For the past few months, there’s been buzz in Fort Worth about Brenna Manzare and her band, The Proper Husbands. Neither on her own nor with her trio has Manzare formally released any material yet. There are only a handful of recordings available online, and performances seem to pop up randomly. Carefully composed and seductively arranged, however, Manzare’s music is worth the wait.
The 27-year-old singer-songwriter has a maturity and tenderness to her songs that are beyond her years or her experience as a relative newcomer to the North Texas music scene. Manzare (man-zar-ay), a Colleyville native, began pursuing music as a sound engineering student at Texas State University, but her development as a performer wasn’t necessarily related to her studies. Instead, Manzare’s beginnings as a musician and songwriter owe more to a breakup when she was 20.
She knew that the relationship in question wasn’t, in the long view, all that important. And yet the fallout was consuming her. “I was upset at myself,” she said recently in an interview at Avoca Coffee. “So I decided to channel all that energy into something creative.”
She had a guitar and knew a few chords, so she decided to teach herself a song to take her mind off her immediate woes. She didn’t know it would transform her life.
Like any good aspiring troubadour, Manzare was playing coffee shops in no time. In 2007, she was a finalist in the college songwriters competition at the annual Kerrville Folk Festival. The festival’s brand of outlaw country and longhair-friendly folk had a certain hold on her, but the songs she writes today are markedly different. “The storytelling quality in that music is something I’ve learned from and respect,” she said. “But my music is going in a different direction.”
Her interest in sound technology, she said, grew from her high school days as a theater nerd with a penchant for tinkering around backstage. During college she occasionally worked as a sound tech at local live-music venues in San Marcos and nearby Austin (something she still does in this area), but she never got into the Austin music scene as a performer.
She graduated from Texas State in 2009, made her way back to North Texas a year later, and gradually began performing again locally. Adrian Hulet, frontman of the defunct band oso closo, and Jed Barnett, who’s toured as the bassist for The Rocket Summer, were at one of Manzare’s shows in July 2011 and approached her afterward about forming a band together. “I’d never started a band — I skipped being in a high school rock band,” she quipped.
But she decided to accept the offer from Hulet and Barnett, whom she knew through mutual friends. Within six weeks, the trio began booking gigs and has been playing steadily since. These days they perform about twice a month, and Manzare rounds out her schedule with solo shows.
The dearth of released material is intentional. “I’m very meticulous about finishing songs and what I put out there,” she said.
She has a growing repertoire of originals, only one of which, “The Owl Song,” is available online. Representative of Manzare’s sound at this stage, the tune features a simple melodic cycle that steadily builds upward before starting over again. The acoustic guitars on the track are of a piece with the music of David Crosby, one of her influences, whose song “Triad” often crops up as a cover in Manzare’s sets. In fact, her set of covers is pretty unique and features a stripped-down version of Tom Waits’ “Green Grass.” Manzare lacks Waits’ distinctive, gravelly growl, but her low rasp quietly and alluringly evokes the old junkyard bluesman.
Her deep voice also recalls Jolie Holland, though where the latter warbles, Manzare is more melodic and resonant. She hits the high notes with ease, but her naturally low, smoky register is what commands attention — it also comes as something of a pleasant surprise, given her disarming goofiness in person. On stage, the between-song banter reveals her slight Texas drawl and self-deprecating humor but leave the listener unprepared for the self-assured vocal delivery, the simple but hypnotic finger-picking guitarwork or tap of the keys, and the poetic lyrics.
She’s comfortable in taking things slowly here in North Texas, rather than going the more intense Austin route. “Everybody down there is a musician, which is cool — there’s always a room full of people passing around a guitar,” she conceded with a twinge of nostalgia. But if music isn’t as ubiquitous in Fort Worth or Dallas, the area doesn’t lack for supportive community, she said. Plus, in a less-saturated market, conditions are more encouraging.
“Since it’s not all around you,” Manzare said, “you know you need to share your music.”
Brenna Manzare & The Proper Husbands
Thu, Jun 21, opening for The Polyphonic Spree’s Tim Delaughter at the Belmont Hotel, 901 Fort Worth Av, Dallas. 214-393-2300.