The struggle is very real for 22-year-old Brianna Harness, in more ways than one.
The latest line in an acclaimed musical family — her great-grandfather was outlaw country legend Waylon Jennings and great-grandmother is Jessi Colter — Harness is touring with her father, hip-hop rocker Struggle Jennings, who literally continued Waylon’s outlaw image.
They’re performing Thursday, March 24 at 7 p.m. at The Rust Belt, 533 12th Ave., East Moline. Harness said in a recent interview that a lot of her bluesy, R&B songs are autobiographical, reflecting her hard childhood.
About age 14, Harness left home and moved in with her boyfriend. She didn’t move back with one of her parents until Jennings was released from prison in 2016, after serving time in Tennessee on drug-related charges.
“What I went through helped mold the person I am today,” Harness says. “I like to make music based off of the things that I’ve experienced, so people know that they can get through those situations and that they’re not alone.”
Her perspective is informed by her early years, which were deeply impacted by the underbelly of the world of drugs. Her debut album, in 2020, is called “Welcome To My Nightmare.”
The haunting “Am I Even Human” is a clear-eyed examination of Harness’ own youth, made even more literal in the chilling music video. “This song was one of the first concepts I came to my dad with,” she says. “It’s not hard for me to go to that place and bring up past experience. I just don’t like to dwell on it too much. I want to keep moving and stay focused on the bigger picture.”
Her “Am I Even Human?” is saying, am I really going through this, is this normal?
“The video is, with my mom being a stripper, an exotic dancer, I always was home alone, having to take care of my younger siblings,” Harness says. “It was my favorite video to shoot, because I got to cast all the actors.”
She points to the slinky, defiant “I Won’t Bitch” as a central track on “Welcome to My Nightmare.” (“I won’t bitch about the way life treats me/I’m gonna follow the path my heart leads me,” she sings. “It’s been a slow grind, nothing came speedy/I make the hard times look so easy.”)
“We had that hook recorded over the beat for a while and we wrote so many different lyrics for it,” she says. “It’s such a broad statement, and my dad came with the lyrics that turned it into one of my favorite songs on the album.”
Jennings helped her write the whole “Nightmare” album. “He’s an incredible writer. He produces most of my music,” Harness said.
She’s influenced by rap and R&B, but she goes for more a blues sound. “It’s more like a country blues, I would say,” she said. Harness said her famous family has influenced her a lot.
“Waylon, the way he set his songs, he did everything his way,” she said. “My great-grandmother, Jessi, I covered ‘The Canyon’ song on my last album. Her music is just so beautiful. I love her voice and her tone. She inspires me.”
Harness didn’t want to pursue traditional country music.
“I’m so much more influenced by blues music and R&B music, and you could say some rap,” she said. “I listen to some older country, but not so much new-school country. I feel like a lot of country music has turned pop-country.”
Harness listens to so many artists, but enjoys Mary J. Blige, India.Arie, Erykah Badu, and others. She’s written her whole life, and did band and choir in school.
Her dad asked her to sing background vocals on his “Bad Company” record, when she was about 17.
In the studio for the first time, “it was definitely crazy, it was incredible,” Harness said. “It’s different hearing your voice over the mic for the first time.”
A long legacy
Grandson of country music icon Waylon Jennings (1937-2002), Struggle is a rapper, part of a long legacy of gangsters, outlaws and rock stars, according to his bio. Growing up as a black-sheep in his family, he fought his way out of the streets of West Nashville and into the studio, where he would create the foundation for what has become his personal contribution to the Jennings family legacy.
Struggle’s message of strength, determination and courage in the face of adversity continues to connect and resonate with people around the world, his bio says. By sharing his story with honesty and passion he has developed a large and loyal fanbase who relate not only to his music but also to his personal journey.
Since being released from prison in 2016, Struggle has performed for sold-out crowds across the country and released multiple projects. He and Brianna collaborated to make the four-song EP “Sunny Days,” in 2018.
The EP of duets spent a month at No. 1 on the iTunes Blues Album Chart and amassed over 16 million views on YouTube. For Harness’ “Welcome To My Nightmare, she pursued a wide range of musical styles, from atmospheric indie rock to a lounge-y, nightclub vibe.
“I learned to really let go of any genre,” she says. “We just went one by one and created them, without any strategy. Some came out completely different from how we planned. I just tried to make each song sound exactly how it made me feel. I was also learning to use my voice and how I could do different things with it—I’d really only been in the studio four or five times before this.”
“I’ve always loved music—I used to sing with my friends and I was in choir and band and stuff like that—but I never saw myself wanting to pursue a career with it,” Harness says. “I guess I always knew it was an option, but I saw how hard it was for my dad when he was starting out and really struggling. But then again I also saw my great-grandparents’ great success, so I’ve seen all sides of it.”
Initially, her father brought her into Mike Hartnett’s studio to sing a hook on his song, “Bad Company”, eventually leading to the recordings for “Sunny Days.” Along the way, the father and daughter worked out a unique, cross-generational approach to songwriting.
“I love working with my dad,” says Harness. “We usually just go to the studio and see where it goes. Every song is different—I’ll sing a melody, or he’ll have lyrics that I can add my own twist to, some were beats started by Scatt (Scattered Brains, producer). Sharing my feelings was kind of difficult at first, but my dad has a very good way of understanding my perspective on things. He’s my best friend for sure.”
The “Nightmare” project started in February 2020, with a prophetic song titled “Quarantine.” When the team really dug into recording in the summer, they got an assist from Brianna’s grandmother Jenni, who brought Harness two remarkable songs, “It Ain’t Easy” and “Warrior,” saying she had tried to write them from Brianna’s perspective. Harness also cut her own version of her great-grandmother Jessi Colter’s 2006 song “The Canyon.”
“Jessi gives the best advice,” she adds. “She is definitely someone I count on and look up to.”
“I naturally have a heavy love for R&B, blues and jazz music, older and really vibe-y feeling music. That’s where a lot of my inspiration came from.””
“I just want everybody to take what they need from the album,” Harness says. “There’s so many different songs that relate to so many different emotions. If someone needs to get that feeling of moving on from something, not wanting to bitch about it, or if somebody just needs to cry, all those different emotions are there.”
A 2020 feature at soundslikenashville.com said: “Few artists can claim a bloodline as potent as the one running through Brianna Harness,” noting she inherited the same independent spirit as her great grandparents, Jessi Colter and Waylon Jennings.
The daughter of indie rapper Struggle Jennings and granddaughter of Jenni Eddy Jennings — who was born to Colter and the country star’s previous husband, rock legend Duane Eddy, but raised by Jennings as his own — “Harness has nodded to her country roots on her 2020 album, Welcome to My Nightmare. The set includes a breathtaking cover of Colter’s ‘The Canyon,’ full of family pride and showcasing an evocative voice that’s worth keeping track of,” the piece said.
Enjoying being back on tour
“It’s been exciting to get back out there and play some new material,” Harness said in the recent interview.
She’s recorded her sophomore full-length, “Cowgirls Don’t Cry,” which should be out this July. Harness has dropped two singles from it already – “Howling at the Moon” and “Lonely.”
A recent feature at themusicessentials.com says: “Brianna Harness is a force to be reckoned with: she is living proof that tremendous adversity can produce the greatest beauty.”
In her latest single, “Lonely,” “Brianna taps into a deeper heartbreak; her stunningly soulful voice juxtaposed by painful, longing lyrics,” the piece says.
In the Rust Belt show, she opens for 25 minutes, Jennings plays, and then she returns with him and they perform four songs from their EP they did in 2018, among two other artists on the bill.
“This will be probably my fifth tour with him,” Harness said. “Before I started doing music, I used to tour with him anyways, selling merchandise. I’ve been on the road with him for a while. Honestly, it’s incredible. I love it so much. There’s nothing like performing.”
She and her dad are based in Nashville, Tenn.
“I feel like my music, the main thing I write about – I use everything I’ve been through as a story line,” Harness said. “I love to use my music to translate what I’ve been through. Tell other people they’re not the only ones going through the s— they’re going through.”
Her “Sunny Days” EP showed that they made it through, showing things changed, but they’re love stayed the same, she said.
“Welcome To My Nightmare” was Harness “stepping into adulthood and trying to figure out where I wanted to take my music, what I wanted to say,” she said. “I was still kind of young, trying to create that album. ‘Welcome To My Nightmare’ was definitely less optimistic than ‘Sunny Days’ was.”
Harness likes to convince people, that no matter what you’re going through, you can make it and share your experiences to help others.
Her dad has been a huge influence overall.
“If it wasn’t for my dad, I don’t think I’d be as far as I am now in music,” Harness said. “He has completely led me the whole way, showed me how to do things. It’s a tough industry, and trying to find the right people to represent me. It’s a tough industry and he’s been there with me the whole time, to make sure everything is perfect. I’m signed to his label and he gives me complete creative control. He’s my biggest supporter and my best friend.”
Curtis started singing when she was 3 years old. She fondly remembers, “I used to sing to my grandma.” When she was 6 her mom put her in voice lessons. The minute she got her first solo she says, “It’s like I knew from then on that music is what I wanted to do,” according to her bio.
Her parents moved her family down to Nashville from Massachusetts when she was 12 so that she could pursue music. After receiving a heartbreaking rejection from X Factor at the tender age of 16, Caitlynne thought she blew her chance at being a singer, but she never really gave up. Her life took a detour when she had her son at 19.
Selling cars to support herself and her son, she would record covers of songs to her Instagram as a small way to keep her dream alive. Fortunately, the stars aligned and the right person came along to change everything.
A Killer’s Confession, the band, led by former Mushroomhead vocalist Waylon Reavis, is back with their much-anticipated third album, “Remember.” Featuring artist Chad Gray from Mudvayne. The single “Remember” hit mainstream Billboard #32.
Tickets for Thursday’s 7 p.m. show are $20.50 and $25.50, available HERE.