Austin Brown; Fusing Music, Individuality and Art
Top Shelf Magazine’s editor, Jessica was excited to talk to Austin Brown in his first ever Australian Interview and our first-ever live American interview!
In an industry that sees talented musicians struggling to set themselves apart by using tactics that can seem somewhat detached from their talent, it is overwhelmingly refreshing to find a unique, hard-working and music-focused artist with a fresh sound and a sincerity in his plight.
Our interview found us both closely following the shattering aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan that had just taken place in The Philippines with Brown showing empathy and deep concern for the victims, proving that his sincerity extends well beyond that of his musical talent.
“Everyone should do everything they can to help out, you know?” he remarked, “it’s a country that doesn’t have much money and has never had that much money, so the sad part is that when they have natural disasters like these, it sets them back a long time.”
Up until the time of our interview, he had spent time following the news and charity efforts as they were happening, using Twitter to help spread the information about how to help, mobilising fans and followers of his music to donate where possible.
Austin Brown is the nephew of music icon, Michael Jackson and the youngest child of Rebbie, the eldest sister of the Jackson Family.
With music and entertaining so richly engrained into his genetics and upbringing, it was hard for this 28 year-old to ignore the temptation to continue on the musical legacy that has been so brightly paved by his undeniably talented family, The Jacksons.
“Naturally, watching your family do music and perform shows and those things, its going to hit you – I mean, especially live shows, its so real that you just want to be a part of it, ‘cos its such a crazy dynamic, moving people through music!”
Certainly not green to the industry, Brown has had more experience than most decade-long, chart-topping successes and has clearly worked tirelessly on fine-tuning and sharpening his talents and artistry.
“Producing was my first way in,” he explains, “I started around 13 years old.”
Brown began learning at an early age to create beats and worked on song formats and was loaning a helping hand on records.
“I was ghost writing a little bit,” he says, “that’s kinda how I got my foot in the door. The more I started writing, the more I was producing and I was fortunate enough to be working with a lot of great people.”
Brown worked alongside the likes of songwriters and music producers such as Cory Rooney (Mariah Carey, Jessica Simpson, Destiny’s Child), Bryan-Michael Cox (Usher, Mariah Carey, Keyshia Cole, Trey Songz) and Pharrell Williams and more. More recently he found himself performing at a show with Lupe Fiasco (Battle Scars with Guy Sebastian) and Miguel (Beautiful with Mariah Carey).
“It just turned in to me wanting to write my own music and that started my whole career path as well as finding my sound and finding what I wanted to introduce to the music as an artist,” Brown explains.
With the help of powerful social media, Brown struck gold when he released his first single, Ménage e Trois in 2012; a funky, upbeat jam about a messy love triangle that finds him dealing with quite a predicament. The track was independently released without any budget whatsoever.
“People all around the world have responded to that song,” Brown says, seeming humbled by its success and worldwide reception. “It feels good because you make something and you release it to the world and you really don’t know how people are going to react to it.”
With push of social media and a stripped back, raw, yet effective and entertaining music video, Ménage e Trois found its way from the USA to Japan, UK and even here in Australia.
“It was just through word-of-mouth and people sharing which is kinda how it got to the forefront,” he says, “and its so great; its so great because it shows you can build something and you’re reeled to the Internet and the Internet is reeled to you and it can do that for you!”
The Internet can sometimes be seen as more of a hindrance than a help, though, and Brown can see why some other artists may feel that way in spite of the mobility and push he has received from it. “I guess I can see where other musicians are coming from, there’s so much stuff on the Internet right now that it makes it very easy to get lost in the shuffle.”
However, for Brown the Internet has been more useful and more integral to his success thus far. “We just got lucky that people responded so well to the song and the energy and life of it, because nine times out of 10, that just doesn’t happen,” he finishes.
Earlier this year Brown went on to release Highway 85, a perfect picture of what soul music should be. Brown showcases raw talent, a lot of heart and the unmistakable vocals that for obvious reasons, sound akin to a young Michael Jackson. The album boasts to-the-point ballads such as F’d With my Mind and To Love Her and ranging to uptempo, throwbacks with classic sounds that are reminiscent of early Motown artists such as Stargazer.
Austin Brown’s vocal range is nothing short of impressive with a smooth-sounding falsetto that never comes across as forced. As well as encompassing a vintage sound in his bag of tricks, Brown is able to take us back to both the 80s and the 90s with a toe-tapping beats and the kind of funk that makes you want to get up and groove.
What sets this artist apart from others isn’t, perhaps, any crazy antics or shock tactics that distract from the talent, but rather it is a refreshing dedication to the art, a well-crafted and formulated fusion of influences, individuality and DNA.
“I would describe my sound as a mixture of all the music that you and I grew up listening to, but done in my own way,” he explains, “so you would have a mixture of Hip Hop, R&B, Soul and Rock. The Beatles, Prince, Michael [Jackson], all of the greats that I have looked up to and studied and have my own way of interpreting. I love telling stories and being a 28 year-old guy.”
With so much talent to compete with, Brown tries to just keep it real and remains faithful and honest to his music, what he best knows how to do. “If you’re not forthright the audience will be able to tell you are BS-ing really fast. You gotta be real and one hundred percent honest in the music you create, that is number one because at the end of the day, its art.”
He endeavours to keep it ‘old skool’ and produce the skills to make him stand out along with the storytelling within his songwriting, that is what he feels is the most gratifying. “For me, I think it’s the music, I try to keep my music so distinctively different and so unique that when you listen to it, you know there’s another energy behind it,” he says, becoming passionate while explaining his art, “and then when you come to my shows and you see me perform, you really get it, it all comes together for you.”
Most recently, Brown found himself touring the Southern states of the USA, playing in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Dallas before heading back to play in L.A and in the east, NYC. Wherever he goes, he is able to appreciate a welcomed fan-following that he feels lucky to have.
“For the past two years we’ve built up a nice little following, they keep showing up and supporting our shows. You never know what you’re going in to, you could have a thousand people or you could have thirty people and at the end of the day, you still have to put on a great show because one is going to tell another and that person is going to tell another person and it just keeps going…”
After rubbing shoulders with many great talents, Brown credits Pharrell Williams for giving him the greatest advice.
“It was to do the music that is in your soul, that you want to do. Be yourself and be organic and real. I didn’t understand what he was saying at first but I thought about it and when I saw him recently, I thanked him. Basically, he was saying that it is easy to do the same thing and that everyone follows a certain pattern, but when you can create a lane for yourself, that’s when no one can really mess with you because you’re setting yourself apart from everyone else.”
This genuine and hardworking musician is under no qualms about what it is to be a part of what can sometimes be a fickle and frustrating industry. “At the end of the day music is such a grind,” he says, “you have to love it to endure the bullshit. Eighty percent of it [the industry] is complete bull. There are so many people in this business that just want to take all of your money and suck the life out of you.”
And will Austin Brown be bringing his talent a little closer to our shores?
“Oh, one thousand percent. That’s the plan, to come all around the world. We have fans that respond to us, including a lot from Australia. I don’t do this to just get by, I do this because it is what I love to do and I wanna be number one at it.”
Currently Austin’s main focus is to start working on a new album.
Meanwhile, you’d be crazy not to check out Highway 85, available on iTunes.