“I try to make music that sounds the way I feel,” Abraham Brownell ’20 says, as he leans back in his chair, “I think any kind of art is an expression of who you take yourself to be, and what you value.” We’re sitting in Pierce House, on Frye Street, and Brownell is wearing a black t-shirt, grey sweatpants, and a minimalist watch. The date is January 11, 2018, and Brownell’s musical duo released their first EP the day before. Mira Li, the female vocalist on many of the songs, is a friend from high school currently attending Wellesley College. Brownell told me how she is featured on many of his unreleased songs, and he how he couldn’t ask for a more talented or passionate vocalist. The name of the duo is Suonds, “pronounced kinda like swans,” he explained, and the name of the EP is Old Mirror. He sets me up in the seat where he does his production, in front of two large black speakers.
I listened to the entire EP, and among the five songs, no song is what I thought it would be. There were twists everywhere, at every turn, explorations of what the sound could become. Brownell seems to let songs take him where they want to go, rather than controlling them and forcing them to sound a certain way. “Pacify” is spacious, and twinkles with beautiful piano, juxtaposed with a frenetic percussion line during the break. “Buzz Buzz” sounds more intimate; you can hear Emilio Valadez ’18 smile as he delivers his viscous rap, and the subtle 8-bit sounds contrast perfectly with the fluidity of the rest of the song. “The Stranger” is airy, and Brownell’s artful mastering of this track pulls you into the slow orbit of this song. In “Old Mirror,” Anas Reda ’20’s deep voice interacts with the brooding, polyrhythmic hip-hop beat that Brownell crafted, while David Zhang ’19’s beautiful violin flows alongside piano reminiscent of Kanye West’s Runaway. Finally, “Too Much Fun” is open, as vocal harmonization and warm synths ask, “Is that fear or longing in the dim-lit mirror?”
After listening to the EP all the way through, I asked Brownell a series of questions about the music. He told me that “Buzz Buzz” was originally a piece for Valadez’s short term class. He admitted that it was a lot of fun to record, since “I had Emilio freestyling, and playing keys in that interlude section and had Matt Bodwell ’18 on guitar and Julie Self ’18 on backup vocals and bass.”
Brownell went on to tell me about his creative process, describing how he listens to snippets of his instrumentals while walking around campus. He says, “I have a lot of faith in what the subconscious mind does for music making. It’s about letting sounds percolate, and jive a little bit with other sonic ideas kicking around in my head, and then, when I sit back down at the computer in front of my monitors, I just know what to do.” One of the astounding things about this EP was the sheer amount of time that was spent creating it. “There are days where I spent 10 to 12 hours working on part of a song, and then did that for several days in a row for one song, and then threw the song out,” he described. As I finished the interview, we did some back-of-the-envelope math to calculate that Brownell likely spent over 1,400 hours on the five songs on the EP alone. However, that fact doesn’t seem to daunt him: “I can’t express enough how worthwhile it is to pour your heart into something, and to have a work. It doesn’t have to be music even; just a corpus that you slave over, for a long time, for many hours a day… It’s intellectually challenging, but it’s also about expressing things that your emotional circuitry wants to get out there, that words and verbiage don’t capture.”
Brownell had a final recommendation for listeners: “listen to this EP in a quiet place. Part of that is a technical thing,” as he wants listeners to enjoy all the detail he has slaved over. But part of it is also about the mood of the EP. “I recommend listening to Old Mirror in a reflective state of mind.”
Old Mirror is available on Spotify, Google Music, Apple Music, Tidal, and on Bandcamp at suonds.bandcamp.com.