A Few Notes on the Artist You’re about to Hear
(From someone who has known her all her life)
At the moment Logan Brill emerged into the world and drew her first breath, Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” issued from a boom box in the delivery room. Her parents had selected the strings-driven classic to provide a soothing welcome to the world.
Engaged as Logan was in the process of being born, it’s questionable whether she fully appreciated the gesture, but who knows? The important point is that, from the very beginning, music was present in the life of this Knoxville native whose new album you now hold in your hands.
The offerings on Shut Eye, Logan’s second album—all products of the storyteller’s art—range from gritty blues (Shut Eye) to country (Far Cry from You) to roots (Tupelo) to newly crafted songs that have the soft patina of revered old ballads (Wish You Loved Me).
“Recording my first record, Walking Wires, was enormously rewarding, but it presented me with a pretty steep learning curve,” says Logan. “When I began to work on Shut Eye, I had a much stronger sense of myself as an artist, and I built a collection of songs—a little blues and Americana and a lot of country and rock—that would reflect my tastes, demonstrate my growth and evolution as an artist, and get people out of their seats and onto the dance floor.”
It’s only fitting that Logan would want her music to incline people to move. By all accounts, she was an active baby, and the adjective her parents most frequently plied in describing her was wiggly. During her first year or two her store of energy was inexhaustible but, as yet, largely undirected. In short, she just wiggled.
Then she found music, or, more accurately, music found her. Her parents, mother, Susan, and father, David, had come of age in the 1970s and provided a perpetually looping soundtrack heavily steeped in rock (the Stones, Beatles, Hendrix, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead), Americana (the Band, the Byrds, Alison Krauss, Jackson Browne, Patty Griffin, Bonnie Raitt, Poco, the Eagles), blues (Vaughn, Clapton, Cray, King, Guy), and reggae (Tosh and Marley).
Her parents knew that Logan was hearing the music; they didn’t realize that, on a cellular level, she was also absorbing it.
“Growing up, I remember the house always being filled with music,” says Logan. And if we weren’t listening to music, we were making it. Some of my earliest memories are of family sing-alongs where everyone had a part. As I recall, my first instrument was a metal mixing bowl and a wooden spoon.”
Logan’s parents can’t recall the specific moment when they first heard that voice and recognized it as something unique, but from the beginning, it was clear, expressive, and precise. Logan not only nailed the notes but also the nuances, even before she could fully articulate the lyrics. And the expression on her face when she sang radiated pure bliss, whether she was channeling Keb’ Mo’ or Ariel from the Little Mermaid.
“I can’t put words to what I experience when I sing, but it’s always been something that’s come naturally, like slipping on a familiar pair of shoes,” says Logan. “In some ways, singing feels more intuitive to me than talking, and it’s always been a source of joy.”
Logan’s daycare teachers were among the first to recognize both her talent and her tendency to regard rules as mere guidelines. At the time, she was particularly taken by reggae, and her rendition of Peter Tosh’s “Downpressor Man” was spot on.
“I’ll always associate reggae with my dad,” says Logan. “When I was little, he drove me to daycare, and we spent the commute listening to music, which really deepened our connection. At the time, Daddy was in his Tosh-Marley phase.”
Logan’s parents were not aware that she had begun to perform her rendition of “Downpressor Man” during naptime at daycare, despite the teachers’ demand for silence. A room full of toddlers slumbering on their mats may not have been the ideal audience, but it certainly was a captive one.
“Mr. Brill, do you realize that your daughter sings Rastafarian protest songs during naptime?” her teacher chided her father one day when he arrived to pick Logan up.
“Ah, no, David replied, “but I’ll have a talk with her about it.”
“Oh, and by the way,” the teacher continued, she has a truly lovely voice!”
Reggae may have provided Logan an early platform for expressing her vocal skills, but her tastes expanded outward from there.
As a kid I listened to the same pop music that everyone else did, like Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, and ’N Sync,” she says. “I was right there with every other preteen who loved listening to the radio with her friends and singing along to ‘Bye-Bye-Bye’ and ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time.’”
And then, at 10, she heard a song that moved her to tears: Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis,” a paean to the cradle of Delta blues.
“It was the most soulful, aching song I had ever heard,” she says. It affected me down to my core.”
Suitably, she opted to cover the song in the elementary school talent show (which she won, by the way), and that selection foreshadowed the future direction of her music.
“When I auditioned for the talent show, I asked my mom to come with me because I was so nervous about getting up in front of all those kids, teachers, and judges,” Logan says. “I didn’t have a backing tape of the song, so I had to sing it a capella.”
She made the cut, and when it came time to perform in the show, she still didn’t have a recording of the song to back her up. So I walked with the microphone onto the gym floor, in front of the entire school, and just started singing.”
She recalls feeling scared and vulnerable. “But the moment I heard—and, more important, felt—my voice coming out of me, I experienced complete elation. I still experience the same high every time I perform.”
In the years since, she hasn’t strayed far from her early affinity for roots music, that gritty, authentic amalgam of blues, country, R&B, and folk. The tunes on Shut Eye are likewise grounded in that uniquely American genre.
“Country, blues, and Americana really speak to me because the very nature of each of the genres is to sing about everyday things in a beautiful, expressive way,” she says. “They plumb the rich meaning present in mundane and ordinary events and experiences.”
Later in life, Logan’s blended family bestowed on her a set of stepparents and three stepbrothers and formed a creative crucible of sorts: Stepdad, Les, a physician, is an accomplished musician. Stepmom Belinda is a potter. Susan is a graphic artist. David makes his living as a writer. Sister, Challen, is a talented visual artist. And two of her stepbrothers are touring musicians.
“I was so fortunate to have grown up with parents who not only nurtured my love of music but also encouraged me to pursue it professionally,” Logan says. “My parents and stepparents all have occupations or avocations that provide a creative outlet and allow them to do the things that they love.”
Logan’s four-parent team is one of the few she knows of that consistently urged the children to eschew conventional careers in favor of the risk-fraught, but sublimely rewarding, pursuit of art. Logan responded accordingly—and she got an early start.
At 12, she made her stage debut, standing in with stepdad Les band at a Knoxville pub. For her inaugural number, she didn’t so much sing as growl the lyrics to Bonnie Raitt’s slightly raunchy blues standard “Love Me like a Man.” In that moment, magic happened. The audience of middle-aged suburbanites erupted in applause and rose to their feet. Meanwhile, Logan wore a bewildered expression that seemed to say, “Did I really just do that?”
This time, the fear and vulnerability were gone, but the surge of joy and satisfaction was there, just as before.
Following her move to Nashville, Logan began to cultivate her skills as a composer.
“I developed an interest in crafting my own songs, from the bones up, and I started co-writing with other artists around town,” says Logan. “I really came to love the process of sitting in a room with another writer, exchanging ideas, and collaborating on creating a whole that’s much more than the sum of its parts.”
Carnival, a Nashville-based record label, soon took notice, and the company signed Logan on as a singer-songwriter.
“Carnival has been the perfect home for me, and I use the term ‘home’ intentionally,” says Logan. “I receive an abundance of guidance and support along with ample freedom to express myself and take my music where I want it to go.”
Her songs “Scars” and “Write it on Your Heart,” on Walking Wires and “World’s Still Round” and “Tupelo” on Shut Eye are all products of the collaborative writing process facilitated by her mentors at Carnival.
In 2012, she began a blistering tour of the eastern US with her band and has since opened for such storied acts as Dwight Yoakam, Blues Traveler, the Band Perry, Steve Earle, and the venerable don of the Bakersfield sound, Merle Haggard. In 2013, she released her first album, Walking Wires, which Music News Nashville terms “a brilliant debut.”
Crafting that album allowed Logan to share the studio with some of Nashville’s established and most-respected musicians, producers, and engineers, something that wasn’t lost on her. Surrounded by these top-tier professionals, she witnessed and experienced the process that allows what begins as the germ of a song to morph into full flower. The songs on Shut Eye came to life in much the same way.
One might expect that the grind of multi-city touring would incline a vocal artist to pursue free-time diversions that have nothing whatever to do with music. But if Logan has a saturation point, she’s nowhere close to reaching it. Whether at her father’s cabin or her mother’s Knoxville home, making music is almost always on the agenda after the dishes have been cleared away.
In the song “World Still Round,” she writes:
Until a spark catches,
You’ve got to keep on striking matches
’till you find the one that burns.
Though penned about unrequited love, the lines also serve as metaphor for the music business. In that regard, Shut Eye, this eclectic collection of “sparks,” will surely catch and kindle nicely. As for what comes next, rest assured that Logan, the artist, has a pocket brimming with fresh matches.