Country music breathes not only from the soul of the heartland but from its authenticity, and it’s that authenticity that has allowed this American genre to flourish elsewhere. The popularity of country music in the United Kingdom continues to grow as more country music festivals pop up and US artists book their tours over seas. In reverse, several UK artists have also made their way to the States. Just as the two countries have joined over their love of this genre, so would a UK/US duo. Enter Brown & Gray. Featuring British native Sam Gray and Texan Kaci Brown, B&G are already making waves here in the US. Their current single “Top Down” has been featured as a Highway Find by Storme Warren on SiriusXM The Highway and they recently performed at Stagecoach.
We caught up with the pair to talk about their musical influences, how they came together, their current single and their upcoming debut EP Salt In The Coffee, available June 8.
CN: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! Sam, you grew up in England and Kaci you’re from Texas. Can you each tell us a little bit about your background? In what ways did they possibly differ and how are they similar?
Sam: While stylistically different, we both come from families that love music. Music was always playing in my home. Same with Kaci’s. My sister and dad are both musical. Not professionally musical, but musical. I know Kaci’s Mom has an ear. What’s interesting is Kaci and I were both singing babies. We learned and use(d) different words. For example, in America, you call a baby carriage a stroller. We call it a pram. My mother pushed me to the local butcher’s shop in my pram. Something operatic came from my pram, and the butcher discovered my talent.
Kaci: And I, with my wooden spoon, in my diaper singing, “I’ve got friends in low places..” Sam has his butcher, and I have my candlestick maker— [intentional illumination] my mother. Though, she didn’t make candles then. Sam’s right. Mom did have an ear, and a heart for making dreams come true. While we’re from different countries, we’re both from the country. Small towns make for good people, I tell ya! It doesn’t matter where in the world you’re from, when the tree is well rooted in good soil and nurtured properly, it will be fruitful. We’re very similar, and it’s an absolute joy working with people that understand you. Our stories, accents and vocabularies are our only differences.
Sam: We could have easily been complete strangers, and yet we aren’t.
CN: Sam – How were you exposed to country music? Was it early on in your life?
Sam: At 12 or 13, I became a huge fan of Shania Twain. She crossed over and had my attention the way no one had had in the Country world. I also remember a buddy of mine bringing Kenny Rogers and Johnny Cash cassettes on a road trip. I think of that time and can still hear what I heard and see what I saw. I remember being impacted by the stories and the way they felt musically. My professional journey didn’t take me down the country path until Brown and Gray. I took to working with Kaci and our good friend, Brad Crisler, like a duck to water. It felt and still feels so natural. It’s something you can’t realize you love so much until you wake up and find yourself in it.
CN: Who are some of your influences?
Sam: Aside from country artists, I love Funk music. Old-school James Brown. George Clinton. Parliament Funkadelic.
Kaci: I’m a big fan of great songs. Kacey Musgraves has knocked a few out of the park in the past, but I’m really loving what she’s doing recently. I also love Ashley McBryde. “Girl Going Nowhere” is a pull your car over or you might crash it record. I cried pretty hard when I heard that one. “Worth It” by Danielle Bradbery also kills the game for me. P!nk is an incredible entertainer and vocalist. Gwen Stefani is a stylistic genius— I think because she’s just always been her, and she’s a real-life badass. Celine Dion IS legend, and I almost fainted just this year at stagecoach when Trisha Yearwood came out— just to name a few.
CN: With the success of C2C and Nashville Meets London, can you talk about the booming country scene in the UK? What is the attraction to the genre?
Sam: The attraction is the realism. Relatable stories. That’s what’s keen.
Kaci: If you write the truth and sing the truth, they’ll feel the truth. Look at us. We’re all craving truth! And no genre writes the truth better than country.
Sam: I’m very excited to see the recent collaborations that’s making more people aware of it. I’m happy Brown and Gray is able to be a part of the movement! Country music speaks to the soul.
Kaci: Directly to the soul.. because most of it comes from the soul.
Sam: I’m cheating on pop. I’m having a love affair with country music.
Kaci: You can’t have a love affair with country music!! haha.. you thought she was your weekend fling?! This is your life now, honey!
Sam: I’m alright with it.
CN: Kaci, being from Texas, what was your first experience with country music? Who are your influences?
Kaci: I’m assuming Country music is all I heard in the womb. It’s definitely all I heard from my momma’s truck (yes, my momma had a truck), my daddy’s truck, my grandpa’s tractor and workshop, and my grandma’s convertible. We’d sing “Broken Wing” at the top of our lungs like we were teaching Martina how to do it. It was the background music at all our softball games, rodeos, and even played while we shopped at walmart. I thought Faith Hill was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen, and the Dixie Chicks played at every birthday party I ever had.
CN: What was it like to be ASCAP’s youngest female affiliate (ever!) at the age of 11? How did you work songwriting into the everyday activities of growing up (high school, sports, etc)?
Kaci: It was and is still an honor! But just as everyone has challenges in their high school years, it was great for what it was great for, and it was hard for the obvious reasons. Instead of 8th grade prom, I was playing at the Bluebird. While my friends were preparing to graduate, I was preparing to open for the Backstreet Boys. Songwriting became my everyday activity. I studied, exercised, wrote and rehearsed every day. On Wednesdays and Sundays I was heavily involved in church, which was really where the majority of my socializing with peers came in to play. I was around creative, successful adults most of the time. As an adult, I can’t complain. The years of experience is more than anyone could pay for in a university.
CN: Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
Kaci: I remember writing a song called “My Own Little World”. I vaguely remember the melodies in the Chorus. I also remember and still play one of the (if not the) songs I wrote with Tommy Lee James called “Only The Beginning”.
Sam: I remember my first song was one called “Voices”. It’s still one of my favorites, actually. It was part of an album called “Hurdles In Life” which was only published in a paper wallet I kept.
CN: When did your paths cross and at what point did you know that you wanted to be a duo?
Kaci: We didn’t know we wanted to be a duo until we were a duo. I think we wake up every day and still ask ourselves if this is what we want to do. Fortunately for both of us, the answer continues to be yes on both sides.
Sam: Our paths crossed when I sent my publishers “Top Down” and they suggested we put Kaci’s voice on it. We heard ourselves back and agreed we sounded great together, but still didn’t realize the song would turn us in to something.
Kaci: We liked the way we sounded and were curious how we’d get on writing. And that was far from a fail.
Sam: It’s like our journeys had prepared us both to bring our best to one room and let the magic happen.
Kaci: We started making musical babies, and we couldn’t be more proud. We took it one writing trip at a time, and there’s not a day we didn’t put everything we had in to whatever it was we were doing.
CN: How do you mix your UK and US characteristics into your music?
Kaci: We are really good at mixing us because we are so similar. Our whole project is a balance of ideas thrown out melodically or lyrically that stuck. I don’t think we’ve ever sat down and said, “hey, lets strategically put your UK with my US and see what happens.” lol.. we just happen.
CN: Last month you performed on the final day of Stagecoach, which ended up being an attendance record-breaking day! How was that whole experience?
Sam: Man, stagecoach was both validating and humbling.
Kaci: It fed our faith and held our egos accountable.
Sam: I remember Kaci was in London the day we found out we were playing.
Kaci: It was just the night before we’d been told we wouldn’t make these types of festivals until next year.
Sam: We spent countless hours in rehearsals just to make sure our set was solid for stagecoach.
Kaci: We knew our set would come and go. I was so curious how we’d feel on stage and in the immediate hours after it was over.
Sam: Time stopped while we were up there.
Kaci: But our to-do list didn’t. As soon as we were off the stage, we were interviewing with every radio station set up backstage. When we accomplished that, we were carted off to do a mini photo shoot and then the press tent.
Sam: When we thought of all the gigs we’d played and the years we’d prepared for the moment, we felt like we deserved it. When we thought of all the people in the world that make country music that would give a limb to be on the stage we were able to stand on, we realized how blessed we are. The whole experience has been a ride we’ll never forget!
Kaci: And I hope Stagecoach is one we get to repeat over and over!
CN: Let’s talk about “Top Down.” Tell us how the song came about, and about the success that you have received.
Sam: “Top Down” was written at a writing camp in London. Basically you get put into a room together and told to write a song haha but in a relaxed fashion not in a militant way like it sounds. I wrote top down with an American pop/urban writer and a UK dance producer which obviously explains how it came out sounding like such a hybrid dance/country record. It was originally written over a Britney Spears backing track the producer had made, we shuffled the chords around a bit and ended up with this up tempo free feeling banger that makes you wanna head off into the open road and sing to the top of your lungs haha. When the song was done we sent it over to LA and our management loved it, kinda always felt like it needed something extra to make it truly special though and that’s when me and Kaci were introduced. We hit it off straight away both musically and socially and ended up with what you hear now. For a song that was originally meant for a car commercial we haven’t done bad. A big shout out has to go to our family at Notting Hill, to radio for blasting it as much as they have, and of course to the fans for requesting it and writing so many amazing comments about it on social media. That’s meant we can go on tour all summer doing what we love and keep making the music we love.
CN: Your debut EP ‘Salt In the Coffee’ is due out June 8. Can you describe for us the process that went into the writing and the producing of the album?
Kaci: Sam and I would meet and write for two or three days at a time. We would do what’s always done in a [good] writing session, and fill each other in on all that’s important in our lives. We would discuss things we’d learned or were learning.. maybe words or phrases that had been sticking out to us, and at the end of the day we would leave with something that was once nothing but a feeling in a rough form in an email attachment. We would go our separate ways, living with the ideas and letting them grow as they did. We loved the process and began adding our Notting Hill Music family member, Brad Crisler, to the mix. The band should really be called, Brown and Gray and Crisler. Because it doesn’t roll off the tongue as well, and because he refuses to tour, we’re sticking with Brown and Gray, but we couldn’t have made this album/ upcoming EP without Brad. He’s the dad and the brother and the uncle to this project. Every musician that was brought in to play was a friend of Brad’s. We started everything from scratch. We wrote the records on piano or guitar in both Nashville and Los Angeles. Everything was recorded between two studios- Notting Hill in LA, and Brad’s basement in Nashville. Sam spent a few weeks in Nashville with Brad working on productions and mixes. We’re still working on finalizing several songs, but the EP that’s coming is ready to go. We’re SO excited to share it!
CN: Being a coffee drinker, the title grabbed my attention as they say salt can help with the bitterness of the bean. Is there a connection to that practice to the album? What was the idea behind the title?
Kaci: The idea was yet again- real life experience. Our bandmate, Scott, noticed our manager, Kenny, putting something white in the coffee. It turned in to a few conspiracy theories until it was confirmed Kenny, in fact, puts salt in the coffee. As a sort-of prank, we videoed the following crowd at our following performance saying, “What the hell, Kenny?! Salt in the coffee?!!” and played it for Kenny and the crew later back at the Stagecoach air bnb for a night of laughs. Those laughs were still rolling weeks later. The story got better and better. We kept making videos. It, like us, became more of a thing than we anticipated. When we had our meeting about the EP release, we were throwing out ideas. Because it was so personal for us as a team, I thought it’d be sweet. I threw out the idea. Andy got up and shook my hand. We all laughed and high-fived around the room. Kenny walked out, but it grew on him when he realized it stuck. We love it!
CN: While your career has just begun to take root, have you had a “WOW” moment that you can’t believe has happened?
Kaci: I think our entire duo is our WOW moment. We didn’t plan for any of this. We didn’t see it coming. It’s been surprise after surprise!
Sam: And that’s nice, isn’t it? Being in position to receive everything that’s there for you? We’re very fortunate to be doing this, and we’ll never take a moment of it for granted.
CN: If you could describe yourselves with one word, what would it be and why?
Kaci: Open— except for when I’m not.
CN: Do you have a dream collaboration in mind?
Sam: Yes I think we both would love to collaborate with the all time king of country Garth Brooks. We actually wrote a new song in London that could be an absolute Garth classic so maybe it could happen watch this space haha
CN: What’s ahead for you in 2018? Where can fans catch you on the road?
Sam: We’ll be in Boston this weekend! Nashville the following week. Our summer is filling up with festivals all over the place. Morgan County Fair, Davis County Fair, Country Jam, Country Crossings, etc. You can visit brownandgraymusic.com for specifics, and also follow us on facebook and instagram.