Interview: Briana Cowlishaw

Briana Cowlishaw is a passionate young Sydney Jazz and Pop musician set to embark on a national tour to celebrate the launch of her new album, we were able to find out a little more about her.

Hi Briana, Welcome to Beauty and Lace
What inspired you to become a musician?

Hi There. I always loved music as I was a dancer (ballet) from the age of 3! I played the recorder when I was 6 years old, started playing the clarinet in the school band from age 8 and was always in the school choir. I became very inspired to become a musician by about year 10 when my love for singing kind of took off and I joined the school jazz band. My love for music, jazz and composition has really just flourished since then and now there is no going back!

How would you describe your sound?

My voice is quite light and floaty, well that’s what people tell me. The music I write is really a collection of stories that tell of my life experiences and little epiphanies I have sometimes about life and myself. You can definitely hear my jazz roots in my songs, but I am really inspired by great pop/folk singer/songwriters such as Joni Mitchell and James Taylor, so you can hear a lot of that in there too. I am hugely influenced by the songs and production of The Beatles and also a lot of younger modern jazz players coming out of New York at the moment such as Taylor Eigsti, Esperanza Spalding and Becca Stevens.

The new single Paper Mache City is newly released, what can you tell us about it?

I wrote this song when I was living in New York last year. It was winter and I had been living in New York for nearly 3 weeks and it hadn’t snowed once. This particular day I was walking home to my apartment on the lower east side pretty excited and inspired about life and it started snowing for the first time. I was so happy I burst out laughing in the middle of the street and a stranger stopped and asked me ‘What are you so happy about?’ (these lyrics are in the song). This moment pretty much sums up how I feel when I am living in New York City. It is this eclectic combination of inspiring art/people/architecture/creativity, a rat race type adrenaline, a pretty cut throat lifestyle and financial reality and a feeling of motivation and ‘anything is possible’! It’s my favourite city in the world and it brings out the most creative and alive side of my personality.

The album of the same name is due to release on October 4th, can you tell us a little about the album and the process of getting it recorded?

The album was a quest for me to find a bridge between the pop world and the jazz world. My Debut release ‘When Fiction Comes to Life’ was quite jazzy, inspired by some of the modern jazz artists in New York (gretchen parlato, Taylor Eigsti, Gerald Clayton). I noticed with the last recording that people who didn’t understand jazz couldn’t connect with the songs that went beyond their musical understanding of the jazz language.

For this album I wanted to find a way to write music and present my songs so that they could connect with both the jazz lovers and the listeners who knew nothing about jazz. I really tried to think about the ‘song’ as being the most important part and then used production techniques to enhance my songwriting ideas. I was inspired by the sounds and recordings of The Beatles and The Beach Boys, James Taylor, Kimbra and really wanted the record to sound full and colourful, using an array of different synthesizers and textures. It was an absolute blast to make and experiment with.
I collaborated with a great composer/guitarist/producer in New York, Ryan Scott. We recorded, mixed and mastered the album while I was living in New York in 2012!

Briana Cowlishaw yellow horiz high res

Can you tell us how you came to be living in America and how it affected your music?

I decided to go to New York for the first time in 2010 to live for 3 months. I really wanted the chance to both soak up the amazing standard of musicianship and music that exists in New York and be challenged by it. I love challenges! I also really wanted an opportunity to live on my own in a foreign country, with my own space to write music, think clearly and be independent! It feels GREAT to do that!

Living in New York really affected my music and my thinking. Musically, it just filled me with ideas and creativity as you are surrounded by such creative people and ideas all the time, you just get rewired into this creative ball while you are there! Mentally, I was very influenced by the American go-getter attitude that all artists seem to adopt. It is so competitive in New York and the standard is so high it’s hard to keep up sometimes. But there is a great encouraging energy where all artists seem to egg each other on to go for their dreams and take as many risks as you can. I really thrive in this environment, which is why I keep wanting to go back there.

I lived there again for 6 months in 2012 and I am hoping to move there for a 3 year + period possibly in 2014 or 2015. We will see what happens!

What inspires your songwriting?

So many of my songs were inspired by my travels through Italy, Spain, Paris, London, Portugal, Switzerland and New York. But they are also inspired by just every day experiences, like walking down the street and noticing an old man smiling by himself. Things like that really inspire me and make me ponder about life and what it’s all about. I am a big thinker like that
A lot of my songs are also about an epiphany I have had… that moment where you suddenly see clarity through all the clouds. Then you have a lot of fuel for the fire to compose, and the song kind of writes itself!

Who are some of your favourite artists?

Joni Mitchell is one of my all time favourite musicians, along with James Taylor and The Beatles. I love and respect the quest these musicians went on throughout their career and they all seemed to carve their own way in the music industry. This is what I want to do I really love great lyric writing and the ability for an artist to tell a story through the words and the music. I am also very inspired by the older great jazz musicians such as Nancy Wilson, Shirley Horn, Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald and some younger generation mainstream Aussie based acts such as Vance Joy, Lior, Ngaiire and Kimbra.

You are about to head out on tours, what can audiences expect?

I am just about to head out on my third National Tour, but this is definitely my biggest one yet! The 9 date tour is celebrating the release of my new album ‘Paper Mache City’, with an Album Launch in 7 different cities around the country! I am very excited as I will be performing in Tasmania, Canberra and Katoomba (Blue Mountains) for the first time, along with gigs in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Newcastle.

The shows will debut my new songs from the album, along with new electronic tricks I have been developing for my live performances. With a few pedals and Ableton Live, I’ve got some fun new sounds and effects up my sleeve for the tour shows. It’s going to be a blast!

What’s next for Briana Cowlishaw?

Good Question!
After the album tour, I’ll be heading over to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) with a new multimedia arts projects I started with Australian pianist Gavin Ahearn, called ‘The Wires Project’. We will be performing in the Urbanscapes arts festival in November. We also have plans to run a 3 week exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary art in Singapore next August.

My songwriting journey will continue with a new album next year, potentially a collaborative duo pop project with my musical partner in crime Gavin Ahearn (Sydney pianist and composer). Keep your ears pealed next year

What does being a woman mean to you?

Being a woman is a wonderful thing. I am one of four girls in my family, so there is a lot of female energy in my life. I love being a woman and being able to express myself through music. It’s a pretty amazing thing to do.

It’s also pretty fun to be able to put big earrings on, curl your hair and go on stage in your favourite dress. That’s what is great about being a woman and a musician… you can dress up anytime you want and don’t need an excuse!

Thanks for your time Briana, good luck with the tour and all the best for that move back to America.

To follow Briana or find out more about her and her career she can be found on: her Website, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

To catch Briana on tour…


Friday 4 October
The Ellington Perth, WA
Doors at 7pm
Tickets: $20

Sunday 13 October
The Clarendon
Katoomba Blue Mountains, NSW
Doors at 3pm
$15 entry
or (02) 4782 1322

Thursday 17 October
The Loft
Canberra, ACT
Doors at 7pm
$15 entry on the door

Thursday 24 October
Blue Beat
Sydney, NSW
Doors at 9pm
$20 entry

Saturday and Sunday 26/27 October
Bennetts Lane
Melbourne, VIC
Doors at 8.30pm
$25 entry

Sunday 17 November
MONA arvo Jam Session
Hobart, TAS
1pm – 4pm
Void Bar

Sunday 17 November
The Republic Bar
Hobart, TAS
Doors at 8pm

Thursday 21 November
The Dungeon
Newcastle, NSW
$25 entry

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