Brooke Fair wrote her first song when she was in the third grade.
“No one told me I couldn’t do it,” she says. “I always assumed — which I know now isn’t the case — people who sang wrote their own songs. And I had this third grade pop star dream: ‘I’m going to write a song because I’m going to be famous.’”
“Escape” was the name of that song. “It was about my imaginary boyfriend. You just write a lot of bad songs. The more bad songs you write, the more good songs you have. I have 10 times as many terrible songs.”
Now 16, Fair has written more than 100 songs. On July 17th, she will release her new single, “Universe,” which was produced by Justin Timberlake guitarist Elliot Ives and Scott Hardin at Young Avenue Sound.
Born in Memphis, Fair began writing prolifically after she picked up the baritone ukulele when she was 12. “There’s this singer I really love, Dodie Clark. I’ve been obsessed with her since second grade. Her lyrics are very universal, but specific at the same time. She played ukulele. “
Fair, who doesn’t remember a time when she didn’t sing, began taking lessons at House of Talent when she was 8 years old. “I just got to go there and sing my heart out for an hour.”
She also studied with Timberlake’s former teacher, Bob Westbrook, but, she says, “I really liked belting and singing very emotional songs, but he was always trying to make me sing ballads. I wanted it to be more fun and lighthearted. At the time, I just wanted to be Ariana Grande. To be honest, I didn’t have my personality.”
Fair then began studying at School of Rock, which was a great experience, she says. Singing in front of audiences helped with her anxiety. She also liked the feedback from other musicians.
One of the instructors, Sarah Simmons, and Simmons’ husband, Greg Langston, were “really important in making me realize I could record. All this stuff seemed so far away. I didn’t realize I could record music in Memphis.”
That was when Fair picked up the baritone ukulele. She had been playing a soprano ukulele, but she loved the sound of the baritone, which suited the emotional type of music she was writing. “It’s so simple-looking and simple to play. It’s not that difficult. But you can make it sound so pretty and use it to write a lot of songs. And you can translate it to the guitar because it’s the bottom four strings of a guitar.”
The first song she wrote on a ukulele was “Elevator Music” — “another love song,” she says. The song, which she wrote to her boyfriend at the time, begins, “When I’m with you, everything else is like elevator music. Nothing else matters.”
In 2018, Fair released her first single, “Love Songs on Loop,” which is “about being stuck on someone you’ve been with. Not being able to get over somebody. But in a lighthearted way, not a sappy way. It got on a few Spotify lists and got some traction. Almost 90,000 streams on Spotify. Which really is not an obviously impressive number. But when you take into account we didn’t do any publicity for this song — it kind of organically grew like that — I think it’s really cool.”
Fair released her first EP, All Queens Wear Crowns, in 2018.
She then began studying with her current teacher, Memphis musician/Memphis University School instructor Matt Tutor, who began teaching her “how to sing a little bit better.” But he also concentrated on her “potential as a songwriter.”
Fair went into Young Avenue Sound last February to record “Universe.” The song is “flipping the narrative on the whole type of songs I used to write, where I was the one being played or being strung along by some guy. Instead of being heartbroken, [I'm] being the heartbreaker.”
She released “I Can’t Breathe,” also produced by Ives and Hardin, last April before George Floyd was killed. The song is about “anxiety” and a lot of lines coincidentally pertain to the Floyd incident, she says. “A few days after George Floyd was killed, I realized that after listening to the song and going through my Instagram feed at the same time.”
People were telling her how much the song applies to Floyd. “There’s a line: ‘When the world mistreats me, I’m left in pieces.”
Fair had already decided to donate all the proceeds of the song to suicide prevention awareness charities, she says.
“I’ve always been a huge advocate of human rights and things like that. The fact I wrote a song applicable to ‘Black Lives Matter’ shows I’m kind of meant to use my platform to support things that matter to me.”