What do mental health awareness, songwriting and Smart Girls have in common? Briana Lynn Wolf. This talented young songwriter has been writing music since she was in the fourth grade, and was recently an instrumental part of a recent benefit concert for Bring Change 2 Mind, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending the stigma around mental illness. For her abundance of talent and her social activism, Briana Lynn Wolf is our newest Smartist!
I’ve heard many compare the writing process to building a house, and for Briana, that comparison is all too appropriate. Briana grew up a “cul-de-sac kid” in New Jersey, in a home that her dad built himself. The process of building her house and beginning to write songs occurred in tandem, a coincidence that made the philosophy of creative process all the more tangible.
“It’s such a cool thing to be able to say that your dad, while being a full time lawyer and raising kids with my mom, built the house you lived in. Every floorboard he cut, painted and placed, every tile he positioned, every staircase he built, it really was is a house made of love,” Briana said. “But it took a long time to finish everything, so my house was under construction for most of my life.”
Briana’s music is similarly a labor of love, a home that has taken most of her life to build. It all began when she became a part of the musical theater community.
“I convinced my parents to start performing in musicals when I was 7 or 8… I continued to do community and NYC theater through high school and built amazing friendships along the way. I rarely felt like I fit in when I was in school, but my theater friends from other towns were my best friends and are still my closest friends today,” Briana said.
Through the encouragement and sense of self she gained from musical theater, Briana began exploring songwriting.
“It started off where I would randomly get inspiration at weird times and have to write a song,” said Briana. “I wrote my first song in 4th grade, about my first crush. I continued to write music without an instrument for years, but always kept it a secret…When I learned to play guitar and piano more competently, I started writing every day, and started sharing my music with others. I was about 16.”
During the same year, Briana began college at Simon’s Rock of Bard College in MA.
“It’s an early college, for kids that are ready to start college young. I got an Associate’s Degree there and then transferred to Westminster College of the Arts at Rider University where I got a Bachelors in Music and Music Theater and graduated when I was 20. Ever since then I’ve been living in New York and making music,” she said.
Her music making has entailed much in the last few years, most notably, one of her music videos got more than 300, 000 views on YouTube. But Briana says the most exciting thing that’s happened in her career thus far is the response from the recent Bring Change 2 Mind benefit concert. For the event, a 4–piece band and 20 actual Broadway singers performed her work live for the charity dedicated to ending the taboo of mental illness.
“A lot of people I did or didn’t know came up to me and told me they loved my music…All the singers I worked with told me that they wanted to work with my music again,” Briana said.
This was the first time Briana had done a show like this, but it was for a cause that hits very close to home.
When Briana was 12, she was diagnosed with Bi-polar disorder. She missed a lot of school because of her struggle with the disease, and lost a lot of friends because of its stigma. It wasn’t until she was 19 that Briana found medication that actually stabilized her mood.
“My teachers in middle school, high school and college judged me for my illness, and few people could understand what I was going through. I became more stable when I started writing music every day. If I was ever feeling a strong emotion, I could write a song about it instead of taking it out on other people, and then the feeling would pass.”
For her, supporting this Bring Change 2 Mind benefit concert was a cathartic experience, the final floorboard in place after years of learning to accept herself, her disease and her way of creative expression.
“I like to think of [my Bi-polar disorder] as my super power [now], because it isn’t all bad. Through my mania and depression I can write great songs, I can empathize with others, and can think of creative ideas. I still get sad a lot, but I am happy a lot too, it’s just part of the deal, but I’ve learned how I can cope and who I can talk to,” she said.
The response she received from her work in the show underscored another thing for her: how never to be ashamed of what you really are, because (in the words of Dr. Seuss) the people who matter won’t mind.
“Every day I try to stay true to myself by believing in myself and not putting mine or other people’s thoughts and feelings down. I always listen to how I feel when making decisions, and I don’t filter myself when talking to people… I want the people who surround me to accept and like me for being myself, so I don’t try to hide who I am…Throughout the Bring Change 2 Mind concert we had monologues from the singers and I shared my own personal experience. It was amazing how many people came up to me after the show and told me stories about their struggle, or a friend’s struggle with mental illness…I love bonding with other women who are dealing with the same issues, becoming strong and helping each other grow and succeed,” she said.
Being vocal about what she believes in is an essential part of what makes Briana herself, and along with mental health awareness, Briana is passionate about Feminism, Veganism, and other causes dealing with human rights and equality.
“I am 200 percent a feminist…When I was 18 I took a class on ethics, and I decided to write my final paper on my interpretation of eco-feminism. Through that paper, I figured out that I was a feminist, meaning that I believed in equality for everyone, but also that I was passionate about treating our planet well. I also decided to become vegan, because in my mind, if I believed in equality for all humans, and not abusing the earth, I couldn’t leave anything else in the planet out, and I couldn’t justify treating animals with cruelty,” she said.
Briana plans to continue sharing her whole self with the world and working for social change through her songwriting. This year, she has shows planned that will support other non-profits she believes in, and she is in the process of making more recordings and videos for her fans to enjoy. Last but not least, Briana also has hopes to begin recording a full-length album showcasing her talent. To keep track of what Smartist Briana Wolf is doing, check out herFacebook or YouTube Channel.