Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

BERN & THE BRIGHTS: Ethereal, orchestral, real

By Deborah J. Draisin

Bern & the Brights are Bernadette (“Bern”) Malavarca on lead guitar and vocals, Catherine McGowan on acoustic guitar and vocals, Nicole Scorsone on violin, Shawn Fafara on bass and Jose Ulloa on drums. Formed in Montclair, New Jersey in mid-2008, the band has been referred as “a female-fronted Radiohead.” They released their first EP, “Wartime Lullabye” in October of that same year.

Accolades include a win for Emerging Artist of Year 2008 at, a write-up at, and a nomination for the Hoboken Music Awards. They also did a spot on and opened up for Butch Walker at Webster Hall on March 14.

I had the pleasure of catching up with Catherine after watching a rowdy set at their favorite haunt, Tierney’s Tavern in Montclair, where it all began just about one year ago for this band.

Q: The last time we spoke, we discussed the reality that when people see a female-fronted anything, they often ask how it feels to be a woman competing in a “man’s world.” As a band that combines both elements, do you feel that that actually gives you an edge over the good ol' boys club attitude in music?

Catherine: It is true that the majority of bands who we share the bill with are boys, but we're friends with many of them - and we've managed to build solid friendships to boot. We feel inspired all the time by them. We haven't set out to prove anything other than to share what we do musically, and so far, we've had some wonderful responses.

Q: Having a steady gig as you do, what do you do to keep things fresh while still honoring the old standbys?

Catherine: We're always working on songs, whether they are old or new for the band. We try to rearrange our growing list of songs (and in various versions) and we manage to sneak in a new one every now and again.

Q: You're about to play at the infamous Stone Pony for the first time - congratulations! Do you have any tricks up your sleeve for that show? Are you confident that you will be able to win over a new local crowd?

Catherine: We've been building our fan base one by one at all of our shows - be they open-mics or your local dive bar; we even performed recently at Webster Hall! All we can aim toward is performing the best we can: filled with energy, and if one person finds what we do inspiring or exciting, we're deeply grateful for it and we're happy to meet them and tell them so!

Q: Most impressive collaboration you’ve come up with to date, and does it change and grow every time?

Catherine: Most impressive collaboration? Our band! It (that inspiring feeling) does grow every time.

Q: Everyone in this band is so multi-talented - what do you make of one-trick ponies in the industry (i.e. singers who can't play or write?)

Catherine: We all have our talents, strengths and weaknesses in life - it's simply what you do with them. We're always trying to maximize what we all do best, and that often requires putting the ego aside.

Q: Does anyone have an annoying habit that you'd like to take this opportunity to bring to their attention right now?

Catherine: We use a healthy dose of wit and sarcasm to point out one anothers’ quirks, etc. You'll just have to get to know us better to find out what they are!

Q: You're on a yearlong journey as a band and moving up quite rapidly - how does that feel struggling independent for so long; is it bittersweet?

Catherine: Everyone in our band has been a part of prior musical endeavors. Some have been working at it for many, many years. Although we five members of Bern & the Brights are new as a collective whole, we've been plugging away individually for years, and this time around, we've been fortunate enough to have some positive hops along the way.

Q: Something you'd like new fans to know about you?

Catherine: We're nerds. All five of us.


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