Kane Brown finds love, con­fi­dence on road to his lat­est al­bum, ‘Ex­per­i­ment’

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - REGION - BY CINDY WATTS USA TO­DAY NET­WORK-TEN­NESSEE

NASHVILLE — Kane Brown went home and cried in the bath­room three years ago af­ter sign­ing his record deal with Sony Mu­sic Nashville. Grow­ing up in North Ge­or­gia, Brown was some­times home­less and of­ten on the move. He at­tended five high schools in as many years. He saw his friends abuse drugs and be­come vic­tims of gun vi­o­lence. His fa­ther has spent more than two decades in jail.

The record deal was a dream come true — and his ticket out.

His self-ti­tled de­but al­bum was re­leased in 2016 and sold or streamed the equiv­a­lent of more than 1 mil­lion copies. His chart-top­ping duet with Lau­ren Alaina is three times plat­inum, and its fol­low-up sin­gle, “Heaven,” clocks in at the equiv­a­lent of 2 mil­lion copies sold.

“I know it sounds weird, but I don’t feel dif­fer­ent,” said Brown, 25. “I just have a lit­tle money that I didn’t have be­fore. And I have a [wife] that I didn’t have be­fore. And I have more con­fi­dence that I didn’t have be­fore. I’m hap­pier than I’ve ever been. But I still feel the same.”

Brown’s sopho­more al­bum, “Ex­per­i­ment,” home to his cur­rent top 10, “Lose It,” is avail­able now. While he still feels like the same guy, the al­bum re­flects his per­sonal and artis­tic growth.

“With suc­cess comes con­fi­dence, and what I find with Kane … is that he ap­proaches it with a great sense of hu­mil­ity,” said Sony Mu­sic Nashville Chair­man and CEO Randy Good­man. “He’s been out on the road and play­ing with peo­ple like Chris Young and Brad Pais­ley … and he’s re­ally a stu­dent. I think this new al­bum rep­re­sents that so much.”

The last time Brown re­leased an al­bum, he was wor­ried ra­dio wouldn’t play him and that he would be a one-hit won­der. He lis­tened to ’90s coun­try when he was a child but drifted away from the genre as a teen. When he re­dis­cov­ered coun­try mu­sic, bro-coun­try was at its peak and Brown thought that’s what peo­ple wanted to hear. He wrote songs for his de­but al­bum with that in mind,

his goal to fit in with the mu­sic on coun­try ra­dio. Dann Huff signed on to pro­duce the project, and Brown of­fered very lit­tle feed­back.

“I told him, ‘I don’t know what I wanted it to sound like, just pro­duce it and do you,’” Brown re­called.

This time the record­ing process was com­pletely dif­fer­ent. Brown was more fa­mil­iar with Nashville’s song­writ­ing process and co-wrote 11 of the 12 songs on his al­bum. He wanted to make sure he could re­late to some as­pect of ev­ery track. He told Huff he wanted to use “a lot of ex­tinct in­stru­ments” like steel gui­tar and fid­dle be­cause that is a “big part of hav­ing a tra­di­tional coun­try sound.”

“I was just … mix­ing the old school with the new school,” Brown said, ex­plain­ing “Ex­per­i­ment” is an even blend of songs geared to women and men. The “dude songs,” he said, are “noth­ing but rock­ing gui­tar and sick so­los” cour­tesy of his cel­e­brated pro­ducer Dann Huff.

As for lyri­cal con­tent, “Ex­per­i­ment” is Brown’s “love let­ter to his [wife],” Kate­lyn Jae, whom he mar­ried in Oc­to­ber. He was wor­ried he wouldn’t be able to find songs of the same cal­iber as “Heaven” and “What Ifs,” but he also wanted to use to his plat­form to ad­dress what he said is the “screwed-up world that we’re liv­ing in right now.”

In “Amer­i­can Bad Dream” he sings: “Re­mem­ber when ninth grade was about get­ting laid/ Skip­ping class try­ing not to get caught/ Now you gotta take a test in a bul­let­proof vest/ Scared to death that you might get shot.”

“In­stead of peo­ple be­ing on dif­fer­ent sides, I feel like we should all just meet in the mid­dle and wake up and re­al­ize it,” Brown said. “What’s good about mu­sic is it’s send­ing out a mes­sage, and [‘Amer­i­can Bad Dream’] is my mes­sage to ev­ery­one.”

When Brown started work on his de­but al­bum for Sony, he was sin­gle and had to ne­go­ti­ate that path on his own. He met Jae through mu­tual friends af­ter a con­cert in Florida. Brown thought she was cute, but she thought he was in­ter­ested in some­one else in their group. Later that night, Brown sent her a mes­sage on In­sta­gram and asked when she was coming to Nashville. She replied by ask­ing when he was coming to Mi­ami. He bought her a plane ticket, flew her to Mu­sic City, and she never left. Brown didn’t tell her un­til the day she ar­rived that he was leav­ing that night to go on tour with Florida Ge­or­gia Line.

“I was like, ‘Hey, come out on tour with us. We’re leav­ing tonight,’” he re­mem­bers say­ing. “She was like, ‘I guess. You in­vited me here.’ We went on tour and … she didn’t know coun­try. She was like, ‘This is awe­some.’ She just never left. We hit it off.”

With­out Jae, Brown said he knows he would have strug­gled with de­pres­sion be­cause he would have had to come home alone. If he had a prob­lem, there would have been no one to talk to. But now, he said, he knows he has some­body who would stay by his side even if his suc­cess van­ished.

That doesn’t seem likely — his fame con­tin­ues to fast-track. In 2019, Brown is head­lin­ing his first arena tour, in­clud­ing a stop in the state where he met Jae. To date, Brown has sold more than 10,000 tick­ets at the Amway Cen­ter in Or­lando. He’s also head­lin­ing are­nas in Ge­or­gia, Alabama, Mis­souri, Ok­la­homa and Vir­ginia, among oth­ers.

“Do­ing a head­lin­ing tour is some­thing a lot of peo­ple want to do be­cause it feels like the next step,” said Brown’s man­ager, Martha Earls. “But you have to grow in the right way.”

Earls said Brown’s tour was small by de­sign — only 22 dates — in the first quar­ter of the year to keep it man­age­able. As seats sell out, in some venues they open more spa­ces to ac­com­mo­date his grow­ing au­di­ences.

“It’s like, ‘Yeah, let’s see what the mar­ket will bear. Let’s see what hap­pens,’” Earls said. “Some artists are sell­ing $19 tick­ets for the brag­ging rights. But for us, it’s like, ‘No, let’s make this a mean­ing­ful, valu­able show.’ It’s the more ex­pen­sive floor seats that are fill­ing up first. It’s go­ing to be amaz­ing.”

Look­ing ahead, Brown is ready for what comes next. He’s ex­cited to stare at sales, steam­ing and air­play charts for the next two months to see how peo­ple re­spond to his mu­sic. He’s look­ing for­ward to band prac­tice, which he pre­vi­ously rarely at­tended. While on tour with Pais­ley, Brown no­ticed the coun­try star’s level of ded­i­ca­tion. Pais­ley goes to ev­ery sound­check. Now, Brown sees merit in show­ing up, too. He wants to prac­tice mov­ing around on the stage, see if he can jump into the au­di­ence with­out miss­ing a note and test his lim­i­ta­tions.

“I came up with a new goal — do bet­ter than I did last year,” he said. “This year, hope­fully, we can get three No. 1 songs or maybe two triple­plat­inum sin­gles in­stead of a dou­ble plat­inum and a triple plat­inum. Just outdo some­thing I did last year.”

GE­ORGE WALKER IV / TENNESSSEAN.COM

Kane Brown walks the red car­pet with Kate­lyn Jae at the 2017 CMA Awards. The two got mar­ried last month.

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