Brenda Xu
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Brenda Xu

Seattle, Washington, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2014

Seattle, Washington, United States
Established on Jan, 2014
Band Folk Ambient




"Interview with Unsigned & Unleashed about making of "For The Winter""

Sometimes, slowing down helps. Brenda Xu has taken a slower and more ambient approach for her new album For The Winter. What’s catchy about this record isn’t the melody or the riffs (it’s much too peaceful for that) but the feelings that it leaves you with. Check out what Brenda had to say about it all;


How long have you been writing For The Winter?

Most of the songs on the album were written during a span of 6 months. The original version of one of the songs “We Die From It” was written about 3 years ago, and was also developed in that 6-month time frame.

What was your proudest moment of making this record?

That was probably when I was working on the final mixes of the songs with my producer, Don. There is always uncertainly when beginning to make an album, and you never really know how the tracks will turn out until the mixing process. I think during the final mixing process, I finally felt like I could breathe a sigh of relief that everything was coming together like I hoped it would.

It’s been a while since your last album, A Little Illusion, came out; what changes do you see in your music and in popular music in general?

Yes, it has! I think with this album, I’ve developed more of a sense of my own style in terms of songwriting and production. I experimented more with song structure, and also tried to build a more atmospheric landscape for the album as a whole. More focus was given to the instrumental parts, whereas my last album was more vocal-driven. I tried to let the instrumental elements have a strong voice as well, and be a part of the story-telling.

I’m not sure if I’m much of an expert on popular music, but I think the styles that I have been listening to have changed, which I’m sure has had an influence on my song-writing. I discovered bands like Sigur Ros, The Album Leaf, and The National, who all do an amazing job of taking you somewhere with layering melodies and instruments. They really take their time, and there is a lot to discover in the songs. I feel like the stuff that I hear on the radio is mostly rushed and formulaic - the songs are in a hurry to make you feel something. They succeed, but the feelings are usually very momentary and you forget about the songs immediately after hearing them. There are some gems out there though - pop stars have some of the best songwriters and producers working for them, and it’s tough to not to enjoy a well-manufactured pop song once in a while!

How has the move from San Diego to Seattle influenced your sound?

I think I felt more comfortable with being my dark self (haha). The San Diego scene was very supportive of my music, but while I was there I couldn’t help but feel like I should be writing happier songs to fit the weather. Here in Seattle, it is rainy and cloudy most days which I think fits my disposition better. I can stay inside and write, and do other hermit-like activities without feeling like I should be out at the beach. Although I sometimes feel like I should be out in a forest..

How was it working with Don Farwell? Have you worked with other producers in the past?

It was really fun with Don! It was obvious from the first day of working with him that he genuinely loves what he does. When I told him an idea that I had, he did everything in his power to make it happen sonically, and also had a lot of ideas to offer. I think it was a great collaboration and I’d love to work with him again on another project down the road. I’ve worked with two other producers for my last two albums, and have also enjoyed those processes as well. Each one works differently, and I’ve learned a lot from all of them.

Your songs are very rich and layered; do you write all of the instrumentation yourself?

I write some of the instrumentation, and some of it comes from collaboration with other musicians and with the producer I’m working with. I usually let the musicians know what kind of sound I’m going for - sometimes I have specific melodies I’d like them to play or work off of, and we work together to create parts that fit with the song structure and the other instruments. Almost all of the string and pedal steel parts were improvised, and were placed in the songs very deliberately by Don and I.

Sometimes it takes hearing different options to know what feels right and what direction to go in. Fortunately, I was able to work with a group of extremely talented musicians who could offer much diversity in terms of where to take the songs.

You use silence almost as an instrument; letting it fill moments where you easily could have selfishly tossed in a vocal or chord. Is there a particular artist that inspired this sort of quiet patience?

The artists I mentioned above definitely inspired me to take my time more with story-telling and weaving different emotions into a song, although I think I’ve always left a lot of space in my songs. I’ve also gravitated toward playing with others who also appreciate the spaces, and use those moments as a way to draw people in, build intensity, and do what makes sense for the song, instead of trying to show their chops. To me, the silences and pauses are just as important as the more intense, moving parts. In a way, it reflects the cadence of a good conversation - if you are comfortable enough to be silent with someone, you have an understanding with them that no words can create.

On a random side note, were you always called on last because your name starts with an X? (Sorry, had to ask J)

Haha yes, in grade school I was always called on last and of course nobody knew how to pronounce my last name (it’s “shoe” btw), and I was made fun of relentlessly in elementary school for it.

What is your idea of “Making it”?

Being able to support myself by playing music - earning a decent living, meaning I wouldn’t have to eat packaged ramen noodles every night!

What do you want your fans to know about you and your music?

I think I have something different to offer. I hope you’ll listen.

Thanks so much! If you want to hear more from Brenda Xu, check her out HERE. - Unsigned & Unleashed

"Feature & live video recording of song from "For The Winter""

I wrote about Brenda Xu back in September (here), just prior to the release of her new album, For the Winter. I was smitten with the track, “Light of the Moon,” and reached out to Brenda to see if she and her band would be interested in coming in for a session during their tour of Southern California.

Wouldn’t you know it, they said yes. Rad. I was stoked. Totally Jurassic.

So on a warm October afternoon, Brenda and company came into the studio, instruments in hand, ready for whatever happens. Boy oh boy, I am so thrilled with what happened.

There are two kinds of fulfillment that I have come to know when working in the music business: one is the kind that you feel when you make something of your own out of nothing… the kind of satisfaction that you get when you walk in with nothing and walk out with a song that you can’t wait to show the world. The second kind is when you make something out of someone else’s music… it’s a different kind of satisfaction, but it fills you up just as much as anything else. I had the opportunity to feel both of those kinds of fulfillment during my time in Nashville not only as a songwriter but as a music director as well. In doing these Frontloader Sessions, I’ve come to experience the second kind of fulfillment on almost a weekly basis. I love it, I dig it, and I can’t get enough of it.

This session with Brenda kicked that need into high gear.

Anyhow, it was such a pleasure to watch them perform. Everything came together to make this delicately beautiful sound. From Ben’s steady drumming to Kacy’s accenting guitar work to Brenda’s soft yet dynamic vocals… I couldn’t have been more pleased.

Can you tell that I’m excited about this session?

Up first is “Light of the Moon,” the song that grabbed my attention so tightly from her album. I love her vocal performance, especially at the refrain at the end of the song. Like I said, soft yet dynamic.

“Light of the Moon”

“For the Winter,” the title track from her record, was the first song we did that day. Brenda and Kacy used a bit of delay on their guitars, which only added to this swirly, atmospheric sound. Totally dig.

“For the Winter”

Brenda asked me if covers were allowed for these sessions. “You betcha!” I said, and they proceeded to play The National’s “Terrible Love.” For those of you that know The National, they had an awesome album in 2010 called High Violet. I actually featured a song or two off that record here… awesome album. So you can imagine my response when I heard their version of “Terrible Love.” Dare I say that I like this better than the original?

“Terrible Love (The National cover)”

I dare say. Yes, I do.

Brenda and the guys just got back from a tour that stretched the entire Pacific coast. I’m so grateful they stopped by for this session, and I hope they come back next time they’re in town. Be sure to pick up For the Winter by clicking on her site in the links below. If you like what you heard here, you will be ecstatic with the record.

Check out pictures from the session here.

Brenda Xu on: [official] [facebook] [twitter] - The Frontloader Sessions

"Album Review & Interview"

Interview with Brenda Xu

I receive about 30 to 60 submissions of music a day, and to be frank, it's getting harder and harder to find music that is honest and straight from the heart. It is hard to find artists who utilize music as their diaries, their escape, their outlet of true expression. For the Winter was one of those albums that came as a surprise in the mail: so simple, so full of colors and new ideas to be applied in the regular spectrum of what "folk music" is. I had never heard of Brenda Xu before, but her amazing publicist Jen from The Band Mom made sure college radio gave a conscious listen to this soothing and truthful album.

As I listened to the album, I found not only beautiful arrangements of guitar, but well thought-out lyrical phrases. I must say that most folk music serves as a soundtrack to my journey to Sleepy-Time Land; however this album proved that folk can get as dynamic and interesting as the artist wants to push it. I was intrigued by this new approach to folk and spoke to Brenda about her genre, "Ambient Folk" as she likes to call it. This album combines the eeriness of gaze-y music with acoustic folk ideas―pleasurable density for the ears to wander off into the meticulous weaving lines of two guitars. Xu's vocals are straight to the point: soft but with a brilliant delivery to compliment the vibe of the already calm feel of each tune.

The album overall has a great unifying sound that evokes peace, calm and an introspective peek to our emotions―a journey through the ups and downs of life. And like life the album has calm, peace, thunder, and of course an uncontrollable outburst of energy. "Trumpet Song" was the climax of an already unique album, being the driving rhythmic token that makes this album as a whole an honest reflection of human nature―a combination of sentiments through the sweet sounds of a guitar, a voice, and in this song's case, a moving trumpet line that feels like the exit from the tunnel and into the light.

Xu traveled through the West Coast providing great intimate performances, backed up by two amazing musicians who truly seem to understand the message that she means to deliver, and together they brought a great show for us Fullertonians to enjoy, understand and relate to. I had the opportunity to hang out with Brenda at The Night Owl and ask her about her beginnings, the album and the Seattle music scene. You can check out our interview in the video below!

You can listen and request Brenda's music on Titan Radio, or catch her on her Facebook or official website! - Titan Internet Radio, Cal State Fullerton

"Album Review & Single Feature"

A few months ago, I discovered that Brenda Xu was in the process of putting out a new album. I had met Brenda back when I would go perform in coffee shops and bars around San Diego. Her soft, delicate style had always made me take a look at why the heck I feel the need to push so hard whenever I sing. I still struggle with that in my performances… but hey, sometimes “Yelling Asian Guy” is a good selling point.

So upon receiving an advanced copy of Xu’s album, For the Winter, I was pleased to hear that she is still writing some beautiful music that can calm the most savage beast. I popped the CD into my player and drifted away for a good 40 minutes.

Beautiful, beautiful music.

W139Brenda Xu will be officially releasing For the Winter on Thursday, September 18 in Seattle. The CD release party will be held at The Fremont Abbey in The Great Hall. Xu states, “Ever since I visited this space for a ‘vocal jam’ last year, I dreamed of playing here one day, and now I can’t believe that is going to happen next week!” She will be performing with her band, along with a string quartet. I would love to attend that release party, but I will be incredibly busy fighting crime as not only Batman but Robin as well.

Oh? You didn’t know that Batman and Robin are one and the same? Yeah, the costume changes are tough to do, but it confuses the bad guys, and that’s all I need to get the upper hand.

For those of you future super heroes, make sure you come up with a gimmick that shocks and awes the bad guys. In the end, they’ll thank you for it. I still receive thank you notes from all the bad guys I’ve put away. One of them reads, “You da best. Tanx 4 kiking my ass n makin me feel guud about it.” People, that’s what I call appreciation.

Anyhow, you’ll find my favorite track of Xu’s album below. “Light of the Moon” has so far been played 18 times on my iTunes and I’m sure it will rack up more digits. There are some songs that just stop me in my tracks.

For those in the Seattle area, get your patoots to Xu’s CD release party. For those not in the Seattle area, I hear it’s a perfect time of year to visit, especially on September 18. - The Frontloader

""A Little Illusion" Album Review"

“Xu’s abilities as a vocalist on this album appear to be wide-ranging, if not boundless.”
– Justin Roberts, San Diego City Beat - San Diego City Beat


"For The Winter" (2014) Bandcamp link

"A Little Illusion (2009) Bandcamp link



After releasing a debut EP and a full-length record in her hometown of San Diego to numerous accolades (including reviews in Performer Magazine and a nomination from the San Diego Music Awards), ambient-folk artist, Brenda Xu (pronounced “shoo”) re-located to Seattle where she has just released her third album. Her ethereal voice has been compared to artists such as PJ Harvey, Daughter, and Aimee Mann.

New Album “For The Winter” Press Release

The five years since Brenda Xu released her debut full-length album “A Little Illusion” have been filled with considerable change, all of which is apparent in her new record “For The Winter”. After receiving numerous accolades for the debut, including a nomination for “Best Acoustic Artist” in the San Diego Music Awards, Brenda relocated to Seattle and took an indefinite hiatus from music, focusing on navigating her way through a new city and finding her place in the Seattle music scene.

Slowly, the pieces fell into place: she became friends with Seattle-based producer Don Farwell and began forming a band to support her new songs. The years between Xu’s debut and her newest release, “For The Winter”, are immediately apparent. Not only has her ability as a lyricist grown far beyond her years, but sonically, the album is a noted departure from her past singer-songwriter career, and instead treads the delicate line between washed-out ambient tones and carefully crafted acoustic arrangements.

“For The Winter” will transport any listener through a range of seasons and emotions, while reminding us that for every season’s waxings and wanings, they all share one commonality: that they will eventually come again. Summer will continue to be followed by autumn, and winter by spring. As for Brenda Xu, she’s leaving an unusually long winter behind and turning the leaf into her second spring.

Band Members