Move over, Kelly Clarkson. As far as American Idols go, Champaign-Urbana has already found theirs, right in the recesses of central Illinois. Lynn O’Brien, a sophomore in music therapy at Illinois State University, has been playing shows around the Champaign-Urbana area for the past two years. With the impending release of her first full-length album Umbrella, O’Brien proves that she is capable of making the turnover from
small-town idolatry to something bigger. Recently, O’Brien took the time out of her busy schedule to talk with Buzz about her debut album and her long-standing passion for music.

How long have you been making music?

I was lucky enough to have a musical family growing up, so that began very early on. I was singing and harmonizing with my family right off the bat, and I think I picked up piano around age five, followed by flute a few years later. I wrote my first song when I was nine.

How would you describe your sound?

Your guess is as good as mine. Soulful folk? Soulfolk? I love to sing jazz, so I suppose there might be a subtle jazz influence in my voice.

Where did you record your new album? Tell me a little bit about the process.

I recorded it at Eighth Day Sound in Urbana, Ill., with Eric Gross. He is a very talented recording engineer who I met several years ago, and he actually asked me toward the end of the spring semester if I was interested in putting together an album. That was pretty much when we started. The project was definitely a learning experience. It took about two and a half months, and it features piano, tons of vocals, viola, cello, flute, [brass instruments], accordion, percussion, guitar … The most exciting part of it all, for me, was getting to work with all these other musicians and learning about their instruments and backgrounds. They really breathed new life into my songs! It took a lot of stamina and endurance, but I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to do this project and to work with Eric. And now, with all of these new, finished CDs sitting in my living room, I feel completely thrilled. What an experience.

What should CU-ers expect from your record release show?

I can’t wait! They can expect a very enthusiastic group of people playing songs off the album. I will be playing and singing, and my lovely family will also be singing, plus Dad on guitar). My boyfriend will be playing brass, a few other friends of mine will be playing cello, viola, and percussion … I’m so excited I can barely stand it. I hope CU-ers leave with happy ears.

Do you have a favorite place to play in Champaign-Urbana?

Totally depends. I haven’t played at the Courtyard before, but I’ve wanted to for a long time. I have a feeling it might be the new favorite.

Do you like to collaborate with other artists in the studio or on stage?

I actually got my first taste of collaboration this summer in the studio, and next Saturday night will be my first real taste on the stage, so I’ll let you know. So far, I’ve had fun just playing with one other person.

I read that you are studying music therapy at Illinois State. What does that program involve?

Music therapy requires all the work of a music major, plus a lot of psychology. I am learning how to work as a therapist with a number of populations – special education programs, hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, in schools, prisons… I’ll work with a client, and try to improve their quality of life by using music as a tool to improve physical or emotional well-being. It truly is my passion.

Is there anything in the works for the future?

Well, I’m going to try to sell as many CDs as I can, and meanwhile I’m learning guitar. New songs are already sprouting for the next album. I’m looking into studying music/music therapy abroad, and I start my practicum as a beginning music therapist in the fall. Who knows where I’ll be in a year?

Check out Lynn O’Brien’s CD release party (with special guest collaborators Alix Schmidt, Matt Spencer, Eric Gross, Ben Leddy, Elaine Fine, David Madden, Jake Stimmel, and the O’Brien family) Saturday, as a part of Pygmalion Music Festival, Saturday, Sept. 23 at the Illini Union Courtyard at 9 p.m. Copies of Umbrella will be available for sale throughout the evening.

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