Artist To Watch: Brennan Wedl

Artist To Watch: Brennan Wedl

Brennan Wedl can’t stop bowling splits. Time and again, the musician and bowling enthusiast quietly but confidently palms a waxed bowling ball from the shelf, sizes up the alley stretched out before her, and releases in a fluid curved motion before backing away to evaluate her work. The ball travels straight down the center before inevitably tipping at the last second, taking down all but the two farthest pins. Never one to turn down a challenge, Wedl takes her best second shot, but in the end, at least one always remains standing, defiantly refusing her the spare.

Those polarized pins, taunting Wedl at Melody Lanes in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood on a Saturday in late March, feel representative of a larger theme in the musician’s work: setting her sights high, rolling with the punches, laughing off imperfections. On her latest single “Scorpio,” out today, she stares down a tempestuous affair and declares, “If it kills me, what a way to go.”

It’s just that kind of slanted self-awareness that makes Wedl’s simmering Southern gothics so powerfully honest, our flawed protagonist stepping into chaos with her head held high. “Sock it to me,” she belts defiantly in its chorus, sounding a bit like Sheryl Crow at her most furious as she begs for the inevitable gut-punch of heartbreak. Wedl isn’t one to take a blow to the face — or to her potential bowling career — sitting down. A few minutes after I bowl my first round, she approaches the lane again: another split. “Walk it off!” she cheers, as unflappable as the characters she embodies in her songs.

Wedl, a child of the Midwest who grew up between Chicago and Minneapolis, often felt pulled in opposing directions in her youth. “We had a couple of nuns in the family,” she says, and there was a time when she too felt called to a life in a convent. That in itself didn’t preclude her musical aspirations — “Nuns can shred,” she reassures — and she learned violin, her first instrument, from a teacher who once performed as a musical nun. Her outlook on religion began to change, though, “when I started thinking people were cute,” she explains.

Even though Wedl may have left a potential life in the sisterhood behind her, her Catholic upbringing still finds its way into her music. On her wistful 2019 acoustic album Holy Water Branch, there is the “Benedictine Interlude,” a fuzzy recording of a women’s choir singing Psalm 113: “The Lord raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes.” It’s a haunting centerpiece to an album that sees Wedl eye Hellhounds with envy. But on her more recent single “Kudzu,” Wedl makes a more covert critique of the restrictions she found from the Church: “You can always occupy my time/ I’ll die inside of this suffocation.” I mention that I initially thought the song was initially about an ex-lover, and she confirms that I was at least partially right: “It’s about the Catholic Church… and also about being dickmatized.”

Wedl began writing songs on her guitar in high school in the Midwest — she recalls an early hit, lost to time, called “Kindness Is Bright,” and playing during holidays with her uncle in “Family Band.” She quickly fell into the local music scene in Boston when she relocated to the city for college. There, after bonding over a shared love for local DIY stalwarts Dent with Lea Jaffe and Otto Klammer, the three formed Dazey And The Scouts, a delightfully goofy punk project that released exactly one album, Maggot, and disbanded quietly a year later. In early pandemic lockdown, one of the Scouts’ songs, “Wet,” became a viral hit on TikTok, Jaffe’s over-the-top imitation of Morrissey’s posh accent soundtracking thousands of lip syncs and fan edits. “It’s one of the biggest blessings of my lifetime,” Wedl says of her time in the band and its viral fame. “It was crazy to receive a message from a 12-year-old in New Zealand being like, ‘My friends love this.'” Wedl left Boston for Nashville after college, but her connections to Boston’s scene continue to this day: A tattoo of a musical triangle she got while Model/Actriz’s Cole Haden, a friend from the scene, was visiting her in the Midwest; a recent tour with Dirt Buyer that featured former Dent member Tristan Allen on bass.

In Nashville, Wedl began recording as a solo artist and picked up a love for bowling (she’s partial to the Donelson’s Plaza and Tusculum locations of Midwestern bowling chain Strike and Spare). She also found inspiration in the city’s musical lineage, listening to bluegrass and country and frequenting a honky tonk or two. It was the last experience — a man with tattoos and a Stetson at Honky Tonk Tuesdays, to be exact — that inspired another recent single, “Fake Cowboy,” which builds slowly over a finger-picked guitar before Wedl plugs in her amp and sets the song ablaze in its second half. “And I looked at him looking at me like he knew me better than I knew myself,” she sings, the complex emotions of casual sex rendered painfully clear by her crackling howl.

No two songs Wedl has released this year sound quite the same, and that’s partly by design: “I want to keep people on their feet, like, ‘What’s her album even going to sound like?'” And while the new singles may be indicative of a shift in her sound, away from the acoustic songwriting of her past and towards the fluorescent hues of pop and rock, she notes that whatever shape the forthcoming record takes, these singles will not be featured on the album. For Wedl, songwriting is a discipline as much as an emotional outlet, and she’s already working on an entirely new batch of songs, “collecting song seeds every day,” as she puts it. Wedl may be the only artist to name check Steven Tyler, Gillian Welch, and Korn in one interview, but listen to the lilting twang in her voice transform into a fierce cry on “Scorpio” and you’ll hear all of Wedl’s many selves: the Midwestern Catholic school girl in her bedroom, the venom-laced DIY punk rocker, the Nashville country star arm-in-arm with a cowboy at the Honky Tonk. I ask how Wedl personally identifies, as someone who’s transited religions and regions more than most in the past decade. She pauses for a minute before responding with a laugh: “Joyful!”

05/09 – Brooklyn, NY @ The Broadway w/ Comet
05/29 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Moroccan w/ Fashion Club

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