About Jonathan Bree
Multi-talented New Zealand musician, producer, and label head Jonathan Bree began his musical career in the late '90s with the Brunettes. The chamber pop group signed to Sub Pop, toured the world, and released a run of sunny, witty albums that stopped in 2009. After that, Bree continued to co-run Lil' Chief Records, worked on albums by Princess Chelsea, and released albums under his own name, beginning in 2013 with The Primrose Path. His solo career is marked by well-planned visual aesthetics and thematically rich albums like 2015's classical music-inspired A Little Night Music and 2020's gently debauched, post-breakup After the Curtains Close.
The Brunettes' sound was built around contrasting sweet (sung by Heather Mansfield) and sour (Bree) vocals, sickly sweet pop melodies, and inventive arrangements. The band released their first EP, Mars Loves Venus, in 1998. It was a lathe-cut record of which only 30 copies were pressed. While working on more Brunettes music and finding the prospect of convincing a record label to sign them daunting, Bree and his friend Scott Mannion of the band Tokey Tones decided to form their own label to release music by their respective bands, plus any other New Zealand acts playing the kind of orchestrated pop they liked. The first record on Lil' Chief was the Brunettes' Holding Hands, Feeding Ducks, which came out in 2002. Throughout the rest of the decade, the label released records by Alec Bathgate, the Ruby Suns, the Tokey Tones, and of course, the Brunettes, whose 2014 album Mars Loves Venus and 2005 EP When Ice Met Cream helped them build an international following.
The group signed with the legendary Sub Pop and released their next album, 2017's Structure and Cosmetics, in the U.S. The deal proved short-lived, though, and the Brunettes were back to putting out albums on Lil' Chief with 2009's Paper Dolls. The band ceased recording after this, leaving Bree to continue working on Lil' Chief, and in 2011, he and former Brunettes member Chelsea Nikkel collaborated on her album Lil' Golden Book, which was issued under the name Princess Chelsea. It was the result of over three years of work and featured the single "The Cigarette Duet," which was viewed over 20 million times on YouTube.
While working on keeping Lil' Chief going with releases by Sheep, Dog & Wolf and the Icypoles, Bree also concentrated on his own music, and in 2013 his first solo album, The Primrose Path, was released. It featured a much more stripped-down sound than the Brunettes had utilized, but his unerring sense for a catchy melody hadn't dimmed at all. At the same time, he and Nikkel were working on the second Princess Chelsea album, The Great Cybernetic Depression, which hit the airwaves in 2015. It was followed quickly by Bree's second album, A Little Night Music, which had a classical influence inspired by a stack of cast-off Tchaikovsky and Béla Bartók albums Bree was given. He blended this newfound influence with his own style and came up with a unique and challenging sound. Bree discarded most of this approach for 2018's Sleepwalking, keeping some of the strings while crafting less baroque sounds. The videos surrounding the album featured Bree and his band clad in face coverings and wigs; the result was a creepy blend of the Beatles and mannequins come to life.
He kept the look for the next album while changing the musical approach to include some modern pop sounds. After the Curtains Close featured vocal turns by Princess Chelsea and Britta Phillips and was issued by Lil' Chief in July of 2020. ~ Tim Sendra