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Kaci Brown

Likes It Like This

by Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com.   All rights reserved.  Posted: October 6, 2005.

She doesn't do it.  Never has.  Never will. 

Kaci Brown has been performing since she was three and lived in the tiny town of Sulphur Springs, Texas.  She writes her own songs and plays her own instruments.  She recorded her first album, a country album, when she was thirteen.  It ended up not getting released, when it was finished right after  the September 11th attacks.  Now as Brown hits sweet seventeen and finally her new pop disk has been released and the debut single "Unbelievable" has been making serious headway on the radio.

Still she has heard the whispers.  Brown knows that it is kind of an industry standard these days, but as a singer who has thrown herself into performing for longer than she remembers, she still hates the idea that people might believe it of her. 

"Iím a real artist," Brown insists "I play all my own instruments.  I write my own material.  And I do not lip-synch.  I sing live."  

It seems like such a simple thing that it should be the norm, however lots of pop singers over the years have been caught leaning on the tape, culminating in last year's Saturday Night Live performance by Ashlee Simpson.  So every young singer has been suspect.  However, that would be a betrayal of her audience to Kaci Brown.  She is a singer, not a dancer.  She wants to be heard.

"I really love live performing," she says"That is my thing.   Whether people come watch me or donít want to come watch me Iíll be performing live for the rest of my life.  Someway or somehow.  Thatís my favorite part of all of this.  Connecting with the people, right there in that moment"

The closest she ever came was on her recent tour with the Backstreet Boys.  Not that there was even a second of consideration that she would not sing.  However, as a young artist just releasing her first album and going on her first major tour, they were not able to afford bringing her band with her, and it killed her.  It made one of the most exciting breakthroughs in her career a mixed blessing.

"I was forced to sing with backup tracks," Brown recalls, "which I hated!  I do not like doing that.  I want the real music.  But, Iím a brand new artist.  I was fortunate enough to go on a big production tour.  I couldnít take the band.  So people were saying, ĎOh, it sounded too good to be live.  She had to be lip-synching.í  Iím like, no!  That is the one thing I do not do!"

She has pretty much done it all otherwise, at least as far as performing goes.  Kaci Brown did her first live performance before 2,000 people in her hometown when she was just a toddler.  (The song she performed?  "Men" by the Forrester Sisters.)  By the time she was hitting pubescence, her parents knew that she was going to be a singer, so they uprooted the family, moving from Sulphur Springs to Music City, USA -- Nashville.  Not that this move didn't cause some friction with her relatives.

ďA lot of family really didnít agree with it," Brown acknowledges.  "People said she needs to have a normal life and stay in high school and go to college.  Become an accountant, you know?  That kind of thing.  Be a cheerleader.  Do the normal thing.  Because, I played softball and all that stuff.  But, always, growing up, I wasnít normal.  I always wanted to be the center of attention and entertaining people in any way possible.  When I was twelve, my mother and my stepfather came to Nashville.  It was specifically for that, but I think it was also for them, in a lot of ways.  They needed to get out of the small town.Ē

Making her way to the big town, Brown quickly scored a publishing deal.  She wrote and recorded a full album of country tunes with Nashville cat Tommy Lee James.  However, when producer and exec Tony Brown (then the head of MCA Records-Nashville) heard her performing, he made a pronouncement which would change Brown's life.

"He stopped me and said, ĎYou are going to be a star,í" Brown recalls.  "My heart dropped, my throat got dry, I couldnít swallow.  I was, yes, heís going to sign me.  Heís like, ĎBut, youíre going to be a pop star.  Youíre not country.í  I was like, what???  Heís like, ĎYour voice, the way you phrase things, it was too much like Tori Amos or Vanessa Carlton mixed with Sheryl Crow, rather than having this twangy country thing going.í  So, I was, man, now what?  Iíve spent a year and a half doing this country album.  Then, for about six or seven months I started writing on my own.  By myself.  No country writers.  No pop writers.  Just me.  I picked up the piano a little bit.  I picked up the guitar a little bit.  I was like, now what?  Again, now what?  I saw that my music was going more towards the pop element.  I told my publisher I really would like to write with a pop producer.  Just to see what comes out of it."

That pop producer was Toby Gad (Willa Ford, Jaci Velasquez), who was in Nashville for a writing session which was cancelled at the last minute. 

"Its all history from there," Brown says"We wrote one time, he built the track that night, we recorded it the next day, and then he ended up coming back a week later and spending ten days with me.  We wrote and recorded six songs in ten days.  One of the songs which we wrote was ĎSOS,í which is now on the album.  Thatís how it happened.  We just did three or four more fourteen-day writing trips.  We would write that day, heíd do the track that night and weíd record the next day.  All of the original recordings are whatís on the album.Ē

The album is called Instigator, and it shows that Brown had an adventurous streak hidden underneath that country clothing.  On the song she experiments with styles and tempos with the abandon of a child with a new toy.  Yet, every song works somehow, no matter how varied and eclectic it gets.  The first song which is receiving notice is the single "Unbelievable," the booming-to-the-back-of-the-hall power ballad which pulls off the pretty neat trick of sounding concurrently a little bombastic and winningly vulnerable. 

This ability to mix up styles and genres turns out to be Brown's neatest trick, a musical device that she uses with clever results on several songs.  For example, the lovely "Cadillac Hotel" mixes a lovely tropical lilt with just a hint of Brown's country roots in a tribute to an inn that she visited in the recording process.  "We were staying at the Cadillac Hotel in Venice Beach [California]," she recalls"If you listen to the lyrics, it says Ďon the corner of Rose and Dudley.í  Thatís the corner, thatís the street names.  We wrote the song on the roof of the hotel.  We recorded the song in the hotel room.Ē 

"Instigator" is the kind of dance jam that Britney Spears and Mandy Moore just can't seem to pull off anymore.  "SOS" channels retro-chic and "Like 'Em Like That" rides a rocking guitar line.  "Body Language" pulls off a mix of dance pop and traditional Arabic-sounding background.  (In fact, it is the most interesting meld of those two styles since the death of Ofra Haza.)  "The Waltz" is even more eclectic, a surprisingly facile smash-up of classical music and hip-hop. 

All of which, Brown admits, was rather new to her as a songwriter.  "Before my producer I wasnít much of an experimenter at all.  He really got me out of my box.  We didnít really know what direction was perfect for me.  Still, to this day, if you can see, I donít know what direction is perfect for me.  Iím still growing.  Iím still finding myself.  What happened was a very natural thing.  It wasnít ever, ĎOkay, well letís do a classical sound mixed with hip-hop.'  We didnít plan that.  We just let it be what it was.  Weíd play around with melodies and weíre like, ĎOh, I like thatÖí  Anything that I liked, we just did.  I was very fortunate that our managers and the record label understood it.  Instead of saying, Ďwell, okay, what shelf are we going to put you on?í  When they asked me that, I said if I donít fit on the pop, if I donít fit on the rock, if I donít fit on the hip-hop, Iíll make my own.  The Kaci Brown shelf.  Thereís no telling what my second album is going to sound like.  Iím going to just continue to be me.  Thatís all Iím good at, really." 

So now, finally Brown has made it into the record shops.  Even though it is the only thing she has been working towards since she was three, it still freaks her out a little. 

"Itís weird," Brown whispers and then laughs.  "Really.  Itís crazy.  I walk into Best Buy shopping for any CD I want, or Media Play or Target or K-Mart.  Everywhere.  My face is everywhere.  It is very weird, because Iíve always wanted to be on the shelves and..." she laughs again "...I wasnít.  Because Iím making music, just like these other people.  But, my friends, they go crazy, too.  They call me like every new place they see a CD.  Theyíll call me like, ĎOh, I saw you today.í  Especially doing the mall tours and my face is everywhere.  Thatís crazy.Ē

Crazy?  Perhaps, but it's all part of the job.  It's a part of the music business that Brown finds in equal parts enthralling and intimidating.  When asked if she feels more comfortable in the limelight Brown laughs and admits, ďNo.  It is all that I expected and some.  And then less than.  You think that as soon as you have an album out then everyone is going to love you and everyoneís going to understand your music and want to buy the album.  I knew that a lot of hard work would be involved, but I didnít really realize how harsh some of the critics can be.  Actually, I got a really good review in USA Today.  I was excited about that.  But, some are likeÖ it wasnít about the album as much as the performances and stuff.  Yeah, itís harder than I thought, but itís just as easy as I thought, too.  I havenít really formed an opinion on if itís what I thought it would be yet.  I havenít experienced enough of it.  But, I really am loving what I do.  Though what I just said doesnít sound like it.Ē

One of the things she is loving most is the connection that she has made with her fans.  Nowadays musicians have so many more ways to reach out to their fans, from the forum on Brown's official site, to her MySpace page.  She is digging being able to communicate with the fans through avenues like that.

ďThatís my favorite part," Brown says"Thatís one of the things that is more than I expected.  Because, when you think about the word fan, you think about someone that really admires you that you donít know anything about.  A lot of the fans, the really sweet fans that have kind of reached out to me first by the forum, because I have no idea who they are, have really become more friends.  They love the album.  They want to help me out.  They want to tell all their friends about it.  And Iím no different than they are. 

"One of the girls, she worked at a pet store and sheís amazing with animals.  I love animals, but the way they go to her and the way they come to me is completely different.  I admire her for that, the same way she admires me for my music and the way I go about expressing it and the way people hear it.  So, that means Iím a fan of hers.  But, she doesnít say, ĎOoh, sheís my fan.í  She says, ĎOoh, sheís my friend.í  Thatís amazing, especially when you hear the stories about how a certain song helped them through situations.  Seriously, Iíve got fan letters and stuff and I never expected that to come that soon.  I never expected someone to say that I helped them through the most difficult week of their life and they really just wanted to say thank you.  That stuff really just hits you hard and makes you cry.  Because, all Iím doing is singing how I feel.  Knowing that itís relating to people that way, that theyíre connecting with that emotion, itís justÖ ahh, itís amazing.Ē 

Not that some of the fans can't misunderstand her as well.  The internet is famous for flamers who just go onto a site to wreak havoc and be negative.  However, Brown finds these people to be the exception, not the rule.

"I think that the people that really stop and theyíre open minded," she says, "theyíre not like, ĎOoh, sheís just another Hollywood girl trying to be a celebrity.í  Iím not materialistic at all.  All of my clothes that I have right now, that are actually in style, [were] given to me.  I donít go out and spend tons of money.  I like what everybody else likes.  I may like some things different, but Iím no different.  I think that the people that really are open minded, they see that Iím just a normal girl.  Iím just doing what I love to do.  Iím more fortunate in that area, because a lot of people donít get to do what they want to do.  But, there are the people that... you know, I had some forum site somewhere, I read they were like, ĎOh, I met her and sheís just stuck up.  Sheís just a stuck-up rich girl.í  Iím like, well, first of all, Iím not rich.  Second of all, how in the world can you say Iím stuck up, you know?  But, itís just people talking.Ē   

And like the old saying goes, in the long run it is good if they are talking about you.  Kaci Brown hopes that people will be talking about her for a long time. 

ďI want them to take my music seriously," she says"The same way I want them to take me seriously.  I want them to look at my music as kind of like an open book to who I am inside.  Thatís why Iím biting at the bit to start my second album.  Iím already writing for it.  I had to start somewhere to get where I am, but my first album isnít even half of who I am.  Iím planning on making music for the rest of my life.  Because it is an open book and the story keeps going.  It doesnít just stop at Ďboys are cute.í  It doesnít stop there at all.  There are a lot of things that I want to write about that I have never been able to write about.  But I can and I will.  And hopefully Iíll have the support from the record label and my manager so that everyone gets to hear the second album.

"I donít think that Iím any different than anyone else.  All I want to do is do what I love.  Hopefully people will accept me.  Iím not a judging person.  Iím pretty easy to get along with.  I just want to be happy and I want everybody else to be happy.  Thatís it.Ē

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Photo Credits:
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Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com.   All rights reserved.  Posted: October 6, 2005.


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