Sammy Brue likes to think of himself as a normal fifteen year old kid – he plays video games, hangs out with his friends and eats cereal in the afternoon. On “I Know,” the first single from his upcoming debut LP on New West, the John Paul White and Ben Tanner-produced I Am Nice, Brue balances a mature, brooding sense of folk with wistful, youthful lyricism: on one hand, he’s an artist gifted way beyond his years. On the other, he’s a teenager who misses the girl he left behind. Watch Brue head into the clouds on the exclusive video above, shot at Fall Creek Falls in Tennessee.
“I wrote that song in my underwear at three in the morning,” Brue tells Rolling Stone Country. “It was about someone chasing after their dreams and leaving a person they loved behind to do it. Only to find out that the person they left was more important than the dream. It’s probably the most personal song I’ve written for this album.”
The Ogden, Utah-based Brue started writing music at ten years old, and was snatched by Justin Townes Earle for the cover of his 2014 album, Single Mothers, for his uncanny resemblance to the singer songwriter. His similarities to Earle weren’t just in the physical – he, too, plays his guitar with a heavy thumb that tends to conjure up a bygone era, with lyrics firmly footed in the present. By fourteen, Brue had already released two EPs under the tutelage of musicians like Earle, Joe Fletcher and Joshua Black Wilkins, who saw more than just the novelty of a young kid at the mic: they saw an artist. Young or not, Brue’s songs were emotionally stirring and stark, garnering him spots opening for Hayes Carll, Lydia Loveless, John Moreland, Lukas Nelson, Lucinda Williams, Asleep at the Wheel and Earle, and a deal with New West records.
“Sam is not only a friend, but a peer,” says Wilkins, also a photographer who shot Brue for the cover of Single Mothers. “I started playing music at fifteen, so to witness someone so focused and inspired, and talented, is a constant reminder that I can always improve my craft. Sammy Brue gets better every day, and does it with a focus and drive that almost no one can match.” “Watching Sammy grow as a writer and performer over the past few years has been the most inspiring thing I’ve seen happen during my music career,” echoes Fletcher. “He is so hungry for new influences and seeing him devour them and process them and make them his own is a constant reminder to me of what drew me to this life in the first place.”
For I Am Nice, Brue headed to Florence, Alabama to make the album with Tanner and White – he’s finishing high school online these days – and he embraced the opportunity to add a fuller band to his spare acoustic sound. At first, he was a little intimidated by White’s austere persona, but soon found the man behind the press to be much different than he imagined. “I was kind of nervous at first because when you see pictures on the Internet [of White] he looks super serious,” Brue says. “But then he was a really big goofball.” I Am Nice infuses a new complexity into Brue’s style: a little doo-wop on “Was I The Only One,” some Nirvana-inspired scruff on “Control Freak,” the echoing introspection of “Salty Times.”
“I don’t have a lot of experience playing with a band so I didn’t know what to expect other than I wanted the Muscle Shoals vibe,” says Brue. “Just hearing the recordings after each take was cool. When Ben Tanner put keys on it I kind of didn’t ever want to play solo again. I actually have a band back in Ogden now, too, because I really love playing with other musicians. I didn’t have a sound in my head before because I didn’t want to ruin what John and Ben were going to come up with. After hearing the final mastered versions I really loved it. I think people will know where it was recorded when they listen to it.”
Though Brue is clearly influenced by Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan – his first EP was titled The Ghost of Woody Guthrie and evokes a young Dylan heading to New York and ambushing his idol at the hospital – his tastes range far beyond just folk. “I’m deeply obsessed with rap music,” says Brue. “One of the things I really want to do is produce rap music later in my career. Earl Sweatshirt, Mac Miller, I love N.W.A a lot. They started the whole, ‘I’m going to tell you what’s going on around me.’ It’s kind of like folk in a way. They tell a story of what’s going on. Dylan wrote about people discriminating against other people, and N.W.A did the same thing. They were just talking about what’s going on their neighborhood.”
I Am Nice is out June 16th via New West.