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THE GRAMMY CONVERSATIONS: KANE BROWN

Interview by Holly Gleason

Kane Brown may well be the new face of country music. Raised poor by a single mother, he understands hardscrabble reality, and he writes with surprising candor about what life at the margins feels like. Like Merle Haggard before him, he also finds ways to connect through the heart. Also like Haggard, Brown has managed to embrace something classic in the genre while at the same time creating an idiom that is distinctly contemporary. The planets have aligned for the 23-year-old newly minted star, with a #1 radio hit in “What Ifs” featuring former classmate Lauren Alaina, as well as the just-released Kane Brown Deluxe Edition (RCA Nashville/Zone 4), a gazillion streams and a life the former Target/Lowe’s employee never thought possible.

Tell me about Kane country.
Well, I know how I grew up. It was family, very respectful, very well-mannered. You open a door for a female. That’s the definition of a Southern gentlemen. My mom raised me and my little brother, and she struggled some, but she made us dinner every night. We all ate around the table, like a family—and no elbows on the table. Some people think country is whiskey, trucks, dirt, mud. But you look at me and you don’t see that.

Musically, are you country?
In today’s country, yes. If you put me with Merle Haggard or Randy Travis? No. But when Alabama came around, people thought they were pop-country. It took people a while to catch up to what they were doing, but now they’re just country. Kids my age, they don’t even have iPods anymore; music’s all on their phone, so things are evolving. Country’s past has gone from guitars and steels to basically tracks—it’s moved with the times.

But in so many ways, you’re more rooted in “country” than a lot of acts.I grew up on a dairy farm [laughs]. My mom was Shania all the way, and my grandma was a huge country fan. The first song I heard was “I Like It, I Love It” by Tim McGraw, so that’s where I come from. Then in middle school, I found Chris Brown and Usher, and I loved that stuff, the smoothness of it. But by high school, I was back to my country music. I heard some Chris Young songs, and that was it.

What was it?
That low baritone voice. I’d sung some Josh Turner songs with that real low bass, but when he’d go up high, it was really hard to sing. 

So for you, it was hearing something that sounded like you?Yes. It’s hard, because you want to broaden your range or sing different songs. Chris Young’s “Tomorrow” is a really hard song to sing. But it’s one of my mom’s favorites, and I practiced for hours—when it goes up real high, the way the melody moves, it’s really tricky. But it taught me a lot about singing.

"Some people think country is whiskey, trucks, dirt, mud. But you look at me and you don’t see that."

Does that add authenticity?
Well, I’d cover Luke Bryan or Tyler Farr, but it wasn’t the same. You know, you can rhyme, you can sound pretty, you can force how you “do” the songs—but when you force it, it doesn’t sound genuine, it just doesn’t. When I met Chris Young, I told him, “Oh my God, when you talk, you sound like your songs.” I realized when I talk, I don’t have to sound like I sing. It’s the same—and I think people can tell that. They know when you’re genuine.


Your name has recently become part of the Grammy conversation.
What? That’s amazing, though I don’t want to get excited till it happens. But to just hear you say that, it means the world to me. Maren Morris won a Grammy last year, and I love her. You know, the Grammys are everybody—and it feels good knowing every kind of artist comes together. To see that, whether it’s to make a connection, a collaboration or become a family, that’s what music should do.

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