Kane Brown Goes Back to His Roots

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Today, country singer Kane Brown is one of the biggest names in popular music. He’s earned multiple platinum record certifications, millions of fans, and more accolades than could fit in a 10-gallon cowboy hat. One might presume, therefore, that Brown is on top of the world and in need of nothing else, nor anyone’s help. But that’s as far from the truth as could be. Instead, Brown keeps a level head. He likes hanging out with friends at lake houses and admiring classic cars. Every morning at home when he comes downstairs to see his family, he makes sure to tell his wife that she’s “Superwoman.” Humility, sincerity, appreciation—these are the traits of an artist who will assuredly have a lasting, even multi-decade career. They are also the ingredients that comprise Brown’s career to date. For the standout songwriter and performer, life initially began tumultuous and precarious—as a kid, his family spent time homeless. Now, though, Brown, who is currently at work on his third solo LP, is as sought-after as it gets. 

“I love my family to death,” Brown tells American Songwriter. “My wife is Superwoman. She’s up every morning at 6 a.m. with the kids. I tell her every time I come downstairs, ‘You’re Superwoman.’ There’s no way I can wake up that early. But I just love them to death. I love that I get to give them a life I never got to have. That’s what I’m working for now. I’m working to set them up in the future.”

For Brown, his love affair with songs began early—even if his success took some time to manifest. He was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1993, and he grew up spending time between rural Georgia and the Volunteer State. He remembers a video his mother took of him as a baby in the back of her Camaro in the mid-’90s. In it, he was listening to Tim McGraw and kicking his feet in the air. In middle school, he would wear headphones on the bus. That was his “escape.” Later, he’d star in school plays. He also, amidst an early life of poverty and at times homelessness, endured racial slurs. (Brown is multiracial and identifies as Black.) While music was integral in helping him through, so too were sports. He played football, basketball, baseball, and ran track. But his path to recognition in music began mostly by accident. 

“I was working at Lowe’s,” Brown says. “And I started singing and this dude convinced me to do the [school] talent show. Once I did the talent show and heard everybody’s cheers—they made me do another song. I was like, maybe I could do this!”

Major attention came when Brown began posting cover songs on social media, specifically on Facebook, around 2014, including a version of Lee Brice’s “I Don’t Dance.” After a few years of posting videos, they eventually began to go viral and earned him tens of thousands of followers. With a new career beginning to pop off, Brown began to embrace the idea of writing his own songs, too. Such a move can only take place, though, when a burgeoning artist has a wealth of experience with music, and more specifically, in a particular genre of it. For Brown, that love affair first began in country music and then later grew to R&B and other styles. 

“I listened to nothing but country until about sixth grade,” he says. “Then sixth grade happened, and a dude named Usher came out.”

The Usher album that he loved most? The smooth singer’s 2004 LP Confessions. Brown remembers in eighth grade listening to the music of the rapper Soulja Boy. He began to dive into the world of dance songs and hip-hop tracks. And in high school, Brown rekindled his appreciation for country—artists like Sam Hunt and Florida Georgia Line. It’s this multi-faceted foundation that has led him to be such a versatile artist, one capable of crooning like Garth Brooks and nimbly maneuvering on a track like a more conventional pop star. Then, as he continued his music discovery, Brown found his muse: Chris Young, with whom he’s since collaborated on the popular track “Famous Friends.” 

“I studied all his albums,” Brown says. “From top to bottom.”

With a knowledge base now in both traditional and modern country, along with contemporary pop, Brown was ready to stretch his creative wings. From studying Young’s music, he says, he began to find where he fit in music and what songs could help him stand out. Karaoke—believe it or not—was an important factor, too. That’s where he honed his range, and perhaps most importantly, his deep, smooth voice. From there, the social media covers boomed. 

“I was posting covers on Facebook,” Brown says. “I got really comfortable in my lower register. There aren’t a lot of low voices in country music like there used to be. So, I just ran with it.”

Today, many musicians have a dream: to be discovered. And the modern version of that hope is found often online. Artists want to be plucked from the morass of their peers trying to stand out. For Brown, who stood out both musically and visually on social media platforms, this dream became a reality. When his internet presence began to take off, his phone began to blow up with messages. This kickstarted his brand and quickly drained his phone battery. 

“I usually always have [my phone] fully charged before I go to sleep,” Brown says. “But [one morning] I woke up and put it on the charger and I remember when I did, it was just like ding-ding-ding until I was able to turn my notifications off. It probably went on for, like, 45 minutes.”

With the recognition from the Facebook covers, Brown began to see that he was doing something right. So, he wondered if he could do it again and increase his listenership. Increase his footprint and continue to grow. Spoiler alert. He did it. 

“Honestly,” he says, “it was weird. Because the first time I thought I went viral, I got like 60,000 new followers. Then like a year passed and my social media numbers fell. And then I did ‘Check Yes or No’ by George Strait and then when that took off, I saw a huge increase. My mind kept turning, like, what else can I do, what else can I do?”

That’s when fans began to ask him to write his own songs, to see what he could bring to the proverbial table that way. Brown took the challenge—he’s always been one to see how much he could bite off and chew. Just as when he was an athlete, it wasn’t one sport: it was more like five. These days, that supreme ambition continues. To date, Brown has even hosted major award shows, along with releasing many big hits. What’s next? The Oscars?

“I don’t know about that,” Brown says, with a chuckle, before adding, “I think it just goes back to sports, being super-competitive and trying to be everywhere and make connections as much as possible. Because if music isn’t here down the road, if I decide I want to do something else, those connections will always be there.”

Brown is humble. He’s the first to say that he’s “still learning today.” He remembers releasing his debut self-titled full-length some six years ago. At the time, he recalls, he was nervous. It was his first time working with a record label; he signed to RCA Nashville in 2016. (Brown released his debut EP, Closer, in 2015, thanks to a successful crowdsourcing campaign.) But while he was on pins and needles putting together the debut LP, he didn’t harp on anything for too, too long. The process didn’t paralyze him, as it might others set to unveil their first major release. Brown, no matter what is going on inside, remains cool as a cucumber on the exterior. He told himself this was the music he had, and it was time to drop the tracks. 

“And it did really well for us,” he says. “It got us on some big tours.”

With the success of that 2016 LP, Kane Brown, which had its namesake become the first artist to have simultaneous No. 1 songs on all five main Billboard country charts and had him on tour with the likes of Dierks Bentley, Brown set out on writing and putting out his sophomore follow-up, Experiment. With that record, too, Brown said to himself these were the tracks he had and it’s time for them to go out into the world—like birds released from a nest. The 2018 Experiment showed a maturation of Brown’s songwriting. While the 2016 record was well-received, the follow-up really put the artist on the proverbial map. Now, he says, he’s ready for the as-yet-untitled record No. 3. He’s put the most thought on the new one, he says. The songs on the forthcoming LP are all “very country-rooted.” Though, Brown adds, they also boast a distinct range. 

“The third album I’m doing right now,” he says, “I’ve definitely taken my time and made sure of the songs that I want on there. Some I kicked off and put back on and kicked off again and now they’re back on.”

Photo by Alex Alvga

Part of being an artist with a long career path is remaining open to change. Brown knows this and acts with it in mind. He says he’s still working to find out what kind of artist he wants to be and what kinds of songs he wants to release in the future. Truly, he could do anything. His fame, success, talent, and look provide Brown the tools to succeed in any number of directions, from country to rock to hip-hop, R&B, and more. He’s already written and released big hits like the flirty “Short Skirt Weather” as well as the pointed and poignant “American Bad Dream” and fun-loving “Weekend.” 

“We were at a lake house,” Brown says of “Weekend.” “They were working on it for like 15 minutes, just on the track. And I’m talking about within seconds of just walking in the room, I was like, ‘Just chillin’ on the weekend.’ And they were like, ‘Ah, I love that!’ And I was like, ‘That’s just what I’m hearing right now.’ So, that’s what we ended up writing.”

While he remains confident—especially on the outside—Brown says he can overthink things to a degree. But in the end, he always ends up following his gut. In part, that’s what’s got him to the position he enjoys today. Yet, even when one follows their instincts, evolution remains imperative. As the bard Bob Dylan has aptly pointed out: If you’re not busy being born, you’re busy dying. Brown acknowledges this creative reality, daily. 

“At the beginning,” he says, “I never realized that whatever song I released, [if it’s a hit, then] more than likely I’m going to be singing it through my career. So, that’s come into my mind a lot of times on my last releases. I think it’s a huge maturing game—definitely.”

Speaking on his versatility, Brown doesn’t get a big head (despite his signature big, toothy grin). He notes that he can be “all over the place” but in the same breath, he says that’s one of the most fun aspects of what he does, especially when he comes across songs that he isn’t sure if they’re going to work at first. He knows there are differences in style and sound when it comes to tracks like “One Thing Right” and “Short Skirt Weather.” But those differences aid his live shows and allow for a wide swath of people to come, enjoy themselves, and feel welcome. 

“If you came to one of my shows,” Brown says, “if you put [these varied songs in a show], my fans are singing them at the top of their lungs. It’s two different [sonic] places, but it’s fun. It’s almost like a mixtape.” 

It can be hard to evaluate yourself. But when asked to do such a thing, Brown shakes his head a bit and says he’s not totally sure why he’s resonated as he has with fans, the industry, and the music-loving world at large. But he’s willing to hazard a guess. For Brown, it’s a combination of a feeling he gives off to others and who he is at his core. Add those to the joy his music engenders to a diverse group of listeners, and you’ve got something. 

“I don’t look like the ‘normal’ country artist,” Brown says. “Also, I’m very open with my fans. So, they can relate to me. And I think everybody feels welcome at my shows. I was talking about it the other day: if you come to my shows, you’ll find all kinds of different people, which is one of my favorite things. People feel comfortable and they really know who I am.”

It’s no secret that country music harbors many more artists who do not look like Brown than it does those who do—though, thanks to Brown and other musicians like Darius Rucker and Mickey Guyton, that’s changing. For Brown, talking about his identity and ethnicity can be a bit of a prickly area, though. On one hand, he says, why make it a topic of discussion? But on the other, it can help others coming up in the game who do resemble him. 

“Well,” he says, “it’s weird. Because it’s like for somebody to say that it’s kind of like, ‘Why are you bringing race into the situation in the first place?’ But then on the second hand, it’s also like I get to be that person for the minority. To say, you know, I’m helping open doors and things like that. It’s honestly like I’m stuck in the middle. It’s like don’t say it, but then it’s like hell yeah at the same time.” 

For someone who is bringing so much change in a long homogenous genre, the pressure can feel mighty. Not to mention, if that person comes from homelessness and other personal and social difficulties, it can be hard to adjust. But Brown handles all of this with aplomb, taking everything in relative stride. He says he doesn’t talk himself up (the rest of the world is doing that already, of course), and instead, he just focuses on his work. 

“Sometimes,” he says, “I walk outside and am like, man, look how far you’ve come. But that’s very rare. I’m just grateful to be where I’m at and grateful to be what I’m doing.”

And what he’s doing is clearly working—almost immeasurably. He’s entrenched in music. But that’s not all he’s interested in, either. For those who saw his “Weekend” music video, it’s clear that Brown likes to socialize and just hang out with close buddies and collaborators. (All work and no play, right?) But perhaps most of all, he has an affinity for classic cars. 

“I’m a huge car enthusiast,” Brown says. “So, if I ever get time—or my wife ever lets me get out [laughs]—I’m usually going out with my friends, who have other cool cars. And we’ll have car meets, stuff like that. Drag [racing] shows. That’s probably where I have the most fun.” 

With his success as a songwriter and performer, Brown continues to grow as both an artist and as a businessman. The gears of his mind are truly always turning. To wit, Brown has recently launched both his own publishing company and record label, which are each seeing success already. At the time of this writing, Brown boasts yet another No. 1 song: his track, “One Mississippi,” which he co-wrote with Levon Gray, an artist signed to Brown’s publishing company, Verse 2 Music. The two met after Gray reached out to Brown about the possibility of working together.

“I just think it’s really cool,” Brown says, “that he messaged me, and I took that chance on him and he brought a really cool song title, ‘One Mississippi.’ That was his audition, and he got a No. 1 out of it. We’re all stoked and excited to see where it’s going to lead.” 

For Brown, all these accolades, accomplishments, and opportunities have grown from his original “escape,” his early love of music, and his connection to genres like country and more as he’s grown as a person in the industry. Today, the artist, who is still just in his late 20s, has a great deal of work both behind and ahead of him. It’s a testament to his devotion, skill, and respect for songwriting and the people in his life who have helped him achieve from day one. 

“I just love music,” Brown says. “My favorite thing is seeing fans that love it and listen to my songs—I hear them sing the lyrics back to me whenever we’re at shows. People ask me who my favorite artist is all the time, and I don’t have one. My favorite song? I don’t have one. I always hear different things. Songs touch people in different ways. That’s what I love about music. You don’t have to like it, but somebody else does.”

Photo by Alex Alvga

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