Country Next: Brittney Spencer
We take pride in introducing fans to country music’s brightest new stars through our Country Next series. Here, we chat with Brittney Spencer.
Brittney Spencer; Photo by Jason Kempkin, Getty Images for ACm
Brittney Spencer is one of the newest rising stars in country music, and it’s easy to see why. The free-spirited artist has a warm, soulful voice that’s unlike any other. A gifted guitar player too, it may come as a surprise to learn that the musically versatile Spencer didn’t truly begin playing the instrument until 2013 when she moved to Nashville, Tenn., from her hometown of Baltimore, Maryland.
In Music City, Spencer got the ball rolling as a songwriter and then decided to juggle music while attending Middle Tennessee State University, where she earned a degree in Music Business and Public Relations. In 2020, she turned heads with the release of her debut EP Compassion and an impressive cover of The Highwomen’s “Crowded Table,” which caught the attention of artists like Maren Morris and Amanda Shires. Morris also dedicated her 2020 CMA Award for Female Vocalist of the Year to a handful of Black artists, including Spencer.
Spencer followed up her EP with the heartfelt “Sober & Skinny,” which she penned alongside Gone West’s Nelly Joy and Jason Reeves. The song shares the story of two people struggling with each other’s imperfections while being in a relationship together. After releasing the single, Spencer signed on with United Talent Agency (UTA) for booking before announcing her slot as an opener on the Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit tour.
Now Spencer, a 2021 CMT Next Women of Country artist, will be featured on Isbell’s upcoming Georgia charity covers album, Georgia Blue, as the lead singer on a joint cover of Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia.” The tune is the second single from the forthcoming project, set for release on Oct. 15, 2021. Spencer is also offering support on Brett Eldredge’s Good Day Tour, which launched on Sept. 16.
Spencer recently caught up with Country Now to talk about her background in country music, latest music, and more.
Read on to find out more about Brittney Spencer in this exclusive Q&A below!
How did you begin a career in country music?
My background in music started when I was 4-years-old. I was singing at church. Then, I started singing classical music in school. Then, when I was around 15, my friend told me that I needed to listen to The Chicks – Dixie Chicks back then. So, I did, and I just fell in love with them and their songs. When I’d ride the school bus, I’d hear all this alternative rock music on the radio. They’d play Tim McGraw and The Chicks, but they’d also play music from Journey to Destiny’s Child to Mariah Carey – all sorts of throwbacks. And, I figured that I wanted to move to Nashville as a teenager. I never really thought I could, honestly, do it, but I finally got the nerve to do it eight years ago. I packed up my car and came here, and I’ve just been writing and singing ever since!
Did you come from a musical family?
I’m the main musical person in my family. But, my dad can sing well. He was in a quartet during my younger years up until I was about 5-years-old. My late uncle sang a lot as well. He used to tour all over the world with a college choir.
Who were some of your main musical influences growing up?
The Chicks were my biggest influence in country music. I also loved Brad Paisley and Keith Urban. I grew up with a lot of different sounds hitting my ears at once. I’d sing in church, and then I’d be singing classical music in school. Then, all of my friends loved R&B, hip hop, and pop music. So, I had a lot of sounds in my ears for a long time.
Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
I started songwriting as a teenager. I was writing voicemails on my cell phone. I would take famous theme songs and rewrite them to fit the description of what I needed, which was to let people know that I wasn’t available to answer my phone. From there, I started writing actual songs. One of the first songs I ever wrote was called ‘Stay With Me.’ I think I was 17 when I wrote it. I couldn’t play an instrument at the time, so I had to hear all the music in my head. That’s how I wrote until I finally learned how to play the guitar. I’d just be writing songs, and I had to imagine the instrumentation because I didn’t have any. I would write whole songs like that! Sometimes, I still like to do that to see what happens, and it’s fun.
How did you hit the ground running when you moved to Nashville?
I took the first year to figure out what I wanted to do musically. I didn’t play guitar before I came to Nashville. I had a guitar, and I took some lessons in Baltimore, but I never really got to play it as much as I should have. So, when I got here in the first year, I started teaching myself how to play the guitar. I attended a few songwriting workshops. I would volunteer for them because I didn’t have money to go to them otherwise. So I found ways to volunteer so that I could get in for free. After that, I started busking downtown, and I did that for like two summers. It was a lot of fun. I got to meet people up close and personal and find out what they like and what they don’t like. It was a fun time! After being here for a year, I decided to go to school. I had already done a few years of college in Baltimore. So, I came here, and after being here for a year, I went to Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) and earned my degree in Public Relations and Music Business. I graduated college in December of 2017. But, while I was in school, I was making that hike several times a week to do writing sessions and songwriter rounds, and anything that would put me in there with other writers so I could meet people. That’s what I was focusing on during that time.
And, these days you’re touring with Jason Isbell and Brett Eldredge.
So, my time in college is actually significant to me going out on tour with Jason Isbell. The first time I met Jason was when I was in college. I did a lot of stuff with GRAMMY U and CMA EDU and all of the real-world stuff for students. I ended up meeting Jason at a soundcheck that GRAMMY U was sponsoring. They took a few students, and we got to go and watch the soundcheck, and he talked to us. So, that was the first time I met him. I skipped class for that. I did a whole bunch of random things during my college years, and with me being on tour with him, it’s all coming back full circle in a sense.
Does Jason Isbell remember meeting you in college and that full-circle moment as well?
I don’t think he remembered me. I told him the story earlier this year while we were in the studio working together for something. And, he didn’t remember it (laughs). But he was so kind and gracious when we met. And, he’s still the same person. He’s such a cool guy, but he didn’t remember me, and we just laughed so hard because he couldn’t believe that we had met.
You have a cover of “Midnight Train to Georgia” on Jason Isbell’s upcoming album. Can you tell us about that?
Recording ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’ was such a fun process. I was pretty nervous to cover such an iconic song, and to be doing that with an already legendary group of artists and musicians (Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit), but the vibe & tone Jason set in the studio that day made anything feel possible. I hope we did Gladys Knight and the Pips proud!
As a rising artist, how has it been easing your way back on stage post-shut down?
I’ve played many shows, but the first day that, I guess, the capacity limit was updated in venues here in Nashville was the same day as my Grand Ole Opry debut. So, that was the start of having live shows again, at least for me. Playing the Grand Ole Opry was incredible! It’s just a memorable feeling, and you don’t forget something like that. I remember how I felt when I walked through the building. I’ll always want to hold onto that feeling. It was such a beautiful time.
What’s the inspiration behind your recent single ‘Sober & Skinny’?
I wrote that song during  on the Zoom App with Nelly Joy and Jason Reeves. That was our first time meeting one another and writing together. I thought it was a quirky idea because I had written the chorus before my writing session with them, so I could have a few ideas to present to them. We knew it was a quirky idea, and we knew that it might be a bit of a challenge to write, but we did it. I feel like we brought honesty and the best we had that day. We created this song that I think feels genuine. It’s not an autobiographical song. It’s not necessarily based on my life, but I have points in my life where I can use it to inspire the song. So, it still feels real, and that was important to me that I would walk away feeling like this is probably someone else’s story. We just wanted to be honest and talk about real feelings, and I feel like we accomplished that. I’m proud of that.
Have any of your fans come forward to tell you ‘Sober & Skinny’ was their story?
I’ve had people message me or leave comments on the video saying, ‘This is exactly my story,’ or ‘I saw this going on with my parents.’ Some people have sent fan art, and it’s all so beautiful. I never know how to respond because it is such a real story for some people who have reached out to me. I’m grateful that we wrote a song that people can relate to, and I think that’s the goal and the point of art.
What do you want fans to take away from your music?
I want fans to take away the idea of being comfortable and sharing things that you might be afraid to say out loud. I want them to feel like they are hearing something real and something they like. I want to be able to tell stories and to be able to connect with people. And I want my music to resonate with them. And, that’s why I play music and why I’m so excited to share songs like ‘Sober & Skinny.’
What’s next for you?
We’ve got some shows coming up. People can follow me online, where I will be sharing more updates on the shows that we have in the books. I’m excited to meet everyone after just meeting people on the screen. It’s so exciting to see people and to connect with them!
Fans can follow Brittney Spencer on Instagram.
Melinda Lorge is a Nashville-based freelance writer who specializes in covering country music. Along with Country Now, her work has appeared in publications, including Rare Country, Rolling Stone Country, Nashville Lifestyles Magazine, Wide Open Country and more. After joining Rare Country in early 2016, Lorge was presented with the opportunity to lead coverage on late-night television programs, including “The Voice” and “American Idol,” which helped her to sharpen her writing skills even more. Lorge earned her degree at Middle Tennessee State University, following the completion of five internships within the country music industry. She has an undeniable love for music and entertainment. When she isn’t living and breathing country music, she can be found enjoying time outdoors with family and friends.