The Breaking Point is a display of pure confidence and vulnerability.
When you’re young, everything impacts you. You’re a fruit that’s easily bruised. You’re an inexpensive IKEA pillow. You’re a pine shrub growing in the middle of a portage trail, trampled over and over again. Where you grow up provides no reprieve; the country, the suburbs, and the city all have their perks and pitfalls. You could get really lucky, though, and grow up in a community flooded with artists. Not quite the city, not quite the country, and not quite suburbia. You could wind up like Kingston, Ontario’s Claya Way-Brackenbury— invigorated, supported, and inspired by her community.
Way-Brackenbury, who performs under the stage name Piner, is a young gun (she has not yet finished high school) but her debut album The Breaking Point is a display of pure confidence and vulnerability that doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. Way-Brackenbury grew up around Skeleton Park, a public green space on the northern end of downtown Kingston that hosts a music festival every June. She grew up surrounded by artists and backyard recording studios and going to her older brother’s gigs at local establishments. “Our community is very focused on the arts and most people in the neighbourhood are DIY in their approach to their art and very supportive in helping people to share their work with others,” she says.
The Breaking Point consists mostly of her acoustic guitar and her voice. The latter is an especially impressive instrument and thrives within the confines of the record’s minimalism. Way-Brackenbury has a natural melodic sense that is distinct and surprising; one listen to “Dian Fossey” and you’ll understand what I mean. Her voice winds and cracks, highlighting her strong, clever writing and an approach that is beyond her years. “I think that showing my vulnerability and honesty in lyrics really has come without question to me. I feel like in order for people to relate to music at a deep level, or in order for lyrics to catch people’s attention they need to be from the heart,” she tells me. Clearly, she’s been taking notes from the likes of Wilco, The Replacements, Bob Dylan, and The Clash — artists her father introduced her to at a young age.
The highlight of the album, “Red Light Syndrome”, may reference the inability to perform once the record button is pressed, but according to Way-Brackenbury, there were no nerves hindering the recording process: “The recording of my album was surprisingly such a spiritual experience. The first recording session that I had for this album was my first time in the studio and I remember my brother telling me, as a joke, to not get red light syndrome. This, of course, made me really nervous, but once I got into the studio I settled right in. These songs that I had held inside were given life and that felt really good.”
The Breaking Point is just the beginning for Piner. “I am just really looking forward to continue to grow as an artist,” she says, and there is plenty of room for that to happen. Her sound, for now at least, hinges on her voice and vulnerability. But hopefully, with the support of her community behind her, her sound will continue to grow and develop into something magical.
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