Hometown: Gold Country, Calif.
Albums: Gypsy Bells
For Fans Of: Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris, John Steinbeck
Quite frankly, Brianna Lea Pruett has lived more than most of us. Not in duration of time. No, she’s a spritely 30 years old. Pruett has long dropped out of high school, moved to the Big City and back, celebrated marriage (and its dissolution), endured fame-by-association and established herself as an all-around, multidisciplinary, self-sustaining artist. She has an IMDB page, poetry in the process of submission for journals, paintings for sale and a debut album that just dropped on Canyon Records. But lest one infer that Gypsy Bells is Pruett’s first record, quell those assumptions. It’s just her first with a record contract.
The budding narrative surrounding Pruett begins with her roots. Her Native American Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw heritage proves compelling fodder for creating a media persona that’s built upon her musical and lyrical tendencies. But in conversation, the self-described blond-haired, blue-eyed Pruett speaks less of these easily ascertainable facts and more about her fascination with the larger life questions: “How did I get here? “What are those people’s stories that put me here?”
Tracing her history for context, she begins, “My father was born in San Joaquin County and my dad’s family is mixed Native and European settlers immigrants and they moved from Oklahoma and Arkansas post-relocation out to California in the early 1900s when it was popular to have a farm and a ranch and also pursue another profession. My mom’s family is mixed European, like Mormon immigrants, and my parents met because both sides of my family had done that, come out to California seeking the farm life that was out here.”
She continues, “If you were really living a good life here in California in the early part of [the century], you were owning land, raising a family and having a profession. Both sides of my family did that. I’m really influenced by that and influenced by my family’s interaction with different histories and historical figures.”
Pruett, while cautious, is a force of unflappable self-assuredness. She takes pride in her heritage and her multi-sensory creative outpouring and how they intertwine. “I don’t label myself as Native American,” she says. “My official ethnicity is that, but I can actually choose. And that’s because of how I look.
“I don’t bead and feather myself….I don’t fringe myself. I don’t face-paint myself. I’m an urban girl. My family is from farming family, but I really grew up urban, so I try to be accurate about where I’m from. I think that’s something that is positive.”
And although Gypsy Bells was just released on Canyon Records, a traditionally Native American label, Pruett’s sound aligns much more with that of an indie singer-songwriter. Her suave alto wavers over acoustics guitars that are sometimes punctuated by twangy electric fills like in “Seeds of Love,” arpeggiated piano intros in “Under Your Wing” and flute solos in “Red Jacket.” And in terms of storytelling, Gypsy Bells rings with historical fiction rooted in Westward Expansion and the Gold Rush, as exemplified in the Grapes of Wrath-feeling “New Life.”
““I’m just so surprised, delighted and excited by my relationship with Canyon,” she says. Gypsy Bells is the first vinyl record they’ve released in 30 years and Pruett is their first indie artist. “I choose to represent myself as a human and an artist first and attend to my art first,” she says. “But Canyon is a Native American label and they are really innovative by putting something out with me, being a business partner with me, who is so evasive of labels.”
Next month sees Pruett’s album release party with The Shants at San Francisco’s Amnesia. In the New Year, she’ll begin a six-week U.S. tour in support of Gypsy Bells. But with so many projects in motion, Pruett has numerous ideas of what she wants to focus on next. It could be another album, for which she already has a number of demos and a songbook of more than 300 tracks from which to draw. Or, it could be shooting one of her three feature-length movie scripts that she has written. She might work on submitting her collection of short films to film festivals, continue sending poems to publications, or manage some combination thereof.
“I’m doing a lot of things,” she admits, standing her ground. “I don’t feel overwhelmed by it, but sometimes other people go, ‘Oh my god, how can you be doing so many things?’ Or sometimes they’ll be like, ‘Oh, you’re doing too many things.’
“But I’m like, ‘Is anything really suffering? No, it’s really not. Well then I’m fine.”
For now, Pruett is riding out Gypsy Bells’ adventures wherever they may take her. “I’ve been able to do all my things that I love pretty easily,” she maintains. “I got behind myself and pushed.”