"Whether it is playing piano for church, musically directing theater, or just performing at bar gigs I would rather be doing that than have a full-time job that I'm not passionate about."
Brennan Villines does things with passion, and those things usually involve music. Most recognizable from his appearance on FOX's The Four, he is now continuing to make a splash on the scene with his latest music video, "Better Than We've Ever Been," premiering exclusively on Popdust. In addition to sharing some photos from the set of the video's shoot, Villines also spoke to us about his journey thus far, explaining how important music has been in his life.
Watch the "Better Than We've Ever Been" Video Below...
How did you become interested in music?
My mom put me in piano lessons when I was 3-years-old. She noticed that I took interest when I was a kid always going up to it and playing. I actually would hum the pitches correctly. She took piano when she was younger and knew that I might potentially do well with some lessons. I studied with professionals from then on and ended up getting a scholarship in Classical Piano Performance to the University of Memphis. It was in Memphis where I developed into the artist I am today. Music and arts are a thriving part of the history and future of Memphis and I am glad to have spent 12 years of my life there evolving into who I am today.
Courtesy of Big Machine Media
You are originally from a small town in Kentucky. Do you think this influenced your music in any ways?
Yes. There isn't a lot to do in Dixon, Kentucky (or many small towns for that matter) besides hunting and farming, sports or outdoor activities. In fact, the only arts that my school offered at the time were basic music courses, marching band, and a theater department that was unfortunately dissolved before I even reached high school. I traveled for 30 minutes to an hour different ways to be involved in community theater, music lessons, etc. I participated in just about every sport available and always knew that music was going to be the path that I would go down. I was only good at basketball at an early age because I was taller than everyone else LOL.
Most people probably discovered you through your appearances on Fox's The Four. What was that experience like for you?
Being on The Four felt like home because I have been doing this for a very long time. I've been a professional performing artist for most of my adult life. To me, it was more than just another gig, it was a platform for me to finally show millions what I can do. It also turned into a platform to express the struggles that I have experienced in my life and journey. I came out about my journey with a meth addiction and learning that I was HIV-positive. I did that because that part of my life, as hard as it was, did not destroy me and I am better having gone through that. A lot of people deal with these issues and stigmas surrounding them, so I thought it was important to be open about that. I believe that it is an artist's duty to empower people and reflect positivity.
Courtesy Big Machine Media
What inspired the video for "Better Than We've Ever Been"?
I was living in Memphis in 2016 and I had just come home from a very historic and significant Black Lives Matter march in downtown Memphis. It was that evening in July 2016 that I sat at my piano and wrote the song. 2016 was a very politically charged year for our country. With the upcoming election, polar divide of society/political party affiliation, police brutality, and countless tragedies that we were dealing with as a nation, I decided to make art of it. The song simply means we are better together. Besides writing it under that influence, the song applies to my life in various ways. Drug addictions, relationships, etc, and I think many can apply it to different situations in their lives.
The video features you in some interesting and fun situations. Did you have any favorite scenes to shoot?
My director Drew Fleming and I decided to make the video not political. Instead, we shot it having me wake up and go about my day with minor things happening that usually make all of our days a little bit annoying (stubbing your toe, spilling coffee, etc.) and then turning into disaster and stress. Kind of like the saying, "They woke up on the wrong side of the bed." My favorite scene is the ending when we are all at my gig that I am trying to get to throughout the whole video. It's a dance scene in one of Memphis's most famous places to party called "Raiford's disco", owned by one of my dear friends Paula Raiford. It's a legendary dive bar that plays a variety of music, encourages inclusiveness, and also you can drink 40s while dancing (on) a lighted dance floor. I invited all of my friends to come and be a part of the shoot and it was a blast.
Courtesy Big Machine Media
Some of your music is inspired by a difficult point in your life. How did using music help you to get through these times?
Music is really the only thing that I know how to do well ha ha. Whether it is been playing piano for church, musically directing theater, or just performing at bar gigs I would rather be doing that than have a full-time job that I'm not passionate about. I have held a handful of 9-to-5 jobs and I simply cannot operate in them. There was a point when I got done with rehab that I try to reset my life and put music to the side by getting a regular job. I learned very quickly that that was not the answer and I've been pursuing music harder ever since.
You have also released your debut solo album this year. What was the writing and recording process for the record like?
I have recorded several projects in the past that I am very proud of but this project is a defining moment in my life. I am very proud of the honesty on this EP. Most of the songs are about the ups and downs of the last 10 years of my life. I have had a lot of help with this record. About two years ago I was performing at a very special venue in Memphis called Molly Fontaine lounge. It was there that I actually got my start performing live in Memphis about 12 years ago. I was playing with my trio, and my former drummer, Benny Reiner who had started that gig with me years ago and who had moved to NYC years earlier was in town visiting.
Awestruck after not hearing me play in a few years, he pulled me aside after my performance, and said "Man what the f**k are you doing here?" He meant no disrespect from his comment, but rather encouragement like, why am I not doing more with my music? I had actually become fairly comfortable in Memphis. I was able to perform and make a living and live a great lifestyle but I wasn't doing as much as I could. That one night prompted me to begin traveling to NYC over the next year and a half and the result is this EP.
We recorded most of the record in Benny's apartment in New York. Some of the production for my upcoming song "Kaleidoscope" was done in Memphis at a legendary studio, Young Ave Sound, where I held a space with my good friend and drummer, Ryan Peel. Ryan, with the help of producer Scott Hardin and writer Nicole Boggs crafted that song. It comes out very soon when the rest of the EP drops. On that note, many of my good friends have participated in the curation and crafting of this project both on the recording and live performing side including phenomenal musicians, Neal Bowen, Claude Hinds, Alex Kramer, and David Parks. I am so very grateful that my job is to make music with some of my best friends. I now reside in NYC and have recently formed a record label, Rockasaurus Records, with my producer and long-time friend, Benny Reiner.
Courtesy Big Machine Media
What else is coming up next for you?
I really don't know and that is the freakishly exciting part ha ha. We have some exciting things in the works that I will release news of soon but I know that once the EP drops we will be releasing some live performance dates. We have been continuing to make music through the whole process of this release and will continue with the release of music on a regular basis. I am very excited for some upcoming collaborations as well as remixes to some existing works. If you will be in the NYC area on September 23 you can see me play at Rockwood Music Hall at 6 PM with Nicole Boggs and the Reel.
Rachel A.G. Gilman is a writer, a former radio producer, and probably the girl wearing the Kinks shirt. She is the creator of The Rational Creature and suggests you check it out. Also visit her website for more.
Have an artist we should profile? Send a pitch email to Rachel.
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