By Bethany Ruhe
Pittsburgh Current Associate Publisher
The day Pittsburgh Current sat down with Brittney Chantele, she was heading to Las Vegas to meet with Veterans for Peace, a non-profit “dedicated to building a culture of peace, exposing the true costs of war, and healing the wounds of war.’”
They wanted to talk to the veteran and singer-songwriter about ways to reach out to other veterans and allies to help grow their mission. The timing was perfect. On February 17, Chantele will release her latest record, The Golden Opportunity, which tells the story of her military experience.
Chantele is quick to explain it’s not based on just her years of service (2011 – 2018), “but the age that I got brainwashed into everything, so 14.”
The first track is called “Recruiters.” Chantele reserves a lot of her ire for these particular people and their methods of drawing people in. “They drive cars that aren’t theirs and they sell you this vision. You like animals? You can be a veterinarian. You can be a dentist. You like dogs? You can have a dog. You want a family? We will take care of them, too,” Chantele explains. “They come after you before you ever have the chance to know yourself.”
Ten days after graduating high school, Brittney Chantele arrived in Ft. Sill, OK to report for basic training.
Even then, in the very beginning, Chantele felt something wasn’t right.
“I realized this was one big mind game,” she says. She points to YouTube videos of drill sergeants screaming at scared recruits, sometimes 2 or 3 sergeants at a time. Chantele calls it trauma porn, but points out the military has another word for it. Resilience.
The album also addresses the sexual assault Chantele suffered while enlisted and the realities of being a lesbian in the military. Both set her apart from others in her unit and gave her a different perspective to the things being said around her.
“The way that my peers would talk about (sexual assault) was so horrible and disgusting. It was always victim-blaming. ‘I bet you she’s just saying that because he wouldn’t go out with her,’” Chantele says. “There was also a lot of retaliation. People would do some really grimy, petty things. They would make up lies about how someone stole something. The friends of the person accused would band up and do things to make the victim’s life a living hell.”
It was a heavy burden for Chantele. “This was going to be my career, this is what I was going to retire doing,” she says. But as she spent more and more time in the Army, she began to notice all of the ways she was being impacted.
“There’s a lot of things the military does to engrave into your brain what a terrorist or an enemy is supposed to look like,” she says. Chantele recounts a story in which her and a date were strolling along Mt. Washington and stopped at an overlook. There was another man on the overlook with them, of Middle Eastern descent. Chantele was giving him dirty looks, and when her date noticed, she explained that she thought that man was a terrorist and they should leave. The date’s response was that Chantele could walk her ass home. Which she did.
“I had a long walk home to think about everything. We ended up having a really long conversation about what the military does to you,” she says. “They don’t want you to have any feelings, and that’s inhumane.”
Chantele was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a condition that causes pain and fatigue as well as sleep, memory and mood issues. “I 100 percent, fully believe that the military caused my fibromyalgia,” she says. “What I mean by that is my military sexual trauma, which is connected to my PTSD, caused the full body pain that I have.
“It’s like a garbage bag you don’t want to take out, so you keep stuffing more and more in there. So the thing you threw away at the beginning is all the way in the bottom of the bag. So all this trauma was compacted on top of a sense of self, and my body was like, I’m sick of holding on to all of this trauma. So the bag explodes and all that garbage gets let loose in your system in the form of pain.”
The Army, of course, disagrees, leading Chantele on a years-long battle to hold them accountable.
A Golden Opportunity is also a return to more heavy hip hop, after her poppier, A Fire on Venus, last year. Chantele is choosing to focus less on what genre of music she’s making and more on what it means to her.
“As long as I’m saying what I need to say, that’s all I care about. I need to be making this music for me, and not for other people,” she says. “With this album, I approached it as ‘however it comes out, is the way it’s going to come out.”
The subject matter is on the heavy side, but it’s still hip hop. “My goal with this album is yes, to explain my story and to lift this weight off my shoulders, but even if I just touch one teenager who is thinking about enlisting, that’s all that matters,” she says. “I would never tell anyone to not join. What I do want is to spread more information and more awareness.”
This new record is her golden opportunity to do just that.