So Brown: The Trail that Leads to Creativity
Written by Rob Smittix on March 2, 2021
RRX: So Brown, as I’ve mentioned I am a huge fan of yours, so I know a bit about you and who you are as an artist but for our audience who may not have heard you yet please tell us about yourself and how you became the musician you are today. I know this can be a book but you know, the abridged version.
SB: I was born in Houston, Texas; my mom was a piano teacher so I was playing before I could speak. My teachers would try to steer me towards classical pieces which were fine and all, but I really loved rock n’ roll. I thought I was John Lennon reincarnated and dressed like him in 3rd grade. I was also gender non-conforming, which got me shunned by most of Texas society, so I spent a lot of time in nature by myself.
Decades later, with forays into punk rock in South Florida as a drummer, and rural Alabama playing old delta blues, I now live in Brooklyn NY as a multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter.
RRX: So, I know you’ve worked with multi-Grammy winner Norah Jones and from my recollection I believe you two are pretty good friends. With that being said she was lucky enough to work with you and certainly the other way around too.
SB: I remember the day she and I recorded my song August from my album Point Legere. We were together in Trout studios in Brooklyn. That song has two “characters” so to say in it, me the narrator, and a siren-like embodiment of Mother Nature, which was her. She was singing these stacks of vocal harmonies, layers, so totally precise in her pitch and melodic ideas, while also being free and sultry with the delivery. She’s brilliant, like a ninja master of singing, and it was definitely humbling but also lots of fun, to work with her.
RRX: Your music styling is diverse but certainly you are not known to be a rapper, however as I’ve told you before the first song that really pulled me in was a (rap) song entitled “The United States of Deprivation.” The song as I understood it, told a story around your life. From not being accepted for who you are to addiction and how the BP oil spill effected your home. Thank you for writing such a powerful song and I know you’ve got some new material on the way but if you could for a moment please tell us a bit about this song.
SB: Sure thing. I’ve always tried to be a servant of the music and to go wherever the songs lead, even when it is out of my comfort zone. This time the idea that came was a very raw rap song. I’d walk through the neighborhood speaking it out loud, working out the phrasing. I think I was listening to a lot of Lil Wayne at the time. And yes, to everything you said. Clearly, we are living in a very sick and troubled world- we are products of that world. I think it’s easy to point a finger at others and blame them, but in this song, I wanted to point the finger at myself and say, “yes, here I am, I am a part of this, here is my darkness”. Thanks for saying it resonated with you; it was painful for some of the people that care about me to hear it. I think there’s always this tendency in people, or at least in me, to gloss over the rough stuff and try to paint a pretty facade, but there’s a quote I’ve always really liked: the truth does not change according to my ability to stomach it. So here was my contribution.
As far as the oil spill, I don’t know if you have like a happy place/memory from childhood of a place in nature that you were totally in love with? The Gulf Coast is that for me. Now, it’s eerily quiet. No fish jumping. Barely any birds. People will say the beach is clean, but where is all the life? The life is the magic. The life is what interests me.
RRX: You’ve lived in various parts of the country. Have you found your surroundings alter what you think and write about? As a songwriter myself I imagine it would.
SB: My answer is: yes, totally! All of my favorite artists have a strong sense of place in their work, their landscape or setting if you will. Bjork- Iceland. William Faulkner- American South. Frida- Mexico. I do live in Brooklyn now, and recently bought a little place on a mountain in the Catskills. All of this “winter stuff” is new to me coming from the South.
I think all places have an energy to them, that can include why certain people are drawn to them. New York for example is super-charged, amped-up; a person can get rich and famous here but can also fail terribly. There’s also this incredible community that happens here. During the pandemic, all these street shows started popping up. I’d call my neighbors and we’d do a show on the corner, maybe with the upright bass player from downstairs, an accordion player from a couple blocks over…and all of a sudden, we had these new combinations of people who wouldn’t usually play together. With the whole block dancing and running around, uplifted in what was a very stressful time. For me, that is the magic of Brooklyn.
On a side note this makes me remember when I visited a “ghost town” in Arizona, like where they turn an old mining town into a tourist attraction. There was a fiddler, an old guy like out of a Western with a beard to his belly, busking. And I said, do you know the song Faded Love which Patsy Cline and Willie have covered but is by Bob Willis. And we had this magic moment in an abandoned ghost town. That’s the stuff I live for. And if I wasn’t telling you now, no one would have ever known!
RRX: So, the big question. What are you working on? I feel honored that you let me listen to a few unreleased tunes and I love the direction you are going in.
SB: With these new tracks, I was at a place where I was ready to step away from everything I thought I knew, both as a person and as an artist. To let go of all my old ideas and wander into the great unknown. Whereas before Ihad worked in a studio with live musicians to tape, now it was just me and producer Jack Mason, holed up for hours in Electric Lady Studios. The songs range in subject matter from, reaching a point of absolute defeat and therefore offering oneself to a kind of Goddess figure (Any Way You Please) (and BTW Rob I welcome your take on these), to the newest release, Attention, that echoes back to those lost Texas trails I spent so many hours biking, but the now, the grownup is lost and can’t get their bearings, their truth…It might not end well. But then again, maybe there are no bad endings, maybe we are all heading to the same place?