AMBY blends classical music sensibilities with a modern aesthetic

NOTEWORTHY: Abrianna Brown’s forthcoming album, 'Dysthymia,' slated for a September release, focuses on themes of depression and anxiety. “It’s forced me to think about these topics that I don’t want to think about,” she admits. Photo by Alex Mousan

“Get ready to hear what happens when you combine both electronic and acoustic music,” says Abrianna Brown, the voice behind the local electro-soul project AMBY. In a way, what Brown — who moved to Asheville about two years ago — is tapping into is the city’s twin DNAs of folk tradition and electronic innovation. But the musician, whose path to bandleading and album tracking is circuitous and adventurous, is speaking specifically about her own show, slated for Sunday, April 15, at the Town Pump in Black Mountain.

Because Brown’s father was a Marine, her family traveled a lot when she was growing up. She lived in South Carolina, California, Honduras (where her father is from) and Okinawa, Japan. Brown went to college in Spartanburg, S.C., where she studied classical voice, following in the footsteps of her matrilineal line. “My mother’s family were all musicians. My mother’s mom was an opera singer in New Orleans,” Brown says. “There was a genetic influence if nothing else.”

But despite going to school for music, Brown has found it challenging to segue into a career in that field. She did consider pursuing opera: “I miss singing classical music — it’s an inner battle, for sure,” she says. But despite encouragement from her professors and her mother, Brown moved in her current direction: an almost otherworldly palette of jazz-infused dream-pop paired with thoughtful lyrics. “We’re all just backseat passengers, so buckle up and blame the driver,” she sings through layered keys on the ambling “Lollipop Mind.”

But Brown has hardly set her training aside. In modern music it’s possible to get by without knowing music theory, “but I definitely think it makes it a lot easier if you know what you’re doing,” she says. It helped when taking Ableton lessons from local musician Ben Hovey and allows Brown to break down her electronic compositions for the acoustic instrumentalists in her live band.

“It kind of takes it away from me, which is nice,” she says. “Instead of it being about me, it’s not about me. … We can spend a whole practice session talking about the rhythmic dictation and not just me singing.”

Brown’s forthcoming album, Dysthymia, slated for a September release, focuses on themes of depression and anxiety. “It’s forced me to think about these topics that I don’t want to think about,” she admits. “It’s hard to put yourself out there, to be vulnerable [and] put something that matters to you out into the world.”

An internship at Echo Mountain Recording — where she worked on Gladys Knight’s Asheville show, among other endeavors — has expanded Brown’s knowledge of the music industry. So, too, has working on her album.

“With this project, I’m playing everything, all the parts,” she says. “This was kind of a challenge for me because I just started learning how to produce music on my own. This is the first thing I’ve done fully, completely with doing everything on the production side.”

Brown has worked with other producers on projects outside of Dysthymia. Her previously released Luna Nova EP, with its trip-hop soundscapes, pairs cool keys, thick beats and Brown’s vocal — at turns ethereal and soulful — with raps by DB the Lyric from Ridgeland, S.C., and production by Galimatias from Denmark.

Closer to home, Brown’s live band started as an experiment to see what could happen with a combination of electronic and acoustic instrumentation. “We were like, ‘This could actually work,’” she says with a laugh.

The group — including drummer Adam McMillan, along with Brown’s fiancé, Jacob Anderson, on piano — booked the Town Pump show as a way to play together before Brown and Anderson move to Colorado later this spring. McMillan, who has also managed bands and organized showcases, masterminded a concert that will include multisensory elements to elevate the concert to a full experience.

It’s a fitting farewell for Brown, but it will hardly be the last Asheville hears from her. She’ll be sharing a new video, filmed by Nathan Rivers Chesky, at Music Video Asheville on Wednesday, April 25. And she’ll be back to debut Dysthymia this fall. “Me and my friends were talking about me coming back every six months to do something,” she says. “At least.”

WHO: AMBY, ambymusic.com
WHERE: Town Pump, 135 Cherry St., Black Mountain
WHEN: Sunday, April 15, 9 p.m.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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