by Sheldon Birnie
Winnipeg is well known at all points of the Hillbilly Highway as a musical hotbed in the heart of the continent. And while many love to look back on the heyday of our city’s musical past, there are plenty of contemporaries keeping the candle lit. Brandy Zdan is front row centre.
Over five years ago, the singer, songwriter, and guitar player left Winnipeg for Austin, TX. At that time, Zdan was half of Twilight Hotel, a group which garnered plenty of critical praise and Highway miles. But Zdan has since branched out on her own, releasing Lone Hunter in 2013, and a record of instrumental in February of 2014. After establishing herself in the Texas songwriter scene, Brandy has taken the leap to Nashville. Currently, she’s on tour with another songwriter who is no stranger to the Highway, Winnipeg’s own Scott Nolan, for a cross Canada tour. Stylus caught up with Zdan as she was preparing to leave on the first leg of that jaunt.
Stylus: What have you been up to recently? It looks like you’ve been really busy…
Brandy Zdan: Yes! I’ve been very, very busy. I made a move to Nashville in January, and I’ve been getting to know the scene, booking shows. I just did a two week tour of Texas with some friends. I released an instrumental record in February [Instrumentals 1: Heart Theft].
Stylus: Can you tell me about this instrumental record? Like, how did it come about?
BZ: I’ve been writing these compositions for the last few years. While I was on tour in Europe I decided that I had enough of them to sort of complete a little body of work, a mini-album of sorts. I thought, you know, I’ve demoed all this, I know the pieces, I’m just going to go in to a studio in Austin and just record it all in one day and put it out there. It’s really just purely for music’s sake. I have these compositions, they’re there. I listen to a lot of instrumental music. Bill Frisell, Dan Lanois, Brian Eno, that’s such a big part of what I listen to. And there are fans of this stuff out there. I think it’s still melodic enough and song based enough that people can appreciate it, even if they don’t listen to that sort of thing all the time.
Stylus: How are you finding Nashville? You’d been in Austin for a while before that…
BZ: Yeah, it was five years [in Austin]. I like them both, and they both have their pros and cons. Nashville is very much a business town, and Austin is a little more laid back. I like them for different reasons, but I am enjoying myself in Nashville very much. There’s a lot of fun things to do, and so much going on and so many people to meet.
Stylus: You’re heading off on a Canadian tour here with Scott Nolan. How did that all come about?
BZ: Back in the fall, I thought I should probably come up and do a solo tour of my homeland. And I thought that I didn’t want to do it completely alone. I wanted to enlist someone, a friend and someone I respect greatly, which is obviously Scott. I knew he’s a versatile enough musician that he could back me up on drums or whatever I wanted him to. And I could collaborate on his stuff as well. It’s a very unique tour. It’s probably a one time thing, but maybe it’ll happen again some other time? But we’ve been pals, and kept running into each other all across North America. Of course, we’re from the same town, but we keep seeing each other in other cities more than in Winnipeg. I’m really looking forward to the collaboration. We’re going to a lot of different places, and I think it’s going to be really fun. We’re really looking forward to the show at the Park, it’s the last show of the tour, so we end it here, in our hometown. It’s very exciting for both of us. It’s been a long time since I’ve played here, I’m excited!
Stylus: What do you have lined up after this? What’s next for you?
BZ: What’s next is I’m trying to figure out my plan for a full length record. I’m also doing some shows in Nashville and in Texas, touring down there. And in the fall I go to Europe again. There’s always so many things on the burners! Never a dull moment.
Brandy Zdan and Scott Nolan take to the stage at the Park Theatre June 4th. Tickets are going fast so get yours, pronto!