‘Hometown’ singer Brandon Stansell returns for CMA Fest
In Nashville, June means festivals galore. Pride is our favorite, of course, but none of June’s festivals is more Nashville than CMA Fest. For the last few years, though, thanks to Ty Herndon, in partnership with GLAAD and others, a little bit of pride has snuck its way into this most Country of events.
The 2018 Concert for Love and Acceptance is scheduled for June 7 at the Wildhorse Saloon in Nashville, taking place the night after the *CMT Music Awards*. This concert as always will feature a coalition of artists and celebrities appearing and performing to accelerate acceptance for the LGBTQ community. Ty Herndon and CMT’s Cody Alan will host, and the event will feature performances by Herndon, as well as Terri Clark, Cassadee Pope, Michael Ray, Calum Scott, Brandon Stansell, and more.
This year, to preview the concert, we caught up with Stansell, an out gay country singer with deep roots in Tennessee. Stansell grew up in Chattanooga, but he’s no stranger to Nashville.
“I was one of those Opryland kid performers,” he explained, laughing. “So, yeah, I spent a lot of time in Nashville as a kid, and then I moved to Nashville when I was 18 and went to Belmont. I lived there for about a year after school, and then I was in New York for about three years, before I moved out to the West Coast about five years ago. I've been out here ever since then. I love Nashville, but you'd have to drag me away kicking and screaming to get me to leave Los Angeles!”
His heart may now live in Los Angeles, but it was while in Nashville that he first came out and came to terms with himself. “I was 22. I was in college,” he recalled. “I'd been dating a guy for about a year before I ended up coming out to my family and friends. I was actually very thankful for that experience, because I don't credit myself with a lot of courage. It took actually really being in love with someone to make it feel worth it… The people that just come out of their own volition, just trying to be authentic ... Those are the people I am in awe of, I guess.”
Stansell: Now we're just starting on the Pride circuit. We're starting with Long Beach this weekend, doing a show on Sunday. We're doing a couple little pre-performance things on Friday and Saturday over there. Then I think the next big Pride show is Kentuckiana Pride in June. Between that, we have Nashville ... a show at the Cambria Hotel on the June 5, 2018, and the Concert for Love and Acceptance show on the June 7!
Grady: I understand that. You definitely ... At what point during your experience did you come out or have that experience?
Stansell’s experience with that was sadly not out of the ordinary. “People get the question after they come out, ‘Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you ever talk to me?’ I think the deep-rooted answer to that question is, ‘Because we know how you would react… We knew that your perception of us would change and we knew that our relationship would change, and we didn't want that.’ I knew that of my family, a lot of my friends, so when I did eventually come out, everything that I knew would happen, did. It was really hard. It's taken a long time to kind of get past that…”
Despite the difficulties he faced, Stansell believes that his experience has shaped him in ways he is proud of. And of course it has shaped his music. “You gotta write what you know, so I write a lot about my own personal experiences,” he explained. “There's a song on my record called ‘Hometown’, which is pretty much my coming out story and my feelings on that. I write about love and relationships gone good and bad. I kind of write about all the facets of my life, and being gay is a big part of who I am, so that naturally comes out in the music.”
One of the biggest hurdles in his career, Stansell said, was embracing himself as a writer. “Then,” he added, “I went through this horrible break-up about four or five years ago, and suddenly had all these things to write about. I did this concept record through that break-up, and I flipped that out in 2015. It kind of did two things for me. It was just like a cathartic experience of being able to almost journal about my feelings and put that in writing… But it also really did show me that I could write music.”
“My passion for writing grew from there,” he added, “and I've just kind of been rolling along ever since, trying to write about my experiences and write the music that I wanna put out into the world and that I think people wanna hear, and just trying to get better at it.”
Music is hard work, and the business side is the hardest in some ways. Stansell has been hard at work independently producing his own music for years. “I've worked with a couple of different producers. It's nice to do that 'cause you get a different take and a different ear on your work” he said. “It's been really helpful to kind of try to use different people to develop my own unique sound, but up until now everything's been a product of my own making, which is really nice, because it gets to be exactly what I want it to be. That's something I'm very proud of.
Stansell is currently working on a number of projects, including a new song for the summer. “We're still kind of tweaking it and figuring out how to really make it work, 'cause it's a little bit different that anything that I've done before. It's called ‘For You,’ and it will probably come out in late June. It's a lot more pop country than anything I've put out, something really fun. It's upbeat for the summer.”
On top of that, he’s working on a fun YouTube series that should start coming out soon. “We have a little cover series that I'm working on. The first video's about to come out. It's basically just kind of a way for me to reconnect with other artists—have them cover my music and get to talk to them, get to know them a little bit!”
“The first one that we're gonna put out is myself and Ty Herndon,” he added. “He's covering ‘Slow Down.’ He’s actually featured on the record, but he's actually covering it in this video, which is really fun to see. Then we do a little Q&A. I wasn't really sure how the format was gonna work out, but I'm really extra-excited to put them out 'cause I love to talk. It was fun to connect and just kind of banter back and forth on camera.”
“We just filmed the second one with Natalie Stovall a few weeks ago,” he said. “Natalie and I have known each other since we were kids. We worked at Opryland together for a long time but really haven't been in touch too much as we've gotten older. That was really fun, to reconnect and hear her sing my music and get to talk to her again.”
While Stansell is, for now, not a household name in country music, his career has definitely been on a path of steady growth. “My career path has been kind of a slow-burn,” he observed. “I'm doing more this year than I was last year, and more last year than I was the year before. I'm just trying to make things that I'm proud of and that I think other people will like and putting those things out into the world… This is what I'm doing for the rest of my life, and no matter at what level, at least I'm doing something that I love.”