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An Exclusive Interview with Brandyn Burnette

Last month I was introduced to Brandyn Burnette’s music via his pensive single “Karma,” which already has 20k plays on Soundcloud alone. He categorizes his music as neo-soul, but to my ears “Karma” was sheer electro-pop bliss. In any case, I had to hear more after that taste and was lucky enough to get an advance listen to his forthcoming EP, State I’m In, which is loaded with eight delicious sweets. Even the interlude is fantastic. His songs thrum with contagious energy and are layered with glorious harmonies and hypnotic textures, walking the fine line between music you can dance to and music that’s ripe for chilling out. His songs are also a perfect mix of electronic beats and live instruments. I suppose you could say they’re all purpose. In a very good way.  So, whatever you’re in the mood for, chances are his music will appeal to you. Give it a listen and get to know him in our interview below.

MM: This is Mike from Love is Pop calling to do your interview.

BB: Hey, how’s it going?

MM: Good. Good. How are you?

BB: I’m good. I’m good. I’m working on a track right now, actually.

MM: One of the ones for State I’m In?

BB: No, actually, for my girlfriend Molly Moore’s EP. Finishing up her record right now.

MM: What is the release date for State I’m In?

BB: State I’m In comes out June 24th.

MM: I saw on Soundcloud that it said State I’m In II. Is it in fact a second volume?

BB: It’s not really a second volume but more so my second body of work. The first one, Made of Dreams, was released in November and this one is like the follow up.

MM: When they gave me the private Soundcloud version of State I’m In to listen to they told me it might not be done yet, that you were still making changes. Have you made any changes since last week?

BB: Yeah. So, for the last week I’ve been working on this addition to the EP. For the longest time I had seven tracks and I added a record called “Closer.” I was working on a version with a few different buddies of mine and we finally got it mastered and mixed. So, that one’s finished now.

MM: So, it’ll be 9 tracks then?

BB: It’ll be 8 in total.

MM: I know you were signed with Warner Bros when you released the single “Thanks For Nothing.” Are you still signed with them?

BB: No, actually. I parted with Warner in the end of 2014. So, that single “Thanks For Nothing” was actually written three years prior to it being released. I was in that system where there was a new president every two or three quarters so it was kind of like that politic of trying to get into the hot seat, but it was really funny because when I left Warner the song had like 30,000 plays and since then it’s almost had two million now. Kind of an ironic song to leave a label with, “Thanks For Nothing.” It’s really funny. [Both laugh]

MM: Yeah, that’s true. So, are you signed to a label right now or going the indie route?

BB: I’m going the indie route. My girlfriend I mentioned before – Molly Moore– we started up our own label at the end of last year called Home Planet Records. It was really simple to start it. We just found a non-exclusive distributor to get our music on Spotify and, yeah, it’s been incredible. It started as a pipe dream idea, being able to track sales and see where we’re making our money independently. It’s turned into a small little company.

MM: I know you went to NYU with a full music scholarship. What did you submit to them to gain entrance?

BB: I actually went to NYU following in my sister’s footsteps. I didn’t go for music I went for musical theater. I was going for theater essentially. I was doing plays and musicals in high school and I auditioned for a bunch of schools and I remember going in and doing an acting monologue audition and then I sang two songs and it was crazy because NYU was my first choice always, but I had applied to so many schools. I’m from Missouri so I had actually gotten a full ride to an acting program in Missouri and when I got the acceptance for NYU I was so excited that I got accepted but I knew realistically my sister had just gone to NYU and my parents were going into debt paying for her first couple of years. So, I knew I wouldn’t be able to go unless I had some sort of scholarship and then a couple of weeks later I got a letter for a full ride.

MM: That’s awesome. Was there a specific area of music you studied when you were there or was it just the musical theater?

BB: Yeah, it was really surprising. Part of my reason for leaving was I got there and I quickly realized that it was a different life choice that I was going for. I was really focused on musical theater and Broadway and with Broadway comes learning how to dance and stuff like that and I’m like not the best dancer at all. I was trying to find a way to combine my passion for acting and music and I thought musical theater would be the program but it actually didn’t [work]. My whole artistry didn’t develop until I met a kid at Clive Davis School of Record Music. His name is Adam Offer. He was actually studying in the music program and I was going to my classes – acting, dance and singing classes – and he was having class projects to find an artist and develop their sound. So, with him being a music production major and me wanting to find out what I really want to do with my talent we came together one day and he was like, “Hey man, do you want to do some projects with me? I have to find an artist and produce them.” And I was like, yeah, actually, I’ve been writing songs since I was like fifteen but I don’t know what to do with them. I remember going on My Space and showing him my first piano vocal demo and we ended up doing a bunch of his class projects. The teacher was actually the reason why I left the musical theater program. His teacher was like, “Honestly, it sounds like you’re studying the wrong thing. I’m listening to these songs you’re doing with this kid. Have you thought about doing the music program?” So, for a while I was debating on leaving theater and doing the music program. Eventually I met my manager – In the middle of that I was 18, turning 19 – and my manager Rick, who I’ve been with since then, encouraged me to take a sabbatical. So, I took six months off, traveled to Norway, and then came back to New York and got my first publishing deal after that.

MM: Cool. Cool. You’ve talked about leaving places and reinventing yourself, or becoming a better version of yourself. What are some of the places you’ve left and how did you change or learn from leaving them?

BB: Yeah. Great question. I’m originally from St. Louis. Well, it’s interesting. I say I’m from St. Louis but I grew up kind of everywhere. My parents were in the Air Force when we were really young. So, my sister was born in Germany and I was born in Florida on a random Air Force base. We grew up as kids on Long Beach. So, I remember being exposed to so many different elements as far as culture and music. I remember literally being a four year old kid playing outside and hearing Tupac and Sublime come through speakers from the cars that would drive by. So, I was exposed to all this different stuff and then from Long Beach we moved to Houston, Texas and I remember being in Houston Destiny’s Child was blowing up in the late ’90’s. My sister was just becoming a pre-teen so I was being exposed to a lot of the pop music and in my artistry as a person and a writer I really didn’t develop until we moved to St. Louis. In the middle of the country, there I was in the early 2000’s, essentially rooting up. I started sixth grade there and I finished high school in St. Louis. So, that’s why I consider it my home town. I remember being in all of these different places and each time I would leave a state and a city I remember consciously thinking to myself this sucks. I remember when we left Long Beach I had called my first girl and I liked my first girl and then we had to leave. I was like this sucks because now I won’t get to call that girl or see that girl. And then when we got to Houston I made a best friend who also had the same name. And then we had to move from Houston to St. Louis and I was like, this sucks, I just made an actual, good friend. With those developments and meeting people and growing I also got a chance to like get rid of some things I didn’t like. Like in Houston I I would always play outside [by] myself and never play with friends. So, in St. Louis I was gonna find friends. So, each place I was able to shake off the things that I wasn’t really liking about myself. I was in a new environment and also kind of like adjusting to new situations. St. Louis was one of the craziest places to grow up in the time that I grew up. It was really divided. The city, downtown, was losing a bunch of their money so there was poverty, there was violence there was gangs. And then the area I was in was really wealthy, a predominately Jewish neighborhood, and so I got a chance to grow up in the heart of diversity. I remember really starting to write my first songs out of St. Louis. So, yeah, learning to adapt as a person along the way was huge in me kind of finding my voice as a person and an artist.

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MM: You started learning piano at the age of seven. Was it something you wanted to do or was it heavily suggested by your parents?

BB: Yeah, my grandmother actually got me my first Casio keyboard when I was seven. That’s when we were in Houston, Texas and I remember it was so organic because I grew up on the Pokemon Cards and I loved Pokemon cards and video games were starting to become a thing and I remember it was like this cosmic thing where I’m just starting to develop my sense of what do I want to do with my time and my grandmother came to town and she gave me this Casio and she didn’t tell me anything. She was just like, hey, I thought you would love to learn something new. And I was obsessed with it because it had light up keys and it had songs I never heard. I remember listening to the song bank on this Casio and I would listen to songs like “The Entertainer” and “Green Sleeves.” “Green Sleeves” was actually the first song I ever learned. They had this option where you could slow it down as slow as you wanted so you could learn it. So, I would slow it down and I took the lights off – I couldn’t see the lights – and I would play it by ear. I would listen as slow as possible and I taught myself from seven. It became my obsession from seven to nine. I just played and played and played. So, it was really organic. Nobody really coerced. It was my grandmother’s intuition.

MM: It seems like you’re more guitar-oriented now. At least on the songs that you’re releasing. Do you play that as well?

BB: Yes. I picked up the guitar more so when I moved to New York and I wasn’t able to play the piano everywhere.

MM: Did you teach yourself that, too, or did you take lessons?

BB: By ear. I’m not really musically, theoretically inclined when it comes to music. By ear, yeah.

MM: Which do you write more with?

BB: That’s interesting. I’d say I write more – well, it goes through periods. Probably last year I wrote more with guitar. This year I’m writing more with piano. And I’m starting to have this new inspiration where I’m creating the music. I’ll create a track or I’ll create a sound and that’ll kind of inspire something as well.

MM: Do you do any writing aside from songwriting? Like journaling or writing short stories or anything?

BB: I haven’t in a while but it’s interesting to ask me that because I was meditating and I have this deep memory of how [I got] started in this. I was just like why do I like art? And I remember being in that period [and the] tender age between seven and 12 was so explorative for me. I would draw comic books. I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to do cartoons. And then my love for comics and cartoons turned into making stories for them. So, I would write small stories for each character I would draw. And then eventually I met a girl – maybe it was like seventh or eighth grade – who loved the Lord of the Rings and we started writing a book together. Our own chapters of our own spin-off of Lord of the Rings. So, yeah, I haven’t in a long, long time but I eventually would love to write screenplays and I would love to also write a book about my experience and maybe even a fantasy novel would be cool as well.

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MM: Looking at your Soundcloud page it looks like you’ve been very prolific during the past couple of years. Were all of these songs written during this period or were some of the songs written before you started posting them?

BB: Yeah, Soundcloud was the first early driver for an audience for me. I was encouraged to build my Soundcloud at the tail end of Warner Bros. I was being mentored by a man named Mike Caren. I was writing so many songs and Warner Bros was taking a long time in getting a plan together and not really committing to a release schedule, so he encouraged me to create an acoustic mixtape. Because if I put out acoustic songs Warner couldn’t tell me not to because they were acoustic and not mastered or owned by the label. So, I started doing acoustic versions of a bunch of songs. I put out a mixtape at the beginning of 2014 and then I started putting out a second mixtape, called The Bright Side mixtape. The acoustic mixtapes were songs I was writing currently in that space. I started putting them out as I wrote them. The second collection – The Bright Side mixtape – was post Warner Bros. Or right in the middle of leaving Warner Bros, but it was songs I was working on in the last four years. It was a mixture of songs from three years before, or songs a few months before, and then I actually ran into a lot of issues with some of the producers I was working with. You know, friends of mine who wanted to get paid for the tracks that I was putting out and thought I was still with the label. So, that whole period of releasing music and building the Soundcloud page really pushed me to get to where I am now as an artist because of putting up songs with other people’s productions and [them] wanting money for stuff really propelled me to produce on my own, so I could own all of the material.

MM: So, you produce your own music now?

BB: Yes.

MM: What programs and equipment do you generally use? What do you use for making beats?

BB: Yeah, I’m using Logic. Logic Pro for beats. And also I’m loving incorporating the live elements because you can do so much. I did 80% of this EP in my living room on my laptop. Well, I wouldn’t even call it 80, I would call it like, let’s say, 60% and then the other 40% I brought in friends who are musicians who I respect and love to put live elements on it to give it that organic life.

MM: You’re producing your girlfriend – is she the only one you’ve produced aside from yourself?

BB: Yeah, well, it’s semi new. I’m starting to do a lot more stuff with my publishers on Sony ATV. I’m starting to do more TV and film writing and production. I’ve also got a couple of indie acts, too, that aren’t on majors that I’m working on singles with. Yeah, production is fairly new to me so this project and Molly’s EP will be the first I put my name on.

MM: Is there a certain story behind your song “Karma” or was there somebody in particular you were writing it about?

BB: No, “Karma” was one of those songs that when you ask that question there are so many things that I think about in my life that inspired that. I remember exactly where I was when I created it. I had just made a decision to not do American Idol. I had auditioned and I played my original songs and I got through and they wanted me to do the show, and they thought I could win it, and I looked at the contract and had my whole family sign it, and I had this whole moment where I was considering doing it and then at the last minute I thought if I want to control my art and not enter into another Warner situation where there’s a bunch of people telling me this and that maybe it’s not the best idea. So, I remember being so conflicted. Half of my new EP was underway and I had the opportunity to do the show and the time commitment would have totally kept me from finishing this music. So, I remember I said no and the Hollywood week was going on and I picked up the guitar and I started playing these chords and then the melody started flowing out. Usually how it happens is I’ll turn my phone on to record like voice notes so I don’t miss anything and it just flew out. Like the lyrics, the second verse is like “Where do I go / We’re centerfolds / Spinning til my head falls off / The curtains close.” And all that stuff was me imagining if I made that decision where would I be in my life. If I made the right decision. It was all of these things. I remember my mom was really heartbroken because my mom and my dad had just split up and for me to be on American Idol would’ve brought everybody together. My grandmother had just gotten sick. So, I was making this choice. And a lot of the EP is connected like that. “Karma” and “Set in Stone” are both kind of records that emerged out of this period of figuring out my path and figuring out what moves to make, et cetera. “Karma” was really inspired by that period.

MM: You’ve worked on songs with a lot of other artists like Hot Chelle Rae, MKTO and Charlie Puth. When you write songs for these artists do you write them with them? Are they co-writes? Of do you just write the songs and shop them around?

BB: A lot of the songs that have gotten picked up in my career so far have been really, oddly circumstantial. I was signed by Kara DioGuardi, who is a songwriter in her own right and a publisher. When I first moved out to LA and was working on my record I was working with so many different producers [on] different songs and they would be like, “This sounds good but it doesn’t sound like you.” I would be heartbroken but a couple weeks later I would have an e-mail saying this artist wants to cut the song. I remember my first placement was an artist named Chris Rene, who’d just come off of The X-Factor, I think, and I was experimenting with rap, similarly to how I’m experimenting with spoken word now on records like “Inner Child” and the end of “Karma.” I was experimenting with rap and this guy wanted to sing and wanted to rap so for him when he heard those songs it fit his artistic identity. Most of these placements have happened like that. These artists were in the room, maybe the producer I played with has done the record and they hear it and they love it. On the other hand, one of my biggest U.S. placements was an artist Jake Miller and that happened in the studio. I had a meeting and the guy I was having the meeting with was running a little late so the guy I was with was like “Hey why don’t you go meet this artist Jake Miller. Cool your nerves a little bit.” And there he was, working on the beat to his single. I went into the vocal booth and sang a melody and, boom, his song came out like a couple weeks later. So, it really has varied on the songwriting front but a lot of the early cuts were songs that I didn’t release.

MM: Will you be touring to support State I’m In?

BB: Yes. I have never toured before. I am so excited. We don’t have any set dates yet but we’ve got a group together. We’ve been playing some shows here in LA and they’re going very well. We’re trying to figure out how it’s gonna be if a Cosmos and Creature tour – because that’s the project with my girlfriend Molly – or if we’re gonna do our solo tours first and then join up and do Cosmos and Creature tour.

MM: This year we lost Prince and David Bowie. Were you, or are you, a fan of either of them? And how impacted by their deaths were you?

BB: Wow. Prince. I didn’t know Prince’s music as well as my dad but I know for a fact that it inspired my dad so much. My dad was a recording artist signed to Don Cornelius and Capitol and he did Soul Train and stuff all the time. Every artist has comparisons and often in his career they would talk about Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Prince. Those were like his three artists that he grew up with. And so for me, I watched my dad really take a blow when he heard the news. And it affected me in a way that was crazy because when somebody passes away like that – the same with David Bowie – you’re so curious to see what people are saying. I’m not gonna sit here and be like I was the biggest Prince fan, and when he died it killed me, because I didn’t really know his music, but when I got into his music after the fact, and I’d seen how many people were talking about how he was as a person beyond the music, [it] had done something crazy for me as an artist. It kind of put in perspective why I’m doing this whole thing. Is it to have a bunch of number ones, or be the king of pop, or be the king of this or that, or have the most Grammys out of everybody, or is it to have a legacy that people talk about positively? Those two legends passing, the two most modern music legends that we have really, them passing really, really brought to light what you can do with your artistry beyond being famous.

MM: At the end of our interviews we always do some random questions. What was the first album you ever bought with your own money?

BB: [Laughs] Oh, God, you’re gonna make me answer this one. The first album I ever bought with my own money was Nellyville by Nelly and I bought it at a Borders bookstore. Yup, that was the first record.

MM: Name a favorite TV show, book, movie and album.

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BB: My favorite movie would probably be Aladin. I used to watch that on repeat when I was a kid. Book. There’s a Rumi pocket book I picked up that has Rumi quotes for days and I pick that up every time I have a question or a feeling and it’s just the most wisdom. Let me see what it’s called exactly. It’s The Pocket Rumi.

MM: What’s one of your favorite albums?

BB: Can I give you a two part answer for that?

MM: Sure.

BB: So, my favorite current album and artist is Jon Bellion, The Human Condition, that’s the name of his album. It just came out on Friday. Incredible. He’s another producer/artist who does it himself. And then my favorite album from the past that probably impacted me most as a musician is John Mayer Continuum.

MM: If someone was giving you a million dollars to give to charity and it could only go to one charity or cause which would you give it to?

BB: CJ’s Journey. It’s a small charity from Missouri. One of my best friends, who I used to play soccer with, passed away from osteosarcoma at 18 and his sister and his mom started this charity and I’ve always talked about being involved. I dedicated one of the songs on my last EP to him and his cause. So, it’s always been a goal of mine to give back and that would definitely be the one.

MM: Finally, who is your favorite Star Wars character?

BB: That’s amazing. Probably… Oh, man, let me think about this. There’s an obvious answer that I want to say, but I know, there’s so many great characters. I mean, you’ve gotta love Yoda. Gotta love Yoda. But at the same time I have a childhood thing for R2D2.

Extra special thanks to Brandyn for taking the time to do this interview! Thanks also to Amanda and Kelli at Black Panda PR for setting it up!

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Written by

Paris365

An entertainment journalist for 20 years, Michael McCarthy was a columnist and contributing editor for the magazines Lollipop and LiveWire. He co-created and wrote for Cinezine, one of the '90's most popular movie E-zines. The only time he's not listening to music is when he's watching television shows and movies or reading, usually music magazines.

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