Video by Dominic Valente | Photo Editor
In the southwestern corner of Arizona, tucked away in the city of Yuma, siblings Mariah and Bobby Brown are finishing each other’s sentences.
“Our mom teaches piano ...” Bobby began.
“And she sings too, really well. ... She’s going back to school. And our little sister plays piano,” Mariah finished.
Bobby and Mariah traveled from Yuma to attend school at ASU. Mariah is a music therapy freshman while her older brother, a junior, is pursuing nursing.
They’re an eccentric duo — soft-spoken, colorful; you know the musical type when you see it.
The brother-sister pair began a collaborative music career at a young age, performing Saturday mornings at coffee shops in their hometown.
“The most intimate and important moments in my life that I will remember are dealing with music and things that I’ve done,” Mariah said.
The two grew up with musical guidance from their mother, Becky Brown, a piano teacher and multi-instrumentalist.
“She always said we had to be doing something musical, whether it was playing an instrument or singing in the choir," Mariah said. "She’s our base support too — she’s our mom."
Becky said there was always music in the Brown household, whether it was hers or her students’.
“I feel like music’s very fulfilling. It was in my life, and I wanted them to have that joy," Becky said. "I also think that it’s part of our world they need to explore."
She encouraged her children to take music classes, but their work together didn’t grow on her until the two entered high school and began singing together.
After high school, the siblings continued to make music together, but they were looking for a few more band members to really flesh out their folk sound. Bobby sought out musicians in Tempe to fill the positions left behind in Yuma. He met all but one of Longbird’s members, drummer Carey Kelley, at ASU.
“There’s just a certain chemistry that siblings share, and I feel like in musical projects it’s just different,” said Dane Jarvie, who plays banjo in Longbird. “The way that siblings feed off each other is just very tight ... very in tune with one another."
Through his involvement in The Underground Foundation at ASU and his experimental indie band, Senteons, Jarvie built an appreciation for artists who approach their work with honesty. He's used to supporting start-up music projects like Longbird.
"Whether I’m playing music or not is kind of irrelevant. I just want to be a part of it, whether it be the playing side or the promotion side,” Jarvie said.
The sibling musicians blend their individual tastes to compose and perform nostalgic folk songs for Longbird. Mariah draws inspiration from female vocalists while Bobby prefers math rock — a genre more focused on technical efficiency than minimalism.
“We definitely have different tastes. He’s a lot more 'folky,' a lot more earthy I think, and I’m kind of … just more contemporary, probably more melancholy,” Mariah said.
David Hjelmstad, who plays mandolin in the band, thinks playing folk is a bit more minimalistic, but Longbird succeeds at making the music more creative and interesting.
"They have a lot of parts in there, so they need to kind of cover it with different voicing," Hjelmstad said.
Bobby and Mariah reject the notion that folk is any simpler than the hardcore music popular in their hometown, combining a wide range of instruments to add a wall of texture to their compositions.
“My goal with it was to incorporate a little bit of the technical side of the time signatures with just the basic folk melodies,” Bobby said.
Bobby said he listened to folk music before anything. He said the genre is emotional, but is still fun for listeners.
“What they’re doing is very extremely talented,” said Jarvie. “It’s just real music. It comes from the heart.”
In September, Longbird released a four-track EP titled “Pioneer Cemetery” to compliment the music video to the soulful ballad "1926."
“Pioneer Cemetery” incorporates a rustic, melodic sound to back up earnest songwriting, but it is far from folk normalcy. The four songs provide a wall of sound that transcends run-of-the-mill folk music.
“(Longbird has) banjo, mandolin, guitar, bass, drums and then we have a lot of other instruments, so they just switch out, and Mariah plays piano or different things,” Bobby said. “It can add a lot of depth to it.”
Aside from the instrumental sounds, Longbird’s lyrics are some of the most important aspects of the band’s overall feel. They’re what help Longbird stand out among the rest.
“For me, most of it is just a landscape feel. Just words that create emotions,” Bobby said. “Sometimes they’re about specific feelings, but for the most part, I keep it pretty general."
For Jarvie, the lyrical content is a bit most personalized.
“It just evokes a lot of nostalgic feelings about my childhood," Jarvie said. "It just brings me back to a time and place when I was younger, and I think that’s just one of the most beautiful feelings one can experience.”
In contrast to The Last March of the Ents, the band in which Bobby plays bass, Longbird operates as crowd-pleasing folk injected with a nostalgic edge. When they composed music for “Pioneer Cemetery,” Mariah and Bobby drew from their previous experiences performing in the Yuma music scene, where Bobby met Longbird bassist Craig Burch.
"In the hardcore scene, it's hard to get that emotion out of people sometimes," Burch said. "But with this kind of music, I feel like it will be very easy to portray what we want to portray."
For now, Longbird sticks to playing smaller, more intimate shows, though larger venues may certainly be in the band’s future.
“The coffee shop vibe is really fun, and it really goes well with our music, but, I mean, if we could play at Crescent that’d be cool, too,” Bobby said, laughing.
Even though Longbird has played together for less than a month, their charisma performing together is undeniable.
At a candid music video shoot behind the Virginia G. Piper Writing House on the Tempe campus last Thursday, the group quickly drew a crowd of people. The members’ faces lit up, and Bobby threw his hands in the air between songs.
“Hey guys! Welcome!” he said.
“You’re in my choir class!” someone shouted back.
At the end of their set, Longbird quickly bubbles into excited conversation.
Hjelmstad cracked jokes while Jarvie, Kelley and both Browns instantly engaged with one another.
The band has fun playing together, and that's what matters.
“It’s a way to relate to people, and a way for people to relate to you,” Bobby said, “and I think that’s the goal.”
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