Country Star Brandon Stansell on Coming Out and Going Home

In October 2019, Brandon Stansell, the country singer of queer anthems “Slow Down” and “Never Know,” travelled back to his hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee, to play his first show there since coming out. The homecoming concert is a pivotal moment in his new documentary, Three Chords and a Lie (available to Aeroplan members on Air Canada’s new streaming platform from June 24 to 28, courtesy of OUTtv), which follows Stansell as he faces his past and explores the hope he expresses through his music. We spoke with Stansell, who was in Palm Springs at the time, about the film, LGBTQIA+ storytelling and his favourite place in the world.
 

enRoute Three Chords and a Lie explores the healing power of music and how you express an openly queer perspective in your songs. What was the first song you wrote that spoke of being gay?
 

Brandon Stansell My first project was a concept record about my first breakup. I had this hang-up about writing because I felt I didn’t have anything to write about. Then I got dumped and I had material! Music was this cathartic thing that got me through that time in my life. But it was also the moment I realized I could do the thing that I always wanted to do, which was write music.
 

June 24, 2020
Tennessee Aquarium, Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Chattanooga, Tennessee.   Photo: Chad Madden (Unsplash)

ER What was it like growing up in Chattanooga?
 

BS I always tell people that growing up in the South as a queer person is not recommended! I come from a pretty strict southern Baptist family and being gay was basically the worst thing that you could be. So, it was tough to come out. My dream was to write and sing country music – a genre that’s about storytelling. But people like me were told not to tell our stories and not to be honest about who we are. You grow up watching Country Music Television (CMT) and fall in love with those music videos, but you never see yourself in them. It’s pretty tough to want to be in a world where you don’t feel welcomed.
 

ER Why did you want to return to play a show there?
 

BS I had never been back to Chattanooga to play the music I had been writing for years, so to get to sing my songs and tell my story was really exciting – it also made me nervous! I had teachers in the audience who are openly queer now but weren’t when I was in high school. People I grew up with in church who I would have assumed were not accepting grabbed my hands and said, “I think what you’re doing is important. Please keep doing it.” I’m really glad that I got to do it – and I’m thankful people showed up!
 

“I decided I was going to write a song for people like me and try to put a voice to a lot of experiences that we have that haven’t been told yet.”

Country singer Brandon Stansell.
Brandon Stansell.   Photo: Spencer & Lloyd Harvey

ER The song “Hurt People” plays a crucial role in the documentary. What does that song mean to you?
 

BS After I put out “Hometown,” there was this feeling from a lot of people that this song about coming out was the end of a chapter. But the truth is, my relationships with people didn’t suddenly become better. Not everyone was accepting and proud that they had a gay son or brother or nephew or friend. That has, and always will, weigh on me. I try to recognize the humanity in people and that we’re trying to do the best we can, but also that we’re fallible and inevitably hurt people around us, whether we want to or not. When I look at my story through that lens, it helps me find some understanding and peace. That’s where the song came from and I’m really proud of the way it turned out.
 

ER What do you hope people take away from Three Chords and a Lie?
 

BS My hope is that if queer people see this film, it makes them feel less alone. I also hope that it makes parents, siblings or friends of queer kids think about how queer people are treated – not just in their coming out, but in the aftermath that follows, and what role they play in that story.
 

ER Your EP, also titled “Hurt People,” comes out on July 10th, and the single "Like Us" is out on Friday, July 26th. Can you tell us about this project?
 

BS My goal was to speak to experiences that queer people have that no one talks about. In October, I got home to Los Angeles after filming and I was driving down Santa Monica Boulevard and heard Sam Hunt’s new song, “Kinfolks,” which is about taking his girlfriend home to meet his parents. I loved the song but realized that I could never sing that song. And I don’t know a lot of queer people who could. So, I decided I was going to write a song for people like me (“Like Us”) and try to put a voice to a lot of experiences that we have that haven’t been told yet.
 

 
ER The country music scene is quite conservative. What would you like to see change?
 

BS I think the landscape is changing. There has been a huge push to bridge the gap in the gender inequality we’re seeing in the genre. A few months ago, CMT said they were going to show as many videos by female artists as male artists. That’s encouraging for someone like me because country music not only has an equity problem when it comes to queer people, but also when it comes to women and people of colour. When I see the landscape changing like that, it says the genre is ready to hear new voices, perspectives and stories.
 

ER Where is your favourite city to perform?
 

BS Right here in Palm Springs. I’ve done a couple shows here over the years. In terms of a favourite place in the world, this is it.
 

A house in Palm Springs, surrounded by palm trees and mountains.
Palm Springs, California.   Photo: Cody Board (Unsplash)

The Questionnaire

  • Dream seatmate Dolly Parton.

  • First travel memory Being in San Antonio, Texas, when I was three. For my entire young adult life, I thought I had been to Italy, but it was actually the San Antonio River Walk!

  • Last trip It was to Chattanooga in October to film the documentary.

  • Favourite souvenir When I went to New York for the first time, I convinced my mother to buy this huge brass dolphin and she carried it all over the city. I don’t know what happened to it, but it was my favourite souvenir for the longest time.

  • Travel has the power to… Change you.

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