Mai: Miles talks about Paris being a place where he felt like a human being for the first time.
Austin: Oh, yeah. Because it's true. In America I think sometimes we tend to be more judgmental of our artists. Whereas overseas, especially in Paris, they appreciate your presence. I would say, it's such a beautiful city. It's so cultured and it exudes love. And so all of that creates a good artistic environment for anybody.
Mai: What inspired your trip there?
Austin: I went to Paris for the first time when I was a kid. My mom was doing some work out there. I always just loved the city. And it became a part of who I was. Luckily when I released Highway 85 and other songs in the last several years, I gained a little bit of a following out there. So it all kind of came together. I ended up doing acoustic shows. Really small theaters. Luckily people have showed up. That's why I shot the video out there too.
Mai: Talk to me a little bit about the creative process behind the Smile video and how the concept came about?
Austin: It was true Guerilla-style. The song is about coming to grips with a heartbreak or a loss--but at the same time, wanting to find a point of reconciliation. And being in Paris is the best way to try to get someone back [laughs]. So the whole theme of the video was just kind of looking beyond the aspect of being sad and feeling loss and finding hope. My friend Ellen (who appears in the video) happened to be down there at the same time. So she did the video and it kind of all just worked out.
There's a scene where after one of my shows, we went outside and sang Smile. We had like this Kumbaya moment with everybody. It just kind of came together organically. I wish I had a cooler story.
Mai: Some of the best work happens that way sometimes.
Austin: Yeah, it really does.
Mai: Just going back to Miles for a minute, I would say, my favorite album from him is Sorcerer. And my sister loves Bitches Brew.
Austin: Oh, so y'all like the psychedelic shit.
Mai: Oh, yeah.
Austin: I love the psychedelic shit too. In the 60s after he started hanging out with Sly Stone--that's when his shit really got turnt up. And he was married to that woman...I was just listening to her...what's her name? It was her that changed his direction. She changed him completely!
Mai: It was her?! I think he would resent that!
Austin: No! But you know what--she had a big influence on him. It's like the Erykah Badu thing. You women, you guys, have powers beyond.
Mai: That's what they tell us. The psychedelic sound...what about that appeals to you?
Austin: I love fusion. Anything that doesn't sound like it should go together. I love Blues. And to me psychedelic music, it kind of lives in all those worlds. You have sounds that are kind of molding together that sound like they don't belong. But at the same time you have a lot of grooves, a lot of funk, a lot soul, a lot of homage to [various genres]. It's all about the shit that you put into it. ...Betty Davis! That's her name (the wife who changed Miles' musical direction). I knew it would come to me.
Mai: Funkadelic, too right?
Austin: Of course Funkadelic. I mean, you can't say you're a fan of James Brown and not like Funkadelic. [James] basically invented that genre and then it was cats like George Clinton and Parliament that really took it to the next level. If you take James Brown and Sly Stone and you put them in a blender, that's Funkadelic, right there.
Mai: I would agree with that. Are you familiar with the British artist Lewis Taylor?
Austin: Nah who's that?
Mai: Oh my God. He sort of dropped out of the industry in the late 90s. But he's in the genre of fusion we're talking about--like you can hear Crosby, Stills and Nash in him--
Austin: Yasss…those are my guys too.
Mai: Yeah, you can hear like Prince and Marvin in him...He's just everybody.
Austin: Oh, nice.
Mai: So in listening to your interviews, you're an artist who really, really respects process. You talk about the need to invest time in developing your craft. It's something a lot of artists overlook in their haste to present themselves to the marketplace.
Austin: They get a lil' leary.
Mai: I wanted to get your POV on how you've developed your process, so many artists don't know how to access their own creativity. What has process been like over the years--just mastering your craft.
Austin: That's a good question. I think it goes in spurts. I was actually just talking to my production partner. There's times where I'm making a song a day. And then there will be a few months where I don’t touch anything. I think it’s just really about listening to yourself, to your body, listening to your heart. And at the same time when you're not making songs, you should be researching, listening to what's going on right now, listening to what happened in the past. It's really that moment of when you have something going on that you can't keep it inside, you have to put it out, you have to tell a story--the more life happens the more you have something to say. And then also, collaborating with great people--that's how you get better. That's the biggest thing. I have a lot of cats that I collaborate with. My friends are all musicians, producers and we all respect each other. So that’s a huge component when it comes to making music for me.
Mai: Can you talk a little bit about the Canyon Sessions [the album]?
Austin: Canyon Sessions is an acoustic album. Also a ballad album. I had a lot of emotional situations that have happened within the last few years. Loss of family, heartbreak. Just self-discovery. The songs on that body of work really represent what I've been through for the past four and a half years. I'm in a better place now, an excited place. And that's what this new work that I'm finishing now is going to be about.
Mai: I definitely noticed a shift to more acoustic sounds with you. Did that emanate from a feeling or was it a conscious choice?
Austin: It was both. Having to scale back, but still doing shows. Doing acoustic shows was not only a great way of continuing to go forward but it was the way I was writing songs and telling stories--the way easiest for me to emote was through my guitar and so that's kind of where the whole sound came from.
Mai: What's some advice that you would give to an emerging artist with regards to some basic business practices?
Austin: Don't be quick to sign contracts just to say you're signed because being signed doesn't really mean anything. It just means that your rights belong to someone else. Also, have a great attorney who will always look out for you and have an exit clause--if things don't work out. Give yourself some leverage.
...I always tell artists, most new producers are really laptop based which is totally cool, because the laptops and the computer is it's own instrument but I think it's important to have both. Whether it's learning C Major chords on the piano or the guitar--learn something musical because that will help you a lot.
Mai: Is that something you encounter a lot--musicians who aren't playing instruments?
Austin: Oh, yeah. A good friend of mine. He really doesn't know how to make a ballad. He told me, like, he doesn't do it because he's a laptop producer. It's blows my mind...
Mai: It's blows my mind. I didn't even know that was a thing. Could you talk a little bit about the Canyon Sessions [live shows]?
Austin: Well a buddy of mine, he's actually across the street from me. We live near this sort of hippie area called the Canyon. And his house is perfect to kind of showcase work. We were talking one day, like, we need to do a show here. So we said why don't we try to do something, some acoustic shows and we'll call them the Canyon Sessions. So we started calling friends of ours and the first one ended up being super successful! So we just kind of kept doing it, kept putting people together, inviting a wide range of artists.
The concept of it is, if you had to make music with the power out. So, there's no microphones, nothing but instruments and voices. There's no electricity.
Austin: And it's really cool. And my main rule is, whoever attends Canyon Sessions can't talk. You're there to hear musicians and it's there for people to network and get together. The first one we had started off with about thirty people there and we just had one a couple weeks ago and we had over one hundred people--so it's just taken on a life of it's own. It's really been awesome.
Mai: How did it grow?
Austin: It's been word of mouth. We also have a pretty big email list now.
Mai: What kind of music has come out of some of those sessions?
Austin: Oh, gosh. We've had rappers performing with upright bassists and acoustic guitarists. We've had an R&B Rock band. We've had a couple beautiful songstresses who are acoustic soul artists. Jenna Bell, Dana Williams--just the most beautiful music. We've had my buddy Corey Robinson who sounds like the dude in the bar who's just up there singing his heart out after a long day of work. It's just--I love the talent, the artists that we have there. It's a special moment. My buddy Evan Ross has played there with me. His wife Ashlee Simpson. It's been really, really cool. It's just a community where you can come and perform great music for a group of listeners who actually want to hear it.
Mai: How has the challenge of performing acoustically impacted your style as an artist?
Austin: Hugely. Because when you just have yourself and an instrument it’s becomes about emoting personally. It's kind of like you're doing stand up. You're just coming from the heart.
Follow Austin Brown on Twitter, Facebook and IG for updates on his upcoming Summer Tour and his new album. His most recent project Canyon Sessions is available on Spotify.
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