It’s a dream shared by many aspiring musicians: to quit their day job and focus entirely on a career in music.
For singer Brandi Thompson, the dream also involved having to immediately navigate through a surprise rude awakening.
In 2014, Thompson was working as an events planner at New York’s Columbia University when the management team for Nick Waterhouse reached out about singing backup for him. It was a role she had filled before, thanks to a hookup by a member of Thompson’s a cappella group from her years studying journalism at New York University.
But this time, the offer from Waterhouse was a North American tour, not a one-off show in the New York area, so she had to make a major life decision.
“The tour was two or three weeks [in September 2014], and it coincided with [a big event at Columbia],” Thompson recalls. “It was either quit my job and do the tour, or stay at my job and pass up yet another tour because they had offered me a European tour, and I turned that down to work at Columbia. So I was like, ‘I’m not going to do this to myself again. I’m going to take the tour; I’m going to quit my job.’ ”
The day after she resigned from Columbia, Thompson says Waterhouse’s management called to say they wouldn’t be able to take her on tour after all.
The quick-thinking Thompson explained her situation to them, and that resulted in her becoming an add-on for a few tour dates, for which she was paid but had to handle her own transportation and lodging.
Once she returned home, “That’s when the hustle really began,” Thompson says. “I started getting out a lot more, and gigs started coming in.”
While she was doing that, Thompson was also working as the frontwoman for the R&B group Brandi and the Alexanders, which formed around 2012. Via a Craigslist ad, she connected with drummer Eric Gottlieb, and following several personnel changes, they arrived at the current lineup (Thompson, Gottlieb, guitarist Nick Fokas, bassist Eric Wendell and pianist Ethan Simon), which has been together for about a year and a half.
During the spring, Brandi and the Alexanders recorded their debut album, How Do You Like It?, at The Creamery Studio in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, New York. Highlights on the 12-track effort, released Oct. 5 on Red Parlor Records, include the taunting title track and the celebratory “Higher.”
After four years as a full-time musician, Thompson’s drive and focus remain at a high level.
“I’ve been building my income every year steadily since 2014, and that was my goal,” says Thompson, noting that her husband has been supportive of her singing career since the start. “People think, ‘Oh, you’re a singer,’ and then they think ‘star.’ The stars at the top — there’s not that many of them. But there are a lot of artists underneath that [level]. … You can still make a living doing music; you can be a singer and not be a struggling artist. A lot of it is luck and who you know, but it is possible to get ahead and get out there.”
As for concert dates supporting the album, Thompson is taking a practical approach, sticking close to home for the time being, then maybe branching out for a tour in late winter or the spring.
“Our goal is to think smart about how we grow [our fan base],” she explains, “and not just throw a rock out and be like, ‘All right, Arizona — we’re coming to you,’ when no one knows [us] in Arizona.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Brandi and the Alexanders concert dates (schedule subject to change):
• Oct. 24: Berlin Underground — Manhattan
• Nov. 9: Rockwood Music Hall — Manhattan
Photo by John Halpern