Out Singer Brandon Stansell Pushes Country Music's Boundaries

by Steve Duffy

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday May 28, 2021

EDGE spoke to out country singer Brandon Stansell last year. With the release of his new post-pandemic single,."Pick Up Where We Left Off," EDGE revisits the interview.

"Country music may not be known for being inclusive to LGBTQ artists, but rising musician Brandon Stansell is redefining the genre one soulful song at a time," wrote Billboard two years ago. A video for one of his songs, "Hometown," had premiered on CMT at that time, making history as the first LGBTQ-themed video to be seen on the country video platform. It was also unlike other videos on the network, offering a painful snapshot of a young man coming out to his mom, only to be thrown out of his house to find his own way. He does by finding an extended family, but the impact of the video is bittersweet and, one senses, coming from a place deep inside the singer/songwriter.

The video went on to be named one of Rolling Stone's Top 10 Country Music Videos of 2018. Since then Stansell has released "Slow Down," his first full-length album; and collaborated with "RuPaul's Drag Race" finalist Eureka O'Hara on the single, "Slow Down." The video "follows a playful, love-at-first-sight storyline with Stansell teaching O'Hara to see her own beauty, transforming her into an even fiercer version of herself now confident enough to approach her newfound crush."

This past May he released he released what may be his most personal song to date, "Hurt People," the title track from his new EP that features female country superstar Cam, in which he shares his coming out experience. The British website Building Our Own Nashville wrote of the song: "Brandon makes me want to cry with him in this song. The words are so painfully real, the chorus really hits you and it is a real 'lump in the throat tear-jerker.'"

That Stansell has a successful country music career and his videos aired on CMT is proof that the conservative (and thought to be homophobic) genre is changing for the better. And he sees himself playing a crucial in this transformation. "I am not sure what it will take to turn the tide, but I don't mind being the storm," he told Billboard.

Stansell came out when he was 22 when he was a dancer with Taylor Swift's "Fearless" tour. He did so first with the singer, introducing his then boyfriend to her. "Uh, I should have known you had a hot boyfriend!" she replied. Things didn't go so smoothly when he came out to his conservative Christian parents when he returned home from the tour and was confronted by his mother who asked him if he was gay. Though difficult, she was accepting; but not so with father, who cut him off leaving Stansell to cover the costs of his last semester of college himself. Stansell told People his relationship with his family isn't good today. "It's not a closed door, it's more revolving," he says with a laugh.

Stansell went home last year, but this time with a film crew to record him performing in front of his family for the first time. The footage is part of "Three Chords and a Lie," a hour-long documentary about Stansell directed by Trent Atkinson and produced by Stansell's friend Leslie Jordan. The film has yet to made available for streaming in the United States. Check out Stansell's website for updates for its availability.

Brandon Stansell

EDGE spoke with Stansell recently about being gay and a country singer, how his music is being received and whom he would like to sing a duet with. (Hint: she has a huge gay following.)

EDGE: Can you be gay and sing country music?

Brandon Stansell: Yes! Not only am I doing it, but there is a lot of queer country artist out making there making Americana country music. The landscape of country music is changing a lot. The genre has not only had a problem with gender and equality, but also not being inclusive with queer people and people of color. The great news is that it is changing, and it is definitely encouraging.

EDGE: Because there is no template for gay country singers, did you fear that you wouldn't be successful?

Brandon Stansell: Before I started writing my music, I knew that I would be doing some advocacy work especially because we still live in a country where queer people are still struggling for basic rights. Once I came out and found my footing as a queer adult, I knew it would be a part of my life. That is also the same time that I started writing my own music. I never hesitated in being my authentic self or hesitated in writing about my experiences as a queer person. It was more important to me to write music that I was proud of then thinking about how it would affect my career.

Brandon Stansell

EDGE: Why choose country music?

Brandon Stansell: I grew up right outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee and I grew up on country music. My parents were always dialed into WUSY US 101. I grew up singing it and loving it. I've modeled my sound and writing style after the artists that I listened to growing up. When I started writing my own music there really wasn't a question of what genre I wanted to be a part of.

EDGE: You had the chance to record with out country singer Ty Herndon. What was that like and how did it come about?

Brandon Stansell: Ty and I met almost a 10 years ago. We were neighbors in Nashville and that was just by chance. We become friends and when I started making music, I reached out to him. He become a sounding board and a mentor for me. He really helped me get on my feet. He helped pair me with a producer and just gave me lots of great feedback. I don't think he really knew what to expect from me musically. I remember sitting with him in my car on Santa Monica Boulevard and playing him what was my 3 song EP at the time, which turned in to my full-length record. After he heard them, he asked if he could sing on one. I was so happy that he wanted to be apart of my project.

Brandon Stansell

EDGE: Did he give you any advice on being an out country singer?

Brandon Stansell: Yes, he has been an invaluable friend and mentor to me. I bounce a lot of stuff off him. The thing with Ty is that he came up in a world of country music where it was more important to be straight than it was to be honest. Now he is looking at someone like me and I have no roadblocks. He told me once that he wished that he could have been his true authentic self instead of hiding it. I think he is proud of the work that I am doing and really proud to also be a part of it.

EDGE: Has this pandemic given you the opportunity to work on some new music?

Brandon Stansell: Yes, I am working on a new project that will probably come out within the next year. I just put out my brand-new EP "Hurt People" few days ago. I am always writing and thinking of new music every day.

Brandon Stansell and Eureka O'Hara

EDGE: How has the reception been for your music?

Brandon Stansell: Great! I think (he laughs). I have never had anything, but nice things said to me and about my music. I feel very fortunate especially for being a queer artist singing country music. I write very honestly about my personal experiences and I find it amazing that people who are not part of the queer community find themselves in the songs. It just shows that's we are more alike than different, and that country music brings people together.

EDGE: Can you tell us one thing about yourself that your fans may not know?

Brandon Stansell: I am a big fan of Cross-fit. It has been keeping me sane in these crazy times.

EDGE: What, if any, country artists would like to collaborate with?

Brandon Stansell: OMG, get your pen and paper because I have a list! I think that every country artist has it on their bucket list to do a song with Dolly Parton and it is right there on the top of mine. Brandi Carlile has had a huge influence on me, so I would love to do something with her. Vince Gill, who I love, I would love to do a collaboration with him. I think he has one of the most quintessential country voices out there. I would really love to get him on a record one of these days.

EDGE: What does country music mean to you?

Brandon Stansell: Country music at its core is storytelling. I think we all can admit that queer stories have been missing from it. I am excited about the changing landscape of this genre and to be a part of it.

For more information about Brandon, visit his website.

Watch Brandon Stansell perform "Hometown":

Watch Brandon Stansell and Eureka O'Hara perform "For You":

Listen to Brandon Stansell and Cam perform "Hurt People":