Jade Brodie: High Desert Songstress

Northern Nevada is not known for producing country songwriters. 

The desolate high desert region is more known as a rendezvous with solitude for hunters, ranchers, wanderers and people who don’t want to be bothered by society. Mountains bound up from the dust in cragged ridgebacks, the only thing scraping the sky besides vultures. Ranching fences stretch for miles from homesteads into a great expanse of sage and dirt, to the point where you wonder what exactly the fences are meant to be doing in that nothingness. There’s not much going on out there and that’s how most like it. 

That’s certainly how Jade Brodie likes it. She lives on a piece of property out there with a small cadre of horses, cows and chickens. She’s 20 minutes from town but she wouldn’t mind being further. She works at both a cattle farm, wrangling cattle on horseback in golden fields under rocky peaks.

Photo by Mike Brodie

For years her days were filled with clacking along western railways in California and Nevada working for Union Pacific as a train conductor, the past and present of the west passing underneath her feet and through her imagination in an indistinguishable blur. It was this job that brought her to Nevada and the one that inadvertently ended up making her stay. She recently “pulled the pin” after the company asked her to relocate again. She didn’t want to leave the life she had made for herself, the one that she built from working the railroad in the first place. 

It’s a contradiction that isn’t lost on Brodie though she gravitates to those sorts of things. Good stuff to contemplate when she is out alone chasing cattle, even better if she can fit them into one of her songs. It certainly made it into her February single “Makin’ History,” where the songwriter wryly laments over a hummin’ country two-step about the toll the railroad can have on a relationship. “Daddy’s getting tired all these nights alone/ Mama hits the rails gonna bring that money home/ Daddy’s working hard tryna understand/ Why mama works all night don’t hold his hand.” 

Contradiction is a common theme that runs through Brodie’s ever growing catalog of songs. She was raised on folk and bluegrass but country music is where she can crack one liners with venomous truth as if it were a drunk social balm for a bar crowd zeroed in on her energy “I work too hhhaaarrrddddd to come home to an asshole,” she bellows on her most recent single “Asshole,” a searing live acoustic performance with friend and fiddler Jae Nobody for Reno’s record label Loud As Folk. Brodie and Nobody recorded nine songs for the DIY label’s exclusive monthly release club. Members are able to stream the duo’s entire session, which was done in a stripped down setting that compliments her comfortably easy honky tonk style. 

Brodie is currently saving penny by penny and recording song by song for her debut album. It’s a patient game, where sometimes she’s writing, sometimes she’s recording, sometimes she’s crashing straight into bed after a 10-hour day. It’s a grind that is eased by the cathartic practices she has with her ace Nobody, volunteering for local non-profit group Great Basin Arts and Entertainment and connecting with the small community of musicians in the area. She looks forward to getting a full band together again and playing for a rowdy crowd under the bright lights of some distant city. 

That’s the interesting thing about Brodie. For someone who couldn’t get further away from town, she loves being able to perform and entertain people. Another one of those curious contradictions she can twirl in her fingers as she looks out over her fields as the sun dips low

Here’s another one. Northern Nevada is not known for producing country songwriters. But damn if it’s barren beauty, resilient tight-knit communities and blue collar musicians haven’t been a part in producing Jade Brodie, a country songwriter who should be going to a hell of a lot more places than northern Nevada in the coming years.

Photo by Mike Brodie

The following is an interview with Jade Brodie. It has been edited for length and clarity. 

Where is an area in your songwriting or musicianship that you are actively learning to improve or broaden your skills? 

I really like playing music to people who are dancing so I have been trying to get better at writing up-beat stuff. I like playing country music because of dancing and partner dancing. For instance, it would be a huge goal of mine to play a Texas dance hall circuit. I’ve seen these people in videos or on Instagram, but these people I look up to I haven’t actually seen in person. Maybe I’m just as good, maybe I’m not, I don’t know. 

Learning those types of songs helps you with your own music. I was learning a song the other day that was in a key I had never played before and then I wrote my own song in that key. I’ll learn covers of certain songs because of the way they make me feel and if that song makes me feel good, it’ll make other people feel like that. I want to write songs like that! But even those upbeat songs can have something deeper hidden within and that’s a skill I’ve been working on these last couple years. 

I saw the video of you playing “Asshole” for Loud as Folk and you just looked charged by the song. I don’t know where you were in that moment necessarily, but it seemed like a cathartic performance. Have you had any of those real cathartic moments that playing music can sometimes bring in your personal life? 

I like practicing alone a lot. I do manual labor work so sometimes I just eat and go to sleep. That video has fiddler Jae Nobody in it and anytime I play with him I get that emotional cathartic feeling where you don’t have to think about anything else. Even though we haven’t gotten to play any live shows I still get to practice with him. 

I play country music and I like a lot of country music but I grew up with a lot of folk and bluegrass music. I started recently and very slowly learning fiddle because bluegrass music has this thing where as long as you know what key it’s in anyone can sit down and play along. I like that front porch style of community. Any time you can get with someone you trust and care about and play music with them, it’s that sense of community that makes the world alright. Then you add in the energy of playing live and entertaining a group of people and the energy is even greater.

How did you meet Jae Nobody and who are some of the other musicians in your community? 

I met Jae almost three years ago but we started playing together two years ago. He can play every single instrument, he writes songs, he could play the most awesome cover show; just amazing. He drills for one of the mines out here, we have a similar thing of doing blue-collar labor and playing music. I relate to him a lot. Meeting him was a big deal for me. My songwriting has gotten better since I lived here and it’s always exciting to go to practice and show somebody a new song. 

You’ve mentioned in an interview that one thing that appeals to you in songwriting is contradiction. Are there any new songs you are working on right now that are toying with that theme? 

There’s a new song I’m working on called “When It Comes to Loving You.” There’s a contradiction in the chorus, “You love me when I’m walking out the door/ but when I’m here you don’t want me anymore.” It’s very Loretta Lynn. “Asshole” is all a contradiction, where I work too hard to come home to an asshole, but the rest of the song is about stopping pushing me away. Every single one of my songs has that a little. 

One thing I like about that area of Nevada is the ruralness and the need to be self-sufficient. What does that look like for you on a day-to-day basis? 

Knowing how to deal with boredom in a positive way is an aspect of self-sufficiency. Being out here forces you up against your boundaries. I don’t live that far from town, maybe 20, but I’d live further away if I could. It’s good to be bored and learn how to work your way through it. 

Every once in a while I’ll watch NCIS before I go to bed but I go out of my way to not have instant gratification. But we all have smartphones and can look at anything we want, let’s be honest. But I do try to be aware of instant gratification and how that affects your mental health and not having access to comparisons to so many people at all times is good for your mental health. Go clean out the garage or feed your calf or clean out your chicken coop or go write a song. There’s really positive things you can do with boredom. 

I’ve been interested in that part of Nevada because of its importance to European settlers and how it was a crossroads on how they entered the Sierra’s, with some real consequences for wrong decisions. What’s been some of the cool history and stories you’ve heard from living out there?

One of the cool things about the railroad out here was that you go mostly along the Humboldt River. A lot of the time you are in the middle of nowhere where maybe a hunter is. There’s little old houses out there and you start thinking about how some settler used to live out here and were laying their cattle up against the river. That’s pretty interesting. 

There’s a story I really like but I forgot his name. He was some hunter who was hunting out in the McDermitt area. He killed something like a bobcat in a county where it was illegal but it was up against a county where it was fine. They came looking for him and he just booked off into the mountains and became an outlaw and just lived out there. It’s a really good story I’m not telling it properly (chuckles). I wanted to write a song about him but there was someone else who wrote a song about him, Willy Vlautin. If Jae Nobody was here he could tell the story, he’s the one who told me (laughs). 

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