Barb Brynstad Q&A

June 15, 2020
Barb Brynstad is helping bring 60s harmonies back with Turn Turn Turn.

“From a young age, I remember singing rounds and harmonies. My parents were teachers and every summer we would take long camping trips out west to national parks. My mom taught my three sisters and me how to sing folk songs in the family station wagon as we drove through Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, and the Dakotas. And after I discovered the Beatles and listened to their albums, I couldn’t stop harmonizing.”

You three have great chemistry. How important is that to you?

It’s extremely important to me; in fact, I tell people that when I choose my musical projects, I’ve got to feel the love from my bandmates. Fortunately, I have mostly played with folks who are as kind and welcoming as they are talented. Adam [Levy], Savannah [Smith] and I do have exceptionally good chemistry. We share a common philosophy of life and a similar vision for the band, yet we bring different skills, talents and perspectives that make the group interesting and fun.

How did the three of you come together?

Adam brought us together. Initially, he asked me to play bass for a couple of Bunny Clogs gigs in 2018. But when those fell through, he hired me for a show at a local microbrewery that wanted a small, 60s and 70s cover ensemble that could pull off close harmonies. The original lineup was Adam, his daughter Ava, and me — with Adam and Ava doing most of the heavy lifting on vocals. When Ava wasn’t able to continue with Turn Turn Turn, Adam asked his former songwriting student Savannah to join us. Savannah has developed a solid reputation as a singer-songwriter, and we were thrilled that she carved out the time to play with us and join the project. The first time we played together, we immediately clicked. Although our voices are all so different, we were delighted to discover that they blend so beautifully.

You obviously have a Byrds aesthetic. Have you always been drawn to harmonies?

From a young age, I remember singing rounds and harmonies. My parents were teachers and every summer we would take long camping trips out west to national parks. My mom taught my three sisters and me how to sing folk songs in the family station wagon as we drove through Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, and the Dakotas. Later, in high school and college, I was active in choir. And after I discovered the Beatles and listened to their albums, I couldn’t stop harmonizing.

You have such a fluid style of playing the bass. How long have you been playing and who are some of your favorite bassists?

My journey as a bass player has lots of starts, stops and detours. I played mostly alternative music in my twenties, which including lots of touring throughout the U.S. Then, to focus on my career and family, I set music aside for more than a decade. When I decided to start playing again, I asked my friend and mentor Jim Anton, who had just stopped touring with Jonny Lang, to give me lessons. So for a few years, I studied every style of music with Jim, practiced relentlessly, and took every challenging gig I was offered that forced me to stretch beyond my capabilities. I am very much influenced by Jim, who is not only a great player, but also a great teacher. One of the highest compliments I received was when I sat in on bass during one of his house concerts, and people listening outside the room thought Jim was playing. My list of influences is pretty exhaustive. I love the bass playing of Willie Weeks, Larry Graham, James Jamerson, David Hood, Paul McCartney, John Entwistle, Geddy Lee, John Paul Jones, Louis Johnson, Bernard Edwards, Esperanza Spalding, Tal Wilkenfeld. I’ve studied Carol Kaye’s style, technique, and basslines the most. I was thrilled to receive a couple of Skype lessons with Carol in 2016 as a gift from my One-Hit Wonder bandmates. She still has tremendous chops and her music theory is unparalleled.

You three went from covers to 11 original tracks. When was the moment where you said you should commit to a full album?

A couple of months after our first gig, Adam had plans to cut a solo album at Zoo School in St. Croix Falls with Jason Shannon. He asked if we wanted to make it a Turn Turn Turn album, and Savannah and I jumped at the opportunity. Adam had several songs prepared for the album but wanted Savannah and me to contribute at least one song. I was honored and also a little intimidated, because while songwriting is so effortless for Adam, it’s a skillset I haven’t used for a long time. I was grateful for Adam, Savannah and Jason’s feedback and guidance during the recording sessions to help shape my material.

You not only have such a strong music connection but a great visual aesthetic as well. 

I joke that we love fashion almost as much as we love music. In my opinion, playing dress-up is an enjoyable part of the experience of performing. And luckily for us, Savannah and her partner Johan Lemke recently opened a vintage clothing store in Eau Claire called Seven Suns Vintage, so we’ll likely be taking our fashion game up several notches.

Music can be such an invaluable resource during times of stress. What do you listen to to feel better?

My Spotify playlist is varied: I’m a big fan of classical music, R&B, punk, funk, blues, jazz, alternative, rock and roll, country. The only genre you won’t find in my playlist is Swedish Death Metal. I do have a hard time just listening and not participating, which is why it’s sometime hard for me to go to local shows and concerts. I’m not good sitting on the sidelines; the lure of a great bassline is too strong for me to refrain from playing along.

Are you planning to do remote concerts to promote the album?

Yes, we are working with the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District and the Parkway Theater on some streaming shows, potentially in July. And as bars and restaurants re-open, you’ll likely start seeing us play at venues that have taken a thoughtful approach to how to keep their patrons, staff and performers safe. For now, we’re also planning on doing as many videos as we can, and will figure out how to do more streaming events. For some reason, we’re gaining traction in Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) right now, so we’re thinking creatively about how we can keep delivering content to our fans in Minnesota, as well as to U.S. and global audiences.

What has been your all-time favorite moment on stage?

With Turn Turn Turn, it was during our full band show in January 2020 at the Turf Club. We recruited some of the best players in the Twin Cities to join us. And although we had never played together, it was an amazing show with great sound, thanks in large part to our ace sound guy, John Robinson. There was a full, appreciative audience and we had zero hiccups. It was one of those shows that elevates you so much, you don’t come down for a long time. Other memorable gigs include CBGBs in the 90s with The Green Pyramids, Lizz Winstead’s annual “more sexist songs ever written” shows at the Cedar Cultural Center, Tina Schlieske’s holiday show at the Parkway Theater, with Chastity Brown at the State Fair, and playing during Willie Murphy’s funeral and memorial with the Angel Headed Hipsters, Binky Griptite, and John Koerner. But my all-time favorite moment as a musician took place off the stage. After a State Fair show with Chastity Brown, a young girl and her parents approached me and told me how much they enjoyed my playing; the young girl was a bass player in her church’s band. I’ll never forget this brief interaction because more than anything, I love that there’s a whole new crop of girls and young women who enjoy playing the bass as much as I do.

— Photo by Shelly Mosman; video by Ilia Stockert.