Enter “Where the Light Won’t Reach,” the contemplative, haunting first record from Connecticut native Andre Bernier. A junior and jazz piano performance major in the Frost School of Music, Bernier’s talents in multi-instrumentalism, lyrical depth and layering melodies shine through the genre-breaking EP. The Miami Hurricane asked Bernier to give an insider look at “Where the Light Won’t Reach,” which he wrote, recorded and produced almost entirely by himself over this past winter break.
The Miami Hurricane: When were you introduced to writing or playing music and how?
Bernier: I started taking piano lessons at four. It was really after hearing Elton John and Billy Joel that I knew this was the career path I wanted to take. I must have been in elementary school, around 4th grade when I knew for sure. My parents listened to music around the house and it was always that large, American band sound that I was drawn to – Otis Redding, Tom Petty, Led Zeppelin – people in a room, making noise with real instruments.
TMH: How has your time at Frost School impacted your music style or approach?
AB: Music school can do away with a lot – emotion attached to songs, meaning of notes, expression of chords – but it can give you a lot – technique, organization, reading skills and ability to improvise. There’s a common misconception that music school is supposed to give you your artistry or your sound. It’s not a fair expectation, and it fundamentally undercuts the amount of work involved in self discovery within a craft. What Frost is here for is to give you the skills necessary to find your sound on your own. The institution has shaped the way I play piano for sure, but it hasn’t shaped the way I compose or create. What has shaped my composing is the students I’m surrounded with. Community is everything.
TMH: Which artists are your musical influences?
AB: As far as this EP goes, the main inspiration was Bon Iver, and I think that’s evident from the first track on. I don’t think there’s a better writer in our time than Justin Vernon. His understanding of the movement of chords driving the mood of a piece is something many musicians lack. We get too caught up looking at what’s hip, what’s different. Nothing’s different, all the chords have been used. I’m impressed more and more with music that brings me somewhere, music you can listen to in the dark and it takes you to another time in your life. That’s something that I’ve been looking to emulate for a long time.
TMH: Is there a central theme or story in your EP?
AB: The EP was about experiences I had over break. I went to several museums before recording anything, being home and having nothing to do. The grand scale of artwork at the Met is what inspired the track ‘1890.’ The end of the 1800s had a buzz to it. It was the turning of a century that had seen a slew of economic advancements and these paralleled artistic advancements. They all had that unwavering focus of a group with the hope of new creation. I wanted to capture that feeling, I was enamored by it. There’s something so determined about it.
Avon is the town where I live now. I’ve lived there since freshman year of college, but it’s definitely home. I remember Connecticut as gray. That’s the best word for it in every sense – the mood, the people, the routine, everything. It can be destructive if you don’t learn to live in it, let it absorb you and sit inside that fog while being indifferent to it. That song is a reenactment of stepping outside to smoke, being back home on a break from school and just having it hit you all over again. It’s about being back in that state, that gray, but removed from it at the same time. It’s almost comforting in a strange sense. It’s all a bit melodramatic but there’s a fair amount of human emotion that sits very finely on that line.
‘Condo’ is a song I made off a riff in open D that caught my ears. I wrote the first verse driving to visit relatives in New Jersey. It’s about a fictional event where a person sees someone who they used to be involved with, and even though they’re still interested in the person for all the reasons they used to be, both parties know it’s better off not to be involved anymore. The catalyst for the break up is a fight that resulted in one of the people making a hole in the wall. It also allows the convenient analogy of patching the hole in the wall, just as the non aggressor has patched the relationship time and time again.
‘Vanguard’ is my favorite track on the EP. I took a trip to the village Vanguard in New York City with my girlfriend Alice Kim, who’s also a student at Frost, to see The Bad Plus, a jazz piano trio. The song isn’t so much about that show as it is about the whole city. I’ve found that it’s just too fast for my speed – it’s extremely taxing to be around that many people, that many stories and conflicts. I had to wait in Port Authority Bus Station for two hours until Alice’s bus arrived, and there was a crazy amount of things going on. You have to adapt to look past people when you live in a city, you can’t think about the story behind everything, it will overwhelm you. It took about five, nine-hour workdays to get it all tracked. I’m not sure if I’ll have time to make another track like it anytime soon.
TMH: What was the process of making the EP like? Did you have help from other Frost students?
AB: This EP was made in three weeks over winter break. It was a giant learning process and it was all terrifying start-to-finish, quite honestly. I don’t feel at home with technology. I’m used to acoustic instruments.
No one else played or sang on the record, but oh my goodness, did I ever need help with mixing it. Daniel Loumpouridis walked track by track through these tunes with me – which is not a small feat, either in time or patience – and explained why what I was doing was wrong in most cases. The artwork came from a photo I took on Christmas Eve outside my dad’s condo in Avon. Alice Kim took it and made it into the incredible art you see on the cover.
TMH: Have you had any noteworthy experiences collaborating with others while at Frost?
AB: Again, it’s the community that matters here, far less the classes. I’m in a band called Ladytown, which is filled with some of the heaviest writers at Frost. This EP is directly influenced by their style, especially in the terms of groove and build. I’ve also been involved with another EP that I made with Daniel Loumpouridis, which should be released within the next few months. As far as other writers who have inspired me, I urge everyone to check out Carter Vail, Alice Kim, Noah Tauscher, Sara Keden and Zola Johnson. This place is filled with people with things to say, you just have to give them the chance to say it.
TMH: Where do you hope to go in the future with your music?
AB: I’m moving to Nashville after graduation with a bunch of Frost people. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to do sessions on piano and organ and promote my EP stuff on the side. I’d love to do tours, as well. I expect I’ll have a day job for a decade or so, but who knows? I don’t really have a master plan with all of this. I certainly didn’t get into music so I could have my life cleanly mapped out for the next 50 years.
Interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.