Grief to a mellow groove should be an oxymoron- but to synth-pop musician RJ Bergman, aka BREV., lush synths seemed like a natural palette with which to illustrate sorrow. On In My Own Dimension, the twenty-four-year-old’s contemplative first release, BREV. immerses himself in his grief over his grandmother’s death at an unhurried, melancholy pace.
“Are we all taken for granted?” BREV. asks over tinny beats and a mournful motif. On his first release, BREV. seeks answers to his biggest questions through musical resolutions in synth-pop instrumentals. If In My Own Dimension doesn’t offer remedies to a first experience with grief, it does offer a beat to dance to- a way to healing.
BREV. spoke to The Triangle Guide about his evolution as a musician and his writing process.
Why did you decide to become a musician?
“I became a musician not just out of desire, but out of necessity. Music has been a coping mechanism for me for as long as I’ve been writing – over a decade. Music has always been a part of my soul. The most comforting moments in my life have come when I have gone through something and needed to reflect. Music has always been the kind friend that reached out it’s hand and captivated me. I think I owe a lot of my sanity to the fact that I was able to express myself through music in my younger years. The themes I’ve written about over my life have a lot to do with self-awareness, soul searching, and growth. I think you can hear and read in a lot of my work that there is a need to understand oneself and others around us in this perplexing life.”
What is the significance of the name “BREV.”?
“For starters, the word “brev” has many meanings. In Latin and music, it is meant to signify something that is short or a note that lasts a short amount of time. BREV. is a concept dating back to 2015. The original intent was to abbreviate ‘rebel’ and ‘revolution’ in to a succinct word/ phrase. The initials of my given name spell out REB, which people have always codified as rebel, and I’ve often felt a need to revolt. My musical ideas have attempted to change myself and others through music. I found that music has the opportunity to open us up to each others struggles, to have mutual understanding. To change someone’s mind through ideas is difficult. I feel like the best way I know is to wear my emotions and insecurities on my sleeve. I think we too often try to hide these, because our societal culture has emblemized them as weak, but emotions are real, raw, and impure, and have lead me to some of the most interesting dialogues I’ve experienced.”
You’ve transitioned from being an acoustic singer-songwriter to a synth-pop artist. What inspired that change?
“In 2014 I took a very enlightening trip to Australia and New Zealand as part of a study abroad program that introduced me to a plethora of new artists, new ideas, and creating lifelong connections with other musicians that impacted me enormously. I learnt of amazing artists like Kllo, Hiatus Kaiyote, Chet Faker (Nick Murphy), Jane Tyrrell, and Sticky Fingers. I even got to be one of the singers in an 8-piece band (called ‘John Wilton & The New Dream’ if you ever check it out) and they helped provoke this change. All of these led me towards a more heavily produced and chill sound which is evident on In My Own Dimension. The acoustic stuff has always been close to my chest, but I understood the niche audience that it reached. Not only was this new sound more satisfying to my musical self, it also felt more aligned with our current times.”
What skills have you brought from your acoustic background into synth-pop writing and performance?
“My foundation has always been in writing catchy melodies and deep lyrics. Those are two main characteristics I have enhanced and grown and pulled with me into this style. One thing that is strikingly different is how stage presence is handled in this setting. I feel like more people are watching the musician on stage with this style of music, wanting to see their facial expressions and movement, unlike what you might experience in an acoustic setting. I think I bring a different edge to electronic music since my lyrics tend to be heavier and poetic.”
You’ve just released your first EP, In My Own Dimension. What were your ambitions for your first EP? What skills did you want to demonstrate on your first long-form work?
“My ambitions for this work were introduce the sounds of BREV. to the world. I wanted to offer a variety of feelings and auras, allowing people to find a song that suits their mood. I’ve been dedicating myself to these songs for the past six months – and I definitely see this project as a jumping off point. This EP has sweeping stylistic changes throughout, and I think that was important for this work. I’ve had a hard time categorizing anything I’ve written these past six months, from synth-wave, electronic pop, ‘PBR&B’, and the like, so I certainly wanted this first EP to be an exploration of this sound, since I don’t think BREV. will ever be fastened to one genre or style.”
On In My Own Dimension, you explore heavy themes- generational divides, youth, death, and grief. Why did you choose to explore those themes through a mellow groove, rather than through a more turbulent sound?
“I think there is a sound and semblance of peace in the middle of chaos and turbulence. Zoning in and finding this sound was a journey for me that took me to places where I felt vulnerable, and this vulnerability turned into songs like “Fools” and “Granted.” In my head when I create songs, they tend to sound something like Brewed or Jam. Something downbeat and also energetic.”
What’s your favorite song on In My Own Dimension? Why?
“”Granted” is most certainly my favorite song on the EP. It’s an embodiment of myself, my ancestors, and how to deal through grief. My grandmother was fairly ordinary, but our connection ran deep. Of my twenty-four years on this planet I knew her for about ten, and I can almost recall all of the times we hung out on two hands. She was my last grandparent, and the first time I’ve had to deal with grief. It’s a memorable and emotional ode to her as well as a reckoning with age and a realization of how time flies, life flies, and how these things will inevitably end.”
If you could go back in time and see any artist perform live, who would you choose and why?
“This is a really tough question. One artist I would have loved to have seen in their heyday is The Academy Is…. I was a big Fueled by Ramen head growing up (Paramore, Fall Out Boy, Cute Is What We Aim For, Cobra Starship), and I always loved William Beckett’s amazing lyrics, emotional melodies, and stage presence. There was this Halloween concert they did with Cobra Starship that a few friends went to my freshman year of High School. I was bummed to have missed this, and never got to see them or Cobra Starship! Around this time was when I saw other artists that inspired my musicianship like No Doubt, Motion City Soundtrack, and The Cab.”