“Playing the trumpet is like something that is like self-care for me,” musician and composer Brandon Woody told me. “Playing long tones. Getting in a meditative state.”
Music can be a vessel for communion with something other than ourselves, whether that’s a higher power or our own intuition. It has the ability to move you, sometimes physically through dance, but also spiritually, and emotionally. Woody said that through the act of playing, he loses himself in the music, and is grounded in who he truly is.
In this edition of Baltimore Music Right Now, I interviewed two artists from West Baltimore, Woody and singer Austin “Lefty” Bey. Like many artists, they use their gifts to express themselves. Through their music they create respective areas where they can self-explore and self- realize. In doing so, they create lanes for their audiences to lose themselves in those liminal spaces, too. Both artists create work that generates pockets of time for their listeners to revisit history, or to just be.
Alternative R&B artist Austin “Lefty” Bey has been able to build a career both as a full-time solo artist and with his band, Sleepy Sword.
“Honestly, I spend most of my day listening to older records,” he says.
Bey is currently working through “Mount Eerie” — an album by The Microphones, an experimental rock band — on repeat. He allows the 45-minute album to play on vinyl, over and over and over, inspiring him on a subconscious level.
“Or I’m playing basketball.”
Bey started playing music when he was eight or nine years old.
“I grew up in a pretty musical family,” he told me, helping his uncle, artist Rickie Jacobs, as he performed, and making beats for him. “Every now and then, I would play along with him, playing guitar for him or running his music.”
Bey is a member of Shiny Boy Press, a Baltimore-based recording label and collective started in 2020 by musicians Collin Schnitker, Walsh Kunkel, and Daniel Gurley.
“I met Collin through his brother Walsh. Walsh is someone I knew just from being around and playing music, Walsh is playing in Moon Tide Gallery. Those guys are my guys.”
It was a natural fit for Bey to join the Shiny Boy Press Family, where he signed in December 2022.
“We originally came about it through my other band, Sleepy Sword,” Bey said. He was hoping to release that album through Shiny Boy Press, “and it just felt like the natural place to be. Because those are people that I like to be around. We all love to hang out with one another. It’s always a great time. So it just made sense, to have everything under that one imprint. And everybody’s been so kind and very gracious in the whole process. I love it.”
Bey’s latest single, “Liminal Space,” was released through Shiny Boy Press in March of 2023. The atmospheric, melodic, dramatic track features calm tones, guitar, and Bey’s earnest lyrics.
“I don’t know what’s in my heart lately/Running through a liminal space,” Bey sings, aided by autotune. Here, he is speaking to that moment of suspension that we all find ourselves in, between our angst and our joy.
He describes his sound as “Alternative R&B. It’s just like slow, guitar-based music and bad singing, really. It’s moody, you know?”
His upcoming solo project is set to be released early next year through Shiny Boy Press.
“It’s a work in progress,” he said.
“It’s a lot of throwing stuff away right now. Figuring out what I don’t want, but I’m hoping sometime, maybe early next year, it’ll be finalized.”
Lefty Bey will be playing with Sleepy Sword at Zissimo’s in Hampden on May 24.
Brandon Woody is a trumpet player, composer, and curator. Until he was a teenager, Woody’s parents brought him to church services.
“It was split in between the Kingdom Hall and the church. My mom would take me to the Kingdom Hall. She was a Jehovah’s Witness, and my dad was Christian.” Woody’s parents would lay the foundation for his own sonic exploration of the divine.
When he was 14, his parents allowed him to make the decision about where or whether he wanted to attend church services.
“I definitely appreciate my parents giving me that openness and flexibility to kind of slow down… and just kind of get into my own pace, spiritually,” Woody told me. “Honestly, it’s like music is my religion. We all have to kind of find our own God because it’s a personal thing, and I do believe that there is God, in everything that we create, and it’s in ourselves. God is in ourselves.”
Woody founded his band UPENDO in 2015. You can trace the roots of UPENDO back to Woody’s close friendship with saxophonist Troy Long. They both met in a program called All City Honor Band, and then both got into Baltimore School for the Arts. The duo auditioned for BSA’s jazz combo, but didn’t get in.
“We were both 14, and we were salty,” Woody remembers.
So they started their own jazz band, “Just Friends,” and started getting gigs around town. After high school, Woody attended college in California and in New York, and started making a name for himself, booking shows and quickly achieving success, and decided he wanted to come back to Baltimore.
We sat down and talked over Zoom about his own musical influences, his journey to get back home, and UPENDO, his musical family.
TH: How do you define your practice?
BW: I try to make beautiful music that expresses who I am and where I’m coming from. That is kind of like an agent of healing for me. My music definitely tackles a lot of problems that I’ve had in my life and things that I’m dealing with. I think that it’s cool that my music has simple and beautiful melodies that people are able to pick up on and kind of memorize and sing.
I try not to put any barrier musically for people to be touched or for people to feel something.
Musically, I want to get straight to that — to the feeling. I’ve built up kind of like a musical world. It’s home for me, but I’m definitely challenged in it too, and, you know, constantly exploring.
TH: What does UPENDO mean?
BW: ‘Upendo’ means ‘love’ in Swahili. My group is more than just a group. I consider it a family.
[UPENDO] is really a lot of people, and I believe that everybody that was ever in it for any moment of time is still a part of this family. Troy is the integral member, me and him kinda decide how this music is gonna go.
I didn’t think that I would’ve reached so many of my goals by 24. It’s been really cool in the last couple years. We’ve been doing film scores. Some of the filmmakers that I love to work with and that I’m just so honored to work with are Nia June, Kirby, Griffin, Julian Hamer, and Max Ennis.
I guess I’m just excited for all of these things that I’ve been working on for the last few years to start coming out to the world. I think once we do release the album, I anticipate for — and I want — my music to go as far as possible.
I think my music has the ability to move people. So I want to foster movement, and just keep going. We are doing a lot of dope stuff this year. We got this grant to do an orchestral arrangement of a lot of our music, and we’ll be playing with an orchestra at the end of September at this church in Baltimore called Lovely Lane. It’s gonna be a live recording. I’m really excited for that. I think some of it lends itself to string instruments.
Brandon Woody’s upcoming performances include Eubie Blake on May 18 and the Baltimore Museum of Art on May 25.