Welcome to my world! With deepest gratitude,
Welcome to my world! With deepest gratitude,
„The glorious Divine Investigation, a record that swoops and swoons, never hurried or forced. There’s a gentle grace to all twelve songs, like the dawning of first light, the brightness and warmth growing stronger with each passing track.“
- Derek Robertson (Drowned In Sound, Editor-In-Chef)
Recorded at Brixton’s Iguana Studios and produced by Jagannatha Suta, the album features collaborative sets with Temple Boys Choir, the St Martin’s in the Fields Orchestra and Vilnius Decima String Orchestra. Asta Bria is joined by musicians Hugh Burns on guitar, Simon Edwards on double bass, Shammi Phitia on flute.
- Asta Bria
And as an expat, a mother, and a brilliantly talented musician who found her sound and voice, Asta Bria knows all about this. She has arrived at a point in her career she always knew she’d reach, where a long, musical journey has led her to deliver a stunning collection of songs imbued with joy and warmth, songs that showcase her range of talents; composer, virtuoso violinist, lyricist par excellence, canny crafter of pop gems. Truly, she has never been happier, nor shone as brightly as an artist, and the journey she undertook to get here taught her many things. “I am alive”, she sings over and over on ‘So-Hm’ and up there, on stage, she truly is.
Her journey began during a childhood spent behind the Iron Curtain, in Vilnuis, Lithuania. Snatches of western pop were caught on scratchy radio broadcasts and committed to tape, to be cherished and savoured. George Michael, Elton John, and The Beatles all gave glimpses of another world, one of freedom, and the young Bria was captivated. Inspired, she entered a local violin contest aged just 11; naturally, she won. But her real education began aged 14, at the prestigious music conservatory of Vilnius, where the size of this other world finally became apparent.
Jazz, pop, and classical composers opened her eyes and ears to possibility, and she would spend days studying hard and nights dancing till dawn, Manhattan Transfer sitting alongside Vivaldi in shaping her tastes and dreams. But Vilnius was too small to satisfy her insatiable appetite for knowledge – for life – and so she moved again; first to the Royal Conservatory of Brussels and then London’s Notting Hill, the place where she found her true self and her family, and one she still calls home.
Setting aside her passion to raise children was something she felt she had to do, and yet she was aware of a restlessness bubbling away. “Something unfinished,” she says, “something deep under my skin that wouldn’t let me settle. A little sparkling light that would occasionally pop out.” A comfort zone stops growth, and as much as she valued her wonderful life, she realized she needed to undertake another journey, one only for her. “So I returned to the studio. I wanted to see where it would take me.”
In the beginning, there was no plan, no style or genre in mind; only music and love. Along with trusted producer Jagannathan Suta, she let ideas come and go, giving her creativity and playfulness free reign. Slowly a song appeared, followed by another, and another, flowing out of her like a tap had been turned back on. “Once you focus on the creative process, so many ideas come to you,” she says. “And these songs came in a very organic way. I feel like they wrote and recorded themselves; I was just there to help them find the right way.”
Instinct guided her as much as her classical grounding and studio smarts. Songs would be cut and re-arranged, or recorded with different instruments. Sudden irresistible urges – burying a Shiva mantra in a song, or multiple voicings – were attempted as Bria let the music unfold in it’s own way until it “felt right”. Likening the process to channeling vibrations, she starts with questions, to be asked of herself and the universe. What is it to be happy? Or sad? Or to love? Such magic, and a curiosity about life in all its glory come to her as soon as she sits at a piano. “Suddenly, it’s like someone is putting my fingers on certain notes, certain words come to mind, and it all starts to make sense.”
Her classical training gave her confidence and a strong foundation, but Bria was guided as much by a life listening to pop classics and contemporary music as anything learned at the Conservatory. “Classical gives you the freedom to play anything else,” she reasons, “and the ability to create a good sound and technique; you insist on dynamics being present.” Striving for perfection, she would sometimes work on a single note or passage for hours, always looking for the same three things; rhythm, intensity, and harmony.
The result of all this is the glorious Divine Investigation, a record that swoops and swoons, never hurried or forced. There’s a gentle grace to all twelve songs, like the dawning of first light, the brightness and warmth growing stronger with each passing track. Bria’s sheer joy for music shines through, in her arrangements as much as her voice; the winsome piccolo in ‘Emma’s Song’, the quiet bustle of the title track, the gentle, mournful jazz of ‘Rainy Day’. Instruments never compete for space, instead subtly fading in and out, showcasing Bria’s facility for breezily blending so many elements and collaborators into a fluid, romantic whole.
“It was not me creating the album, but the album creating me,” Bria says of the experience, in particular feeling comfortable and confident with singing. Whilst daunting, she quickly learned what worked and what didn’t; the answer, once again, was simply to let things flow. “Once I stopped trying to be a ‘singer’ and just deliver the song, the words and lyrics fell into place, like the pieces of a puzzle.” Nowhere is this most apparent than the twin totems that close the album, ‘A Thousand Years’ and ‘Dark Outside’; the quavering brass and lounge swing of the former perfectly sets the stage for Bria’s most playful vocal, full of glee and sass, while the latter is a hymnal masterpiece soaked in quiet reflection that soars to rolling crescendo.
They are a fitting close to the record, and the culmination of all she has learned; Divine Investigation positions Bria as the bright new star of modern classical pop. But while she’s not one to rest on her laurels, she refuses to contemplate the next chapter of her musical life; “Let’s leave the future to the future and just ‘be’ in this moment,” she says, adding “we have no beginning or end – it’s all a continuous divine journey.” Whatever the future holds, this record stand alone as a wonderful addition to the world, fuelled by “the passion and miracle of life within me. My main intention was just to fill Divine Investigation with love, and I hope that reaches the listener.” One spin will convince you that for Asta Bria, it’s very much a case of mission accomplished.
(Drowned In Sound, Editor-In-Chef)
8th May,7pm Home House London, UK