecing together a record and want to be sure it’s telling the right story.
We’re also very excited about the idea of taking the show on the road! We love playing our songs live, especially to new audiences. We’re doing our research on how to make that happen, so keep an eye out for Rosemere Road coming to a town near you!
If you could perform in one venue or festival, what would it be?
Emmery: Newport Folk Festival! Venue wise for me it would be the Ryman in Nashville.
Carson: Absolutely Newport Folk! Emmery and I have been going for seven years now and we’ve seen such a wide range of talented and passionate musicians there. The festival really challenges the definition of what folk music can be, and that’s something we try to do too: to keep in mind the traditional folk music we’re influenced by, but still be creative and make our own sound.
Kara: No doubt about it… Newport Folk and the Ryman would be a dream!
Dream artist or group to collaborate with?
Emmery: Probably Jason Isbell. His songwriting is some of the most impressive writing I’ve come across and I would love to see what writing with him would be like, to get a sense of his process.
Kara: Good choice Emmery!! My pick would either be Bonnie Raitt or Susan Tedeschi.