“I've only been writing my own stuff for four or five years now,” rising Tennessee-bred, Los Angeles-based country-pop act Brandon Stansell tells Apple Music. “I didn't grow up thinking I was ever going to be a songwriter. I just always loved to sing. It's very different to write for your own voice, what you can do and how you want to express yourself.” The emotional centre of his new four-song EP is his autobiographical experience as a queer man who encountered homophobia when he came out to loved ones a decade ago. “Country music, at its very core, is this idea of telling stories through music, but for queer people, we've always been told, ‘Don't tell your story. Don't be authentic to who you are. We don't want to hear that,'” Stansell says. “So maybe these queer people that have loved country music their entire lives, but never seen themselves in it, can finally feel some sort of representation in this genre that they love, but also for the straight community that really doesn't know what it's like on the other side here.” Stansell talks through each of the four songs on the project.
Hurt People (feat. Cam) “When I heard that turn of phrase [‘Hurt people hurt people’] on Drag Race, it really resonated with me, because one of the things that has helped me in my journey to my path to peace has been to try to look at people around me and just acknowledge that we're all human, and that we are inevitably flawed people just trying to do our best. It has given me the ability to be more graceful than I thought I could be, and more forgiving than I thought I could be. I wanted to tell my story through that lens—an honest representation of the fact that the pain still exists, but that there is peace in trying to understand it this way. Cam came on board once I had a working demo of it. I sent it over to her, not sure she would sing on it. She just sent me a crying emoji back—I took that as a yes.”
Like Us “The song came out of hearing Sam Hunt's ‘Kinfolks’ for the first time. I just remember listening to it saying, ‘Wow, I don't think I'd ever be able to sing a song like that, as nice as it sounds, because that's just not my experience.’ I know that that's not true for all queer people, but it is true for me. I think all the little things that most people take for granted are the things that we just won't ever get, whether it's feeling welcomed in this place that you grew up, having your parents cook a meal for this person you've been dating or that excitement of wondering if they're going to get along or not. But you can't do that when you know that you're never going to make it into the door. It's not a fun thing to sing about, and it wasn't a fun thing to write about, but it's an honest thing to write about. My hope is that it helps in some way, and that in 10 years, people aren't writing songs like this anymore.”
Supposed to Be “The song was tough to write, because I think that I came into the session just pretty heavy-hearted, thinking about the way that I grew up. I'm one of five siblings. We were all really, really close. I watched my dad and his brother, and how close they were. They grew up together. They raised their kids together. I saw all that modelled in front of me. I think you just assume that that's what you'll have. Then when I came out at 22, my support system, and a lot of those relationships that I knew, just evaporated. It fell out from under me. It is something to grieve, because it didn't have to be this way. Losing those relationships was not an inevitable thing. The sentiment of that song, I think, is a more shared experience than it's not—that we have people that we've lost simply for the fact that we decided to be honest about who we are and share that honesty with the people that we love. I don't think that we get past stories like that until we tell stories like that.”
Wide Awake “Every good country EP needs a good breakup song. Whenever I’ve gone through a breakup, I think that it's always been even more tough, because you want your family or the people close to you to understand what that's like and want those people around you to be there for support. I think, in those moments, it feels like the opposite, like the people are almost excited that you broke up, because they never approved of your relationship anyway. It just makes the heartbreak harder.”