“I can’t wait to release this shit,” an excited Sammy Brue exclaimed on the phone with American Songwriter.
Brue’s sense of humor and enthusiasm for music shines when he speaks. While he’s only 18 years old he’s already built a colorful and exciting career which seems to be constantly on the rise. The ‘shit’ that he can’t wait to release is his new record, Crash Test Kid, which drops on June 12 via New West Records. Yet, don’t let his age or his comedic tendencies fool you: Brue is an accomplished songwriter and his career is much more than a novelty.
This is evident when listening to Brue’s new song, “Megawatt.” The fourth single to be released in Crash Test Kid’s album cycle, it is an excellent encapsulation of Brue’s style and artistry. Painting vivid lyrical images — like setting the scene at a ‘Pink Floyd laser show” and describing love on Earth as being “lost in space, me and you/ on a giant green and blue bubble” — Brue effortlessly blurs the line between lighthearted fun and striking observation. Along with many of Brue’s songs, “Megawatt” blends youthful energy with aged wisdom… a combination that Brue has been aspiring to since he first started writing songs at age 11 (which, let me remind you, was only seven years ago).
When referring to his earlier songwriting work, Brue remarked that “the songs didn’t mean as much — err, it’s not that they didn’t mean something, but the meaning kinda deteriorated because I wrote them when I was so young. I didn’t really know what I was writing about.” Brue’s first record (2017’s I Am Nice) tackles subjects ranging from love to heartbreak to depression. “I had never really gone through any of that,” he said. “It’s kinda like I sang about it and then it happened later.”
Brue’s next release was an EP from 2018 called Down With Desperation, which he noted was “the first group of songs that I felt really explained how I felt in that moment.” Nonetheless, the Ogden, Utah native felt that his skill was still lacking… a feeling that began to change when he started working with songwriter and producer Iain Archer (known for his work with Jake Bugg, Niall Horan, James Bay and more).
“I was scared to try to co-write but at this point in my life I’m open to any experimentation and I felt like I’d be a fool if I didn’t co-write,” Brue said. “I’ve always been such a ‘this is my art’ kind of guy, but once I really let go of that, I started rolling with it. Iain and I wrote two great songs in our first session — ‘Gravity’ and ‘Painted Blue.’ I felt like I didn’t want to like it as much as I did, it was such a new experience and I wasn’t sure if I was comfortable yet, but the songs were just undeniable — plus, Iain’s worked with a lot of my favorite artists. Then we got into another session and wrote another two songs. Eventually, he was like ‘do you want to just write a whole record?’ and I was like ‘yeah, I’d love that.’ The vibe was just so good, the songs are young and full of energy but the words are a little older — they explain how I feel. I’m very proud of it.”
Another figure guiding and inspiring Brue’s work is his mentor of sorts: Justin Townes Earle. The two first met when Brue was only about 10 years old, and in 2014 Earle asked Brue to be on the cover of his fifth album, Single Mothers.
“He was playing at the State Room in Salt Lake City and it was 21+ — there’s not a lot of all-ages venues there — and my dad and I were like ‘hey if we can’t see the show that’s alright, but let’s try to meet him,’” Brue said, recalling when the two’s relationship began. “I was about 10 years old and we also brought my little sister who was about 7 years old. As soon as we pulled up to the State Room Justin Townes Earle was outside smoking a doobie. We all got out and I was like ‘damn that cigarette smells funny.’ He threw it to the side and we asked him to get a picture. I also asked him to sign my first Loar guitar because I got it after I saw that he played one. I think he took a liking to me and was really amazed by the fact that I took a lot of inspiration from him. Even when I got my first pair of glasses I showed them a picture of Justin Townes Earle and said ‘get me something like this.’ I think he really liked that. Next time he came around to Salt Lake City he got me tickets to the show and messaged me on Twitter beforehand saying that he had to tell me something. Of course, me and my whole family were like ‘what in the world? What could he possibly want to tell me?’ We got there and my heart was racing, then he came up to me and said ‘hey, I want you to be on the cover of my next record. Would you want to do that?’ I was like ‘fuck yeah!’ Things haven’t been the same since then.”
Another of Brue’s big breaks — and arguably the one that kick-started his career proper — came from busking at the Sundance Film Festival. Typically, the festival makes buskers get a permit, but Brue never got one, risking getting hit with a $5,000 fine if he got caught… which he almost did until Tony Danza saved the day.
“My dad and I would go up to Sundance every year so I could busk. He would watch me just to make sure no weirdos were around, and he wanted to be there in case we got hit with the fine — you have to have a permit to busk when Sundance is going on because it’s just such a crazy festival. One year the cops actually came while I was busking and my dad started shitting his pants. The cops came up to us and were about to write us a ticket when Tony Danza walked up and said ‘hey let this kid play one more song, he’s almost done’ — he just happened to be there watching me play. The cops were like ‘well, okay.’ Danza really saved our asses from that $5,000 fine.”
But, that wasn’t the aforementioned big break — the real big break came when Brue got featured on the local news for busking.
“This woman named Kim Fischer had a handheld camera and she was really interested in what was happening, so she ran a story on me,” Brue said. “Then I started getting all these news articles written about me. It was an exciting time. I think that’s what really encouraged me and my dad to start traveling to bigger cities like Los Angeles and Portland and Seattle. Eventually, we decided to go to Nashville for Americanafest and I ended up meeting American Songwriter through all of that, and then the record deal came around. It was super exciting.”
The recurring theme of Brue being supported by his father is a big part of Brue’s story — his father bought him his first guitar and even helped him record his first record in a closet in their basement. Once Brue’s career started taking off he got to go on some pretty incredible tours, opening for the likes of Earle and Rodriguez… which was an amazing opportunity but also meant that Brue missed a lot of school. Ultimately Brue made the decision to drop out of high school to devote more time to his craft, and his father supported him in that too.
“That was a hard decision for me,” Brue reflected. “I have the most supportive parents in the world, they make it a lot easier on me. It just got to a point where I was ditching school to write. I wasn’t passing by any means anyways because I was just gone all the time, touring and doing shows — it was always music over school. I wasn’t planning on leaving school, but things just kept escalating and escalating. There were just some bigger tours that started happening and it felt like I was learning more on the road than I was in the classroom. I had trust in music, I had trust in myself and I had trust in the support around me, so it felt right. I feel very privileged to have that support. I was just on tour with Marcus King and everybody told him that if he dropped out of school he was going to end up dead or in prison or something. I never really had that, so I feel very privileged.”
While Brue is wise beyond his years, there can still be a certain conflict at times between his age and his vocation — there’s a certain level of surrealness that comes from spending most of your nights playing shows at a venue which you’re technically too young to step foot in.
“Sometimes it’s really hard being this young and trying to do stuff,” Brue said. “I’m so happy to be able to do this because I get to experience so many insane things and I get to meet really cool and interesting people. But, I’m always going to be trying to figure this shit out. I don’t want my age to define my career and all of that, but I just started songs at such a young age and rolled with it. I also don’t want to be jaded by the music industry, but sometimes it’s really hard. At the end of the day though, it’s just people making art, sharing art and experiencing art together. I have really beautiful moments because of music and I really appreciate them.”
Yet, while Brue’s age doesn’t define his career, it certainly gives him a vantage point that he uses to his advantage. Crash Test Dummy is lush with observations and realizations about modern society that echo the frustration of many ‘Zoomers’ (members of Generation Z). “I can’t tell you what the ‘change’ is,” Brue said, “but I can tell that a lot of people are getting fed up with how things are.”
For Brue, he’s still discovering himself and his role in all of the change that is to come — “I’m figuring it out every day,” he said. For now, though, he’s excited to get Crash Test Kid out into the public and to continue to work towards his ultimate goal: making music his home.
“When I know that I’ve ‘made it’ is when I’m able to bring my family and my home on tour,” he said, “when I’m able to make my career my home. That’s the goal.”
Listen to Sammy Brue’s new single “Megawatt” below: