Artists You Should Know: Primary School

Brianna MacLean / Graphic by John Aloszka, Photo by Tenny Rudolph

There’s an understated air to the way Brianna MacLean discusses pain and trauma. She takes monumental, earth-shattering events and reduces them to mere anecdotes, recalling moments that changed her life with relative nonchalance. But MacLean doesn’t shrug off the sadness: She glides through it, tackles it head-on and verbalizes her emotions with honesty and openness. It’s similar to her writing approach for Primary School—subtle but overwhelmingly sincere.

 MacLean’s style has settled nicely within the Primary School project, where she acts as the main songwriter. The product of MacLean’s high school experimentation, Primary School has been a steady presence in the Jacksonville scene since 2018. Composed of vocalist and lead guitarist MacLean, drummer Christopher Smith and bassist Daniel Hubert Jr., the three-piece leans toward an indie/alternative sound, drawing comparisons to artists like Soccer Mommy and Clairo. After more than a year-long hiatus—marred by rotating membership and a host of personal issues—Primary School is set to release their first single “Maybe” September 18, with an accompanying music video and EP to follow.

 Q: “Primary School” is a really interesting name. Where did it come from?

 BM: It literally was me being like, “What’s a name that no one else has?” Also, a lot of the things on this new EP—some of them I wrote in high school, some as an adult—are truly a progression of me growing up. It’s definitely a very fitting name. I wrote a lot about childhood, so it was really fitting. First, I was like, “Middle School? Nah.” Then I was like, “Primary School? OK.” I looked it up to see if anyone else had the name, and the only thing I could find were children’s choirs from British schools. I was like, “We’re good.”

 Q: Is there anything you’d change about the Jacksonville music scene?

 BM: Whenever I play shows, I really want to make them as safe as possible for people because abuse in the scene specifically is so prevalent. Guys using positions of power to take advantage, I don’t mess with that. Get out of my show, you’re not doing that. Clairo is using something on her tour specifically for making shows safe, so some sort of implementation of that would be cool. Music should be fun and enjoyable, and you should never be uncomfortable at a show because of another person doing something. That’s my main thing. I’ll close out shows a lot with, “All right, everyone, make sure you drink water and don’t drive drunk. Trans women are women. Bye.”

 Q: Who are your influences?

 BM: I didn’t listen to anything but Christian music until I was around 10. I used to be sad because I didn’t know any of the songs that anyone else knew. Then I loved Taylor Swift in middle school. In terms of the dreaminess that Taylor had in a lot of her music, I feel like that came through in me writing much later in life. I started getting into a lot of smaller indie artists. I went through my emo phase that wasn’t really an emo phase in high school, where I listened to Flatsound or Bedroom. They’re really small, acoustic guitar sort of stuff with emo lyrics. I was like, “This is purely representing the sadness I feel right now.” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been super influenced by Phoebe Bridgers and Soccer Mommy. Those are two of my biggest inspirations. They’re artists I listen to and I’m like, “Oh, I want to write that.”

 Q: You took an unconventional route of playing a lot of shows before you’d released any material. What did you gain from that experience?

 BM: It’s interesting because we have a fanbase intact. Not saying we’re the biggest artist in the world or anything, but we have a slight fanbase. People know lyrics to our songs before they’re even out. The music has changed so much over the time we’ve been playing live, which is pretty typical, but I think it was in part because of the turbulence of the band members … stuff going on in my personal life, wanting to be perfect. We had all this stuff we were sitting on, and then I just said screw it, let’s release it. I’m done. It is what it is, and I just need stuff out there because it’s been literal years.  

Q: As a woman in the industry, is there anything you wish people would stop asking or doing?

 BM: I honestly feel like I haven’t experienced too much of that, which is good. There was one show, though, and it’s the last time I ever wore a dress to a show because after the show a man came up to me, put his arm around me and was like, “I love your dress.” I did not know him, and my boyfriend at the time didn’t do anything about it. That was so uncomfortable and scary for me to be touched by some stranger, who was clearly wanting something from me. Just things like that, allowing non-men to exist in a space where they don’t have to be scared. There’s a difference between being attracted to someone and objectifying them. I’m not a perfect person, I am cool, but I feel like people are like, “Ooh, lead singer of a band who’s a girl.” Romanticizing women as leads of bands is just another form of objectification.

 Q: Primary School took a hiatus for a while. Were there ever concerns about not having a constant stream of content or were you taking inspiration as it came?

 BM: It comes when it comes, and that’s part of the reason I don’t want to do music as my career. I don’t want to force it. Don’t get me wrong, if someone was like, “I will pay you to make music,” I’d be like, “Sign me up!” But I’m not really fighting for that because I don’t want my passion for it to be dependent on money. I don’t want there to be pressure from a label to get another album out or something. I just want it to be me and the things I make that are important to me, not necessarily to everyone else. It’d be cool if it was also important to someone else, but it’s like, “This is mine, here it is.”

 Q: Three albums you can’t live without?

 BM: We’ll go Punisher, Phoebe Bridgers. Porches is one of my all-time favorite bands, and we’re going to start incorporating more synths into our stuff, so that’s definitely been an inspiration. Probably Cool by Porches. … Final answer is Full Hand by Kevin Krauter.

About Heather Bushman