It’s been theorized that buried deep in the underground of beloved Nashville concert venue, EXIT/IN, lay four full bottles of Hennessy. The myth is taken from the story of songwriter Bren Joy’s first major performance, a sold-out show in which a full team of security — with cameras and all — spent a significant amount of time searching for the bottles. The Cognac has not been found to this day…
Joy seems to be filled with animated stories about his time performing — a jublience in his voice when he recalls opening for Jhene Aiko and Megan Thee Stallion, or spotting Issa Rae in his audience. The way the singer refers to the stage as his “home” isn’t surprising for anyone that knows the Nashville native. He’s charismatic in a way that draws in an audience.
Joy is a natural creative, capturing photos when he’s not singing, but spending much of his time — especially in quarantine — writing new music. Even while on a run, Joy can’t stop thinking about music.
Like most 20-somethings, Joy is patient in discovering himself. His bright youthfulness comes across in the way that he experiments with sound, yet doesn’t make his music sound any less authentic. In fact, the way Joy plays with genre-blending, searching for his own style and who he wants to be, is relatable for any young adult. Inspired by The Beach Boys just as much as D’Angelo, Joy is constantly changing and carving out his own lane for himself.
The songwriter redefines himself through his music, moving through melodic R&B styles to lively pop bangers. His first project, Twenties, was created with the help of his friends, a tribute to youth with anthemic hits like “Henny in the Hamptons.” After the project’s successful release, Joy continues to experiment with different styles.
Currently, the songwriter is most enthused about his upcoming release, a project consisting of all the music he’s working on during the pandemic. “Street Light,” Joy notes as a track that will truly give his listeners more insight into the artist’s brain, and where he’d like to go in the future with his music. Additionally, as of this publication, Joy has released his much anticipated music video for his single “Freezing.”
Here at Music Mecca, we had the chance to talk to Joy about his songwriting process, favorite stories, advice for other creatives, and much more.
How did you first get into making music?
I started making music when I first got into college. It was like an epiphany happened, or something, and I just randomly got really, really into it. I always knew I could sing, but I really just wanted to pursue it, and I really didn’t like anything else. So I did that all throughout college. I went to Belmont University and majored in vocal performance. From there, junior year came and I started writing. The first 8 songs that I wrote, I formed into a project — which is Twenties, which I put out — and the rest is history, I guess!
Can you talk a bit about your songwriting process?
It’s been interesting because I think when I was writing Twenties, I was super inspired by John Legend, of course, and all the greats, so I wrote everything at the piano. Just me playing it and envisioning all the production in my head. I guess I just got really lucky and am able to visualize products before they’re actually complete, so I know what I want to hear. But now it’s a bit different. I write a lot of my stuff running, surprisingly. So, I’ll run and I’ll hum stuff. Or I’ll be on the treadmill — my favorite melodies are always on there. But for this new stuff, I’ve really been writing a lot with LA people, a lot of people from Europe, people from Canada. It’s been really interesting catching a vibe and writing new stuff. One of my favorite processes is that I’ll usually just pick the song loop and just loop it out for ten minutes, and come up with every single melody I can think of over that loop. Then, I’ll go back for an hour-and-a-half and piece the song together from there. That’s usually been the most productive way.
You tend to mix many different genres in your music. How would you describe your own sound?
I’m so inspired by a lot of the ‘80s, ‘90s, and 2000s R&B, and the way that it was written. I have found myself thinking that I’m going to be a very D’Angelo-style artist, and I’m finding myself — as I write more and more — falling in love with pop music, and that sound, the radio sound. I like being a little unexpected. I think it’s harder as a new artist to really come up making very abstract music, which I think I make, because you have to wait for — and I say this in the least narcissistic way possible — the world to catch up to you. I feel like Doja Cat, for example, is an artist that makes so many different styles. I’ve been on her for years and years now, but it took a minute for the world to catch up. I like being a little genre-less. I’m always going to sound a little R&B, but I’ve really been experimenting with sounds, and I think that’s going to be the future of music, blending everything together. I don’t know what that means for radio [Laughs] but I think it’s so cool.
Just last month you released your latest single, “Freezing.” What was the inspiration behind that song?
I wrote that a year ago, actually. It was the first song I wrote after my first project, Twenties. I wanted a song that was really about going full-force. That’s a song, specifically, that’s on the line between almost too much, but still super new and fresh. That’s what I really, really love. I just wanted something that was crazy. Jamie Moore (who wrote it with me here in Nashville) and I wrote it in, like, three hours. It was just something where I just really wanted to merge the ‘80s and ‘90s R&B boy-band type of vocals with new wave production. And that’s what we got. I think it’s crazy. I’m very excited for people to hear alternate versions.
Who else was involved in its production?
For “Freezing,” it was just me and Jamie— which is crazy, it was just us two on that song, which is rare nowadays. For Twenties, I had a bunch of friends that went to music school with me. So, I grabbed a bunch of friends for the key parts, the horns and the strings.
You’ve opened for Jhene Aiko and Megan Thee Stallion. Can you talk a little bit about what that experience was like for you?
Crazy. [Laughs] I think it’s more inspiring than anything. Moments like those really, more than anything, help me believe in myself more. To become an artist and have a dream of becoming big is absolutely insane. A lot of people look at you like, “What the f**k” [Laughs] I think those moments are really the moments that really help you believe that this s**t can really happen. I was in awe the whole time. I look up to people like that, especially Jhene. She’s someone that vocally is just so stunning, everything is so great. To see her there, and her process of sound checking and stage performance, is really inspiring. Right after that, we did LA and New York, and we sold those out. It sucks that we can’t have those now, but those experiences are so incredible, and everyone was so sweet, and I’m just happy to be invited.
Do you have any favorite stories from your time performing?
I think that my favorite show was when I played EXIT/IN, which was my very first show, here in Nashville. It was a 500 person cap, and I sold it out about a week before the actual show, which is crazy. I had my song “Henny in the Hamptons,” so we had to have Hennessy there. There were four bottles of Hennessy that went missing, and it was crazy. We spent like a solid hour, before and after the show — and I was drunk off my ass after the show — looking for those missing Hennessy bottles. It was so funny at the time because we had a whole security team looking for these bottles. That moment was incredible. When we were in LA, Issa Rae came through and my whole team decided not to tell me, which was good. That was incredible because I just remember being on stage performing and I just see Issa Rae! I look back to my whole band and just go “What the f**k?” It was the funniest thing ever. The stage has had some funny stories, but it’s also my home and where I started. I always love it.
Do you find yourself exploring your creativity in methods besides music?
As far as creativity, I’ve been into photography a lot. I have countless photos, and I’m into collecting new cameras, too. I’ve been painting a lot, which is cool. It’s quarantine, everyone’s doing weird new things. Photography is something that I’ve always been obsessed with, and really want to get into and express myself more with. So, that’s been fun aside from music.
This feels like a very revolutionary time given the global pandemic and national political uprising. Do you find that the history-making nature of this time has affected your creative process?
For sure. I’ve discovered more about myself, and what I want to represent in this country, more than ever now. I think that this revolution, uprising, realization that’s happening right now is so overdue. Especially being Black in Nashville, it’s amazing to actually see the progress, as a state, that Tennessee has made. Just to know that people have my back, and others’ backs. It makes me think differently about my art and what I want to make. I’m listening to new things. What I thought I wanted to be two months ago, I think completely differently about now. I’m just figuring out the person that I want to become. It’s been very hard and incredibly challenging mentally, but it’s done wonders for the soul. To say the least, it’s challenged my creativity wholeheartedly.
Do you have any current projects that you’re working on? Or hopes for the future?
New music, new visuals. A lot of really cool sounds I would’ve never seen myself doing. I’ve been writing my butt off. There’s a lot of really cool — hopefully people think they’re cool! — but a lot of crazy songs that I’ve been freaking out over. I’m excited for people to see where I want to go with music, and hear the growth from Twenties to “Freezing” to now. So much new music. I really want to show people where my head is at with music, and also write for other people, really pushing my pen.
If you could give any piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to be weird, and don’t be afraid to really take it there. When I first started making music, I was afraid to show how eclectic my love of art was. I didn’t discover alternative and rock, I didn’t discover a lot of that music until college. I think because of that my influences are so fresh and always growing, ever-changing. Before I thought there were rules to music, and there aren’t. That’s my one piece of advice to anyone making music, there are no rules. Do whatever you want.