Meet Brynn Elliott, singer-songwriter, and outspoken academic who’s proving to the world that it’s indeed possible to do both. From signing with Atlantic Records earlier this year, to releasing a hit single and her EP Time of Our Lives, to graduating from Harvard University this year with a degree in Philosophy, Brynn melds scholastic prowess with a love for music, as well as a knack for songwriting and communicating ideologies and schools of thought both small and large, through music.
With inspirations from Adele, to Sara Bareilles, Brynn’s sound and songs are informed and drawn from depictions of strong women who have made the way for themselves through dedication and talent. I chatted with Brynn to ask her about how she went from writing songs with her guitar on her bathroom floor to touring and playing almost 300 shows nationwide and releasing a single that became a radio hit with over 1.3 Million views on YouTube.
Keep reading to learn more about Brynn and how she’s inspiring a generation of millennial polymaths.
THIS INTERVIEW HAS BEEN EDITED AND CONDENSED FOR BREVITY AND CLARITY.
Let’s GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING. YOU STARTED PLAYING MUSIC IN HIGH SCHOOL. TAKE ME FROM YOUNG BRYNN LEARNING TO PLAY GUITAR, TO GETTING SIGNED TO ATLANTIC RECORDS AND TOURING. HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
“Yeah, I started playing music in high school at the same time I was applying to college. I was actually drawn to play music because I needed something to do at the end of the day to feel like a human being again and not a resume. I was the first person in my family to decide that I wanted to go to college, so it was a pretty stressful, overwhelming process because we really had no idea what we were doing. It felt like we were taking a shot in the dark, so music was [my release] and I started writing songs and I would play those songs to my friends around Atlanta, and one of our family friends got a hold of some of the music that I had recorded and sent it to a producer in Portland, Oregon. I applied to Harvard my senior year, and I didn’t get in, but I did get an offer from this producer in Portland to spend a year and move there and produce these songs that I had written in high school. My dream was to go to Harvard, so I decided to take a year off, move across the country, and then re-apply to Harvard and see if I get in. So I re-applied with my music, and I got in, but that year really showed me my love for writing and making music, and performing music. I went on a tour with a YouTuber and I fell in love with the act of performing live. I think I just committed to trying to be a songwriter and an artist and performer, all throughout my time in college, and I decided to take advantage of the fact that I’m inspired by the academic community to write more songs. I decided that for those 4 years, I was gonna work my butt off and write as many songs as I could, and meet as many people, and play as many shows, and through that, I met my manager when I opened for Brandi Carlile. In my Junior year, I released ‘Might Not Like Me’ and it got onto a bunch of feminist artist playlists and Women of Pop playlists on Spotify, and that sparked the “label” conversation, and I signed to Atlantic Records at the beginning of this year.”
HOW DID YOU MANAGE GOING TO HARVARD AND BEING IN SCHOOL, BUT ALSO WORKING ON MUSIC BUILDING A CAREER IN THIS INDUSTRY?
“I think for me, it was a dream that I had. I committed to doing both at once at the beginning of college, and then I think that defined all of the small moments. I’d get on a bus to Maine on a Friday, and I also had a paper due at 9:30 that night, the same time I was supposed to be on stage. There were several instances where I would be marathoning an assignment and send it in right before I walked on stage. It was a juggling act, and there wasn't a lot of sleep, but it was also one of the most beautiful experiences and I think now that I’m not in school, I feel a little more sane, but it’s very exciting.”
HOW DOES YOUR DEGREE TIE INTO YOUR CAREER NOW?
“I studied Philosophy because I felt like it [was the best thing to study as a songwriter]. Philosophy is this discipline where you try to get at universal human ideas, what makes sense intuitively to us all, and I think that’s what pop music has been trying to do since its inception. I feel like every time I walk into a writing session, and it’s time to sit down and write or think about what I want to say through my music, I’m practicing philosophy and trying to communicate what a universal human idea is. I feel like I use it every day.”
Might Not Like Me has been called a feminist anthem by many, what does that song mean to you and tell me more about the meaning and the message?
“The song… it’s funny, it’s a deeply personal song to me, I wrote it when I was a sophomore in college, I was dating this guy, and I was really busy with music, I was travelling a lot, I played over 260 shows in my time at Harvard and I was very committed to my schoolwork, so I was very busy. This guy just looked at me one day and said, “You’re so much, you’re almost too much!” There was a moment where I thought about the idea that if I am so committed to my music and to my school, if I’m so ambitious, then maybe no one is gonna date me and I need to change. At the same time, I was in this class about women and philosophy in the 1600s, and these women were so incredible because they had no access to education and the only way they were able [to study Philosophy] was through their husbands or their brothers, but they did it anyway and they self-published their own philosophy and they didn’t care that it wasn’t [what they were supposed to do]. So I was in this class at the same time I was in this relationship, contemplating this, and I decided to break up with that guy and it was a breaking point for me where I decided not to worry about what other people think, especially not this boy, and just pursue what I love and do what I felt I was called to do. So the song really came from a personal experience, and I didn’t necessarily set out to write a girl-power anthem, but that’s definitely what it is and I’m excited to relate to other women through it.”
AND HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE MESSAGE OF THE SONG [FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NEVER HEARD IT]?
“The message is about not worrying what other people think. I think it’s a message about the story of me and this boy and that period of my life, I was so worried about what this boy would think of me if I were to pursue my dreams, but I think that the core of the song is about any circumstance where you feel like you need to be empowered and believing that other people’s opinions aren’t what really count, it’s about what you believe yourself to be. One of the main messages is about being human and embracing others as human beings.”
WHAT DOES YOUR SONGWRITING PROCESS LOOK LIKE?
“I always start with an idea. I don’t think I can write a song if I don’t have a vision for what I want to say. Lyrics are the most important thing to me, but then there’s this beautiful moment where a melody has to come through to give the lyrics their meaning. It usually starts with the words and then the melody takes over.”
YOU RELEASED YOUR EP ‘TIME OF OUR LIVES’ THIS YEAR, TELL ME MORE ABOUT THE SONGS ON THE EP AND HOW THAT’S BRINGING YOU CLOSER TO DEVELOPING YOUR SOUND AND VIBE FOR YOUR FUTURE FIRST ALBUM.
“The EP was written throughout my 4 years in college, so thematically, it’s about my journey through college, navigating relationships and friendships and the internet. Sonically, it has anthems like ‘Might Not Like Me’ because I’m really inspired by rock music, and it has a flavour that is [really powerful] to me as an artist, so that’s something I want to continue to explore. Then theres a very simple piano ballad in Tongue Tied, and that’s definitely a style of music that’s stripped down that speaks to me because I was just a girl who started with her guitar on a bathroom floor when I was 14. Having those quieter moments is really crucial to me as well. I think the EP is a [good example of] what you can expect from me. There’s so much more that I wanna do, but I think it’s a taste of what people can see in the future!”
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE LYRIC FROM A SONG OFF THE EP?
“I think my favorite lyric would have to be a lyric in Time of Our Lives that I wrote, it’s actually a funny story. For a long time, when I was touring with the song last summer, I would just repeat the first verse twice. Then I had this experience where my grandfather was very sick, and he was someone who really taught me how to sing and he would sing with my grandmother when they made dinner. He’s a very important person in my life, and I was contemplating the EP that I was working on and he leaned over and said to me, “I don’t believe in a goodbye” and it was so powerful, and I was thinking about the song and I decided to write a second verse and that line is definitely my favorite.”
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM YOU IN THE COMING YEAR?
“You can expect me to be on the road, I will be touring. You can also expect an album within the next year, I am currently writing an album and I’m very excited. More music, and more playing that music live!