For Brandy Zdan, the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it more than just a halt to her career as a touring musician. The beloved local singer, songwriter and guitarist gave birth to a daughter, Lucky, in March 2020. This period of her personal life was marked by fear, anxiety and postpartum depression, all of which Zdan distills into her third album Falcon. Out Friday (and available via your favorite record store, on Zdan's website or via Bandcamp), it’s a remarkably vulnerable rock record, which she wrote, produced and engineered herself. It grapples eloquently and in great emotional depth with topics we talk about too seldom.
Below, Zdan talks with the Scene about making Falcon, the fight for women’s reproductive rights and how it may be a little while before we see her hit the road again.
The pandemic certainly isn’t over, but live music has started to come back in earnest. How does that feel for you, after the uncertainty of the last year and a half?
I wouldn't have been able to make this record if I was on tour. And I was on tour; my whole adult life I've been on tour, until I got pregnant with Lucky. And that's when I decided to just take a break. And then the pandemic happened. So, and I think this is a kind of a consensus within the musical community, but it was obviously a much-needed break. But also, more than just a break, I was able to learn a whole new skill set [audio engineering], and also just get better at music, which is so funny to say. But that lifestyle that I was living of relentless touring — which the industry makes us believe we have to do — everything that had to do with the actual music was not being fed in the right ways, or nurtured. So, I'm in no rush to get back on the road. And I currently don't have an agent or manager. So I'm in even less of a rush, because until I find my team, I know I'm not going to do it the same way.
I've spoken with several artists who have said something similar, about not missing the grueling lifestyle of touring but also that they realized that there are so many ways one can have a music career, some of which feel more accessible now that everybody has been forced to slow down.
Not just in this town, but in every music town, people really end up with their whole identity based around tour dates. And it's hard to shed that. I had trouble when I was first pregnant. But that [pressure] is something that exists, and I was there. And that's not good. That's not healthy. My identity should be based on the quality of music I'm making and the music I'm putting out, not how many tour dates I have on the calendar. That doesn't define the quality of your art.
From the time I’ve spent with Falcon, I understand the album deals with a lot of real-life events that you’ve experienced over the last two years or so. What were some of the early seeds of the album? Was there an idea or song that made things click for you, or signaled that you had vision for a full-length project?
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was doing this thing where I was trying to pack in as much [music] as I could before I had her. Like, "Let's get all these new songs demoed." And, "OK, we’ll go to Canada when you're six months pregnant to produce the record, and then you'll go and just do all sorts of things." I was trying to pack a lot of stuff, because I knew I'd be taking a break for a while. Of course, March 2020, when Lucky is born, that is when the pandemic really starts. Lockdown starts. Also, [it’s] the "fourth trimester," as they call it: bringing baby home, being isolated. You're isolated enough as a new mother. It's pretty much the scariest thing that I'll ever do in my life, bringing a baby home. And there's no guidebook. And the internet is not a guidebook either. I think the real time it clicked was three to four months of being at home with her. Some songs were coming after postpartum depression therapy, as well, had really blown me open with what that was exactly. I'd never been to therapy before. So that was so necessary. And I think there was something affirming in figuring out what the hell was going on while getting through that whole time. … I just had this firm sense of who I was as a musician and an artist. I don't know, maybe it's also that you just don't have time to doubt yourself when you're in the throes of that stuff. So I was like, "I want to try this out. And now I kind of have this opportunity to do so. So why not."
That’s pretty remarkable, that you not only worked through new motherhood and postpartum depression but did so during a global pandemic, something none of us had a guidebook for, and then came out the other side with positivity.
I ended up getting kind of angry too. I got angry when I was realizing, to start with, the stigma around miscarriage and pregnancy loss. I got angry that I didn't know anything about this. It was happening to me [with an earlier pregnancy], and I couldn’t share it with people. But then when I did share it with people, I realized almost everybody I know has gone through the same thing. I was so mad about that. I was so mad that this is not something we talk about. And then I also got mad about living in a country that tragically under-supports mothers. In certain states, we’re supposed to have our babies even though we don't want to have them. That's ridiculous. I mean, give us healthcare. Give us anything.
Something that initially struck me about the album, particularly the song “The Worst Thing,” is the tone of the music. When we hear the rare song about abortion or miscarriage, they’re often ballads or of a more somber tone, which of course makes perfect sense. But it was powerful to hear what you yourself called a “fist in the air” about such topics.
I remember when I was writing it, I was like, "Oh, yeah, okay. This is this is gonna be something." It was this idea of not saying exactly what I'm talking about in the song, and not giving an opinion or even referencing whether I'm stating a loss of miscarriage or abortion. … I think that's something that's missing in the narrative of people talking about abortion. Even if someone chooses to do it — and that's their choice, which is totally up to them — it's still an awful experience, right? It's still something that is going to be with them forever, whether or not they chose to do it or not. And nobody is making these decisions lightly. I mean, that's the other thing that gets me. When I hear people on the radio talk about being pro-life, as though people are just using abortion as birth control, like, "No, my friend. It's literally the worst thing that you can go through, whether or not you've made the choice." That was the idea, to voice that.
You mentioned earlier that the pandemic gave you time to learn new skills. I know part of that involved taking an audio engineering class. What was that experience like and what did it open up for you creatively?
I'm so grateful. It's this organization called Women's Audio Mission in California. And they offer engineering and production classes. Because it was the pandemic, it was all taken online. And the timing of it was too good. They were offering the level one audio engineering and production class right at the time that I wanted to start trying to do those things with the tools I had at home. I've been making records my whole life. There's a lot of things that you can't teach people, like you can't teach people taste, and you can't teach people to have good ears when it comes to hearing sounds or how sound should be heard. But there's some formal training that I needed to fill in some gaps. And they did that for me — just simple, monotonous, dull things like gain, staging or microphone placement. … I hope that this is empowering, or something for someone to see and go, "Oh, yeah, I could do that, too."
The album is called Falcon because you had what sounds like special, almost magical experiences with a falcon during the time this album was written. Can you share a little about that?
I had this vision, in the sort of meditations that I was doing to heal from the loss, that the little spirit was being taken away up into the sky, on a falcon’s wing, which is kind of how I worded it in the song ["Falcon’s Wing"]. And shortly after that, a falcon was appearing in my neighborhood and kind of making itself known to me. It’s like, "Well, have I not noticed that falcon in my neighborhood before? Or is it new?" And it was right there tapping, walking or up in the tree wrestling for me to hear it. It just became this symbol. I ended up naming the record Falcon because it felt like I was honoring that that little spirit. Before my daughter was born, it kind of reappeared the same way to me. And animal symbolism, for me, has been a big part of the way I connect with the Creator — Creator, God, whatever you want to call it, Her. It just made so much sense to me, even without explanation.
You mentioned earlier that you don't have currently have plans to tour. But it doesn't sound like that's off the table entirely by any means, either. I'm wondering, given the level of vulnerability you display in these songs, what does the prospect of performing them live feel like to you?
I've had to sing quite a few of them live just for live sessions or whatever the hell they are. And I think I think you can get to a place where you're not feeling it every time you sing the song, and then I'm able to kind of disconnect. I think if I was in a live setting with all the smoke and lights, I would be "going there." I don't know if I want to go there. But there are songs from this record that I'm probably going to play my whole career, like I know I’ll always play "The Worst Thing." I can't wait to play that song live with a full band. It's going to be so incredible. This is our whole job. So, I’m going to go there, and I'm not afraid of it. I think once this record is out, and how vulnerable I have gotten, people are not going to expect it of me but they're going to want me to go there. So, I'll go there. No problem. I'm not afraid.