by Alexa Peters
Most of us live our lives unaware of our addiction to sound. Birdsong marks the seasons, a whistle signifies a boiling kettle, a spoken “hello” invites us to connect with each other, and we think very little about it.
But for Brittany Davis, a blind, BIPOC, and non-binary musician from Seattle, sound is life itself. Sound is freedom and self-expression in a world that often confines and silences people with disabilities.
“I process everything I need to do through sound. It’s also one of the biggest things about me. It gives me a sense of myself,” Davis said. I always say I don’t like being in the dark Well, darkness to me is silence.
Unsurprisingly, Davis’ relationship to sound gives their approach to music-making an astounding degree of sharpness, gratitude and heart. So much so, it’s hard to believe their new EP, I choose to live, released on March 11, is the 27-year-old’s debut album. Released by Loosegroove Records, the label of Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard, I choose to live is an impressive introduction to a deeply gifted and original musical mind eager to speak to the issues affecting marginalized communities today.
I choose to live features Davis’ captivating and unique sonic precision, as well as their vulnerable and honest perspectives on a variety of issues, spoken freely after a life without a voice and projected as a disabled person.
“My hopes and dreams are to create space for people and to raise awareness for people with disabilities in particular, and for people who have invisible disabilities – autism, spectrum disorders – things that have to do with sensory processing and sensory modulation. All of these different things are real and people don’t understand what it feels like,” Davis said.
Growing up with their grandmother in Kansas City, Davis attended public school until fifth grade, then a school for the blind from fifth through ninth grade. Being totally blind, Davis often felt degraded by those around him, including other children who were partially blind and could move around more independently.
“There are different levels of blindness. People who can’t see seek help from someone who can see a little, and [they] will say you should learn to do it yourself, then the person who can’t see feels degraded and the person who has the ability or privilege to see can put on a smile. Do you know?” said Davis.
As a disabled person, Davis constantly navigates a social hierarchy based on ableism and bodily privilege. But by refining their relationship with sound — like learning to “hear the walls,” filling their space with the right white noise for their mood, or playing music — Davis finds more freedom, comfort, and love for himself. same.
“People [ask me], ‘How do you hear a wall?’ You can hear a sound shadow. The next time you want to know how to hear a wall, just close your eyes and stand next to a wall. Don’t touch him, don’t look at him, just stand next to him with your ear facing him and see if you don’t feel any difference,” Davis said.
Besides being an outlet and a source of self-expression, creating music is something Davis can do on his own – a rarity in Davis’ life.
“If I’m going somewhere new right now, I can’t even go to the bathroom on my own,” Davis said. “I can go out with my cane, but here’s the thing. If I put on my clothes, put on my shoes and jacket, put on my scarf, hat and gloves, grab my cane and walk out the door, what has to happen next is that I have to know – not just know, not only have some sort of vague idea – I have to to know or I’ll.
Music has therefore always been a safe and accessible place for Davis to wander, dream and explore. Likewise, some of Davis’s fondest childhood memories involve mimicking bird songs on the piano from the age of 3, listening to their grandmother’s “old school” vinyl, and performing. in countless performances and religious talent contests.
At age 15, Davis moved to Seattle with her mother and younger brother, and over the years they lived throughout the South End. Davis didn’t come to Seattle knowing the music scene well, but over time they befriended stalwarts of the local music community, like Afropunk musician and activist Om Johari and La Tanya Horace of the collective Sistas Rock the Arts. Through them, Davis began attending regular jam sessions and performing, and eventually they were introduced to Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard.
“I had no idea who Pearl Jam was or what they were doing, but I [knew a girl in school who] was obsessed with them,” Davis said. “I’ve just started listening to some of their songs and some of their beats, and I’m picking up some of that rock stuff. I capture the mood.
Davis and Gossard quickly became friends. Davis says Gossard, like the others who helped bring this EP to life, is one of the missing “puzzle pieces” helping Davis become more fully who he is. Gossard, who affectionately calls Davis “Brit,” says working with the artist and releasing her debut EP is “an honor.”
“The depth of feelings and musicality of Brittany is striking. I often see Brit hear a track once and play a perfect take on the fly,” Gossard said. “Brit really can do it all. Designing, producing, writing, playing sessions, but all with such fine musical perception that always finds that sweet spot. Their harmonic knowledge and the way they use it is astounding.
Sure enough, Davis’ six-song EP East stunning, bringing together the rhythmic punch of jazz and rap, the intensity of rock, the vocal inflections and instrumentation of R&B in a sound that is brilliantly Brittany Davis.
The opening track, “I Choose to Live”, has all the trappings of a rock anthem except for the hubris.
“When I started writing it, I was like, ‘This can’t be an anthem,'” Davis said. “It can’t be an anthem, because when you make anthems, you kind of put yourself ahead of the song. We talk more about our perseverance and not people’s perseverance, that’s why I wrote the song the way I wrote it.
In the guitar track, Davis focuses less on her own struggle, instead striving to tell the stories of many marginalized people. Davis opens up all the wounds facing humanity today — from systemic racism to the political house of cards in the United States — to soothe himself with the uplifting, mantra-like refrain, “I choose to live.”
That’s not to say the album doesn’t explore Davis’ pain. In another song, “Loud Loud World”, Davis explores what it’s like to be told how and what to be as disabled, BIPOC, and, in particular, as a non-binary person who has ” no idea how to convey visual messages to people who can see.”
“In my everyday life, people say to me, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be wearing that. It doesn’t make you look good,’ and then the next person is like, ‘That looks amazing. Like , ‘Dang, she looks stupid in this video’, and then another person might say, ‘This video is the best video you’ve ever done.’ So having these cognitively dissonant messages coming at me from all angles all the time and not being able to check things myself against mine [visual] perception because I have never seen another person [is challenging],” they said.
Throughout the record, Davis exercises a deft ability to zoom in on his camera lens – giving wise and unabashed spiritual, relational and personal advice with grace and humility. Even when asked what they hope to gain personally by releasing this EP, Davis shares his hopes and gratitude for the community that has rallied around them.
“With my success, I want to give back, but not only do I want to give back, I want to step back and watch. …I don’t want to be the star of the script all the time, you know what I mean? Davis said. “Since I was a child, I have always felt like a piece of a puzzle. I never felt like a whole. Here in Seattle, I feel like I found a lot of my pieces that fit my puzzle. It’s Om Johari, it’s like La Tanya, it’s Stone Gossard, it’s all those cats. I want them to know they’re part of it, and I want all the houses that fed me to be fed. That’s how I live.
Alexa Peters is a freelance journalist and editor living in the Seattle area. His work has appeared in The Seattle Times, The Washington Post, Leafly, Downbeat Magazine, Healthline, and more. His Twitter is @ItsAllWriteByMe and his Instagram is @AlexaPetersWrites.
📸 Featured Image: Brittany Davis on stage with Stone Gossard. (Photo: Niffer Calderwood, courtesy of Brittany Davis)
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