About Brittany Kwasnik
Dollard des Ormeaux, Canada
From Secrecy To Stardom
By: Bill Brownstein
Brittany Kwasnik, a 15-year-old Riverdale High School student, managed to keep a secret from family and friends for years. Ever since she was a young kid, she would slip off to her bedroom, write songs and sing them softly to herself. Later, she would strum along on a guitar while crooning her compositions.
If anyone asked what she was up to in her room, Kwasnik would say she was listening to some music on the radio.
But she got busted last year. A few of her friends learned of her secret song-composing and singing. They then encouraged Kwasnik to put a tune on YouTube. And Kwasnik's life hasn't been the same since.
Within a week of posting her song Breathe on YouTube, Kwasnik had 37,000 hits. All the more remarkable since there was no promotion or no accompanying video footage. Among the thousands blown away by her voice and song were American singer/songwriter Greg London and musician/producer David Zeman.
Kwasnik, in turn, was blown away. Since she didn't have an agent or manager, she called upon her cousin Sheldon Cwinn, a guitar teacher when not running a computer software firm, to help her wade through these always-daunting waters.
One event led to another, and Kwasnik was signed to a record deal. Next week, she will be embarking on her first-ever plane ride to California to cut an album of her compositions, slated for release next month.
Her success is not entirely accidental. Kwasnik, a self-described "old soul," writes and sings haunting tunes that touch souls both young and old - tunes that belie her age.
There is a certain Tracy Chapman quality to her voice and lyrics, although Kwasnik relates more to the likes of Colbie Caillat, Tegan and Sara, Katy Perry and Missy Higgins.
"I started writing and singing mainly as a way to express myself," says the soft-spoken Kwasnik. "The songs are all from personal experiences, be they facing my fears or options in life."
Such as Breathe: "I see you standing there, you look so scared. I want to remind you to breathe, it's only me."
More than just catchy lyrics and a sweet melody, Breathe was born out of a dramatic personal dilemma. Hard to believe when you hear her sing, but Kwasnik has a vocal-cord dysfunction, the result of a breathing problem. She was told she would never be able to sing as a result.
"But as soon as you tell Brittany she can't do something, she becomes even more determined than ever to do it," says cousin Cwinn. "She learned some breathing techniques and clearly proved the doctors wrong."
"I just wanted to sing for myself," Kwasnik says. "It was never my intention to get a record deal and seek fame. I would have been content to continue writing and singing in my bedroom."
Her mom, a dental hygienist, and her dad, a former bakery owner, were stunned.
"They just had no clue," Kwasnik notes, while plucking her guitar at a downtown café. "Everyone, people who have known me all my life, were flipped out. But they have all been so supportive. I'm just a little uncomfortable, because I'm not used to the attention."
When she was contacted by London, Kwasnik initially thought it was a scam. If you listen closely to her lyrics, you quickly realize the kid has smarts and no one is going to pull a fast one on her.
After checking him out, Kwasnik and Cwinn discovered London had paid his dues. He had a hit show in London's West End and recently set a record for the longest-running gig at Harrah's Casino in Reno, Nev. He has cut numerous discs and has won awards. Zeman's pedigree is also impressive. In addition to his producing credits - such as the latest from A.J. Croce, son of the late Jim Croce - he played numerous instruments with the Rembrandts, the group that recorded the Friends theme, I'll Be There for You.
Last week, Kwasnik did her first live gig at Aurora Café in Beaconsfield, with proceeds from the show going to an animal-rescue shelter.
Curiously, Kwasnik helped propel her best friend, Amanda Rowland, to stardom last year. Rowland was runner-up in YTV's The Next Star competition, and Kwasnik organized a Facebook campaign to promote her buddy.
"I was Amanda's biggest fan and more than happy to be in the background cheering her on," Kwasnik recalls. "Now Amanda is doing the same for me. But, honestly, being in the limelight has never been important for me. The goal is just to try to touch others with my music."