Front and Center: Singer/Songwriter And Jack White Pianist, Brooke Waggoner

Photo by Molly Moormeier

If you caught Jack White’s amazing performance at this year’s GRAMMY awards, then you no doubt saw and heard this week’s Front and Center interviewee, the super talented Brooke Waggoner.

While Waggoner has gained much attention as the piano player in Jack White’s all-female band The Peacocks, she’s certainly no stranger to the stage or studio.

Churning out beautifully orchestrated piano-centered pop since 2007, she has toured almost nonstop sharing the stage with the likes of Owl City and Rocky Votolato. And on March 5, Waggoner will release her third full length record Originator.

The WiMN sat down with the 28-year-old Nashville native to discuss her new music and more. You can learn more about Brooke Waggoner at brookewaggoner.com.

WiMN: What are some of your earliest memories involving music? What influenced you to pursue a career in music?

BW: I found my mom’s songbooks from the ’60s and ’70s at a pretty young age and got really into writing songs. Elton John, Stevie Wonder, themes from old movies…. For me it was just always assumed. There was never really this one moment where I decided I was going to do music for a career. It would just be. I never thought of other options.

WiMN: You recorded your latest album Originator to tape and without the use of any computers. Can you tell us about the process and why you chose to record this way? Musically, how is this record a departure from your previous work?

BW: It was such a great way to make a record. I had been making recordings like this with other people I’ve worked with and produced records for, and it felt like it was time to embrace the same confines. It’s just a much better way to get real performances from musicians. Keeps it very real. And for me mentally, it was freeing. There’s something so magical about watching music being made in a physical tangible way. Once you experience that it’s addictive. This record isn’t really a departure, more just a continuation of what I do. There’s a lot of brass, woodwind colors, and choir on this project. That’s something different that I hadn’t really experimented with on my past albums.

WiMN: You’re known for composing the orchestration on your records. What got you interested in scoring and orchestration? What are the challenges to writing orchestration to your own music?

BW: Orchestration might be my favorite thing – it’s the most magical feeling after you’ve spent a lot of time getting it on paper or arranging it in your brain and then to hear all of those colors come to life. I got into this side of music when I realized all of the people I connect with do some form of this. It’s just a lot of how my mind works – I like the puzzle side of it. It’s a fine art in shaping sound and finding the right combinations of instrumentation. Endless possibilities. The challenge when adding it to my own music is keeping it restrained and paying attention to all of the details. I only want it to enhance the song – if you get too self-indulgent with it, the magic of the song can quickly fall apart.

WiMN: What attracted you to move to Nashville and what do you like about it there?

BW: I moved to Nashville when I was 22. I really had no money and it was the best place I could find for music in a city I could afford. I think I was pretty ignorant to what Nashville made available when I first moved here. All I knew is there were serious musicians there and I needed to be apart of that. There are pros and cons to this city; I love how much Nashville loves a good song. There’s a real respect for the craft of songwriting. That speaks to me most.

WIMN: Tell us about how you got connected with Jack White. What was it like to record and tour with him?

BW: I think we got connected through friends of friends. He was working on his solo album Blunderbuss and looking for a piano player. I got a call, showed up, and things clicked really well; he’s a great person to work with. He’s detailed yet gives you freedom to be expressive. It’s been a real honor to be a part of his work.

WiMN: You were featured in the 30 Songs / 30 Days campaign. Can you tell us about this experience and what the project is all about?

BW: Yeah, it was a PBS series that aired last fall (2012). The project was inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The PBS series raised awareness of the challenges facing women and girls globally, and helped to illustrate the path to empowerment. They enlisted me to donate music – one song per day in the month of September. There were so many great female artists who took part in this as well. Good to be in good company. I’m a HUGE fan of what Half The Sky is doing.

WiMN: Can you share your experience as a woman in the industry? Have there been challenges?

BW: The only challenges I’ve felt have been self-imposed. I’m pretty hyper aware of the fact that I’m a “female piano/singer/songwriter.” And let’s face it, there’s a lot of ‘bad’ music out there with that moniker. So I look to music and bands that broaden me. I never wanna get stale or limited with what I do. I remember having a distinct realization that I was a “female in music” when I was at school studying composition and orchestration. I was the only female out of 50+ males who were majoring/focusing on the same thing, ha. It didn’t matter. I don’t care about gender. Just make good music.

WiMN: Any words of encouragement or advice to young women seeking careers in music?

BW: I would encourage women to not play the “girl” card if they can help it. It’s about music. Period. Obviously, as a female you’re going to infuse certain attributes and angles to things that males wouldn’t necessarily do but there’s a place for all of it. You have to work hard. Be confident in your sex but don’t acknowledge it too much. Men never show up with an album or song making claims about how they’re a “man in music.” We don’t need to do that either. Make good work and it’ll speak for itself.

Check out video for “Rumble”, the lead single from Brooke Waggoner’s new full length Originator, out March 5.

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