An imaginary dance floor comes alive in the video for “Hey Boy,” the latest single from Brijean’s new album, ‘Feelings.’ (Brijean Murphy)
It’s impossible to listen to Brijean’s new album Feelings and not miss big speakers, clinking glasses and neon lights. Nimble conga rhythms guide psychedelic explorations of disco and jazz fusion, alive with the organic feel of the duo’s expert instrumentation. But the upbeat album makes space for contemplative moments, too.
“I tend to write from a place of processing,” says singer and percussionist Brijean Murphy in an interview on Zoom. “Processing how to navigate towards feeling enlivened, and a lot of navigating away from turmoil and exhaustion—the shadow side towards the light.”
What typically enlivens Murphy is playing live, running into friends at her favorite bar and being an active member of an IRL artistic scene. Of course, most of that isn’t accessible right now. So she and her partner in music and life, bassist, keyboardist and producer Doug Stuart, have taken the past year to wander and explore.
Their collaboration as Brijean has come to the forefront after years of touring with other bands—for Murphy, those included Poolside and Toro y Moi, while Stuart performs with Bells Atlas, Astronauts, etc. and Meernaa. They’ve spent more time together recently than ever, moving from the Bay Area to Phoenix to be closer to Stuart’s family, then to New Mexico for a brief stay in a snowy cottage.
Next on their itinerary is Murphy’s dad’s place on Vancouver Island, Canada. Then, who knows. But through all this traveling around, they’ve stayed rooted in their collaboration as well as individual creative projects. Stuart has taken on freelance gigs composing music for podcasts, and released his solo debut as Dougie Stu, the spiritual jazz album Familiar Future, in late 2020. (It was featured on KQED Arts & Culture’s list of top Bay Area albums of the year.)
As for Murphy, she’s delved deeper into her visual art practice. As a self-taught artist, she’s honed her illustration skills significantly over the last several years while drawing weekly flyers for her jazz night at Starline Social Club. The aesthetics of the eclectic Oakland venue are all over the new animated music video for the Latin jazz-inflected, lounge-y dance single “Hey Boy,” illustrated and directed by Murphy in collaboration with animator Rose Biehl.
Quirky, stylized characters wearing bold prints, bell bottoms, beanies and beards boogie in a dream-like discotheque. The track evokes the life-affirming sensation of connecting with community on the dance floor.
Fueling the revelry are Stuart’s funky bass lines and buoyant synths over Murphy’s conga rhythms—drum patterns she sees as family heirlooms. She learned many of them from her father, Patrick Murphy, who performed with Latin jazz giant Tito Puente and introduced his daughter to a large extended family of percussionist “uncles.” “My dad taught me rhythms he learned from friends and family, and passed those down to me,” she says.
This collaborative spirit guides her process today. “For me, people and community and shared space grounds me and fuels me in a huge way,” Murphy says.
To tap into that feeling of joy in their slower, more isolated pandemic lifestyle, the couple spends a lot of time hiking, doing yoga, creating and playing with their new dog, a small, white, fluffy guy named Shuggie. “We’ve been finding a lot of self-care practices that maybe don’t enliven in the same way, but maintain a good base level to not sink too far into it,” reflects Stuart.
On Feelings, the track that most strongly communicates that at-home vibe is “Ocean,” a placid, gentle tune about the tranquil feeling of falling deeper in love with someone as they reveal the layers of their personality. As Murphy sings “I want to be inside your ocean,” candid shots in the music video show the lovers as they see each other: Stuart cozily reading on the couch; Murphy hiking in the desert.
There’s a warmth to their gaze during these intimate moments that can be felt on the rest of the album: it’s not just about the big crescendos, but finding joy in quieter moments too.
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