Albert H. Fulcher | Editor
Country singer and songwriter Brandon Stansell is quickly making a mark in country music. With a smooth as butter tone and an innate ability to tell a story through music, he is bearing headlong with his incredible sound.
Things are moving fast for Stansell since his release of “Slow Down” in 2017, including being named in the Top 10 of up-and-coming country artists to watch for by Rolling Stone and in the Top 5 by Taste of Country Music.
I first heard Stansell back in May when he headlined rodeo weekend at the Palm Springs Hot Rodeo, where the night before he packed the back lot behind the Toolshed. When we talked after his performance at the rodeo, we instantly had a connection with our small-town roots in Tennessee. I wanted more, so I purchased “Slow Down,” a CD that is still consistently playing in my car. His talents far surpassed my expectations; as I go through the CD song by song, I never have to skip to a favorite.
Since then he has delivered with new songs, videos and covers that brings out his amazing capacity as a country artist. He’s the whole package and more.
Don’t let his dreamy eyes and Southern charm fool you. He is a strong advocate for the LGBT community in his lyrics and music videos, and his sound is strong enough to penetrate the country music scene as an out and proud gay man. His newest video “Hometown” from his album premiered on Country Music Television on Nov. 5. This song, and corresponding video, tell his story of his coming out in small town America. It is beautiful, poignant and refreshing.
I could easily go through every song and tell you the “whys” of why you should be watching this rising star, but there is a consistency throughout that sums up why he is one to listen to, follow and watch. He’s a master at storytelling. His songs are full of his own emotions and experiences as a gay man. Stansell holds nothing back with lyrics of finding love, fear of rejection and commitment, and he openly exposes his inside demons showing his vulnerabilities as a human being. Every song he sings has a message and a purpose, and his range of styles comes from deep old-country roots to modern country, some with an LA twist.
Still wanting to know more, I reached out to Stansell with some particular questions I had about his life and music. Again he delivered.
(Albert Fulcher) Growing up in small town Tennessee, singing country music since the age of 6, how did moving to Los Angeles change not only your career, but your approach in writing and developing songs?
(Brandon Stansell) Moving to Los Angeles was the best thing I ever did in my pursuit of a career in country music. I know it sounds crazy, but I felt like I had to get out of Nashville to find my voice. I knew I had a unique perspective and sound, but I couldn’t find it in Music City where I was constantly inundated with so many other people doing the exact same thing. I needed space and a place where I could find myself — that place just happened to be LA.
Many are calling you a pioneer of new country music. Some of your songs are gender neutral in lyrics, some are not, and in some of your videos, you are out and proud. You seem to be the most adamant in exposing and exploring your sexuality, both in lyrics and visuals in your videos. What drives you to be openly gay in a genre that is normally not as tolerant from its listeners?
It took a long time to finally learn to be proud of the person I am. Growing up, being gay was the thing I was most ashamed of. Now I know it’s one of the best parts of me. So, when I started writing music of my own, I started with what I knew best —my own story. From its inception, country music has always been about storytelling and my story just happens to include men.
I instantly fell in love with “Time to Time.” This is by far my personal favorite. It is very old-country in style and sound and tells a story. Its message is sad, but has an uplifting promise of self-revelation. How did this song come about and is it based on personal experience?
I wrote this song in about an hour with one of my producers. He started playing this guitar lick and I just started writing. The words came from a very real place, so the song seemed to write itself. I think this is one of those songs that I am so glad I wrote because it feels like a chapter in my life that may have been forgotten if I hadn’t [written the song]. It’s only in listening back to it that I realize how much I have grown and how much the hurt that inspired this song has disappeared over the years — a great reminder of the indelible nature of the human spirit.
My personal interpretation of “Spare Change” made it very relatable to me, and my relationships in life. I saw the video and the powerful message that you give with this song that all are welcome in America makes the song lyrics even more formidable. Was that the original intent in writing this song?
“Spare Change” was not written for any political purpose, however, when it came to making the video, my director and I thought it was a perfect opportunity to represent what we call our “joyful resistance.” I think the video takes the concern that many in the LGBTQ community and other minority groups have about their future under President Trump. We were planning this video at the time the Trump Administration announced the first Muslim ban, so releasing anything but a response to the atrocious policies of this administration seemed like an opportunity wasted. To fight back, we have to continue to have the courage to band together and build community around the things that make life precious: art, beauty, love, and free expression.
Your title track “Slow Down” is beautiful and the video that goes with it tells a compelling story of getting to know each other without rushing. Tell us a little about the origin of this story and how it came about.
Oh, thank you. “Slow Down” was one of the first songs I ever wrote where I left the session and thought, “Hey that could be a hit!” The song was inspired by a dating experience gone bad. I wrote the song from the perspective of how I wished things had gone. So many times, people get wrapped up making sure that everything makes sense that they forget to enjoy the person that is right in front of them. I wanted to write a song about holding on to those initial feelings of attraction without overcomplicating them. Something I think most of us wish we had a better handle on.
You recently did a cover of Kacey Musgraves’ “Space Cowboy” which, coming from a gay male perspective, completely rearranged the song and made it your own. Done in studio composition, there is a lot of emotion seen in your face and heard in your voice. Does this song have a particular personal connection with you?
Well first, I have to say I think Kacey is one of the best things in country music right now, so I was a bit hesitant to even touch one of her songs. But earlier this year in an interview with Huffington Post, she said it was time for a prominent gay performer to make his or her presence known on the Nashville circuit, so I thought covering this song would be a fun way of raising my hand! I’m never a huge fan of twisting songs [and] changing pronouns and so on. I love the fact that I can just sing “Space Cowboy” the way it was written. Just by having me sing the song from a male perspective, it gets turned on its head a little bit. And I love that.
Your latest release, “For You,” featuring Eureka O’Hara from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is nothing short of a blast of fun, hidden with an important message. This video is a joy to watch, you look like you are having so much fun and in many takes, even look surprised and out of control giddy. This had to be a fun shoot and it shows.
Well, we shot the video in one day, so it was quite a whirlwind. But working with Eureka was a dream — she’s tough as nails and funny as hell. She is also a fellow Tennessean, so having her on set felt a lot like being home except she had more hairspray and heels than my momma ever had! The subject of the video is all about falling in love and bringing out the best in the ones we love. And, miraculously, I think we were able to do that both lyrically and cinematically.
You’ve been named in the Top 10 of up-and-coming country singers to look out for. Not only are you putting out amazing music, but you are also advocating for the LGBT community. You are breaking barriers with your refusal to conform to the norm of typical country music. What inside this young man from a small town in Tennessee drives you to continue to try and break down these barriers and stereotypes?
Well, I always tell people artistry and advocacy go hand-in-hand for me — with advocacy work being the thing I am most passionate about. In the next couple of weeks, I will be releasing a music video for my new single “Hometown.” I love this song because it opens the door for me to tell people my coming out story. It’s important for me to talk and sing about my experiences but I think it’s the first real step and my part to play in helping to facilitate change in the South and in country music in regard to the LGBTQ community — my community.
When are you going to bring your talent here to the San Diego region? I, for one, can’t wait for our LGBT community to get to know you, your music and your passion for living your life freely and unapologetically.
I have a Field of Dreams-style touring philosophy and that is if you book it, I’ll come!
For more about Brandon Stansell, visit brandonstansell.com.
—Albert H. Fulcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.