The early years
The alumna hails from Boston, Mass., where her family encouraged her love for music beginning at a young age. With a trumpet-playing father, a piano-loving mother and a brother addicted to playing Scottish bag pipes, music was an inescapable part of growing up for the artistic Brooke. The talented musician reflects fondly on her childhood, remembering how she was weaned on music ranging from the Beach Boys to full operatic movements.
Brooke received a guitar when she was 13 and started up her first band, Science Function, in the seventh grade with the encouragement of her science teacher. Even as a teenager, the musician looked toward music as ³a ride to a powerful place, or a truly emotional way of transport.²
The artist¹s main passion, however, was dancing. By the time she graduated from high school, Brooke was already dancing ballet in many major Boston-based dance company productions. Although she was reluctant to put her dancing career on hold, Brooke looked at Amherst College with bright interest.
Music meeting words
Before matriculating at the College, Brooke enjoyed coming here to visit her brother, Eric Nelson ¹79. She claims she felt very comfortable at Amherst and that her brother and parents encouraged her to attend, recognizing the many opportunities and the nurturing nature that Amherst would provide. Brooke remembers narrowing her choices down to Williams College and Amherst, finally choosing the College. ³Williams was a bit too isolated,² she said.
At Amherst, Brooke¹s interest in music truly flourished. In addition to dancing, she sang in both the Sabrinas and the Concert Choir.
Brooke joined two rock bands on campus: the Remains and the Transformers. She majored in English, and many of her songs were inspired by a myriad of literary characters. She also relished her musical composition class, which enabled her to discover her talent for song writing. She recalls that her first project was to set a poem by E.E. Cummings to music, and she loved the piece so much that it is now the first song on her first solo album, ³Plum.²
Professor of Music and Asian Languages & Civilizations David Reck gave Brooke an amazing opportunity to explore her talent, when he created an individual study class for her and future musical partner, Jennifer Kimball, a friend of the class of 1985. The two friends, who met at a Sabrinas¹ audition, were able to write songs and produce a concert of original pieces for credit. The two received high marks, but more importantly, a duo was born. By Brooke¹s senior year, she and Kimball decided to join forces and to explore their passion for music together. The two played for big Amherst events like Casino!, and were also booked for many fraternity parties. The two decided to audition for off-campus gigs, and after an open-mike night at Northampton¹s Iron Horse, they started to explore off-campus opportunities. The two went their separate ways when Brooke graduated, but continued to dabble in music, and would meet again.
Life after the College
Brooke moved back to Boston, and joined an elite Boston ballet company, but continued to pursue song-writing on the side. Brooke began to look toward the Boston music scene, and Kimball moved back into her life. The two cut a record, ³Grace in Gravity,² under the independent folk label Green Linnet. The album was a major success, and truly took off when it fell into the hands of major label Elektra. The company offered a chance of a lifetime to the young musicians who signed a record deal and a national story under the name The Story. With this deal, they headlined for folk legends Patty Larkin and David Wilcox. It was their sophomore album, ³Angel in the House,² however, that put The Story on the map. Their catchy single ³So Much Mine,² which explored the complexity of mother-and-daughter relationships, received major coverage on the then Adult Album Alternative (AAA) radio, and Elektra offered the artists a headlining tour of their own.
Touring around the nation took its toll, however, and the pair split up after a year. Brooke recalled this opportunity to go solo as terrifying but also realized that it ³really gave me the opportunity to come into my own.² She claimed, ³I had been wrapped up in the identity of The Story, but now I could dig deep and explore.² Although Elektra dropped Brooke as a solo act, she eagerly took an offer extended by one of Elektra¹s producers, who signed her under his own label, MCA/Blue Thumb. The product of Brooke¹s exploration was the deep, very personal and cathartic ³Plumb.²
After releasing ³Plumb,² not only did she have to deal with a career of her own, but she also had to come to grips with her parents¹ divorce. This deeply depressing period in Brooke¹s life allowed her to explore an edgier sound, which eventually contributed to a more eclectic style.
Two years later, in 1997, Brooke released ³10 Cent Wings,² and took it on a national tour. However, her production company switched management and once again Brooke was left out in the cold. She claims that, although being dropped mid-tour was terrifying, she was left with the option of quitting or taking things into her own hands.
Brooke¹s shaky relationship with her production company encouraged her to take her destiny into her own hands. Brooke discovered Bad Dogs Records, which produced her album ³Jonatha Brooke Live² and covered the cost of her ³10 Cent Wings² tour. At first, the young musician was terrified that she would not be able to succeed on her own, but the positive response she received was overwhelming.
Brooke¹s solo career to date has been very personally satisfying, with the release of her 2001 album ³Steady Pull,² which raised the bar for her personal success. ³Steady Pull² achieved a remarkable level of sale success and media exposure, especially as it was produced without the backing of a major label. ³�Steady Pull¹ made me realize that people wanted to hear something that was honest and real,² Brooke said. ³I achieved amazing things. It was exhilarating. The song �Linger¹ was in the top 5 at AAA radio and one of the most played songs of the year. The album made me raise the bar. It made me want to produce, and not settle for anything that was not real to me.²
Brooke¹s willingness to experiment with an original sound, techno beats and melodic craft marks her newly released ³Back in the Circus.² ³This is the first time I¹ve consciously tried to make a record with a beginning, middle and an end. I wanted this album to feel like a journey, because that is what making it feels like to me,² she claimed.
Brooke said she feels that ³Back in the Circus,² like ³Steady Pull,² reflects her own vision. She claimed that it was a character study at Amherst that inspired the title-song. Most of the songs from the album reflect both herself and past characters that she has danced, read or acted.
Brooke¹s unique style is mirrored in her attitude. ³I think I¹ve come to a place in my life where I¹m really centered and not concerned with what anyone else thinks. It feels great to have made a couple of records on my own, and to have achieved a certain level of success with them,² she said. ³I¹ve learned to trust that feeling in the pit of my stomach, and to know what¹s right for each song. I have amazing fans and I get to do this for a living. That¹s a gift, and I guess the tone of this record has to do with feeling like I¹ve arrived somewhere as a person, confident and accepting about who I am.²
Brooke has taken ³Back in the Circus² on national tour, and hopes to travel to Europe with it this summer.