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Something magical happened when Britti stopped doubting herself

Jim Herrington
Courtesy of the artist

The period leading up to the release of her debut album has been a whirlwind for Brittany Guerin, who goes simply by Britti.

There was a point in her life when the New Orleans singer-songwriter wasn't even sure her voice and music would make it to the masses. But after plenty of sweat, tears and a chance encounter with The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, Hello, I'm Britti. has made it out into the world.

We hesitate to call it a straight-up country record — there are tinges of R&B, soul and pop sprinkled throughout the record, which was produced and co-written by Auerbach.

Britti spoke to World Cafe about the road to recording her debut album. Check out our conversation below.

Give us the top line for Hello, I'm Britti. What story did you want to tell on your debut?

So the title is an homage to Dolly Parton's album. I've always loved Auntie Dolly, as I call her, but I went down the rabbit hole of just how many albums that woman has...

It's crazy.

It's crazy! I mean, at one point, she was dropping them, like, every single year, which you, typically, nowadays, don't really see a lot of artists do ... When I went down the rabbit hole and I went to that first album, I saw her cute little face and saw Hello, I'm Dolly. I thought, "The world doesn't even know what they're about to get into."

So it hit me: Let me introduce myself to the world. I've put in the work. I've been evolving. I've been living and truly being a human being. Let me put in the work, write these songs and put them out into the world with vulnerability. So this album is my personal love letter that I'm letting the world read.

The album is very diverse in sound, but I think the thing that brings it all together is your voice. It's so distinct. When did you start to develop it as an instrument?

I don't even know if I'm done developing it as an instrument. It's an ongoing, progressive journey. I always tell the story that my mom told me that I would sing gibberish before I could talk. So I was always singing as a baby ... I think I started to sing when I enjoyed hearing my own voice — not necessarily the way that I sounded, but I enjoyed how I felt when I sang. Then I was in choir in middle school, high school, college.

What sort of music did you listen to growing up?

I grew up with a whole bunch of different genres of music. There was never a day in the house where my grandmother did not have music playing. She either had on blues or zydeco. My grandfather also played classical music.

I was kind of everywhere. Then, in high school, I remember being made fun of for singing R&B and soulful music because my voice had a country feel to it. I just embraced it. I remember getting into O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the movie soundtrack, and discovering Alison Krauss & Union Station and diving into Americana music.

Has your family always been a big part of your musical journey?

All my family members have a common strand of having a big heart and just being very loving, but they all have different personalities, so they all kind of latched onto different music styles. It takes a village to raise a kid, so I was kind of in between all the different music genres.

I want to jump into your origin story, which involves getting discovered by Dan Auerbach, of The Black Keys. But first, can you tell me about your time studying music performance at Loyola University. What was your vision back then? Your Plan A, so to speak.

I think I just wanted to do music. I was dancing in high school, and so it was either to be a dancer or to be a singer, in my dream world. I remember: At the time, I told myself I was going to go to Nashville, work at a Guitar Center, and I was going to get discovered by just naturally singing a melody. Somebody was going to waltz in, who had the resources and the time and the ear and the heart to help me become successful. That did not happen.

A version of that did sort of end up coming true, right?

I got discovered in a very unconventional way. The pandemic had happened and the world had stopped. I was furloughed for two months from Buffalo Exchange. I had recently gotten out of a breakup that I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with that person, so I was devastated, heartbroken. Then the world paused...

But I remember being on the levee, running, and saying, "What if I tried believing in myself?" Because doubt has killed more dreams than failure ever will. So I started running 15-20 miles a week. I started meditating. I started reading. I started talking to friends and doing all of the nourishing things that you can do to heal and to become your highest self.

You also bought a guitar and you started posting performances online?

I started playing and treating myself as a job and taking myself seriously. There were a lot of arrows that were going forward that weren't hitting the board, so there were a lot of opportunities that showed up but then falling through.

Then, Tom Osborne, who runs Easy Eye Sound for Dan Auerbach, ended up reaching out, and it happened. What's interesting is that I think, nowadays, record companies look for people that are already developed, because it's less of a risk, financially ... I feel so blessed, and I have so much immense gratitude for Dan Auerbach. I'm so thankful that he took not only an opportunity, but he helped mold what has already there.

What is he like, as a producer?

I like him because he has a great balance of allowing the artist to have autonomy. So he is not changing anything about me. I've always been me, I'm still being me, and I always will be me.

Honestly, I don't hear my voice like other people do for the first time because I've been having my same sound for roughly, like, 32 years. It's interesting how we don't sometimes realize our gifts because they're so normalized in our everyday life. So he is really good at saying, "This is a gift. This is special." He has a good way of adding glitter to what's already sparkling.

I wanted to ask about "Keep Running," because I think it belongs in my favorite subcategory of country — songs that just feel like big, open skies and make your heart swell up inside. Can you tell me about writing that song?

It's such a happy melody, but it also has a melancholy feel to it. I would say it's one of my most vulnerable songs. It's about not pausing and using that ongoing path as a safety net. I think that, as humans, we think, "If I keep going, then I won't have to stop and look at what I need to fix. If I keep going, then nothing's wrong." It's another way to sweep things under the rug.

But then the song ends in a way where it's, like, "No, I'm going to risk the fall to fly. I'm going to stop, and I'm going to fall in love and stay in love. I'm going to be optimistic and have faith."

Copyright 2024 XPN

Miguel Perez
Miguel Perez is a radio producer for NPR's World Cafe, based out of WXPN in Philadelphia. Before that, he covered arts, music and culture for KERA in Dallas. He reported on everything from the rise of NFTs in the music industry to the enduring significance of gay and lesbian bars to the LGBTQ community in North Texas.