Jessica: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the Going Scared podcast. Join me here every week for conversations on living lives of purpose by leaving comfort and going scared. This week’s story is a story about leaving comfort and going scared. I’m so honored to welcome musician Brittney Spencer with me as we continue our Going Against the Grain series.
Brittney is a country singer-songwriter living in Nashville. Her love for storytelling drove the Baltimore native to Nashville in 2013 with dreams of singing and writing country music. She’s since toured and performed as a background singer for such artists as Carrie Underwood and Christopher Cross, all while establishing herself as a songwriter in Music City.
In late 2020, Spencer began her ascent to what we’re just gonna call stardom with the release of her debut EP “Compassion” which garnered rave reviews. So, I was excited to have Brittney on the show because she shares about what it was like for her to pick up and move to Nashville to make herself known as a country music artist and the journey that it’s been for her to make her mark in this world as a Black woman artist. There just are not many Black artists in this country music world and so I thought this is the story of Going Against the Grain. Here is my conversation with Brittney.
Brittney Spencer: A Good Story is Always Worth Telling
Jessica: First, I just wanted to ask you, how on earth are you surviving? Because, you know, as a musician, I think you might be the first musician that I have had on the show since COVID. And you think of restaurateurs, you think of… I mean, I run a retail business. There’s so many specific industries that have been impacted by COVID, but the music industry specifically is been severely impacted. So, how are you doing during this COVID-19 time as an artist?
Brittney: Being an artist, it’s probably the strangest thing I think the music industry has experienced in a long time the same way the music industry… I mean, I guess, during the recession, the industry still kind of thrived. People were still able to do live shows and all that, but right now everything is just shut down. And touring and live shows is like the biggest revenue stream for artists. So, to not have that, it’s impacted a whole lot of artists. And thankfully, in Nashville, because it is like an industry town, there has been so many outlets for artists, for creatives. There’s been so many grants, and then there’s so many initiatives, like restaurants giving out free meals a few times a week, like, really good ones. Like, just as, you know, if you’re a touring musician or if you’re creative or someone that works usually in the studio or you work in a crew or, like, stage crew, honestly, it’s an overwhelming amount of support. And I feel like Nashville really can’t catch a break because right before the pandemic was the tornado that ripped through so many different parts of Nashville including East Nashville and parts of North Nashville where a lot of artists live.
Brittney: And it’s… We just can’t catch a break, honestly.
Jessica: Oh, man.
Brittney: It’s challenging, but right in the middle of a pandemic, I released my first EP and it did well. And I’m like… I feel like I’m taking in the moment, but also there’s a part of me that’s like, "Dang it, man." It feels kind of weird to find myself kind of thriving a bit with my first-ever release of music. And I see so many of my friends trying to figure out how to make things happen for them. And so even in the middle of all the joy, there is a little bit of guilt because so many of us are struggling and it’s a lot to take in all at once.
Jessica: Wow. I wanna celebrate the release of your EP and, you know, other people’s… Often, at Noonday we say, "One woman’s success doesn’t diminish another’s," but then also I think you could also say, "Someone else’s struggle doesn’t diminish someone else’s success." So, I wonder too. You’re a country singer, but also just an incredible songwriter and your songs are so, gosh, truthful, soulful, hopeful.
Brittney: Thank you.
Jessica: Do you think that there is… I feel like maybe there’s something in this time, I mean Tay Swift showed us this, there’s something about we’re turning to music and I think… Have you seen your songwriting thrive more during a struggle?
Brittney: Honestly, yeah. Just having the time to really be able to turn inward and figure out what do I actually feel. I mean, it has not been a dry pandemic at all. It’s been very eventful. A lot of things have happened and a lot of those moments have given us an opportunity to self-reflect, to see where we stand in our own thoughts, in our own feelings of how we view the world, how we view ourselves and the people around us, how we view our faith. Do we have it? It’s been a great time to just self-reflect and do some inward searching. And so, I do feel like that’s reflected in my songwriting as well. I don’t know how anyone could live through this time and not have that opportunity and see it reflected in their creative work, just as an artist. I think that it’s almost impossible. And if you managed to just skip that part, teach me because I would have loved to known how to do that at least a few days over the last 10 or 11 months.
“It’s been a great time to just self-reflect and do some inward searching. And so, I do feel like that’s reflected in my songwriting as well.” Brittney Spencer
Jessica: Just a few days, have a little bit of a respite.
Brittney: Yeah. Just a few. Just a few.
Jessica: Well, I’d love to hear a little bit more of your story. Do you remember when you first knew you wanted to pursue music?
Brittney: I don’t know that that moment ever happened for me. I’ve just been doing it. I started singing in church. My mom says it was three. And so, I just started singing in church and I just always did it. I don’t think there was ever a moment where I said, "I wanna do music for the rest of my life." I think I just always said it. So, every time I’m asked that question, I feel like I’m giving such a boring response where I’m like, "I actually didn’t have that moment." I just kind of knew what I was supposed to do, and I’ve just stayed on that course. I think realizing that I was going to move to Nashville to pursue it even further as a country artist and songwriter that was, like, a moment that I definitely had. But just to do music in general, I just always did it.
Jessica: You always knew. And so, you grew up in Baltimore.
Jessica: Is that right?
Brittney: B’more. Born and raised.
Jessica: Born and raised, Baltimore. So, yeah. Tell us about that journey to move from Baltimore to Nashville because I think you can be one of those people that maybe always grew up knowing this is what I’m supposed to do, but then you do that point of no return where you decide to actually make a high stakes decision that then corners you with courage to where you’re like, "Okay. Actually, I’m not gonna just say that this is what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna pursue it." What was that journey like?
Brittney: Yeah. I mean, it was kind of bizarre. There was so many things happening at the time that kind of made me realize I need to be doing music. I was worship-leading at a church and I was working there. And I realized I wasn’t gonna be working there anymore and I started working, like, a regular 9:00 to 5:00 job. And I just kept getting laid off. It was a time where people were just getting laid off like crazy in Baltimore. And I was one of those people. And I was like, "You know what? If I’m gonna struggle, I wanna at least struggle doing something that I really love."
And I had been thinking about Nashville for a while. I’d even applied to a few colleges out here and I got accepted into them, but I just didn’t leave. For whatever reason, that acceptance letter just didn’t prompt me to move. But losing a bunch of jobs and just being unhappy because I was just tired of being broke and doing things that I didn’t really love to do and not really feeling like I was working towards my goal of being in the country music industry, I don’t know what happened. It’s just, I guess, that combined with figuring out rent and also my apartment building, like, they were kind of doing new management or new ownership situation. It was just… I don’t know. It felt like all hell was breaking loose and I was like, "I at least wanna be in hell doing what I like to do."
Jessica: Right. If I’m gonna suffer let it be doing something I love.
Brittney: Yeah, exactly. And I was just like, "You know what?" I kind of got, like, a little glimmer, I guess. I went to my apartment building, my apartment management at the time and I said, "Listen." I said, "You all about to get new owners. Just let me out of my lease. I know I’ve got like six or seven months left, but just let me out. Let’s just do this." And they said, "Sure." And they actually let me out of my lease, and they gave me back half of my security deposit. And I think I paid like two or three months, like, of a security deposit to live in my apartment. And so, they… I mean, I got money back and I was like, "Okay, cool." So, I took that money, I went and I lived with my dad for like a year because my brother and my sister had already moved out by then.
So, I moved back home, stayed with him for a year to save up. Ironically, I still had issues with jobs because it was such a crazy time. Everyone was just kind of losing jobs. And so, I don’t know. For a year, I just lived with my dad, I saved up, and then I planned to come to Nashville. And I guess when it was the day, when it was time, I packed up my car and I drove to Nashville in the middle of the night. And it was kind of crazy. My parents… My dad, I don’t think he thought I was actually gonna do it. I told him in October. I said, "Dad, I’m gonna…" Not this past October, but I think it was like maybe… I guess it’s eight years come next month that I’ve been here. I told my dad I said, "Dad, I just booked my flight. I’m going to Nashville in January." He’s like, "Okay, cool."
And so, then that time comes, and I reminded him, like, a few days prior to me leaving to go to Nashville that I was gonna be in Nashville looking for a job, looking for an apartment. And I guess he forgot. He called me one day while I was in Nashville, he said, "Where are you? You didn’t come home last night." I said, "I told you. I’m in Nashville." He was like, "Are you serious? Are you really doing this?" I said, "Yeah, I told you I was doing it." He’s like, "Yeah, but you were saving for a year." I said, "Yeah, I was saving up. I’m ready to go now. I found an apartment. I just got the job. I’m moving here in a month." And he was like, "Are you kidding me?" He couldn’t believe it. But, yeah. I mean, I did it. I just drove…
My sister actually drove with me. We were supposed to take turns driving, but she fell asleep and so I just ended up driving for the whole 11, 12 hours by myself. But it was fine. It was totally fine. It actually gave me a moment to, like, just have time to be like, "Brittney, what are you doing? What are you doing?" And I just did that for 12 hours. And my sister was asleep. And I’m just like wrestling within myself, driving. And I wanted to drive in the middle of the night because, one, it just sounds cooler, and also, I just hate traffic. I really hate traffic.
Jessica: Right. That does sound cool, in the middle of the night, driving to Nashville.
Brittney: Yeah. I’m a storyteller from just to the core and I’m like, "Oh, that makes a good story. Let’s drive in the middle of the night." So, it’s a little silly thing, but…
Getting Lost and Found in Nashville
Jessica: Okay. No, I love it. I love it. Okay. Twelve hours. You grew up in Baltimore, a Black woman, heading to Nashville as a country music artist. When you were saying, "What am I doing? What am I doing?" what were some of your fears going through your mind during those 12 hours?
Brittney: Yeah. I mean, just moving to a new city. I didn’t know anybody here. I really didn’t know anyone. My sister stayed with me for about four months. She was studying for the MCAT. And so that was nice, like, having her with me, but when she left, I really just did not know anybody. And also, just wondering, like, "Can I actually do this?" I’d only visited Nashville once. I was here for like three or four days. And that’s not enough time to kind of figure out a city.
And so, I’m a very cautious person already. I like to take my time. I am kind of slow, I guess, in that sense. And so, it was just such a… I don’t know. It felt fast for me even though I had been planning this move for a year and had been thinking about it years prior, it was scary. I guess, for me as a creative, I was just thinking like, "You know what, Brittney? Everyone does this. Everyone figures this out. Everyone, when they wanna be a singer, actor, whatever, like, they eventually – most people have to move to a different city." So, I just… It still felt awkward. I was like, "Will I be able to succeed in country music? I don’t really see anybody that looks like me."
And so, it was a whole bunch of questions, but if I’m honest with myself, I had those questions for years. There was so many times where I wondered if I actually could make a mark in this industry because I didn’t see anyone that looked like me. And so that honestly was one of the things that held me up for years, you know, and not coming here a whole lot sooner. So, I guess, the time that we’re in right now where we’re seeing more representation and we’re seeing more opportunities for people that look like me, it becomes so encouraging. Because I remember all the years, I don’t wanna say I wasted, but there was so many years where I didn’t do what I really wanted to do because I didn’t know if I actually could, that’s because I noticed the framework of the industry. And so just being able to overcome that a bit or to at least do it afraid, that’s what I feel like I did. That’s probably a more accurate description. I just did it afraid. And I’m still doing it afraid, honestly. But being able to just still do what I’m doing creatively and just in the industry, it means a lot to me because I remember when I wondered if this day would ever come.
“The time that we’re in right now where we’re seeing more representation and we’re seeing more opportunities for people that look like me, it becomes so encouraging.” Brittney Spencer
Jessica: And it’s come now. I mean, you are in it and you are experiencing something that… you know, most people, no matter what their ethnicity is, you’re making it as an artist in Nashville.
Jessica: How does that feel now when you look back on those 12 hours and then the success that you’re experiencing, especially in the past few months as a country music artist?
Brittney: It feels hopeful. It feels like a lot of other things as well, but I think the overwhelming sentiment that I have for this moment as I look at just how the landscape of country music is slowly kind of turning a tide. It feels hopeful, and not just because I got an opportunity, but because I actually see where this could be really effective and beneficial to so many other people. I do see that day being able to come and to happen. I just think that… I just think it’s important to just have some faith. It doesn’t mean that I turned a blind eye to doubt. It doesn’t mean that I don’t wrestle with any tension. It doesn’t mean any of that. It just means that, overall, I really do think that things are changing and I’m so excited. I’m excited to watch it happen and I’m just grateful for this moment and that I get to be part of it in a small way, it’s very humbling.
Jessica: Tell me a little bit about… I wanna… Two questions. Why country for you? Where did that come from? And then also, what is the history of country music that has really, in particular, lacked Black representation?
Brittney: Yeah. So, country music, I was introduced to it… I mean, there’s two versions of the story. The first version is that I was on a school bus as a kid. We always caught the school bus. And the school bus drivers, they would always listen to, like, the alternative rock station because it was like the most neutral thing, like music that adults wanted to hear, but also that kids wouldn’t be damaged from. And so, I didn’t realize that I was actually being introduced to a bunch of genres at once. They would play Prince, and they would play Aerosmith and they would play Tim McGraw, they would play Dixie Chicks, now The Chicks, and they would play Shania Twain. And it was a lot kind of happening at that time. And I didn’t realize I was being introduced to the genre in addition to a bunch of other genres. But my formal introduction probably came a few years later when I was about 14 or 15, I think. My friend Keisha after church, she was like, "You need to listen to this Dixie Chicks’ album." I’m like, "What are you talking about? Who is Dixie Chicks? And what is a Dixie?" And she played the album and I, to this day, don’t know which album it was. I don’t remember what song it was. I just remember looking at the album cover. And it’s crazy. I don’t even remember which one it was. And I remember listening to this song and hearing the harmonies and I just thought, "Oh, this sounds like church."
It just sounded like a quartet to me. And I fell in love with the storytelling. It was church just kind of telling a different story. "Goodbye Earl" is not exactly the song I would hear in church, but it sounded like it with all the harmonies and I fell in love with the storytelling. I mean, it’s a similar story to that of, like, Ray Charles who says he fell in love with country music because of the stories as well. And really, that’s where my love for songwriting started. It started with country music. And I think that’s why I hold to it so much because of the way that it sounded, but also just the idea of finding myself as a songwriter through this genre has been so special and I’ve just clung to it ever since.
So, that’s my country music story and it makes it all the more exciting. I was recently, this past weekend, inducted into CMTs, Next Women of Country music class of 2021. And I remember when my friend, Keisha, like, showed me The Chicks, their album and I listened to it and I fell in love with the stories. I immediately just started binging CMT. I found out that CMT existed. I started listening to my local country radio station. Shout out WPOC and Laurie DeYoung. I just fell in love and I just kind of binged crazy. So, right now this moment that I’m in is kind of like full circle. I’m actually on the TV station that helped guide me through the beginning parts of my introduction to country music. And that’s really cool.
Jessica: Wow. That’s amazing. That makes so much sense because, yeah, country music is just classic storytelling and you’re such a beautiful songwriter.
Brittney: Thank you.
Saying Yes to New Opportunities
Jessica: I’m thinking, okay, you’re this teenager in Baltimore bingeing on country music. Did you have other friends that were also super into country music as well or were they just like, "Why are you getting into country music?"
Brittney: No, no. To this day, like, I still had to explain to my parents. I was like, "Dad, CMT is Country Music Television." I said, "It’s like BET but of country music." And they’re like, "Okay, cool." And I kind of prepared myself for these moments. I hope to one day sing at the Grand Ole Opry and I know that I’m gonna have to, like, tell my friends and family, "Hey, listen, guys. The Grand Ole Opry is like the Apollo Theater of country music." And then they’ll get it. And it’s really innocent and it’s really fun for me to be able to take my friends and my family through that journey because, I mean, they… If I play it, they’ll listen to it and they’ll like it, but it’s not something that my friends or family back at home kind of engage in except for my sister. My sister, I feel like we have turned each other on to so many different artists and styles of music. And when I showed my sister The Chicks’ album and when we started listening to Gretchen Wilson and Joe Nichols, she just got right on board and we were just, you know, singing it together.
I remember we were listening to Gretchen Wilson’s, her first album, and we were just singing together. We would sing "When I Think About Cheating" and just all the different songs on that album. And my sister would harmonize with me. She was my original background singer. And that was so special to me. And my other sister Brea, she… One day, surprisingly, I got in her car and she had, like, a Taylor Swift album, like, on the chair. I was like, "Seriously. Okay." And she was like, "Yeah, I like this album." And so, you know, every now and then, like, my family would shock me, but they genuinely do enjoy if I play it, but it’s not something, like I said, they would listen to all the time, which, for me, just makes my journey way more fun. I get to talk more about country music, you know, and tell them about the things that I like and the things that I listen to and the things I’ve learned and it just becomes another conversation piece for us, which is really cool.
Jessica: So, how do you even… You hear these stories, you know, young artist moves to Nashville or moves to L.A. to make it as an actor. What do you… I don’t know. What do you do? You move to Nashville. How do you even go about becoming known?
Brittney: Man. You know, I think the first thing that I really learned was that there’s really no one way to do anything. Everyone makes their own path and that’s why everyone’s story is so different. Some people come here, and they get discovered within a week, you know, because they did something that caught someone’s attention, and then other people, they see Nashville as a 10-year town. They’re here for 10 years and they just, you know, feet to pavement, just kind of, you know, doing what they got to do, and then something finally breaks for them. It’s so many ways to do it. There is no right or wrong way. And that was, like, I think the first lesson that I learned because I’m, like, really big… I’m a number one on the Enneagram, and so I’m kind of big on too much at times on what is the right way? What is the wrong way to do thing? What’s the right way? And that was something that really kind of got shattered for me. I was like, "Oh, okay, cool. There is no right way. And honestly, most people don’t know what they’re doing. Cool."
“I think the first thing that I really learned was that there’s really no one way to do anything. Everyone makes their own path and that’s why everyone’s story is so different.” Brittney Spencer
So, it just relieves… It alleviates so much pressure, and that’s what happened to me when I first moved here. When I realized there was no right way, I was like, "Oh, well, then let me just try stuff out." And there was… It sounds so silly every time I say it, but when I first moved here, my sister and I, we were just watching movies. We were broke. We didn’t have anything. I think we still had blowup mattresses. We didn’t have anything. We literally put whatever we could into my little Mitsubishi Gallant and came here. And so, there was no bed, no dresser yet. And we were just watching movies. I had a DVD player or was it… I don’t know if it was a DVD player. No, it wasn’t that. I think it was, like, probably Hulu, Netflix. I don’t know. Something along those lines. But we had my TV and we will watch movies. And one of the movies that we watched was "Yes Man." I’m not sure if you’ve seen it with Jim Carrey.
Brittney: But basically, he had to, like, say yes. Like, whenever someone asks him to do something, he had to say yes. And I thought, "Oh, that’s a cool way to get into a new city. Whenever someone asks me to do something, I would just say yes." And I did that for, like, a while. And one of the things that I did during that time is, one, I taught myself how to play guitar. And then a friend said, "Well, you’ve learned how to play a few chords. You should just go and bust downtown." And I was like, "What do you mean?" She’s like, "Just go play your guitar downtown. Just go find a spot and just play for people." And I started doing that and it was so fun, and I guess I now know it to be marketing research. But it was just so fun just trying to figure out what made people stop? What made people listen to me? What made people give $10 instead of $1? What made people, you know, a crowd of 15 or 20 people gather around me for 10 minutes versus 2 people staying there for 5? It was so fun. And I just did that for, like, two summers. And, yeah. I mean, that type of stuff, I did that. I also… I started going to different writing like songwriting workshops where they would teach you the basics of songwriting and they would bring in different publishers and people who, like, it’s their job to shop songs. They would come in and they would critique people’s songs. And those usually cost a lot of money, at least for me at the time. It was like 300, 400 bucks.
So, I didn’t have that, and so I would just find ways to volunteer. I think I did like two or three of those when I moved here in the first year. I just found ways to volunteer. I was like, "Do you guys need someone to hand out pamphlets? Do you need someone to grab things or assist in some way?" And that’s how I got in. And I didn’t have to get my songs critiqued. I got to watch other people’s songs get critiqued and I got to kind of walk away with the wisdom and the knowledge that I kind of gained. But it was things like that. I found any way that I could to just connect with people, with other artists, with people in the industry. And I just… Yeah. I mean, I guess there is no right way to do any of this stuff. And so, for me, moving to a new city, I don’t know, I just tried stuff out and I just did that for a long time.
Being Black in Country Music
Jessica: I’m curious, you mentioned earlier that for years you said it was the color of the skin that, in your mind, was holding you back from pursuing country music, and now here you are pursuing country music. What did you find your experience to be as a Black country music artist in those first couple of years?
Brittney: Yeah. I didn’t know anyone that looked like me that was pursuing country music. The only person… The only two people I knew at the time, they were like so far away. They were kind of already doing their thing and I didn’t feel like I could get to them. And it was Mickey Guyton and Rissi Palmer. And just I felt like they were so far along. And they were. I just felt like I couldn’t, like, say anything to them. So, I just… But they were the only ones that looked like me. And so, I would just… I don’t know. I guess I would at times feel discouraged because I was the only one that looked like me, that kind of had the experience that I had. And it’s not just about… I’ve never had an issue with how I look or my race or anything. I’m very proud of who I am.
But the way that I felt like I was kind of viewed or perceived was what I had an issue with whether it was in a studio session or if I was meeting with a publishing company or if I was at a writer’s round. It was just the overwhelming feeling of like, "What are you doing here?" And I don’t think anyone intentionally did it. I just think when people see someone new, when people see something that they don’t typically see, it’s probably just curiosity, but to the person on the receiving end of it, it just feels like you just don’t belong or you’re being treated like you don’t belong. And so, yeah.
I mean, I will find different ways to connect. I remember going to a few of Mickey’s shows, like writer rounds that she did in Nashville, and we met once. And I slid into Rissi Palmer’s DMs one day because a mutual friend said, "You should meet Rissi." I said, "I know. I think she’s awesome." And they say, "You should just reach out to her." And I did. I reached out to her Instagram and she was the kindest person in the world. She was wonderful. She said, "Hey, I live in North Carolina, but I’m coming to Nashville in, like, a month or two. Would you love to get coffee?" And I was like, "Yes, please, I would really love that." And she was just the kindest person in the world.
And honestly watching her now kind of be a voice and an advocate for artists of color in country music, it just makes so much sense because I watched her do this one-on-one. And to see her do it now in the media space, it’s just not a shock and it just feels wonderful to kind of see this moment come for her because she’s been doing this for years before there was a media platform. And honestly, Mickey has been warm and welcoming to other artists of color and just artists in general for a while. And I know this because she was warm and welcoming to me when she met me. I didn’t even tell her I sing. I didn’t tell her I was a singer or a songwriter or anything like that. I just said, "Hey, I see you and I just want you to know that I think you’re doing a great job and you’re killing it." And that was it. And she was the nicest person in the world.
She didn’t know anything about me. And to just to be able to sit in this moment where they’re my friends and to see just all of the advocacy work and all the uplifting they do for other artists of color in this space, particularly, women, it just feels… it feels so heartwarming. I actually don’t even know if that’s strong enough of a word to really describe how this moment feels. Because I remember when I was the only one in my own little sphere, my own little space, and to watch there be so many of us is life-changing for not just me, I think, for a whole lot of people. And I think it’s gonna shake things up in this industry.
“I remember when I was the only one in my own little sphere, my own little space, and to watch there be so many of us is life-changing. I think it’s gonna shake things up in this industry.” Brittney Spencer
Jessica: Wow. Wow. Well, you posted a clip of you covering the Highwomen’s Crowded Table in October and then…
Brittney: I did.
Jessica: Yeah. Yeah. So, they shared it, that went viral. How did that feel for you?
Brittney: I still don’t know. I think that was, like, two or three months ago. I still don’t know. It’s, of course, exciting. And it’s, of course, honoring and I’m just full of gratitude for it. It’s just, I can’t believe it happened. That’s what the real nitty-gritty of this whole thing is for me. I can’t believe it happened. And I gained two friends from it. I gained two friends, Amanda Shires and Maren Morris have been nothing but kind and supportive, encouraging, and just fun, and just dope people. I just enjoy every time I talk to them, every time… I think Amanda is working on a project right now and I’ve gotten into the studio a few times to sing, and she’s just phenomenal. Such a wonderful person, both of them.
Jessica: Wow. I love that you got two friends.
Brittney: Yeah. They’re just pretty cool people.
Jessica: Isn’t that what this is all about?
Brittney: Yeah, I think so. You and I, we’re friends now. You know, it’s…
Jessica: We’re friends now.
Brittney: We are. It’s all about just connecting and just seeing people for people, you know, beyond being grateful for what they do on their platforms and also just recognizing that they were just really good people to even reach out to me. They could have watched that video and not said anything. They could have watched that video and just said, "Hey, this is awesome," you know, whatever, but they reached out and they said, "Hey, this is great. Come sing with us." And I’m like, "Wow. That’s incredible." They just didn’t even have to use their platform for that, but they did and it’s just such a humbling feeling, honestly.
Taking Risks and Following Dreams
Jessica: So, your recent EP, "Compassion," was released and you did a duet with Brock Human and it’s become sort of an anthem, "Thoughts and Prayers." And in it, you sing, "I’ve spoken up, but it wasn’t enough, a son lost a father today, a woman was gunned down today, the music stopped playing today, don’t send me your thoughts and prayers because they don’t go anywhere when we let the good die young." And I just wondered if you could take us inside the source of those lyrics because your voice is so heartbroken yet forceful in that anthem.
Brittney: Wow. That song, it means a lot to me. It’s a song about mass shootings. I wrote it with Brock Human, who’s a really, really good friend of mine. He’s brilliant. And also, Olivia Yokubonis out of Los Angeles. We wrote it together in December of 2019 at a songwriting camp for this big creative collective called Common Hymnal, where we just get together and get in groups of two, sometimes three or four people and we just write songs for, like, an afternoon, and then we share them at night.
Brittney: And we write a lot of socially-conscious music as well. And so that’s where I kind of felt like I could explore that particular topic in that space because that’s kind of just already on brand for us. We write a lot of socially-conscious songs. And I remember on my way to L.A. on the plane, I started just writing a few lines of the song. And I was like, "You know what? I’m gonna just go ahead and write this." And I mean, it was on the plane. I just said, "I’m gonna go ahead and write this. I’m gonna present it to my group." I knew I was gonna be writing with Brock and Olivia. I said, "You know what? I’m gonna just see if they like it. And if they don’t, it’s totally cool." But I’m kind of the person that likes to be prepared whenever I go into a write. I like to have a few ideas, you know, just in case one doesn’t, you know, stick to everyone, we can kind of sort through some other things. And I showed it to them once we got to the writing camp. And I felt like Brock probably was the first to be like, "Yeah, let’s look at this some more. Let’s kind of dive into this song." And I wasn’t really prepared for that, honestly. I was prepared for them to be like, "Oh, that’s such a nice song, Brittney. Let us know how it goes when you write it later on."
And so, I didn’t really have a whole lot of faith in the song. It was just like a few lines that I had. And I didn’t really have a whole lot of faith in it yet, but that’s pretty common for me in the beginning of a song process. But, yeah. I mean, they got on board and they brought this song to life. I feel like we really labored to make this song really communicate how we felt about mass shootings, how we felt about gun violence, and how we feel about people. We see stats, we see statistics, we see tweets, we see so many things that talk about these events, but we don’t recognize all the time that there are actual people that are actually dying. There are people that are losing their parents. There are parents that are losing their kids, you know, due to things like school shootings or shootings at concerts or if you just go into a Walmart or you’re just going to a store or a movie theater or, I don’t know, you were just driving, and then all of a sudden, something happens and, you know, 3, 4, 10, 20 people get shot and some of them are killed. To me, it really is a nightmare that I wish we could just wake up from and I feel like there’s not been enough action taken.
Me, personally, I’m not against speaking out for your rights. I love that. I just also wish that we would consider the whole. I wish we reconsider, "Hey, we have a problem right now where a lot of people are getting killed. We need to figure out a way to stop mass shootings." But I get it, people wanna carry their guns and do other things, but it’s like, "Dude, there has to be something that we can do to keep kids from being killed." All they did was go to school that day. There’s Sandy Hook. There’s Parkland. There’s just all these different moments in recent history where we’re just losing people to senseless violence. And we haven’t done much of anything about it, and that’s really sad. There’s a line in the song that says, "Don’t send me your thoughts and prayers because they don’t go anywhere when we let the good die young." And that kind of comes because as soon as you see thoughts and prayers online, usually Twitter or Instagram or Facebook, you just know that there was a mass shooting, and that’s the only thing that we’ll offer up: a thought and a prayer. I just don’t know if that does anything. I just don’t know. I don’t know how far that goes. The person is already gone.
Jessica: Do you feel a responsibility as an artist to write more socially-conscious music?
Brittney: There’s a part of me that does. There’s a part of me that feels like if it’s on my heart to say, then I should probably say it, especially if I can tie it into a song. I don’t feel pressured to do it. I do feel like, as an artist, the idea of being able to show all the different sides of who I am and all the different things that are on my brain most days or just being able to tell any story that comes to mind is important to me as well. But I just don’t shy away from hard topics. I don’t shy away from writing songs about humanity and how we see, live, and experience the world around us. I don’t know if, I guess, in a way, it is a social responsibility that I do feel. I think, for me, it’s just I feel very compelled to not turn away from the idea of doing that when I do feel it pressed upon me.
Jessica: Coming from your heart.
Brittney: Yeah. I wanna do that. I wanna always do that. And I know it can be challenging at times. I mean, this was my first EP. And two of the four songs in there talk about the world and humanity and compassion, which is the title track of my EP. I’m talking about protests, and I’m talking about hunger, I’m talking about war, I’m talking about all these different things. And it was kind of scary because these are things you don’t hear in a country song all the time, but I needed to be true to who I am. And it’s not all that I write about. I mean, I got all kinds of other songs. I like to talk about bars. I like to talk about love. I like to talk about friends and, you know, hanging out. I love all that stuff. And I’ll write that. But at the time when it was time to record my EP, these were the songs that were pressing on my heart and I’m glad that I followed it and didn’t go with what I thought would be a more digestible or a more palatable assortment of songs for my first project. I’m really glad that I stuck to where my heart was in that moment.
Jessica: Wow. You are one and that is integrity.
Brittney: Thank you. It’s scary, but…
Jessica: It’s scary.
Brittney: If I’m gonna be in hell, I wanna…
Jessica: I mean, that is… Yeah. I mean, it’s the courage to do what is right over what’s comfortable and that’s what you did and I’m glad you did that.
Brittney: Thanks. Like I was saying in the beginning, if I got to be in hell, I wanna be doing what I love. So, if I’m gonna be in the tension of releasing a first EP, which is already scary in itself, and to release it during a pandemic, I might as well do what I really wanna do.
Jessica: Yeah. I think we can all learn from that. On that note, I’d love for you to just close off with a word of encouragement or inspiration for the person who’s listening who maybe has been stuck in her dreams, in her head, and has not yet moved into action, has not made that move to tell her landlord, "Can I get out of this lease? And I’m gonna go save up and I’m going to make a move." What would you tell that person now?
Brittney: I would say, as cliché as it may be, follow your heart. And not because it’s a nice saying, but because I truly believe that if something is really pressing on your heart, it’s probably because it sees something that hasn’t happened yet, it’s able to put you on a path that is going to one day really open up for you, and it knows it. Even though you don’t see it yet, even though the time has not come, I just honestly believe that following your gut instinct, following your heart, following that voice that you hear in your consciousness is truly the path to living life and living a purposeful and intentional life. I think I’m still learning that, so I’m not saying it on a, like, “I’ve tested it and I’ve tried it.” And I know I’m saying it, like, I’m actually discovering this right now myself. Sometimes our hearts know things that we don’t yet.
“I truly believe that if something is really pressing on your heart, it’s probably because it sees something that hasn’t happened yet, it’s able to put you on a path that is going to one day really open up for you, and it knows it.” Brittney Spencer
Jessica: I love when Brittney shares about how she started going to Downtown Nashville and just making music, doing her very own market research — Now that’s what I call going scared, my friends. Her creativity and curiosity to say, “Yes” and be willing to lean into the discomfort of being in a new city, creating a name for herself in a very white music culture, and continuing to put herself out there over and over again… She’s moving mountains, and her courage is contagious.
She’s a natural storyteller, and I appreciate how she brings us along as she shares was it’s been like for her to stand up for herself and keep showing up at the table, even if she hasn’t got an invitation, okay? That is our work for us today. You’re the one that gets to keep showing up as yourself whether you’ve been invited or not.
I want you to keep up with Brittney; you can follow her on Instagram @BrittneySpencer. And guys, this series is so fun, I’m loving it. I’m having fun with you guys. I think this is such an important story to share, especially during Black history month this month. So, go give it a tag. She shows up with a lot of love and light in the world. So, I want you guys to spread the word about her and her music – really, really powerful music.
We’re going to close out the show with the usual: Today’s show, the music is by my good friend Ellie Holcomb. Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz, and I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.