He is one of country’s brightest young stars–and he is a man on a mission.
Brian Milson, who has ridden an electric stage presence and an enviable road apprenticeship into the national spotlight, is well aware of country music’s affiliation with good causes. Few artists, though, ever embrace one so early and so effectively.
Brian’s breakthrough single, “Nothing Grows In Shadows,” not only establishes him as a singer to be reckoned with, it makes a powerful and compelling statement about a genuine societal plague–bullying.
“I was bullied as a kid,” says the Odessa, TX-born singer, “and I’m afraid I did a little of it myself, so this song means a great deal to me. The statistics are just horrendous–one out of four kids is bullied. On any given day, kids just stay home out of a fear of bullying. And 85 percent of the time, there’s no intervention. This is a song that addresses that.”
“Nothing Grows in Shadows” tackles the subject head-on, challenging those who perpetuate it and offering support to those who fall victim, before wrapping it up in a verse that makes the subject spine-tinglingly personal.
As in the best songs, though, it is effective because of Brian’s delivery. His is an honest, straightforward style perfectly suited to the dramatic storyline and the admonition that it’s up to all of us to make a difference. The song is a stirring blend of craft and emotion, displaying the kind of vocal power and integrity that mark all of Brian’s work.
“Nothing Grows in Shadows” is the public’s first taste of an album Brian cut in Nashville with one of the all-time great producers, James Stroud (Toby Keith, Willie Nelson, Tim McGraw, Chris Young).
“Brian can just flat out sing,” says Stroud, with an air of authority on the topic. “There’s a power and a depth to his voice that’s extremely rare and just draws you in to these songs.”
It’s easy, hearing Brian on record or watching him live, to understand why he’s gotten the call to open for the likes of Joe Nichols, Easton Corbin and Neal McCoy, or for his idol Willie Nelson, a gig that found Brian “in front of three thousand of the most diverse audience members you could run across. They had all come to see a musical icon and for me to be a part of that was really something special.”
Brian is a product of Odessa, the West Texas town that gave the world “Friday Night Lights,” about Permian High School, the town’s football powerhouse and embodiment of the quasi-religious phenomenon known as Texas football. Brian played for a year, but baseball and golf were his sports. But it was actually music that captured much of his time and attention from an early age.
“The very first song I knew the words to was ‘Blue Skies,’ which was on Willie’s Stardust album,” he says. “There’s a home video of me singing it back when I was four or five years old.” Brian developed a love for his father’s favorites, Hank Sr. and Ernest Tubb, and went on to become a fan of music that embraced Motown, classic and current rock and even classical music.
“I joined the choir,” he says, “and I came to appreciate Beethoven. Not every seventh-grader enjoys that sort of thing, but it’s cool when you know how to sing something in a different language.” By the time he was a senior in high school, he had auditioned successfully for Permian High’s Black Magic show choir, a select group that performs widely in the area
“It was the finest year of my life to that point,” he says. “I can’t describe how much fun it was. The other members became like my extended family–the way no one except my current band mates ever has. And the education was priceless–we did everything from Handel’s ‘Messiah’ to Marvin Gaye’s ‘How Sweet It Is.’”
That year, the choir was voted the state’s #1 mixed chorus by Texas Music Educators Association. Meanwhile, Brian was drawn into popular music by two guitar-playing friends who helped spur him to learn to play. One friend was a classic rocker and the other was, he says, “as country as you can get. The first song I heard him play was ‘Amarillo By Morning.’ It really hit home to me how true country music is and what it can do to your emotions.”
His first performance outside of the show choir was at Permian’s Cinco de Mayo festival. “I did, ‘I Can Still Make Cheyenne,’” he says, “and it was the most nervous I’ve ever been. I had to keep my knees bent just to keep from getting light-headed, but the reception I got was unreal. It was better than any buzz I’ve ever had.”
He began playing house parties during his freshman year at Texas Tech. He was majoring in music and learning theory but,” he says, “I was always trying to learn the new Strait and Garth songs.”
Before long, he got the chance to open a show for a friend in Lubbock.
“It was so much fun, I knew right then there was not another option besides making music for me,” he says. He opened more shows and then put his own band together.
The band recorded a self-produced album called Walking A Thin Line in 2008–by then, Brian was writing, thanks in part to a break-up he decided to commit to paper. In 2010, he recorded two singles in Nashville, using session players and learning more about the studio and his own singing ability. Both hit the Top 40 on the Texas charts.
That education, in fact, has been non-stop since those early days of hearing Hank Sr. and Ernest Tubb in his dad’s truck.
“I pay attention to everything,” he says of the music of his idols, “and I try to let it help shape the way I express myself vocally and on stage.”
The resulting growth has been phenomenal.
“I’ll never forget that first gig I did,” he says. “I’ll bet I didn’t move two inches in the entire set. These days I like to consider myself more of a high-energy performer, someone who’s braver and a lot more confident. When it comes down to it, it’s all about emotion. Technique is always there in the back of my mind, but it’s the feeling that carries it. That’s what delivers a song.”
He has toured throughout the Southwest with his band and done acoustic shows across the country, introducing himself and his music to fans and radio stations alike.
Now, with the release of “Nothing Grows In Shadows,” all that education and experience has come together. For the young man from Odessa, the journey is just beginning.