Rising Music Star Shawn Brown On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Music Industry
An Interview With Edward Sylvan
Write as many songs as you can and sing them loudly often. The best ideas will make themselves known through the feeling you get when the words come out of your mouth. You’ll know!
As a part of our series about rising music stars, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Shawn Brown.
Shawn Brown is a Portland-based singer, songwriter and sushiritto enthusiast. While his music has always buoyed between genres, he is most often associated with soul-based guitar pop but has always leaned heavily towards the rootsier side Rock & Roll. After an extended break from music, Shawn returned in 2021 with the extremely well-received ‘Angel of Oakland’ EP. Shawn is poised to build on that success with his newest single “Find Another Way” (available on all streaming platforms 7/29/22) which arrives ahead of his upcoming EP, ‘The Rain Parade’ (8/19/22). Enlisting the talents of Grecco Buratto (Shakira, Gwen Stafani, Pink) and Brendan Buckley (Shakira, Perry Farrell, Tegan and Sara), ‘The Rain Parade’ is undoubtedly the high-water mark of Shawn Brown’s recording career and serves as a love letter to the genres that he loves most.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thanks so much for having me! The short version is that I grew up in the Pacific Northwest; I was born in Seattle and we moved a few times before settling in Boise, ID for my high school years. I suppose it’s fair to say that we were a religious household, which made for a complicated upbringing. Music actually wasn’t a big thing in the house, although there were records. Lots of John Denver and the Beatles, which turned out to be pretty formative actually. We were encouraged to be creative…and be outside! That led my brother, sister and I to put on neighborhood “plays” in the garage, which I imagine went a long way to forming a sense of fun around performing. In many ways, I think my growing-up story is probably pretty indicative of many folks who grew up middle class in the 80s/90s. There weren’t cell phones and the internet didn’t show up for a while. We skated and rode the hell out of our bikes!
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
It’s funny to even think of this whole thing as a career — I’ve had so many starts and stops and right turns along the way. Music has just always been there. I was super lucky to have been living near Seattle in the late 80s as a kid. Those local bands were a big deal to us far before “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, that’s for sure. I have an older brother who ran in a super artistic crowd, so I was listening to cassette tape mixes with all the glorious alt-rock, post-punk of the day. Once I got a taste for the way all that music made me feel, it was all over. I wanted to listen all day — loudly! I also wanted to play it, it became my whole inner world. Not much had changed since then actually, I found that singing and writing music was the most efficient way to express…well everything. That’s why I still do it!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I mean, the first 10 years or so was literally one big comedy act. I had no idea what I was doing and was lucky to be surrounded by super enthusiastic friends who wanted this whole thing to work out worse than I did. There wasn’t one morsel of expertise in the bunch! But we all sure tried hard and had a good laugh along the way. I used to play every single show as if I was headlining a stadium, so embarrassing. I’d run out on stage at some coffee shop in Missoula or Kansa City and jump around like I was on stage at Wembley. So super glad there weren’t video phones yet in those days.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
The biggest thing on tap at the moment is the upcoming release of my new EP ‘The Rain Parade’. A whole lot of love went into that thing. There’s a limited edition vinyl variant in the mix too, which I’m so fired-up about. It’s a first for me, so dropping the needle down on those first test pressings was mind-blowing. I literally can’t wait for folks to hear what we’ve done.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in music, film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
I’m super appreciative that you have that lens. I’ll give you one big reason to start. True diversity in ALL fields is one of the quickest ways to defeat the “binary thinking trap” that is such a sickness at the moment. In the US, we are certainly suffering the insidious impacts that either/or and all types of binary thinking foster. It’s an easy trap to unwittingly fall into — that there’s a good or bad, wrong or right, Republican or Democrat.
We see it all the time, if there’s automatically a wrong by default in every equation, it pushes out the practice of accepenence. More importantly, the impulse to be curious about differences isn’t developed at all. In my mind, one of the greatest gifts of equitable representation in the arts (or anywhere else) has always been the potential to be curious. In my experience, the arts in general have often been ground zero for those types of connections to be made. Novels, stand-up comedy, visual art, dance…all of it. Psychologically, targeting pass/fail thinking really can allow people more room to be curious and maybe even less threatened by differences.
I suppose one step further would be that the default setting itself was to celebrate and honor diversity. That would be amazing. We’ve got miles to go on that one though. To that end, it also seems pertinent to acknowledge that I am commenting on a question around diversity through the privileges I receive by being male, white and heterosexual. I guarantee I have as much work as anyone else in building awareness around difference and endeavoring to be an ally to those who are fundamentally underrepresented.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- You don’t need to act like you are playing Wembley every single show…haha.
- Don’t be afraid of vulnerability. There are a lot of mixed messages out there about the types of songs that “sell” and most of those messages are toxic nonsense. Just write what you feel, even if it’s scary — In fact, lean in most when it’s scary. Something cool is about to happen!
- Write as many songs as you can and sing them loudly often. The best ideas will make themselves known through the feeling you get when the words come out of your mouth. You’ll know!
- The music “business” isn’t a business. I spent far too much time over my career trying to “crack the code” of the music business only to find out that it’s not actually a real or viable entity. Far better to spend the time writing the best songs you can and playing them to as many people as possible, the rest of it isn’t in your control anyway.
- Be authentic. Every person you meet, play with, write with, talk shop with, interview…everyone is (most likely) doing their best. The stakes aren’t ever as high as you feel that are, so just be YOU and enjoy people.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
That’s a really, really tough one considering the impact the pandemic has had on music and touring. There’s a relative sense of desperation that a lot of musicians are feeling right now. It’s just a hard go at the moment. Maybe there’s room for gratitude in there somewhere though. In order to thrive, we probably all need as much fuel as we can get from as many places as we can find it. Gratitude is as good a place as any to start!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
While it might sound super cliche, I think I’d probably want to inspire people to be as ‘in the present’ as humanly possible. You can take all of the Mindfulness chat anyway you want, but for me I come at it from more of a pragmatic place. Factually, most of our anxiety and sadness lives either in the past or future. There’s almost never anything problematic happening RIGHT NOW. Therefore, why not spend more time in the RIGHT NOW. It’s pretty cool here. However you choose to get here, is all you. Take a walk, smile at someone walking down the street, throw on your favorite song, meditate…do you.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
That’s a fantastic question. Mentorship is big! It requires humility too, for both the giver and receiver. Pass it on, people. I’ve had a number of tremendously giving people shepard me along over the years. While I won’t mention him by name (it would embarrass him to no end), I will say that likely my most impactful mentor has always been the hardest on me. He’s always towed the line between a bit of encouragement and direct high-impact feedback. Sometimes the feedback hurts, which is OK too. I’ve listened to every word, that’s for sure.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Here’s another zinger of a question. I’ve already talked a lot about vulnerability, but that’s totally where my head is these days. I like when Brene Brown says things like “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” It just always seemed true to me. That — and John Mellencamp’s famous “Rock’n’roll starts between the legs and goes through the heart, then to the head. As long as it does those three things, it’s a great rock song” line. Equally true.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
I think my wife would kill me if I didn’t say Barack Obama, so I’ll have to go with that. If Michelle is free that day, she’d be most welcome. If not the Obamas, maybe Paul Westerburg is free?
How can our readers follow you online?
All the important stuff can be found here — https://linktr.ee/shawnbrownsings!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!
Thanks again for having me.