As I talked to Shawn Brown on the phone, he had just finished an in-store performance at a Border's bookstore in Santa Barbara, California, and was in his van on the way to his next show. With someone else driving (tour partner and fellow musician, Kai Brown) and miles of highway before him, we had plenty of time to chat about how Brown came to be on the road to success.
While still living in Boise, Brown began playing open mics around downtown with his friends Rebecca Scott and Ben Burdick. Encouraged by both of them and the audiences who came to see him, Brown started looking at his guitar playing and singing as his future.But knowing what a fickle scene music can be, he decided to continue with his music while also getting a higher education. After graduating from Bishop Kelly High School in 1994, Brown left Idaho and went to college in the East Bay area. He majored in both English and Psychology, and, if that weren't enough, decided to go for his masters degree in Literature at St. Andrew's in Scotland. Although he'd been interested in music since he was just a lad, it was during his time at St. Andrews that Brown really began to pursue his passion.
He moved back to the Bay Area, excited about the prospects available to him in the Golden Gate city. Brown has been involved in some big projects, one of which included performing and recording with bass player Tony Saunders, whose father Merle played jazz piano with Jerry Garcia. He said that living in San Francisco has forced him to be creative. When he plays with a full band, he fuses blues, jazz and hip-hop. When on his own, Brown's music moves across the spectrum from folk to rock to pop--sometimes within the same song. He works hard to produce his unique sound and it has found its niche among the thousands of kinds of music available in the city.
In trying to stand out in a crowd in the city's crowded scene, Brown has to be confident in his own ability. When I asked him what he likes most about his own music, he replied without hesitation or ego, "I like my voice. Not just the sound of it, but the way it's grown over the years. I feel like I'm in a place that allows me to sing my music exactly the way I want to. When asked what he liked least about his music, he answered, his voice. He told me that he is hugely addicted to jazz and scat and when on stage, can forget he's in the middle of a song and get a little carried away. He fully understands how important a good hook is to making a song successful and straying from that can be detrimental. But, he says, exploring the music is good for his soul and sometimes he's just got to do it.
Since he started down his chosen path, Brown has garnered critical accolades and, with the help of other talented people like himself, put out his second album, Unremarkable, in 2002. What made that album actually remarkable, is that was produced by his long time friend Ben Burdick and co-produced by friend Doug Reid, a record producer in Northern California who helps Brown write most of his music. He continues to surround himself with like-minded, talented individuals in the studio, on stage and on tour.
Touring in support of his newest release, Lucky Boy, Brown is on the road with Kai Brown (no relation). Kai is a great singer/songrwriter in his own right and when I asked Shawn how he hooked up with Kai, he said, "We communicated via e-mail for a while. We scheduled this tour together without even meeting face to face." Brave souls. Turns out, sometimes things are just meant to be. Shawn and Kai have turned out to be great friends, great travel companions and great on stage together. Australian born Kai has just released his debut album Better Now and if songs like "Everyday" are an indicator of Kai's talent, he's got a bright future ahead of him. (Note: you can hear "Everyday" at www. kaibrownmusic.com.)
With Lucky Boy, Shawn Brown says that's just how he feels. He's had a lot of good feedback on this tour, a lot of college radio play and huge success with iTunes. He's one of the chosen few who has decided to make music his life and has found a way to make a living at it. He is a lucky boy.
Wednesday, November 9, 5:30 p.m., FREE, in-store special performance, Record Exchange, 1105 W. Idaho St.
Thursday, Novemer 10, 8 p.m., $2, The Bouquet, 1010 W. Main St.