Music wasn’t always a top priority for singer/songwriter Brandon Lay. In fact, Basketball was his main interest throughout most of college. All it really took was a music class and a karaoke night at a local bar for Lay to transition from athlete to artist.
After moving to Nashville, TN only one month post-graduation, Lay found himself playing at local venues, working with various songwriters and making friends in the industry, including fellow artist Jameson Rodgers. Eventually, he signed with EMI Records Nashville and released his debut single, “Speakers, Bleachers and Preachers.”
Unfortunately, jumping into the music industry didn’t turn out to be what Lay had initially imagined it to be. After some time, he felt as though he was losing his passion for the music and began to feel distant from the songs he was performing.
In 2020, the pandemic hit, giving him the chance to step back, reevaluate his career and figure out where he wanted to take it. After a year-long process, Lay has finally been able to find his rhythm again, using his instincts and drawing inspiration from his real life experiences. This next chapter in his career begins with an eight-track project, produced by hometown friend Jonathan Singleton.
“I’m at a stage in my life where I feel like the good old days are right now and that’s something I want to hopefully convey over these eight songs,” Lay told Country Now. “I’m excited for people to hear them and I think it’ll click with a lot of people because it just feels like home, my voice in these tracks in my opinion.”
The first single to be released off his upcoming project is “Broke,” which was co-written with Country Music Hall of Famer Dean Dillon.
Lay, who is hitting the road with friend, Jameson Rodgers for his Cold Beer Calling My Name Tour, caught up with Country Now to share his background, the changes he has made in his career, and his latest project.
Read on to find out more about Brandon Lay in this exclusive Q&A below.
At what point in your life did you know you wanted to pursue music as a career? Was it always a dream of yours?
Not really, no. Basketball was my first love and I played up until my senior year in college. I took a guitar class as an elective in college and that’s what kind of got me hooked on it. My teacher was really good, he encouraged me to do an open mic and I would say when it all changed for me, was when I did the open mic at a little road-side biker bar on a Tuesday night. I played for the first time live and that night I remember driving home saying this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. The next day I quit the basketball team, put a band together and never looked back.
When did you decide to make the move to Nashville?
It was a month after I graduated. I moved to Nashville and just started playing open mic nights. Jameson became a good buddy, we had similar goals and interests. Me and him would go around town, Monday night’s were Bluebird, Tuesday night’s were Douglas Corner, Wednesday night’s were Commodore. Every single night we were out, playing those rounds and you just get better when you hear other people and you try to out-song somebody. I think that was crucial for both of our developments was just grinding it out and paying our dues.
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Once you got started in your career, who were some of your biggest musical inspirations?
I would definitely say Eric Church and the records he’s put out in the last 12 years. Me and Jameson were both were highly influenced by him. I think he’s a big part of why I moved to Nashville and Jameson did the same day, in 2010. We met at The Bluebird and I think he was a fan of the same things I was a fan of. So definitely Eric, and Kenny Chesney was always a staple throughout high school. I love all Kenny’s music. I tell people his When The Sun Goes Down album, I remember my mom would be vacuuming the carpet after church listening to it and it’s also what I drank my first beer to on the lake. A record like that stretches a big spectrum.
Looking back at that time in your life, when you really started to get involved in the country music community, was it what you expected it to be?
No, not at all really. I thought that first night I was at The Bluebird, that there would probably be record executives there ready to sign me. That’s how naïve I was. I had a rude awakening, Nashville will humble you. I just knew I wanted to pour my passion and all my energy into it and I had worked so hard my whole life in basketball to make it as far as I could and be the best point guard I could be, but when I decided to do music, I just completely made a pivot. I felt like it was something I had to chase down and for better or for worse, I had to go for it because I knew I didn’t want to be 45 one day saying, “I wish I would have.” I kind of just dove right in.
At this stage in your career, what goals have you set for yourself?
I just cut eight brand new songs with Jonathan Singleton and turned them into the label. We put out “Broke” and we’re going to put out “Back Home” next month, which I’m really excited about. I think, it sounds so quintessential to say, stay true to your roots, but I feel like i’m hyper-creative sometimes and ambitious and I think maybe some of the first stuff we did, maybe that was a little bit of a detriment. You have to scratch an itch sometimes or chase a rabbit down creatively and I think that’s just all part of evolving as an artist, but for me, I feel like the more I evolve as an artist, the more I get back to who I was when I first moved to Nashville. I’ve learned how to craft a song and I’ve gotten to learn from the best songwriters that ever lived, in my opinion, and that’s invaluable, don’t get me wrong, but at the end of the day my heart was in some of the more amateur stuff that I was doing. So I think for me moving forward is, the songwriting craft that I feel like I’ve honed in on, making that marry the same spirit of why I moved to Nashville. I think that’s a bridge that I feel like I’ve got with this new music and something I want to continue.
How long have you been working on your new project?
We cut at sound Emporium the day before thanksgiving last year. So I guess we have been working on it for about a year. I did it with Jonathan Singleton, he’s a hot songwriter and producer. He’s got a lot going on and I grew up sneaking out of my house to go watch him and his band play at a bar called Barley’s in Jackson. I felt like I needed a shift from what I was doing to more of what my band sounded like live. I feel like that’s of the biggest critiques or complaints that I would get. People would come to our live show and it wouldn’t match what they heard on the radio. So Jonathan was going to be me guy to help me bridge that gap and get more of a band-y sound that sounds more like me, which is a little r&b but definitely the southern rock aspect and blues. Just trying to get back to what really makes me tick, stuff that makes me want to get off the bus and play every night. I think thats important too because grinding out on the road is so hard. You really have to love these songs that you’re doing or you’ll get depressed. I just want to kind of live more in the moment and I think nostalgia has always kind of been my default mode to go to. That’s why I love Kenny and Eric, they do nostalgia so well.
What meaning does “Broke” hold for you?
It’s the best indicator of what’s to come because to be honest, this song has sat around for eight years. I didn’t cut it because I thought it was too country, I thought it was too traditional country and it’s not really what I was wanting to do at the time. It’s just amazing how you take it in with another producer and it becomes something else in your head than what you thought. That’s why that song had gotten cut and it was so old, because I thought it was too country. I feel like going back to my roots, going back to that familiar sound. It was important to go ahead and put that one out because I think it does point the arrow in the right direction and it’s a song that tells a story, but it will translate live and I think, in my book, that’s worth a lot in the bank. What’s a song worth live when you play it in front of a crowd? That means a lot to me because I spend so much time on the road. That’s one of the ones that has honestly surprised me of how driving it is on the road. When you write it, you just have a little work tape, a voice demo on your iPhone, it doesn’t sound like it could be that big. I’m excited with how it has turned out.
Another song that’s part of this project, “You Don’t Want Me,” includes vocals from your wife, Nicole. What was it like getting to work with her?
It’s awesome, I mean it’s one of those deals where she’ll be working with the kids in the kitchen and I’ll be like, can you come throw a harmony on this? She won’t even know the song and she’ll just do it, so that’s a luxury to have that. When I met her I was so nervous when she would come to the bars for my shows because she is classically trained, she went to school at Alabama, music theatre, and I didn’t know anything except for like a shot of fireball and “Tulsa Time.” She would come and she would make me nervous, but I think it made me a little better. The song, “You Don’t Want Me,” is such a personal song that it just kind of shows everybody goes through dark times and I feel like she’s my angel, she’s the bright spot in my life. There’s no telling where I’d be without her. It’s sort of a tribute to her, so to have her on it in a Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt kind of way is what I was going for and I think we pulled it of. I’m excited about that one just lyrically.
What do you want people to take away from this shift you’ve made in your career and the different sounds you’re producing now?
I hope it correlates, when I show up to their towns, a little more direct. I hope they get a chance to live with it and go to work listening to it or drive home or work on the farm or whatever. I want to be in those speakers with these songs and I wanted them to have saying power, I wanted them to have repeatability. There’s songs that never get old to me and I hope these have some staying power with them.
You have already hit a few dates on tour with Jameson Rodgers. How does it feel to be back in front of the crowds playing your new music?
It’s very satisfying. It’s something that I’ve been missing. It’s been a huge part of my life for 12 years and then it just quit because of COVID. There was a void and i’m glad we could get back out there. It’s cool being on the road with Jameson and I’ve seen a lot of people who have followed me through the years drove a long way to come see me, so it was cool to catch up and hangout with familiar faces that I haven’t seen in 18 months or what not. It’s just a good feeling to be out there seeing smiling faces again.
Fans can keep up with Brandon Lay on Instagram.