Rocker Bree Talks Cult Past, Gospel Music, and Badassery

Post Author: Meredith Schneider

Imagine, the stage is set and the Stones are gearing up to play to a sold out crowd of 69,143 (with overflow, of course) at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee. The band is doing a live, international broadcast of the night’s festivities, playing to millions of people worldwide. Keith Richards walks out onto a dimly lit stage, grabs the mic, and introduces his favorite new band–and only opening act for their phenomenal performance–Bree. The crowd goes wild as Bree enters and takes the stage, wasting no time filling the stadium with her electric energy. That is how Bree imagines being introduced someday, or maybe just in their wildest, most creative dreams…

Bree does everything with a sense of command that you would expect from international leaders. (Or perhaps a punk rock band who causes a ruckus because of their beliefs, a la Pussy Riot.) Their badass attitude strikes you right off the bat, noticing their intensity as soon as they walk into a room. It helps that lead singer Bree can really rock a pair of black leather boots and a platinum blonde pixie cut.

Bree has taken their music in several different directions since they began their musical journey together, but the core of their music is comprised of honest moments and a dire desire to challenge conformity. The band isn’t afraid to be themselves, and that is palpable in every facet of their sound. Lead singer Bree, along with Mayrk McNeely (upright bass) and David J Castello (drums) has been lighting up stages for years, sharing soulful lyrics and a blend of melodies in the form of rock n’ roll.

We got to sit down with the lovely leading lady to discuss her dangerous past in a religious cult, her love of gospel music, and what a badass she is.


We got a closer look at your family history, but would you enlighten our audience?

I’m always happy to share my life story with people. I hope my story inspires others not to be judgmental and more accepting of one another. I hope it brings light to the fact I’m not the only one who has gone through this and that it is probably happening everywhere. I also hope that it brings confidence to anyone who may be in a controlling and/or abusive situation that they, too, can follow their dreams. As much as I’d hate to make my father’s life difficult, I have to speak my truths and they don’t exactly make him shine. (Sorry, dad.)

My father is the leader of a religious cult in Junction City, Oregon. We moved there when I was nine months old along with my three older siblings. Being raised in an environment like that felt like being in prison. Back then, my father didn’t believe in going to doctors, but relied on faith healing. Like the time I cut the tip of my finger off on accident and instead of rushing me to the hospital to get stitches he cleaned, bandaged, stuck a splint on it and called all the brethren to come pray for me. To this day I have numbness problems with that finger. And that was normal to us. That was our life. He made us terrified of doctors.

When I was six years old my mother passed away from accidentally swallowing a sewing needle (she held the needle between her teeth while she was working on something, got startled and sucked it in by accident). For months it was stuck in her throat. Needless to say, that turned all of our lives upside down. She was our world, our queen and so loved by everyone including our community. Over many months we watched her slowly waste away. It was devastating. I still feel her near and I will always dedicate every album I make as well as any success I achieve to her.

Nine months later, my father married a very young woman in the church. Despite the utter hatred my older siblings felt for her, I was cool with her. She seemed nice. She taught me how to tell time and made dad smile. A year later, when I was eight, she and my dad had a baby boy and everything suddenly changed. She not only became physically abusive, but mentally and verbally abusive as well. As a young girl she’d tell me I was stupid and yell at me, even smack me across the face in front of friends. I have plenty of witnesses and would LOVE to challenge her to a polygraph test if she ever denies it. She single handedly made my childhood miserable. I honestly just wanted her to love me. All I ever wanted was to give love and receive it. I tried so hard, but she was so vicious. That year they pulled me out of public school and she homeschooled me through high school. The abuse continued unabated the whole time. I started writing poetry at seven years old. I became passionate about words, poetry, and music. It was the only thing that helped dull the pain I carried in my heart every day. I simply wasn’t allowed to be me and I didn’t even know who I really was because I was too busy being who my dad and sadistic stepmother wanted me to be. At that time, my dad was my world. We had a beautiful relationship. He never laid a hand on me and was so kind and loving. Ironically, he introduced me to Rock n’ Roll. We connected well through our love for music and he always thanked me for all the work I did around the house (which was pretty much all of it).  I was given a long list of chores to day every day.

At sixteen I finally got a job, my own car, and some independence. Since I was too young to leave my parents’ house I
decided to live a double life. I started dating someone and sneaking out to see him. I also began driving two hours north to see concerts in Portland featuring bands such as Relient K and Alkaline Trio. There would’ve been hell to pay if I’d been caught. (My parents wouldn’t even allow me to go to a Christian Rock concert.) No matter how perfect and obedient I was, my stepmother always found a reason to punish me, so I said to myself, “F*ck it! I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”

My life changed drastically on November 20th, 2006. I was almost finished with my senior year in high school and working two jobs: a local drive-thru coffee shop and at Dairy Queen. I got home from work and decided to call my boyfriend. Even at seventeen, I wasn’t allowed to use the phone without permission, so after I’d call my boyfriend I’d punch my grandfather’s number in to throw my parents off the trail when they checked on me by hitting the redial button. This time I forgot. Not only did I forget, but I left the phone in my damn closet. When my step-mom got home, she paged the phone, leading her to my closet, which led her to hit redial, which led her to see my boyfriend’s name and number. I tried to make something up, but I knew I had to fess up. I did. I was so tired of it all. It was liberating and scary. She freaked out and called my dad. He raced home and lost his mind all simply because I’d had sex before marriage. He was on his knees, pulling his hair, crying to God asking what he had done to deserve this. I was frozen with shock. I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t feel emotion. It was all too surreal. My father said to me, “You are so lucky you have a boyfriend because I would send you out in the night with nowhere to go.” Within 2 hours I was driving down highway 99 weeping tears of joy with my car full of stuffed black hefty bags thinkin, “I’m free. I’m finally free.”

It happened ten years ago and to this day my father and his cult continue to completely shun me. They basically consider me dead and if they see me on the street they’ll look ahead as if I don’t exist.

In an interview with Indieville, you stated that you were classically trained on piano very young, and played guitar starting at 14. What made you choose to get into the music world, and what were your favorite songs to play at a young age?

In the cult I was spoon fed gospel hymns in church and to this day I love gospel music. When I got really good at the piano I started playing every Sunday and Wednesday for the congregation. While at home, my dad would blare The Who in his study while I pretended to be Pete Townshend romping around the room with a red blow up electric guitar. My father fueled my love for Rock n’ Roll and all the Motown classics, however, I was forbidden to listen to Aerosmith. I loved the Beatles and knew every word to every song on the Sgt. Pepper album and was obsessed with the Beach Boys. Pet Sounds was the first album I ever bought. Anything melodic with strong harmonies and driving electric guitar drives me wild. That music saved my sanity. I used to plug my headphones into my stereo so I could sneak a listen to Green Day, Blink 182 and No Doubt. I loved Avril Lavigne and went through a Spice Girls phase. Hey, it was the 90’s and I was young! Every day I’d fantasize about playing the electric guitar in my own band and performing in front of thousands of people. I had NO idea I’d be pursuing my passion like this today. I’m so thankful now that I have the chance.

You met drummer David J Castello on your 21st birthday. In a quick interview with More Than The Music, you explained that “meet cute” moment with him. How has your relationship developed over the years, and what’s it like making music with him?

I stereotypically call us the dynamic duo. He’s the business brains and I’m the imagination. David has always known the right moment to light a fire under me and that is something my personality needs. Over the years he’s only gotten better at understanding me, which can be quite difficult at times. There is just something completely cosmic and magical about the whole thing. Making music with him is easy. I write the songs and I love his drum parts. I swear he’s a saint for putting up with my crazy ass!

What made you guys mutually decide on “Bree” as the band name? 

I write all the songs and they are all about my life, relationships, emotions and all that dirty laundry, so it made sense to them to use my name. I don’t consider myself a solo artist because Mayrk and David are irreplaceable to me. They have become this incredibly powerful rhythm section that creates a unique musical backbone that continuously inspire me. It’s only the three of us on stage and in the studio. I love them and they know there isn’t a greedy bone in my body. They don’t have to fight for their names because I shout them from the mountain top every night on stage.

You were voted RAW Nashville Musician of the Year in 2012. What was that like? What did you do when you found out?

I was still the new kid in town, so receiving that validation really warmed my heart and made me feel accepted in Nashville. When my name was called it caught me by surprise and I cried on stage. We were the only Rock n’ Roll band, the rest were Country and they were quite good so I assumed one of them would win. It was such an honor for us just to be nominated so you can imagine how excited we were when we won!

Your video for “Damn, I’m Being Me Again” is what really caught our eye. It’s so simple, and yet so striking. What made you guys choose to do it this way?

We’re really into simplicity. I believe when you simplify things it’s more raw and honest.

I’d just returned my from first trip to London and I wanted our video to reflect a fun 60’s mod British rock vibe so we went with the white backdrop with us wearing black threads. We begin the video in black and white, and filmed it at NuMynd Studios here in Nashville with our amazing director, Casey Culver behind the camera. Such a fun day!

You have a very badass/rocker/influential vibe. Have you always been that way, or has it been a work in progress? 

Thank you so much! I don’t know, because I’m just me, but I’ve always been super obsessed with Rock n’ Roll. It’s always lived inside of me and it seems to be coming more to the surface as time goes on.

What’s up next for Bree? 

It may be because of my British influences, but the UK seems to be grasping what I’m about quite quickly and I won’t be the first American artist this has happened to. We’ll be in the UK performing from May 25th until June 21st and then we return there again in July. I love London, their culture and the people so much, but I also can’t wait to tour the Midwest. Rock n’ Roll has always been so appreciated there.

Bree is currently touring the UK.