Monday, 4 March 2013

Brittany Kwasnik at Cafe Cagibi

Brittany Kwasnik at Cafe Cagibi


For myself, Valentine’s Day meant spending my time writing about music. As I sat down with my notebook and pen in the romantically candlelit interior of La Cagibi, I noticed the room was filled with green accents of indoor plant life. I planned to spend my night half-heartedly jotting down an artist's song titles, style, and possibily their eccentricities. This is not how my night evolved: Brittany Kwasnik put on a show that left me in awe, and secretly wishing she would stay on the stage for at least a little while longer. 

The venue is quaint as one must walk through the cafe portion of Le Cagibi before finding oneself stepping through the aged dollhouse door that leads to the show room. I am eager to settle down for the show, as I pit stop to grab an Americano on the way in. The scent of the beverage wakes me up before I take a sip and sit back to admire the surroundings. Tiny wooden mis-matched chairs huddle around each table, illuminated by the light of tea light candles in tinted glass jars. A bold and monochromatic damask print dominates one wall, and bulky red curtains frame the stage, juxtaposing the dramatic decorative touches, with the casual and cozy ambiance of the room. The most striking section of the room is the wall covered in canvases painted in starkly different styles of artwork. One of the pieces shows a hockey player in a Canadiens jersey, but with a "face-off" moment depicted where his face should be. Nearby, featured on the wall is high-contrast geometric art full of lines and curves that intersect and entwine with each other. A third painting is full of abstract splotches of green, yellow, and orange paint on a black canvas, coming together to create the silhouette of an alligator.

A diminutive figure rises from the crowd and walks to the stage, picks up her acoustic guitar, and introduces herself as Brittany Kwasnik ("spelled the way Britney Spears doesn't spell it", she remarks, as the audience laughs).As she begins singing, it's becomes instantly apparent that she's a very talented young lady with a voice that can swing between being gentle and serene, or strong and full of angst. One song that stands out is a soft ballad from her upcoming album, which is to be released in May. The lyrics are honest and relatable, as she waxes poetics about her lover's honey lips, sugar tongue, and magnet eyes, before confessing that she's "not ready to get broken again this time". There's also some humming in this one, which adds sweetness and simplicity to the song, balancing out the apprehensive tone of the lyrics. 

Another highlights, "Not Your Girl", resonates with emotional depth and a skill for storytelling that exceed her 18 years, as she croons, "I'm not the pillow that you punch when you don't measure up, I'm not the door that you slam when your life gets stuck". Her voice is always in-tune with her lyrics, quiet and defeated at points, before it swells into anger and yearning. It's only when I sit down with the ever so humble, extremely personable artist later that I hear about her extraordinary past. As a child, Brittany was diagnosed with a vocal chord condition and told she would never sing again. Though she had sung in school choirs at this point, she had never thought of herself as a talented singer, so she wasn't too disappointed by this news. At age 13, however. Brittany begged her parents for a guitar for Christmas. Though she was gifted the instrument, she didn't take lessons for years, and only ended up teaching herself to play when she spent the summer at her grandmother's internet-less house after her own house flooded. She kept her talent hidden for years, only singing along with the guitar in her room when no one else was home. It's only after her mom came home early one day and caught her singing that Brittany was encouraged to present her music to the world. 

Her first song, Breathe, was recorded in a studio she found on Craigslist, and though people were skeptical about it, the resulting track got over 100,000 hits on Youtube, bringing this young artist a great deal of attention. Now that she's signed with Justin Time records, she says that her writing style hasn't changed, but the production of her music has. Whereas she started out being a singer-songwriter who had no goals of fame, she now has to have an ear for what will appeal to the public on a more universal level. Brittany explains that songwriting continues to a very personal experience through which she can vent and express herself, and that if she can't sleep, it's often because "there's a song in (her)". 

The show I caught at Le Cagibi was an intimate, acoustic show, but Brittany mostly plays with her full band these days. When asked what her favorite song is to perform, she quickly answers that she enjoys "Across the Ocean" (which you can listen to here), because it brings together both of her styles through folk-y verses and a more pop chorus. Another song that had this writer swooning was "Anxiety". Brittany explains that she wanted to write a song about this issue because it's something that isn't talked about nearly as much as topics like relationships and depression, for example. Her intention with this song was to recreate the feelings that overcome people who struggle with anxiety, full of experimental guitar-work, and abrupt tempo changes. When this song is played live, the artist asks for the lights to be turned off, to create a tense environment and make the audience a little anxious. 

To experience this for yourself, go catch Brittany headlining a "battle of the bands"-style cancer benefit at Club Soda on April 14th! As for the launch of her second album, keep your eyes and ears open in May.

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