With the chart-topping Experiment (RCA Nashville), Kane Brown is connecting with fans beyond the traditional delivery systems. Wildly handsome, with a deep baritone voice, a strong sense of today as well as traditional country, the 25-year-old artist has made what may be the first true 21st century synthesis of roots and more urban music coming from Music Row. Broken via social media, his “Used to Love You Sober” battled Thomas Rhett’s, massive award-winning “Die a Happy Man” on the streaming and download charts; his “Heaven” topped the radio charts and the #1 “What Ifs,” his duet with Lauren Alaina, ignited the Academy of Country Music Awards.

Unconventional, yet closer to the foundational stories of Merle Haggard than Maddie & Tae or Old Dominion, Brown’s roots are in classic country. But the thrill of his music is taking the past, finding today’s reality and burning new sonics, arrangements that blend and songs that speak today’s love, sadness, fear and, yes, harmonies in today’s America.

Your major-label debut was strong, but Experiment feels like you really know where you are with everything in the recording process.
Yes, we were more hands-on. Basically, we were trying to liven up the live show. Just add some more rock songs, a lot more heavy guitar and the solos. Even the love songs that are slower havea little groove—like “Good as You”—so you can almost dance to them.

Was there anything in terms of the arrangements or the sound, that was really how you wanted it?
It depends on the song. I did want some things to be fiddle-driven, and also slide guitar and steel guitar-driven, just to give Experiment those old-school instruments; I feel that's the closest way to bring the old-school country music into the new-school country music. I feel like on “Short Skirt Weather,” we did a perfect ’90s sound with new-age [angle], if that makes sense?

Totally. That song reminded me so much of Tim McGraw's “Something Like That.”
I was going for “I Like It, I Love It” by Tim McGraw. Same page.

It’s those subtle little details, and the way you run them all together. You wrote almost everything on this.
Yes, 11 of the 12.

The album is lots of fun, with a ton of energy, but some of the songs seem sad or serious.
I don’t know if we really have any sad songs; they’re all positive. "It Ain’t You, It’s Me” is probably the saddest song, but  the rock tempo keeps it positive, if that makes sense. I love the solos and the guitar riffs in it.

“Baby Come Back to Me” feels like a 21st century cross between The Oak Ridge Boys and Joe Diffie.

When you had a lyric that’ was more serious or a little sadder, did you want that juxtaposition with the music?
Yes. For “Baby Come Back,” we needed a swampier feel. Then, when we found the title, it fit perfectly.

Are you surprised by how much you’ve grown?
I realized what I wanted to say more. One thing I’ve learned about me is, I stay away from the negative. That’s why I’ve been so happy in my life lately, is that I am positive. That goes back to the [realization that], even if it sounds like a happy song, there’s still some heartbreak to it. Trying to find something positive—so on that sad song, I made the instruments positive.

You really like wordplay, don't you?
Oh yeah, I love wordplay. I love opposites and stuff people wouldn’t really think about.

What’s “old” country to you?
I can’t really go back past the ’90s. The first song I ever knew was “I Like It, I Love It.” My mom was always into Shania Twain, Conway Twitty, but then I got into the R&B and pop, back when Chris Brown hadn’t went through his troubles. He was just coming out when I was 16, and Usher. That’s what I was listening to, and then I got back into “new” country. It was Florida Georgia Line, Sam Hunt, Thomas Rhett. It was like the doors had just opened for me. I decided to get into music, and I feel like I can fit in anywhere.

How old were you?
Either 18 or 21. I know it’s a big difference, but it was in that time era.

You had normal jobs and you were like a regular guy, right?
I was working at Target and Lowe’s, and playing Xbox.

You obviously loved the music. What makes you chase it?
What made me really chase it was when I started writing my own music. People started reaching out to me, saying I needed to write my own music after my video went viral for “I Don’t Dance.” So I started writing my own music, and I put my EP out, which didn’t really do much. Nobody knew who I was or anything. Then I did a George Strait cover, and that’s when it really took off. That’s when Nashville found out about me a little, heard about me. I wrote “Used to Love You Sober,” and I didn’t think it was going to be like a job; I thought I was just writing songs for fun. I wrote “Used to Love You Sober,” put it on iTunes and Facebook. It ended up getting like 32 million views and was competing with “Die a Happy Man” when it was at its peak.

The labels called, and I ended up breaking down immediately, going in the bathroom and crying. I was like, “Is this real?” I was living in my first apartment. We didn’t even have an entertainment center. Just happy that we had an apartment.

Do you listen to your stuff a lot? Because not everybody does.
There was one song that I thought was the weakest, “My Where I Come From.” Then, as I keep listening to the song, I’m like, “No this is a sleeper,” especially lyric-wise.

How close is that to where you come from? 
I lived in a bunch of places, but they’re basically the same area, so we just call them Chattanooga, because they’re all within a 15-20 minute range from each other. Everybody hangs out in Walmart parking lots and does that kind of stuff.

"I want people to realize you ain’t gotta judge a book by its cover—that’s my main thing."

How is it that you understand women so well?
I grew up with all women: my mom, my nana and my aunt basically raised me. My dad was never in the picture. My grandparents, like my pop, my mom’s dad and my granddaddy, who was my nana’s husband after my pop, and then my papa, which was my pop’s dad. So those were the only three men in my life, and I didn’t see them that often as I saw my nana, my mom and my aunt.

It’s interesting to hear a male singer who really gets women, versus a dude who’s singing at women. Sometimes guys calculate what girls want to hear. It sounds like you’re from the heart for both.
[During the sessions] I was talking about what guys like to listen to, just like the instrumentation on “Baby Come Back to Me.” Doing it kinda rocking. even though it’s a sad song, so the guys listen to that and it’s coming in kinda swampy. What intrigues dudes. Or "It Ain’t You, It’s Me”—that to me is super-rocking, so I feel like a lot of dudes would like it ’cause of the solos.

So by putting out the sonic bait, guys hear all these smart songs about what girls think, or how girls feel or how to relate to girls.
A lot of dudes are very prideful. A lot of guy fans will come and be like, “Yeah, that song ‘Heaven’ is everything that my wife would want to hear into a song, and you did that, so thank you.” And I didn’t even write “Heaven,” but I’d be like, “Cool. Well, I was trying to do that here, but make it a little more masculine for y’all.”

“American Bad Dreamis a heavy song.

Did you feel you needed to do that?
Yeah, because I felt “Learning” was super-heavy as well. It was about my life. So I thought, “We need a ‘Learning, Part 2,’ but I want it to be what’s going on right now, because I don’t feel like enough people are talking about that.” I was really nervous of how people were going to take it, and how we would get that flip to let people understand what we were talking about. But after we finished, I was very confident with getting the right message out, basically saying, “Listen, the world used to not be like this; we need to stop being on the Left side or the Right side, the good cop and bad cop, and just meet in the middle. Just please realize what’s going on in America right now.” I was just like, “Wake me up from this American bad dream.”

It was a brave song. Are you at all concerned—because Carrie Underwood has a song called “Bullet”—about controversy, the NRA?
I’m not concerned about it. It might happen, but what does it matter? There’s people who talk about me right now, and I didn’t do anything, so what’s it going to matter if they come at me afterwards? I’m not saying that guns are good or that guns are bad. I’m just saying what’s going on, basically what the news has already told everybody. And I’m just saying, “Let’s figure something out.”

Do you think bouncing around schools gave you the sense of what schools are supposed to be
versus what they’re turning into?
That’s why in the first verse is about when I was a freshman. What most dudes worry about when they’re a freshman is losing their virginity. “Just working on grades and getting laid,” that’s what I said. If I had a kid right now, I wouldn’t want to take my kid to school. And I’m not saying it’s ’cause the NRA is allowing guns, I’m saying it’s because people are just being dumb. And my sense when I was writing this was that the devil is taking over and people aren’t realizing it—they’re jumping on sides. We need to find a way to meet in the middle. I was trying to fix it.

Your tat says “homesick”, and you’ve got a song called “Homesick.” Do they go together?

Which came first, the tattoo or the song?
The tattoo. I was going to get “love/hate” with hate marked out, but it was so generic, and my tattoo artist was like, “Dude, how about ‘homesick’ since you’re never home?” And I was like, “‘h-o-m-e-s-i-c-k’—cool; it fits!” Cuz I did it when I was on the road, and it just gave everybody [the idea for] a song title, so we wrote it.

Because you’re one of country’s first true viral artists, do you even believe in albums?
I do and I don’t. Right now, we’re not to the point where you can’t have an album. Especially for awards shows and everything in country music, the CMAs, the CMTs all that. I feel like eventually it’s going to go to singles; I just don’t know if we’re exactly there yet.

It feels like there’s a larger story going with Experiment, and not just 10 songs you thought were cool.
I have my radio songs that I know are going to be radio songs, then I have my songs I know are going to be streaming, that my fans are going to listen to. I always do that. That’s why I like “Short Skirt Weather”—that’s for Country radio. “It Ain’t You, It’s Me,” Country radio; “Good as You”—that’s both streaming and Country radio. “Baby Come Back to Me” is strictly for the album and streaming.

What defines the hardcore Kane Brown fan?
It doesn’t matter if the song’s on the radio or not; when you come to my show, you’re going to know every song that I’m about to play. “Used to Love You Sober” is platinum; “There Goes My Everything” is gold and never touched radio; “Found You” is gold too and never touched radio.

Do you feel like you make country music safe for people of all kinds of color?
I want people to realize you ain’t gotta judge a book by its cover—that’s my main thing. I don’t really care if black people want to come listen to me, but if they do, then I accept them. And they’re accepted in the format if they want to come sing it. That’s why I love Jimmie Allen coming out with his cut. I think my fans are going to eat him alive. I just feel like you—there’s more black people who like country music out there. If you want to come and sing, you should not be scared, just come on.

Do you think you’re changing people’s minds about that? Because one of the things that’s most interesting about you isn’t your color, but the fact you’re actually making country music. Your records have steel and fiddle.
I’m trying to bring the traditional aspect of instruments back into today’s country music and not use loop heads or fake drums. I was just basically trying to get back as close to that as possible while still sounding hip.

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