Why Brittney Spencer is the future of country music
Andy Morris talks to the rising star about life in Music City and why she's excited about the opening of Soho House Nashville
Saturday 26 February 2022 By Andy Morris
‘The craziest gig I’ve ever played?’ laughs Brittney Spencer. ‘My whole life.’ A Nashville resident for nine years after growing up in Baltimore, the 33-year-old singer is equally at home performing at the Country Music Awards with Super Bowl standout Mickey Guyton, covering Lady Gaga with country supergroup The Highwomen, or performing a showstopping rendition of the Rolling Stones’ ‘Gimme Shelter’ with Jason Isbell.
As she embarks on her biggest gigs yet and continues work on her much-anticipated debut album, Spencer discusses her father’s DJ sets, why Rihanna can sound a bit country, and how she wrote sad songs in between shifts at a juice bar.
What does Nashville do better than anywhere else in the world?
‘Damn good country music. And I think that Nashville has a really great way of allowing people to find and make a home. You can always find a community and friends, but it might take a little time. We say this is a 10-year town: Nashville does a great job at not rushing people; it gives you the space and time to make the best possible thing you can.’
What do people get wrong about the city?
‘They think I hang out on Broadway every day and play at every single venue. People think it’s like the TV show, where every label exec goes and hangs out at Tootsies. Also, people think you just know everybody. If I tell someone that I live in Nashville, they say, “Oh, I have a cousin who lives there. Do you know him?”’
What’s your style right now?
‘I lean into vintage, more often than not. I love texture, patterns, fringe, denim, leather, suede, and velvet. Anything that really pops on stage, I’m all for it. Sometimes I’ll wear a denim jumpsuit just to see if it translates well. I have long, wavy hair down to my ass – that’s kind of my thing. Go big or go home.’
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
‘I usually play a lot of loud music: I get that from my dad. He calls himself “DJ Spencer”, but he does it just for fun. In the middle of the day, you can hear his music from his basement all the way down the street.’
What are you listening to at the moment?
‘Some old-school Rihanna. I think she just embodies a lot of what I like in artistry. I love how versatile she is. She has really fun songs and then really honest, vulnerable ones. “California King Bed” could be a country song – I finally figured out that it was written by Priscilla Renea, who at the time was a country artist. I like that each Rihanna album sounds different to the last. I love when I look back at her body of work that it tells a story of a person that I feel like I know.’
How did you feel when she revealed she was pregnant?
‘I love this for her. And I loved that the next day she released lipstick. I just think it’s wonderful. All she did was just be herself. She just walked outside in clothes that we would normally see her wear… except this time she was pregnant. I think it’s beautiful.’
What’s your creative process?
‘Really weird and unconventional. With my Compassion EP, I was working jobs, living in LA out of people’s garages and on their couches while writing songs for other people, but also for me too. “Sorrys Don’t Work No More”: I started that song while I was working shifts at a juice bar. There’s a track that I open up every show with called “My Stupid Life”. I wrote the chorus during a road trip from Nashville to Knoxville. Knoxville is my little hideaway; it’s my getaway spot to just kind of escape from the industry noise.’
Do you find there’s too much time spent discussing what is and isn’t ‘country’?
‘Absolutely. I think the conversation tends to be a little too linear. I try not to engage or entertain it as much, because the conversation itself can be creatively stifling. You don’t give the genre an opportunity to grow when you’re comparing today’s music against what was considered country 20, 30, 40 years ago. We have a different generation now where people listen to Dan + Shay, Chris Stapleton, Miranda Lambert, as well as Drake and Doja Cat. I know that country music is a genre that tends to be a little more nostalgic in terms of looking back and remembering the good old days, but I think a lot of us are also trying to really look ahead as well.’
What has been your most memorable interaction with a fan?
‘In recent weeks, fans have been coming up to me and telling me how watching my journey over the past two years has inspired their own. Whether it’s a Black girl who loved country music, but always had to have a long-distance relationship with it because she didn’t feel safe or a 40-year-old mother walking up to me at a show just crying and telling me “Sober And Skinny” was exactly their story. And then I have to say, “It’s not my story, but thank you, I’m so glad you’re able to find yourself in it”.’
What do you wish someone had told you about fame?
‘I feel like there’s a lot that I knew because I watched loads of music documentaries and biopics growing up. E! True Hollywood Story, VH1: Behind The Music, any documentary that Taylor and Reba put out, I watched it. I saw all the movies like Selena and Cadillac Records. I do wish someone had told me that everything you are, every insecurity that you have, every complex you have, every good thing about you, every weird thing that you might not like about you, it just gets magnified. I also wish someone had told me to learn to love yourself before getting into the profession of your career, basically, either thriving or failing based on what people think about you.’
How do you feel about Soho House opening up in Nashville?
‘I’ve heard about the Soho House in LA and I’m very excited about it, because I’m always looking for cool vibey sh*t in Nashville. I’m a recluse and I don’t go out often, but if I do I want to go to some place where I can mind my own business and know that somebody else is just minding theirs – that’s exciting to me. That’s the vibe I would want to have: chill, low key, but vibey as hell.’
That could be above the door at the Nashville Soho House…
‘If you need a song to go with it, I will write that song, because that sounds really cool. You know, I think that’s all we ever want.’
Brittney Spencer’s debut album will be released in 2022.