“I consciously make sure to be constantly listening to stuff that’s outside my comfort zone and so a lot of that leads into the music that I write.”
Certain artists have a knack for being brilliantly enigmatic, and Boston’s Senseless Optimism is one of them.
The moniker of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Brittany Tsewole fuses together an abundance of styles. There are multiple elements being in play, and they all follow a distinct cohesive flow.
This approach has made Tsewole a must-see talent on the scene, perhaps even one of the shining lights of Boston music this decade.
The new Senseless Optimism EP out this week, It Gets Better, lives up to the hype.
We spoke about the making of the project, working with some venerable musicians, following instincts, and hoping the listener takes time to reflect.
How would you describe the experience of making It Gets Better? Were there any unexpected challenges or was it fairly seamless?
This is my second EP, but this is my first EP that I’ve recorded in the studio, which definitely had its ups and downs. Working with Dan Nicklin at Henley Row has been an amazing experience, him and the Henley Row team, and the majority of the Henley Row All-Stars are also featured on this which was also another great experience.
I think ultimately Dan and I have different ways of going about things and sometimes as we’re trying to move forward we’ll see different viewpoints creatively. Ultimately I feel that because Dan has strengths in what I lack and my strengths are helpful that we do work well together. It had its ups and downs but overall I would say that it was a good experience.
You said that you had a team with you with a bunch of different musicians playing on the EP, so what did you play and what did everybody else play?
I played guitar and I sang. Nate Leavitt played bass and percussive guitar and Dan Cederholm played the drums. There’s a bunch of different types of keys on there and my brother played the melodies on those along with Matthew Obadashian who did the majority of them. The horns are from Bryan Murphy and Dan did a really cool way of mixing them and distorting the sound which really hits. Mike Benjamin also played lead guitar on “Nothin’ To Me” and Nate played lead on “Hater” with Dan handling the percussion.
Was this all done live with all the musicians and yourself in one room or did you have people coming in and out?
It was both. For the foundation we did it live, which was me sitting down singing to a track while playing guitar with Dan Cederholm playing on the drums. The other musicians contributed parts to record over what we did so other than the foundation of the songs we brought people in.
Musically, you have this wide cornucopia of styles coming together with hints of R&B, soul, alternative, psychedelic and even classic rock. Do you consciously blend these together during the songwriting process or is it more improvisational and experimental on your part?
I would say it’s more instinctual. I consciously make sure to be constantly listening to stuff that’s outside my comfort zone and so a lot of that leads into the music that I write. I try to not think about at least the initial process, which is sitting down and writing the song, too much. I try not to think about it too much so I can have it be as natural as possible because that’s really what sticks, that’s what ends up lasting. It’s the stuff that comes through more instinctually rather than taking this from this song and that from that song.
Once the foundation is there, that’s where I start. I’ll take drums here and then a bass part from there but when it comes to songwriting in and of itself I try to keep it instinctual.
It seems to me like if you had a stack of vinyls from someone’s collection and you mesh them all together, it would be something similar to your music because there’s so much going on.
I have vinyl records on my wall, I have a stack of vinyls and I have a record player so I definitely get that vibe.
The title It Gets Better lends itself to the theme of hope and perseverance, especially since we can all use that these days during these crazy times.
Yeah, something’s always coming up.
What do you hope connects with the listener after they give the EP a listen?
I’ll say there’s a lot of themes going on in the EP as a whole. I think playing those songs in moments of solitude, whether you’re driving somewhere, you’re sitting down drinking coffee and just reflecting on things while having the music in the background to hopefully manifest positive energy is what I hope people do and the effect that it has.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Brooklyn Rail, The Providence Journal, The Newport Daily News, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette, New Noise Magazine, Flood Magazine and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.