Home Featured Kane Brown on New Album ‘Different Man’: Interview – Billboard

Kane Brown on New Album ‘Different Man’: Interview – Billboard

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“Everything in my job just feels different now,” says Kane Brown, on the eve of release of his third full-length album, Different Man, out tomorrow (Sept. 9).

For one thing, Brown stepped into the co-producer role for the first time, helping meld the country, pop, R&B, hard rock and hip-hop variants that have vibrated throughout his music since his 2016 eponymous debut studio album, and through its successor Experiment, which bowed atop the all-genre Billboard 200 albums chart in 2018.

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But his new role took a lot of time, patience and willingness to let the music lead. “We went from a demo to a master recording to redoing everything,” he explains. “I was listening to the album and not liking the sounds. For example, with ‘Nothin’ I’d Change,’ I really wanted it to sound like Motown at first. We had a lot of strings on it, but after listening to it, it was way too theatrical. We kept revamping things, working and finding the sound I’ve been looking for, adding in more rock and country sounds and all of that affects how I perform onstage and put my show together.”

Brown is the rare artist who can effortlessly toggle between major country trailblazer (in 2017, Brown became the first artist to simultaneously top all five major Billboard country charts) and pop hitmaker, having collaborated outside the country sphere with hitmakers like Khalid, H.E.R., Becky G and Marshmello. Sony Music Nashville and RCA Records have worked in tandem to promote different songs in different areas, and the work has paid off. On Aug. 28, Brown became the first male country artist to perform at the MTV Video Music Awards, where he performed another song from the new album, the R&B-soaked “Grand.”

“That meant a lot to me, because that’s been my main focus, to open doors for other artists,” Brown says.

However, Brown first gained an audience through covering primarily songs made popular by neo-traditionalist country artists including Chris Young and Randy Travis. On Different Man, Brown rededicates himself to those early country influences and weaves them throughout the album, as evidenced by his recent eighth Billboard Country Airplay chart leader, “Like I Love Country Music,” which works in ‘90s country sounds (and namechecks). Brown first recorded the song in 2019, then re-entered the studio with producer Dann Huff to include it on Different Man, with guest vocals from Brooks & Dunn. Brown opens and closes the project with odes to his Georgia roots with “Bury Me in Georgia” and “Dear Georgia” (Brown was raised in the rural northern Georgia and the Chattanooga, Tennessee areas).

He also layers his new album with hard-edged songs such as “Riot,” a song he’s held onto since 2015: “That was the first time I met AKON and it was [one of his artists] who had the song and they gave it to me to share on Facebook when I was doing all of that. It kind of went viral but we never released it. The sound is just so crazy to it, and I took it to Dann and he just lifted that rock edge to it — and now I feel like it’s a masterpiece.”

As a biracial artist and a multi-genre hitmaker, Brown also finds himself in a unique position to address topics through his music that are infrequently approached within the modern country music sphere — but it’s through that hard-fought lens that a swath of the population can feel their own stories reflected.

On “Learning” from his debut album, Brown disclosed the childhood abuse, racism and prejudice he’s endured, while also singing about losing friends to drugs and gun violence. “American Bad Dream” from Experiment addressed gun violence, while “For My Daughter” revealed Brown’s dedication to being the best father he can be, after growing up without his own father in his life (Brown’s father has been incarcerated since 1996).

Even “Bury Me in Georgia,” which finds Brown meditating on a final resting place, might seem a curious inclusion for any other artist not having yet reached the age of 30. But as someone who pursued his music career while watching friends lose their lives to drugs and gun violence — and who weathered the death of his friend and drummer Kenny Dixon in a car accident in 2019 — Brown brings a weightiness and wisdom to the lyric.

On Different Man, Brown again addresses his family lineage in “Pop’s Last Name,” this time honoring the maternal grandfather Brown says “was literally the only father figure I really had in my life. He took me to baseball games, took me fishing. He was a really sweet guy, always there for me and stood up for me.”

Brown doesn’t abandon his collaborative penchant on the new project, teaming with Blake Shelton on the title track, an ode to recognizing that some people are just irrevocably drawn to making music, performing and living the artist life.

“I was driving to the gym — that’s where I really have time to think and listen,” he says of bringing in Shelton on the song. “I wanted one more feature on the album, and Blake was the first person I thought of. The song just reminded me of the ‘God’s Country’ kind of Blake Shelton, so I felt like it made sense.”

The project’s other feature is the smooth pop ballad “Thank God,” his first recorded collaboration with his wife Katelyn Brown.

“She doesn’t want to be an artist — she just loves singing,” Brown explains. “She’s always singing around the house and her voice is beautiful. We’ve been looking for songs and probably went through about five of them before we got this one from one of my writers at [publishing company] Verse 2 and it was supposed to be a solo song. We changed it to a duet, and she fell in love this song. Personally, I think it is the biggest song off the record.”

Though collaborations like “What Ifs” with Lauren Alaina and “One Thing Right” with Marshmello have given Brown some of his biggest chart hits, he still harbors more collaborative ambitions. “Honestly, I keep saying my boy Jason Aldean, I’d love to have a song with him,” he says. “I’ve been wanting to do one with Jack Harlow. But honestly, I’m down for whoever as long as it makes sense and we can get something that’s gonna work.”

Brown previously opened shows on Aldean’s 2019 Ride All Night Tour, and says he gleaned wisdom in picking his own tour openers. Later this month, Brown will embark on his international Drunk or Dreaming Tour, which will include his first headlining tour dates in Australia and New Zealand, as well as his return to Canada and Europe. Next year, he will bring the tour stateside, welcoming openers Dustin Lynch, Gabby Barrett and LOCASH.

“I found that out in the early days when I was on tour with Aldean — the importance of having artists out with you that have similar fanbases, but also artists that you can really hang with, before or after the show,” Brown says.

Given his new collaboration with his wife Katelyn, Brown says fans can expect to hear them perform “Thank God” during his upcoming shows. Under the name Katelyn Jae, she previously recorded pop songs including 2014’s “24KT.” The couple first met in 2015, while Katelyn was living in Orlando.

“We’ll have a nanny that can watch the kids while they are sleeping, and then Katelyn can be onstage and sing with me,” he says. “We’ll do ‘Thank God,’ and she’ll sing Lauren’s part on ‘What Ifs.’ Katelyn hasn’t done anything musically since she left Orlando, so we just gotta get her bearings, like learning how to use the in-ears [monitors] onstage. She’s never used those before.”

Beyond his own hit songs, Brown has steadily worked to build his musical empire. Brown is signed to Sony Music Nashville and worked with the company to launch his own label imprint, 1021 Entertainment, last year. He followed with the launch of Verse 2 (in conjunction with Sony Music Publishing Nashville and longtime music publishing executive Kent Earls). His first signing to 1021 Entertainment was Restless Road (Brown previously worked with the trio’s members during a stint on The X Factor, and they opened for his 2019 tour), while his writer roster at Verse 2 includes “One Mississippi” co-writer Levon Gray, as well as Josh Hoge (“One Thing Right,” “Used to Love You Sober”) and Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer Rivers Rutherford.

“We’re just sticking to it and even with Restless Road right now, it’s been a bit of a grind,” Brown says. “They came in during this pandemic and they finally got their first song out to country radio [“Growing Old With You”], which was a huge step forward. I do think we kind of messed up taking a slow song [to radio] in the summer, but the song was amazing and they still get crazy feedback. We’re working on new music and getting them out on the road with other artists and just pushing forward,” he says. He’s also evolving his business ventures beyond music, having recently begun a management relationship with boxer Ryan Martin.

“Jake Paul and Logan Paul and the whole TikTok thing were really getting boxing underway,” Brown says. “My buddy Ryan reached out to me and I signed him and just wanted to help him with connections and things.”

For now, though, Brown’s predominant focus is returning to the road, bringing new music to fans, and ultimately, broadening and diversifying country music’s listenership.

“I just love bringing different fanbases together that you would never see together,” Brown says. “The key is that I’m not forcing anything. It just makes sense for me.