4 To Watch: The Brunettes

Men are from Mars...

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Hometown: Auckland, New Zealand
Members: Jonathan Bree (vocals, guitar, bass, other instruments); Heather Mansfield (vocals, keyboards, other instruments.)
Fun fact: After they’re done touring, these Kiwis plan to settle in Pittsburgh. Why? “We met some very lovely new friends,” says Mansfield. “It’s quite a cheap place to live. And I think it’s really beautiful.”
Why they’re worth watching: Sheer fun from start to finish, The Brunettes have spent the spring and summer opening for The Shins and Rilo Kiley, charming the socks off U.S. audiences.
For fans of: The Cardigans, Mates of State, The Modern Lovers, ‘60s girl groups.

Upon encountering New Zealand’s Brunettes and their U.S. debut, Mars Loves Venus—with its perfect, bubblegummy, three-minute pop songs featuring constant “he said/she said” vocal interplay—you’d be tempted to conclude group principals Jonathan Bree and Heather Mansfield are a real-life couple. And you’d be right… three years ago.

“We started going out maybe six months after the band started,” Mansfield recollects. “Then we broke up, and our band broke up for a little bit as well.”

After the false start, the pair settled on a different dynamic for their partnership, which resembles Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra with the sensibilities of The Shangri-Las. “Now it’s very much like a brother and sister relationship,” Bree says.

Their tunes are silly at times—sporting titles like “Loopy Loopy Love” and “Too Big For Gidget”—not surprising for a songwriter like Bree who claims Jonathan Richman as a major in?uence. Twee though Bree may be, the effect is never less than convincing, particularly when backed by a pop orchestra of vibes, horns, glockenspiel and much more.

And as persuasive as the lyrical lovers’ spats seem, it’s now all in good fun. “I don’t think when we’re singing songs to each other we’re fluttering our eyelids,” Bree says, chuckling.

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