Country music singer-songwriter Brandon Stansell is breaking new ground in an industry slow to change with an album that is arguably one of the first of its kind. Slow Down, his first full-length album released in October, details Stansell's journey coming out.
"It's nice to shatter the illusion that only straight people listen to or like country music, and there exists an audience of listeners who want to feel represented in the genre they love," he told PopCulture.com in an exclusive interview.
The album was made available after a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised just over $30,000 for the project. It comes on the heels of an EP that was positively received. But he is hardly new to music, having secured his first professional job at 6 years old in an Opryland show.
"Once I had a taste of what it was like to be on stage, I never really looked back. I have done so many odds and ends performing jobs over the years — singing, dancing, acting — and I feel like they all led up to the moment when I decided to take the plunge and start writing my own music," Stansell said.
The result has been deeply personal songs that tell the story of Stansell coming out and all the emotions that came with it. Listeners relate to it, particularly the track "Hometown."
"'Hometown,' although written specifically about me and my coming out experience, seems to resonate with people in a way I wasn't expecting. I don't think I am in a minority of people with strained family relationships but I realize it's not something everyone wants to write or sing about. So, when people tell me they see themselves in this song and hearing it makes them feel less alone in this world — that is the most rewarding part," Stansell explained.
That feeling was likely only amplified when Stansell released his latest music video, "Spare Change," which features a couple of different ethnic and religious backgrounds finding love in a divided world. But how was the video received in a music community that's mostly known for its conservative, Christian leanings, as well as its conservative fans?
"For the most part, the responses to the 'Spare Change' video have been positive," he said. "My intention with the video is not to divide but to unite, and if anyone sees it and is kinder to one stranger, especially someone who doesn't look like them — then I'm happy."
Another music video for the album's title track represents yet another romantic pairing that, while more representative of Stansell's life, is not seen in country music: a gay couple.
The songwriter notes that in addition to fans being able to relate to his personal lyrics, there's the added benefit of showcasing the lesser-known side of the country music community and its fandom.
It's Stansell's convictions, experience and commitment to represent the LGBTQ community that has already made him a strong advocate, particularly in an underrepresented arena like country music.
"I always tell people I am equally passionate about advocacy as I am about my music — sometimes I feel as if my songs are just a bridge to reach the people I so desperately want to talk to," he admitted.
Stansell said he hopes to be able to transform his own, sometimes painful, experiences into art that helps others who are struggling.
"I grew up in small-town Tennessee and coming out for me was what you might expect — a hard back and forth between people who were supposed to love you the most choosing religion over love, compassion, and understanding. I have spent most of my adult life fighting to get out from under all the bad that happened to me and somehow turn my hurt into helping others," he explained.