Kane Brown, who plays Sunday at this year’s sold-out Watershed festival July 29-31 at the Gorge, made an immediate impression on the country music scene in 2015 when his debut single “Used To Love You Sober” went top 15 on the country singles chart.
It turned out to be only a teaser for what was to come, as his 2016 self-titled full-length album and 2019 follow-up full-length release, “Experiment,” each topped Billboard magazine’s country album chart and produced five singles that topped either Billboard’s country singles or country airplay charts.
Even a pandemic hasn’t slowed Brown’s growth — both in popularity and as a songwriter and singer — as he has continued to release a steady stream of singles (some of which are collected on his 2020 EP, “Mixtape Vol. 1”) that have seen him branch out musically to collaborate with major artists within country and from other genres.
One such collaboration, with Chris Young, “Famous Friends” (the title track to Young’s current album), topped Billboard’s 2021 year-end country airplay songs chart.
The freedom Brown, who lives in the Nashville, Tennessee, area, is feeling as he advances in his career is personified in “Mixtape Vol. 1.”
“I think with ‘Mixtape,’ we just took the pressure totally off of ourselves and just let it be whatever creatively we felt it needed to be and really make it what we wanted to without having to worry about it fitting into anyone’s idea of what it needed to be,” Brown explained in a recent email interview.
Only one of the seven songs on “Mixtape Vol. 1,” the frisky “BFE,” was a purely country tune. Otherwise, Brown mixed in elements of hip-hop, pop and soul on the easygoing “Be Like That,” which featured guest vocals from Swae Lee and Khalid. “Cool Again” was an easygoing mix of beachy pop and hip-hop. Brown co-wrote “Last Time I Say Sorry” with John Legend and duets with the talented singer on this soulful ballad. “Didn’t Know What Love” echoes Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets” before taking a soulful turn for the chorus.
Since releasing the “Mixtape” EP, Brown has notched another No. 1 single in “One Mississippi” and his latest single, “Like I Love Country Music,” has reached No. 3 on Billboard’s country singles chart.
Here, Brown discusses his music, his current live show and his in-progress next album. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What’s your set list going to be like for this tour?
We’re going to mix it up each night, but I’m excited to get out on the road and play some of the new songs and some of the songs from the last project that we haven’t gotten to play yet for the fans since we weren’t able to tour [in 2020] with everything going on. The reaction to some of the new stuff has been so great and it’s fun to hear [fans’] reactions to the first time the song is played live in front of an audience.
What was life like during the pandemic for you, your wife Katelyn and baby daughter Kingsley?
I think [that] year was hard for everyone, but there were things I was grateful for. We missed being out on the road, but with Kingsley being so young there were so many moments I got to see that I might have missed out on if we were out on tour. Watching her grow and learn has been amazing.
You’re making music that appeals to more than a country audience. To what extent do you see growth in your career coming from formats outside of country?
I love being able to represent country music and am just motivated by whatever fuels you creatively as well. It’s always a new way to experiment that way any time you work with any artist from any genre. I loved collaborating with Chris Young for our single “Famous Friends” and I loved getting to work with blackbear for my song “Memory.”
You have written some songs that definitely don’t follow the lyrical playbook of country music, like “Learning,” “Worldwide Beautiful” and “American Bad Dream.” You write quite a bit from your own life, which isn’t the life country music likes to portray. Do you see country opening up in any ways to lyrics that tackle sensitive subjects?
Country has always been about storytelling and the writing. And those are just my stories. I think a lot of people identify with my story and are surprised by it, but also relate to portions of it.
What sort of ideas do you have for your next album? (Brown has announced that his next album, titled “Different Man,” will be released Sept. 9.) Do you have any sense of what sort of songs or subjects you want to explore?
I think it’s evolved. When we were working on it before the pandemic it was sort of going in one direction, but now it has sort of evolved into something new. I don’t want to give too much away just yet since it’s still coming together, but I love previewing music for my fans — it’s just something I’ve always done — and I love hearing their feedback. And with the Blessed and Free tour, I’m excited to play some of the new music live.
Do you have a different idea about the kinds of songs that are most authentically you now than you did when you started making albums? In other words, has your definition of what a Kane Brown song is evolved?
That’s a great question. I think I’ve grown up a lot. When I wrote my debut album I wasn’t married yet, I wasn’t a father yet, and there was also much I had to say that I hadn’t gotten to say yet to people, like with songs like “Learning.” I’ve grown and learned since then but I still feel like deep down I am still the same person and want to connect people.