Singer-songwriter Bri Lane writes songs about strong female independence—and she makes music because she must.
Don’t be fooled when 23-year-old Britney Elaine Ruotolo sings about living on Planet Maybe. The singer-songwriter from South Portland, who performs as Bri Lane, really is all in.
In January, the indie pop rock music video for her song “Interstellar Lady” was voted Best Overall Achievement at the first annual Music Video Portland (MVP) awards, having competed against 26 other videos with Maine connections.
“(The song is) about being a woman and being unapologetic about it,” says Lane, who is backed up by drummer Mike Vail, bassist Jordan Bicki and guitarist Nolan Paul. “At first, when I said I was an interstellar lady, I didn’t even believe it. But it means that I’m a cool chick. I’m making music to bring people together, and I do it because I need to. I’ve found my refuge in music ever since I was a little girl.”
One of Lane’s earliest memories is listening to Celtic Woman and getting goosebumps. She picked up the saxophone in fifth grade, biding her time until she was in middle school and could play drums in the marching band. “There were three boys, so I thought maybe drums was a boy thing,” Lane says. “But I did it, and drumming was the first thing I did that just came naturally to me.”
Lane taught herself to play guitar and keyboard and took some voice lessons. As she participated in a range of musical groups throughout high school, including Portland Youth Wind Ensemble and Portland Youth Symphony Orchestra, drums were her passion—a love she wasn’t ready to give up, not even to be a doctor.
“Interstellar Lady is definitely based on my life,” Lane says. “I was sitting in my room with my guitar writing that first riff. With this one, I knew wanted to be more in your face as a singer-songwriter. I did want to be a doctor. When I was in kindergarten they asked me what I wanted to be, and I said a cardiologist.”
“I love writing about strong female independence…There’s something compelling about being transparent about how you feel.”
Lane’s interest in medicine—in saving people’s lives—stayed with her through her teens. She enrolled in the University of Southern Maine, hoping to double major in music and pre-med but found that she really needed choose. “There was too much to lose,” she explains, using a lyric from “Interstellar Lady.” She spent one semester as a percussion major and one semester as a voice major, then threw herself into Bri Lane Music.
“I didn’t find my voice and confidence until college,” Lane says, adding that, in the high school musical, she was just in the chorus. “It was so much more vulnerable to sing than to hit a drum, even though drums are louder. But I love writing about strong female independence. I like talking about being a woman pursuing a man—or a woman. If a man can be that way, why not women? There’s something compelling about being transparent about how you feel.”
Lane is working 50 hours a week—days at a bakery and nights at a bar—in addition to songwriting, rehearsing, performing and doing her own marketing for her recently released single “Around Again” on iTunes and Spotify.
She writes the parts for the various instruments and on some of her professional recordings plays multiple instruments herself. But, since she can’t play drums while being the lead singer, she recruited session drummer Mike Vail, who she met at The Guitar Center.
“I’m really picky about who I session drum for, but she has the best voice of any musician I play for,” Vail says. “And we connect because she plays drums as well.”
“It’s taken me so long to find a group of people who are serious about what they do and also respect my style of music,” says Lane, whose current band formed in 2017 and meets weekly to rehearse in a spare bedroom in her parents’ house. “We all fit in there,” she laughs. “I don’t know how.”
Lane’s mother, Tracie Ruotolo, always knew her daughter Bri wouldn’t settle for a desk job. But a rock star?
“I was obviously nervous for her, because it’s such a competitive industry,” Ruotolo says. “But I can see it brings her a ton of joy, and she really comes alive. Her music is relatable, like you can imagine hearing it on the radio. But her music comes from deep down inside of herself.”
Ruotolo says there have been moments of recognition, such as when Lane won a Battle of the Bands in Biddeford last summer, that have reinforced that Lane is on the right path.
“When we watch her—her dad and I—we’re extremely proud,” Ruotolo says. “We have no musical talent. None.”
Lane has professionally recorded four songs, has five more ready to record and several more in the works. She plans to release an album before the end of 2018.
“She’s got a killer voice,” says Karl Anderson, an owner and producer at Anchour Studios in Windham, where Lane recorded “Wild Side” and “Around Again.” “She’s got a really strong drive. She knows in her head what she wants a song to sound like before anything is recorded, and she doesn’t give up on fighting for that sound. Vocally she has the ability to do whatever she wants.”
SEE BRI LANE PERFORM
April 24 MAGNIFY, presented by Raw Boston, Mixx 360, Malden, MA
June 10 Summerside Music & Arts Festival, Urban Farm Fermentory, Portland
Sept. 11 Bri Lane and Jared Presley, Empire, Portland
Sept. 15 Bri Lane and Mallett Brothers Band, RiverJam Festival, Biddeford
Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer from Scarborough who likes to sing along to Bri Lane’s songs.