Back in the golden era of Nashville, when Music City was pumping out one country superstar after another on the assembly line, there were rules when it came to interviews. You were polite. You were uncontroversial. You behaved yourself, smiled on cue and didn’t answer a question with anything remotely interesting. That’s how the machine worked.
Kane Brown is not a machine guy.
Perhaps achieving massive commercial success over the past five years has given him a certain level of confidence. It’s got to make you feel pretty on top of things when you land your first two albums (2016’s Kane Brown and 2018’s Experiment) at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Albums chart. Or when you go platinum with three different singles (“Used To Love You Sober,” “What Ifs,” “Heaven”). Or when one of those singles, “What Ifs,” hit No. 1 on five separate country charts simultaneously. Or when you win three American Music Awards and a CMT Award.
That’s a long way from being a guy who posted videos of himself singing various country covers on Facebook to get a few likes, which is where the Tennessee-born Brown started back in 2014. But whatever the reason, Brown is one of the most honest country stars you’ll speak to.
“It’s a better album than my first one,” Brown says of Experiment. “And I think that’s about me not caring what anyone else thinks. This time, I was the quarterback in this writing process. We had the same writers we did as the last album, and I was working with a lot of the same people, but they were getting different stuff from me than they did before.”
That “different stuff” means that the album mixes in a lot of influences from outside of country music. There are catchy pop choruses, rock ‘n’ roll guitars and hip-hop beats. In fact, there are more than a few moments when the music doesn’t much resemble traditional country at all, other than some occasional fiddle and banjo and Brown’s deep twangy burr of a voice. Bluntly, it resembles what snarkier music fans might call bro-country, a watered-down, radio-friendly genre that sells like hotcakes.
But Brown doesn’t much care care.
“I only care what my fans think,” he says, “because they’re the ones listening to me. If I start caring what critics think, then that’s when I start changing who I am.”
That might sound like sour grapes, but Experiment has actually gotten decent reviews from Rolling Stone (three-and-a-half stars) and AllMusic (four stars), with the only obvious dissent coming from the Saving Country Music site, which posted that "Experiment is nothing more than fleeting, vacuous, unimaginative, safe, pallid American mass consumer generic entertainment.”
Besides, if you believe Brown, he doesn’t read many reviews, or social media comments.
“I check the recent reviews of the shows because I like the feedback of how we’re doing,” he offers, “but I don’t pay any attention to the comments sections.”
And it doesn’t actually seem to matter to Brown if his music is considered country or not — a familiar debate these days, as supporters of the Sturgill Simpsons and Chris Stapletons doing battle with backers of the Luke Bryans and the Jason Aldeans. But Brown seems to have zero interest in the current state of country.
“I don’t really know where country music is right now, honestly,” he says. “I’m just trying to do my thing and stay relevant.”
Brown does hope you come see him live at the Colonial Life Arena.
“I can say I’m really excited about my live show now,” he declares. “I wasn’t two years ago, or even last year. We’ve gotten better. Our production has come a long way; it’s awesome now. We’re more energetic. There’s not a dull moment.”
And what’s the reason behind his onstage improvement?
“I think it was me still learning,” he says. “I realized that I wasn’t what I wanted to be yet. I looked at it as a job back then; I wasn’t having fun. I was worried about what people thought of me. I was worried about every hater. Now I feel like you can say anything you want to about me and it doesn’t matter. I’m going to keep being me.”
I feel compelled to tell Brown at the end of our conversation that he seemed to be quite a straightforward, no-bulls#!t kind of person. He’s not surprised.
“I say what’s on my mind,” he says. “It’s just how I’ve learned to deal with life.”