When Bethesda jazz guitarist Louis Matza resolved to find a vocalist for a new band he was forming a few years ago, he posted a notice on Craigslist.
“I saw this posting with obscure musical influences that I loved and no one else knew about,” said Aura Kanegis, who lives in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
It turned out the two shared a liking for the alternative rock bands R.E.M. and the Replacements, as well as Irish singer and songwriter Damien Rice.
Kanegis signed up, the two began writing songs, added two more members and the group is now known as Brûlée.
“Our writing styles worked pretty well together,” said Kanegis. “I was good with good with lyrics and melody, and he had the intricate chord structures.”
The band, which also includes drummer Lex O’Brien of Takoma Park and bassist Andrew Brown of University Park, performs an original mix of jazz, indie, alternative rock and pop that reflects the diverse interests of its members.
“We have a pretty eclectic style,” said Kanegis. “It’s not easy to put us in a box. We have a little something for everyone.”
Brûlée, which has appeared in the District, Virginia and Prince George’s County, will perform for the first time at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club on Thursday. Also joining the band that night will be sometime participant Tom Anderson from Virginia, playing the sax.
Kanegis said the group will probably play tunes from its first CD, “To a Crisp,” and also some new music.
“It’s almost all original with a cover or two,” Kanegis said about the show.
It took several years to finally produce “To A Crisp,” because Matza, Kanegis and Brown work full time and also have young children.
A policy director for Quaker group the American Friends Service Committee, Kanegis said it’s sometimes tough to find time to write songs.
“I’m the queen of wrinkled up scraps of paper,” laughed Kanegis, who stores ideas on her iPhone if she’s busy with work or family.
“I’ll have a song looping around in my head … and a few weeks later I’ll find the time to write it down,” she said.
Like Matza, who works as a research psychologist, she enjoys song writing and can’t imagine life without music.
“I’m an introvert, and yet I really love performing,” she said. “You get into a feedback loop [with the audience]. It doesn’t matter if there are two people or 500, it makes the music so much better.”
Born in Frederick County, Kanegis grew up listening to bluegrass and singers like Billie Holiday.
“The blues and jazz voices always spoke to me,” said Kanegis, who sang with local folk and roots bands including the U-Liners and the all-girl funk band Zeala before it broke up.
The first tune she wrote with Matza was “Glaze,” which reflects their shared love of road songs. It was inspired by Kanegis’ stop for Krispy Kreme donuts after a gig years ago.
As a guitar/vocal duo, they perform “Amsterdam,” a song that honors Matza’s close friend and traveling companion who “died ridiculously young in a motorcycle crash,” according to notes on the Brûlée website.
The two also wrote “Poesy” based on Kanegis’ memories of a relationship in college with “trippy chords” by Matza. It is written in 6/8 time popularized by the Coltrane Quartet.
“It evokes the ’60s jazz mood,” said Matza.
“Driftin’ is a song by Brown, who builds guitars and basses and also likes to row on the Patuxent River. The song is about how remembering the Maryland river got him through some tough times while playing classical and jazz bass while studying in Vienna along the river Danube.
Another Brûlée original is “Count Sheep,” which Matza wrote during bouts of insomnia in his early 20s and which has been updated with O’Brien’s idea to add a samba beat from the Carnival in Rio.
O’Brien, who also plays for ComplexBlue, at one time worked as a drummer for rock bands and has also played everything from country to free jazz to symphonic to circus music, according to the website.
Despite all the engineered music on TV, radio and the Web, people still seem to enjoy live performances by real people, Kanegis said.
“There seems to be a new resurgence for music that isn’t just a drum machine and synthesized sounds,” she said.
Brûlée continues to build a steady fan base, and its second album is now in the planning stages.
“The goal is to have a reliable crowd that would come out for our gigs, make a new CD and be able to afford to do that,” Kanegis said.