Ahead of his February 9th concert in Charlotte, Davidsonian Editors-in-Chief Olivia Daniels ‘19 and Laura Dunnagan ‘19 caught up with Bryce Vine to talk about writing, being a millenial artist, and how his career has transformed since performing at Frolics 2017.
To start, how do you approach writing music?
That’s a loaded question. I just take stuff that’s happened to me in life or that I’m going through and try to make it simple. I’ve never been good at writing stuff that wasn’t real in some way. And real is always different. Sometimes I’ll write about an episode of a TV show and…that episode affected me for some reason, so I wrote a song about it. But it’s always about something that happened or something I’ve seen or witnessed. So I start there and try to make it true, then throw in the lyrics and melody.
And you write your own music, right?
I mean, I have to at least be part of it unless the song is perfect for me and someone else wrote it for me, and that doesn’t happen.
What is your ideal environment for writing? When are you in the zone?
Good question. It’s always different, but it’s usually when I’m doing a lot of things right in my real life. Like, I can focus more on the writing when I’m not fucking everything up on a massive level in my personal life.
Makes sense. So, we read online that you attended the Berklee College of Music, and we were wondering why you chose to pursue music in an academic setting and how that choice has impacted your career.
I was interested in music from a super young age. At 13 I knew I wanted to do music, but I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, but I kept trying things. My mom got me a guitar for my 13th birthday, so I started to play it, and I started writing my own songs and recording them in my garage. High school, I started a punk band and started writing and performing more, then when I found out you could go to school for music after years of being in high school and them saying that if I kept writing songs in class I wouldn’t get into college, I was like, “Yeah, I wanna try to go there.”
Berklee, like any college, is a great place to meet people who are going to be a big part of the industry they’re working toward before it happens. Putting all these young, talented minds in front of each other and letting them mingle is the whole point of college in the first place. I didn’t realize that when I was there, it was frustrating. I was definitely not the best singer at my school or anything, but I met the right people and connected with the right people and could see who was talented and who I knew I wanted to be around. Now I still work with the producer I met in college, my DJ I met in college, my manager went to the same college, my drummer—you keep those people around with you once you’ve established that.
Do you think you would be where you are without that academic background and being in that setting to meet those people?
No, I know it. I know I wouldn’t.
Do you have any advice for students who want to pursue the music industry and have an academic background, like we do at Davidson?
Try to make yourself an outgoing person, meet new people. I felt bad for people that weren’t as social at Berklee, because in this industry it’s a big part of it. People have to feel like they can know you and can want to sit in a room with you and write for hours. You have to be personable and understand it’s not all about you, it’s about a common goal—producing a great song, a great record. There’s a lot less ego in it than people expect. And to experience a lot of different kinds of music. Find things you didn’t think you would like—like I found an African artist a few years ago named Fela Kuti that kind of changed my whole world when it came to music. He inspires me in little bits and ways, and that inspires me a lot. Listen to different kinds of music, try to be personable, try to come up with your own flavor of things—no one makes any original anymore completely, everyone has influences from somewhere. You can mix two paint colors together and create a new one. Reading helps, reading novels helped a lot with creativity, it kept the wheels turning.
What’s your favorite novel?
My favorite novel—I have two: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy and Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff people who don’t read a lot, I tell them to read Bad Monkeys. It’s a quick story, super fun, darkly funny, sci-fi-ish. That’s what I’d say. I’m still figuring things out.
You were independent for a while and eventually did sign with a label. What went into that, and how did you decide who you’d eventually sign with?
Over years, I met with different labels, and people kind of got what I was going for but not really. People would say, “Oh, he’s kind of rap, kind of pop, but not one of each,” and we’re like, yeah, that in-between, that’s what I’m trying to do. People didn’t get it. It wasn’t until I stopped trying to get signed and put out Drew Barrymore independently that all of a sudden I was getting phone calls from labels who wanted to sign me. It wasn’t even about me trying to win them over anymore.
Then I met Rani Hancock, who just became the president of Sire Records at Warner Bros., and I loved her immediately. Not only did I love her as a person, but I loved the idea of being represented by a strong woman, and somebody who would actually have the sensibility for the project that maybe a man wouldn’t be able to deliver on. I was right, I was absolutely right. She’s the best decision I’ve made this far.
Has signing affected your music writing?
Yeah, I think it’s made things easier. Before I was just trying things, banging my head against the wall and seeing what happened. Now, I’ve been able to structure it more. If I start a beat, write a verse and hook idea, I can send it to Rani and a couple other people on the team, and they’ll tell me if I should keep working on it. So I don’t waste my time, because it takes me a long time to write songs, I’m very particular with what I work on finishing. The only thing you don’t have is time once you have a single. You have your whole life to make your first hit and six months to make the next one. So now I can reduce the time by knowing what works and what doesn’t, immediately, by somebody that I trust that’s hearing it from an [Artists & Repertoire] perspective and thinking about the masses when listening to a song and now just thinking about me, as an artist, do I like this or not.
As a millennial artist, do you think that it is important to be an activist in today’s political climate?
I think everybody should have things that, if they are willing to do the research, that they should definitely speak on behalf of. Absolutely, if it’s for the betterment of man and community and lifestyle, then absolutely. I don’t think it’s important to be an activist just for activism’s sake. I think a lot of times, it is the opposite, like annoying and a problem, and it ruins the perspective of people who actually have a point to make.
Do you have any issues that are particularly important to you?
It’s always a teetering totter. My best friend started a nonprofit, built it all himself, and he goes and rescues abused farm animals and brings them to his farm. He’s very vegan, and for him, these animals are pets. I’ve seen them act like pets; I’ve seen cows run around the field like dogs do. You know, once you’ve seen something like that, your perspective changes for sure on the idea of what’s right and wrong to make a meal. But I’m not a vegan. I tried being vegetarian for six months, and I got sick ironically at a vegan restaurant, and all I could eat was chicken. So it was like I tried it, and I saw what it was about. I even went to a pig vigil. Do you know what that is?
A pig vigil is where a bunch of people gather outside of a slaughterhouse, wait for the trucks to come with all the pigs that have been traveling for miles and miles and miles and miles with no food or water, and they spray and give water to the pigs right before they go into the slaughterhouse to be killed. And for people, it means something, you know. They’re trying to do something good and be empathetic toward a creature that is helpless. And I totally get what they are going for; they’re doing it for all the right reasons. But there are some people that really just do that kind of thing to feel better about themselves and even feel more important than other people. I don’t know why; it just comes with the territory. So it’s hard for me to say, you know. But that is important to me. I don’t want anything to suffer. So, you know, seeing all these videos of animals all over the world getting hurt and suffering, it sucks. If more people pay attention to it, that’s great.
How do you approach social media and interacting with your fans through social media? How do you think your career would be different if you didn’t have that platform?
Well, social media is kind of now the platform. It’s like the main one, it’s the way that you can get around a major label, and it’s like the music industry was way smaller because it was just funneling through one place. And now it’s Spotify and Instagram and Twitter, and there are so many different ways to reach out to people. As soon as I started playing shows, I was like—I always wanted when I was a kid for the artist to want to connect to me as a fan, if it really meant something to me just like I connected to them. I wanted to feel like I was acknowledged, so I just started doing that immediately. I just started responding to people on Instagram and Twitter, you know, let them know that I see them. It’s just built into a habit now, where I try to keep up with as many people as possible, and it really means something to people. I think that’s why it’s important. We’ve never been able to communicate easier in this world, and it still seems like we don’t that much. So I’m trying to do that.
Do you think before you signed with your label social media was the primary means through which people found you and your music?
I don’t know- if we are including Spotify as a social media platform, or Soundcloud. I don’t know where social media stops and starts. It’s definitely improved it. I remember when I was still a kid trying to push songs, when I was a way newer musician, all we had was Myspace to put out stuff. That was the only way to get out your independent music really. The doors have opened up, and there are a lot more doors to open. I don’t think I would be where I was if it weren’t for social media.
As an artist who connects with fans on social media and is an increasingly public figure, do you think you have to sacrifice your privacy in some ways?
Yeah, you do. You definitely do. You don’t have to sacrifice your privacy, but you definitely get less privacy. You get privacy less often. I’m about to go on a month and a half long tour with like seven other guys, eight other guys. Privacy is the last thing that I’m going to be getting in that time, you know what I mean? It just comes with the territory of what we do for a living. You have to be able to work and live around people and be sociable even when you’re exhausted and kind of have your personality be the forefront of everything. Human interaction is exhausting. It’s really exhausting when it gets to like a higher level of having to do it. But it’s still fun.
How has your career developed since your performance at Davidson College two years ago?
Everything has changed. I think in probably that last year, you know, I signed to a major label, and then they started pushing the record. Music is really my career now for the first time in an established way. And it’s great, but it’s definitely a different mindspace that you have to get into. I’m not longer writing songs just because I want to that day. I’m writing songs because there’s people depending on me, and careers aside from mine that want to be built. You can’t ignore that, so there’s definitely more pressure and expectation, but if you do it because you love it, then that’s all worth it.
Do you think there was value in performing at smaller venues like colleges during that time period as it affected your career now?
Yeah, that was huge. It was huge to meet all of you guys who are going to be “the next” at whatever you decide to do. And to reach you guys at that time period, where it’s most important, like to express yourself with live music and to try things out yourself, and to actually be able to see you guys and be part of that and connect with you on that level and answer the questions after the shows and see what you guys’ interests are. I feel a lot more connected to young people than I would have if it weren’t for that.