By Alexandra Lane
Aimee Bobruk, the artist behind the sultry, folk-rock album “babrook” is not your average songwriter. Most of her recent music is the result of games, she tries not to include emotion, and she is a proponent of quantity over quality when it comes to songwriting.
Having studied music through the violin as a child, Bobruk was familiar with reading music but never had formal vocal training. In fact, following high school, she was following a totally different artistic path…as an actress.
Her freshman year of college was spent at North Carolina School for the Arts for acting. An experience she recalls as an unique one where she spent eight hours a day in studio, had to wear all black almost all the time, and was practicing constant control (unlike some of her peers). As a student at North Carolina, one of the main concepts she was taught that year was, she says, “how to remove your identity in a space so you could learn to react in the most honest way.”
This practice of removing her emotions from her art is something she has implemented in her recent release. Whereas a lot of musicians utilize their emotions at capacity in order to inspire and write music, Bobruk is using a different method: the songwriting game.
She says of her perspective, “There’s this myth that in order to write a good song, I have to be inspired. In part that’s true. If you’re just sitting there, not wanting to write, feeling grumpy about it, it’s probably not going to come out to great. So the game allowed me to play with it…it gave me a little less emphasis on the feeling. Which I think, helped me find a balance between that in my writing.” Usually “I think about things from a philosophical perspective, which can get me in trouble sometimes with songwriting.” Bobruk said.
The game was a tap into her creative juices, and “it really opened the doors for me to think about songwriting in a different way.” And it worked, as all but two of the songs off of her album were generated through the game.
The game has become not only a huge part of the creative process for Bobruk, but also a means for open communication with friends and fellow songwriters. She has been able to stay in touch, and gather advice from fellow musicians saying that “one of the best pieces of advice that one of my friends in the game gave me, [is] that it’s a very freeing thing that happens when you stop looking at your songs as you babies.”
That wasn’t always her outlook on musicianship. Bobruk’s earlier release “The Safety Match Journal” came from a much smaller body of work when she was “still newer to songwriting, and it was really my first experience with recording a record.” The songs on “The Safety Match Journal” have a sense of levity, and not the hint of experience heard on “babrook.” Bobruk indicates that her life experiences are the cause for the difference in sound, saying “I put down my instruments for many, many months, and I didn’t perform. So when I did pick it back up again, it felt like it was coming from a new place.”
The backbone of “babrook” was her use of the songwriting game, but Bobruk was able to not get caught up in the writing process by keeping her emotion out of the equation. Her opinion for any songwriter is “quantity over quality. And this is going to sound backwards to a lot of people. It’s like in a pottery class if you tell students to make 10 good pots. Students that ended up making 75 pots ultimately ended up making better pots because they were doing it more often. That’s my frame of mind for writing songs. Keep the water running.”
That is exactly what she did with drummer Dony Wynn, and producer and bassist Brian Beattie. The three musicians worked endlessly on this recent record; sparing nothing to make this album sound it’s best. Bobruk said of their studio time “[we] treat it song by song, and spend about a month on each song… It wasn’t uncommon for us to spend an entire day on drums, or one bass track.” This album is inspired by a little bit of everything. It definitely takes some creative liberties in places, but also has an underlying growl that Bobruk says, “my producer is a bass player. He’s really enthralled, and I got really enthralled with these sort of growly, low textures…and using a voice in a similar way.”
None of them wanted to ever rush a track Bobruk said, “I never ever want to feel pressured, that I have to finish something because I’m racing the clock because of money.” On most of the tracks off of her album, Bobruk says that “it was very rare that we ever took more than eight takes per song,” and that in order to get the right sound “we would rehearse through a couple of times, just to get the feel and the vibe, and then we would start recording and figure out what works.”
Seeing the positive outcome of unrushed, spontaneous songwriting, Bobruk got involved with the Austin-based House of Songs. House of Songs is an organization that brings together musicians from different cultures to collaborate on songwriting endeavors. Bobruk worked with a number of different Danish artists through The House of Songs, and as a result “looking into some opportunities in Denmark.” She plans to be back in Denmark in April to explore some new opportunities. Bobruk plans to teach during her time in Denmark, saying, “they have programs, sort of like Berklee College of Music…I’ll be doing some guest teaching there.”
Aimee Bobruk is changing the way artists think about songwriting from start to finish, and doing it successfully. She has found a way to be feminine in a gritty, unapologetic way, all from a little town in Texas.
** A Version of this feature was published in Performer Magazine in February of 2013