By Bethany Ruhe
Pittsburgh Current Associate Publisher
Brittney Chantele has been making music and performing in Pittsburgh for some time now. Chances are you’ve heard her music, or caught a performance. With her curly blond hair, oversized glasses, and signature bandana-as-a-headband, she is very recognizable.
Her activism and involvement in social-justice causes have taken her all over the city, and she is very much a daughter of Pittsburgh (leaving out the fact she was born on Staten Island).
This is why there are going to be a lot of people who need a minute to realize that the melodic, emotional voice singing the tracks on A Fire On Venus, being released this coming Friday is, indeed, Brittney Chantele.
But it’s true. It’s her. Brittney Chantele has gone and made a pop album. And despite previous offerings, it’s the kind of record she’s always wanted to make.
“I think I’ve been struggling for many years on the confidence in my voice,” Chantele says. “I think it’s because I didn’t sound like this favorite artist of mine, or that favorite artist, [I thought] that meant my voice isn’t good.”
She also points out the habit that many middle and high school choruses have of boxing kids into groups. “You’re a soprano, and you’re an alto,” she recalls hearing. “It can keep you from singing a different way, and that channeled me into not really being confident. I didn’t really know what my own voice could do, because I was so focused on singing this ‘chorus way.’”
Knowing she wanted to get more confident in her voice, Chantele did what many of us do when we need to quickly master a new skill–she watched a bunch of videos on YouTube. And while they were helpful, she felt the lack of professional feedback was holding her back. At the urging of her producer, Remy Vega, Chantele got a vocal coach. The results were immediate.
“After one lesson I could tell a difference. I was more confident,” she says. “I was able to sing in a way that didn’t hurt my vocal chords.”
People who know and love her current music might be surprised to hear the reason behind the vocal lessons. “I haven’t been making the music that I really, really want to make,” she explains. And the songs she was making, which she loves, still didn’t sound the way they sounded in her head. “Even things on labels, like ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Bridge of the Gods,’ if you were to hear me singing them in my shower, it’s completely different than the recordings.’”
It took her awhile to get there because, well, singing makes you very vulnerable. And now that she’s there, she doesn’t have any plans to retreat. Instead, it’s full speed ahead. “I’m trying to do big things,’ she explains with absolutely zero trace of an apology.
‘I’m not just trying to stay a Pittsburgh artist. Not a Pittsburgh pop artist, not a Pittsburgh R&B artist. I’m trying to win a Grammy. I love my full time job, but being an artist is my passion. It’s what drives me. It makes me feel complete. It makes me feel like I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing. I can’t just do it part time. I can’t do it here and there.”
But saying that doesn’t mean she wants to leave Pittsburgh. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Chantele has been frustrated over the lack of artist management professionals in Pittsburgh. “I’ve been looking in Pittsburgh, and I agree with Drake’s line, ‘I’d rather give that 15% to people I fuck with,’ she says. “But, with me as an emerging artist, I need a manager who has been in the business, who knows exactly what they’re doing, and who has the connections, to help me get to where I want to be.”
Like, for instance, opening for Maggie Rogers when she’s here in September. Rogers is a big influence on Chantele, even if their music isn’t exactly similar, but, as Chantele points out, it’s not supposed to be the same. Rogers music and background definitely helped Chantele prepare to make the leap she did with A Fire on Venus.
A Fire on Venus is Chantele’s most vulnerable album, not just because she sings, but because of the stories she tells. “I love love,” she says. “I’ve been off-and-on single for a really long time. I’ve just been so ready for a long-term relationship. I got goals, I got dreams, I want someone to ride along with me. I want to support someone else. I have a lot of love to give.”
In the process of working through that, her longing for a committed, monogamous relationship, and navigating the pitfalls of dating, Chantele has made a queer-love album. A queer-love pop album, to be totally accurate. “A lot of what’s on the radio, let’s be honest, is hetero-normative love stories. We can always switch out the pronouns in our heads and make the song what we want it to be,’ she explains, ‘but sometimes, you know… that sucks.”
Not content with opening herself up with her newly-found voice and openly queer-love pop album, Chantele decided to take on one more new, scary challenge. “I’ve recently tagged myself as a dancer. I’ve always been one, but never tagged myself as one,” she explains. “Dancing is something that makes me feel really free. I have fibromyalgia so my body always hurts. It’s just a fact. There is no day when my body doesn’t hurt. It’s just like how much does it hurt.”
There are different events around the city, like Slackers and Bangers and Yes, Queen, that Chantele likes to attend, but not to drink, not to party, not to mingle. Chantele is there for a very specific reason. She is there to release all of the stress and pressure from the week. She’s there for herself.
“When I dance,” she said, “a really weird thing happens where I forget about my pain. Don’t get me wrong, I feel it after. Especially the next morning, my body hurts really bad. Dancing is really freeing for me. I know it’s cliche, but it’s true.”
Chantele feels like she has a lot to say through her dance, and people attending her album release show on Friday the 19 at Cattivo will notice her set includes a dancer. Additionally, she will have an ASL interpreter for her entire set. Inclusion means a lot to Chantele, and she’s dedicated to making everyone feel welcome at her performances.
Chantele wants what most everyone wants; acceptance, love, the ability to do what she loves… and a Grammy. She’s not afraid to take chances, she’s not afraid to take risks and be vulnerable. She knows what she wants, and with a Fire on Venus, she’s making big strides to go get it.