francene rouelle: “love wasn’t enough”

When we prioritize praise, obviously the actual performer gets preferential treatment. So when listening to a final product, it can sometimes be easy to overlook the impact of a producer with a calculated vision, especially when they’re still in their salad days.

That brings us to Austin-based, Cambodian-born producer Wil Brookhart, best known by his creative handle waverly. On top of his idiosyncratic trap/pop/R&B sound, and helping catapult his bestie promqueen to local legend status last year, waverly’s also got a brand new retinue – his newly launched label mHart – which caters to Asian-American artists alongside a near-dozen-person all-minority/women team. That’s right; it turns out promqueen was just the initial proof of concept, because ahead of her anticipated sophomore szn two, she’s now joined by the second exciting addition to mHart’s already-promising, all-lowercase roster – francene rouelle.

Still in her early twenties and humbled by an agrarian upbringing, this first generation Filipina’s skipped past any nepotistic child TV star chapter (looking at you, Ariana Grande and Sabrina Carpenter) and straight into the auspicious arena of Asian Pop. And with backing from waverly’s cutesy-yet-sophisticated style of beats, francene rouelle hyper-effeminate fashion and coquettishly-confident vocals altogether gloss a strategically-girly image. In other words, while Ariana Grande grasps at straws, peddling too many versions of the same tired tune, a new Pop/R&B princess begins to seize the throne. So get ready to bend the knee when rouelle’s debut EP finally a fairytale drops April 19th, and charm your weekend with that record’s opening fable, “love wasn’t enough”.

waverly: “overcomplicated” (feat. mHart)

Trap-pop. It’s decidedly a young person’s game. I mean sure, you’ve got “older” folks like Drake and Doja Cat purveying it on the Billboard charts but really, the target demographic and the generation who’s going to take it to the next level are people in their teens and twenties. Which brings us to Wil Brookhart. Born in Cambodia and now based right here in Austin, Brookhart’s been no stranger to collaborations in recent years; a continuing contributor and Artist Instructor for Mother Falcon Music Lab, this multi-instrumentalist/producer has also helped shape the sound of Carley Bearden, fruit collective, and most recently Casie Luong. Throughout all those endeavors, Brookhar balanced guitar-driven indie with MIDI-textured R&B, but his jump from producer to solo songwriter is really what propelled Brookhart into the big top of pop trapeze within the past year. That shift coincided with the adoption of a new handle, waverly, and the release of four standalone singles since April. Electric guitar is still the central instrument, but beats, bass, synth pads, and now, Brookhart’s processed-yet-velvety vocals complement these otherwise-spacious arrangements. Today, on Brookhart’s 24th birthday, waverly stirs a little bit of Juice WRLD into a three-minute sonic smoothie. Unmarred by complex techniques or convoluted chord changes, the simplicity of “overcomplicated” (compared with its emotional weight) is what guarantees it to be an enduring, widely-accessible earworm.

Casie Luong & waverly: “blessing”

There’s an adage that’s true for many things, but especially applicable to high-caliber collaborations; “you can’t rush greatness.” In the case of queer, second generation Vietnamese-American songwriter Casie Luong and Cambodian-born producer Wil Brookhart (who recently rebranded himself as waverly), they’ve actually known each other for quite some time, thanks to the Mother Falcon Music Lab, of which both are faculty members. Their mutual interest in the modern pop-R&B sound has overlapped their personal friendship for awhile, but it’s only been within the past year or two that they’ve actually made music together.

Inspired by the flirty, mischievous tones of Ariana Grande’s 2020 LP Positions, Casie Luong crafted the first draft of “blessing” at home over pastries and coffee last Fall. And while we’re sure that initial version was more than just a morsel, with the implementation of slick drum programming, vocal effects, and synthetically plucked strings (almost a call back to Mother Falcon), waverly has helped turn “blessing” into an absolute trap-R&B treat. Fingers crossed that this the first of many collaborations between waverly and Luong, and the best of luck to them on their journey to increase Southeast Asian representation down here in the Lone Star State and impact the demographics of mainstream music culture.

waverly: “every little thing”

Wil Brookhart’s neo-classical background has given him a leg-up on his contemporaries, but it certainly hasn’t defined his sound. Now based in Austin, this Cambodian-born multi-instrumentalist first popped on the radar with his eponymously-released 2019 debut “Warden”, then dove head-first into synth-and-guitar-driven-R&B as producer for Denton’s Carley Bearden, and co-founded the national collaboration Fruit Collective last summer. This year Brookhart’s production and songwriting talents collide once again and emerge under a new handle, waverly. With waverly, Brookhart maintains a indie-pop-R&B sensibility but has complete control over melody, lyrics, and arrangement. His keen ear and masterful mixing have both in the three brief years since “Warden”, allowing his already-subdued sonics to sink in in an even more understated way. The first sultry entry into waverly’s budding, all-lowercase discography dropped today, so back off the passionate voicemails and instead soak up “every little thing”!