Out of all the bands that performed at Radio-Active's ode to the magnetic tape Cassette It Together a few weeks back, there was one that really piqued our interest. It was a child-aged group called Brenner Pass. Surprising? Not really. This brother and sister duo, singer Anastasia Brenner and her older sibling and guitarist Max, are much more than a cutesy novelty act. These kids can really rock.
What gripped us most was pint-sized vocalist Anastasia's booming pipes. Although not even in middle school, girl croons and swoons like a whiskey-guzzling blues singer three times her age. She's like a little Alison Mosshart voice trapped inside a tiny 11-year-old doppelganger for Wendy Adams. Meanwhile, 15-year-old Max complements her brooding-yet-enthralling cadence with steady, gritty, melodic guitar strums and clean, straightforward vocals.
The pair currently perform only covers, including a stellar stripped-down take on the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?" and a walloping rendition of Regina Spektor's Orange Is the New Black theme song "You've Got Time," a real showstopper. They've shown such raw, unabashed skill at these tunes, it's certain bigger and better things are coming. Matter of fact, there was a rumor circulating at the Cassette It show that these talented musical saplings just inked a deal with a record label. Details were scant, however, so New Times decided to track the two down and get the scoop.
After a few emails back and forth with the Brenners' mother, Robyn Brenner (please don't use the term mom-ager around her), we got in touch with the duo. The two had just been picked up by Robyn at school in Boca Raton, where Max attends tenth grade and Anastasia sixth. Robyn put us on speakerphone so we could communicate with all three parties.
Despite her commanding presence onstage, Anastasia proved to be a bit timid over the phone, but can you blame her? The girl isn't even a teen yet. She does have the best taste in music we've ever found in a tween. Her role modes are not the type you'd expect. Anastasia tells us she is a huge fan of blues greats Billie Holiday and Etta James. But what about age-appropriate acts like Miley Cyrus or Taylor Swift? "No way," she laughed.
The tiny singer goes on to admit that her confidence was something she struggled with when she started taking vocal lessons four years ago. She was too shy to sing in public. That's where big brother Max stepped in. At the time, Max was taking piano lessons but decided to jump on the guitar and back his sister up onstage. It proved to be the kind of support that this blossoming rock star needed to yelp out songs with serious swagger.
We asked Max if he felt pressured to take on the protective big-brother role in the group. Max definitely thinks so but freely admitted that Anastasia is the one in charge. "She is definitely the boss," said Max about his younger sister, not just of the group but of the entire Brenner family. Added mother Robyn: "She is certainly the most opinionated and outspoken of the bunch."
It was father Matthew Brenner who first pointed out Anastasia's resounding voice. Overhearing her belting out tunes in the shower one day, Matthew told Robyn that he thought his daughter could really sing. Robyn was a little skeptical, telling him that's how all parents feel about their own kids. Matthew disagreed. "No, I think our girl can really, really sing," he explained. So they brought her to a professional vocal coach, who concurred.
At 8 years old, Markee Music Studio instructors told Robyn they don't usually hear little girls who sound that way. It took Robyn a while to match Anastasia up with a vocal coach who could foster her distinctive sound. She told us most of the coaches initially wanted to groom her to be a teen pop star or tailor her sound to be more Disney-like, but Robyn knew her daughter's soulful voice was worlds apart from those expectations.
Another influential person in Anastasia's development has been local blues-rock dynamo Sophie Sputnik, lead singer for scuzzy Deerfield Beach outfit Killmama. The way Robyn explained it, Anastasia and Sophie are kindred spirits. "Sophie is such a free spirit. Musically, she really gave Anastasia a new outlook on where she can go with her sound." According to Robyn, Sophie helped her daughter "break the mold." Coincidentally, Max takes lessons from Killmama's guitarist, Rob Kingsley, too. Seems Max and Anastasia are veritable Killmama protégés.
Regarding the rumored signing to a label, Robyn confirms the rumors are true. The Brenners were approached by RedStar Entertainment at the end of an impressive gig at Coral Springs Center for the Performing Arts, called Family United (check out a clip of their performance below) over Labor Day weekend. And the development deal and media contract became official a few weeks later.
The artist management company will be helping the kids in the studio, where the two will be crafting original songs at the beginning of 2015. Additionally, RedStar Entertainment will release a collection of new, professionally produced videos of the Brenners' amazing covers in the coming months. Max tells us they are narrowing down which to release, choosing among Vance Joy's "Riptide," "Sarah Smiles" by Panic! At the Disco, and Awolnation's "Sail."
In the meantime, the duo has already made one major decision; It decided to ditch the name Brenner Pass for the new moniker of Anastasia Max. Robyn told us she didn't think the name Brenner Pass resonated as much, and at the behest of the label, the names of her children were thought better-suited for the band. She trusts RedStar's marketing savvy, and hey, since she chose those names anyway, she couldn't agree more with the decision.
Both Max and Anastasia are excited to be performing at the Rock the Puppies Fundraiser event next weekend. The two will be playing alongside their mentors Killmama, where they will be helping raise funds for nonprofit animal rescue organization Saving Grace and her Furry Friends.
Anastasia Max with Killmama and the Gazms at Rock the Puppies, 6 p.m. Saturday, October 25, at Art and Music Studio Development Studio, 1901 Harrison St., Hollywood. Tickets cost $20 in advance or $25 at the door. Visit Facebook.