Americana artist Sammy Brue has quite an impressive résumé. At just 16 years old, the wunderkind has released a handful of songs that showcase his natural gifts for both singing and songwriting, and has been heralded as a something of a young guardian for his genre.
Created along with several esteemed writers and producers, including The Civil Wars’ John Paul White and Alabama Shakes’ Ben Tanner, I Am Nice is a marvelous debut record, inspired by older sounds not typically heard in mainstream music today. As Paste reported last month in a profile of Brue’s mentor, Justin Townes Earle, Brue’s songs “are all about achieving romantic relationships that haven’t happened yet or repairing those that are broken. The lyrics fit the simple garage-rock templates, but they’re not special. What’s special are the catchy choruses that Brue comes up with for nearly every song. Like the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun,” the vocal hooks are often welded to an acoustic-guitar figure just as sharply defined.”
Today, you can stream I Am Nice days before its official June 16 release on New West Records, exclusively via Paste. To mark the premiere, we chatted with Brue about the album, his songwriting process and his likeness to Justin Bieber.
I Am Nice is a very straightforward message to put on the front of a record. What was the thought process behind the title?
Sammy Brue: I guess as a big picture you could think of “I am nice” as don’t make quick assumptions about people. It comes from my song “Control Freak.” It was inspired by Kurt Cobain. I watched this great interview where the interviewer told Kurt, “You seem so nice but not everyone knows.” And he’s like, “I feel like I’ve always been nice but not everyone knows it.” It’s like, everybody has a story.
You recorded in Florence, Ala., which is pretty rural and has that small-town feel. Did your surroundings influence the sound of the album?
Brue: Some of the songs on the album I’ve had since I was 12, 13. It was more of the sound. John Paul White (Civil Wars) and Ben Tanner (Alabama Shakes) did freaking amazing on all those songs. They’re from around there. I toured FAME Studios and there was this huge picture of Etta James on the wall, and I was like, “Wow, I want to record there.”
Watch Sammy Brue perform at the Paste Studio on April 4:
There’s a bit of everything on the album. “I See I Hear” is a confessional. “Jealous” has a sort of twang about it. Who were some of the musical inspirations that motivated your songwriting and instrumentation?
Bob Dylan is always one. He’s always one for everyone. The Avett Brothers have had a huge toll on my songwriting. Justin Townes Earle has been an influence on the way I play guitar.
All of the tracks on this record sound like they were written by someone who’s lived a lifetime. When you were writing them, were you writing from your own experiences or from someone else’s perspective?
Brue: The only way I can really explain it is taking someone else’s story and putting it in my own words—like telling their story as if I’m living it. Even songs like “Jealous,” that’s about me going through a heartbreak. I’ve never done one like “Jealous.” I watch a lot of movies. A lot of drama goes on at home, so I write about that too.
What movies do you watch?
A Face in the Crowd. I love sappy love movies. I also love funny movies like Tommy Boy.
You’re getting a lot of praise for paying homage to an older genre that a lot of young artists don’t touch. Are you open to experimenting with new sounds or will you stick with what works?
Brue: I experiment now. I just really do love music. I produce rap music, hip hop, pop and some other experimental type stuff. As far as my songwriting goes, I’ve always stuck to this Americana-type rock genre. I have done a couple poppy songs. I just don’t see Sammy Brue going in that direction.
In a way, you’re kind of the Americana Justin Bieber. You were both very young when you started and were hailed as prodigies in your respective genres. He also had his famous hair swoosh when he started out; you have your signature long hair and hat. Do you think that’s a signature look you’ll have for the rest of your career or will you switch it up?
Brue: It’s hard to say. I could go off the rails at any moment and just decide to buzz my hair. The main reason why is started growing my hair was the Avett Brothers. The very first time I played on the street for money I got $50, and I went down to this story somewhere in Park City and bought this straw hat. And ever since then I’ve just performed with hats.
Stream I Am Nice in full below.