Interview: Brandon Hines -Soul Searching

It seems with any urban artist you meet nowadays, they all share one thing in common: their love for all-things Michael Jackson. From early Jackson 5 recordings of “Ill Be There” to “ABC” and then to solo pop superstardom, MJ was the man for all the little kids growing up aspiring to be in the music biz. Call it the “MJ rule” if you want. That rule applies to Brandon Hines, the authentic R&B/Soul singer who is fittingly from Motown. Growing up in Detroit and being introduced to the soulful sounds of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations and Jodeci to name a few, the latest Epic Records signee Hines has been working on filling in the rhythms and blues void that’s been somewhat in the grey area lately with today’s pop-sounding, crossover influence. The smooth vocalist with the baritone is hoping to bring a sense of soul, emotion and feeling through the notes he belts out –something that will make females feel sexy listening to and have the fellas wanting to up their game.

Interview by Michael Nguyen

After going through the motions of being independent and fighting his way up, Hines recently signed onto Epic Records. The former American Idol contestant and break-dance crew member has been doing what any artist would do, which is hit the studio. Following his first single, “Yes You Are,” Hines is currently three quarters of the way finished with his debut album, working under the tutelage of legends such as LA Reid and Jermaine Dupri. KarenCivil.com recently caught up with Brandon Hines on the eve of his Greenhouse NY appearance and talked about changes to his lifestyle, his earliest memory of MJ, horoscopes, his first purchase after signing the deal and more.

So first off, how’s life as an Epic Records artist?
Life has been great. Life is always great but it has been better ever since I signed with Epic [Records]. They’ve been a great label home to me so far.

What was the first thing you did after you got signed?
Actually, the first thing I did was buy an iPhone. [Laughs] Then I started doing some window shopping.

So you’re not a BlackBerry guy?
Nah, I am a BlackBerry guy. I was a BlackBerry guy for the longest time but the iPhone kind of swayed me into purchasing one. I love it.

How has your lifestyle changed since getting signed?
It’s definitely been a lot more focused. Focused meaning on being on schedule. As far as being a new artist, I’m trying to get better and better each day. Working out a regiment, being in the studio and on top of that, I’ve been doing a lot of things I didn’t really expect. Its all been great and a good learning experience. This is new to me. These are the first weeks of getting out there.

Has your daily routine changed drastically now that you’re a record label artist?
Not drastically, but it’s changing week-by-week. The better I do and how I well I want to do as an artist. The routine is going to keep changing as I incorporate more stage presence as well as the instruments. As I get bigger, it just keeps increasing.

Now, you’re on a huge platform for the world to see. You’re also working for guys like LA Reid. Do you view that stuff as positive stress because there’s more pressure on you now to meet expectations?
Yeah, yeah. It’s definitely positive. I don’t like the word stress but I know it comes with it. I know it’s positive. It’s an opportunity for me to get my shit totally on point as a person, as a man, as an artist, to be a great performer, to leave a legacy, and to make great music. It’s definitely positive stress, like getting on the ball and go get this shit. That’s the mentality.

And to kick everything off, you have the first single, “Yes You Are.” What is it about that record that made you decide that it would be your first single?
“Yes You Are” is a nice “hello” record. It’s a nice dedication record. I look at it like that record is a hallmark card. Like back in the day –Marvin Gaye, I reference him because he’s one of my favorite artists. My distant lover that lady that I want, who I know she knows. You know, I’m speaking to her. She’s on a video. Instead of me sending her a card or a letter. That’s basically what the record was. To say hello and let the world know Brandon Hines is working and he’s coming. I’m trying to do it big. Yes you are. [Laughs]

So an album is currently in the works?
Yeah. The album is in the works right now. I’ve been working hard on the album. It’s going to be great. I’m about 75% done with it. Expect a lot of surprises in there. I got some cool features in there for lack of a better word. I want to bring that real R&B and soul music back without being cliché with it.

You said surprises and features. Can you give a little preview for us?
[laughs] Features, man. That’s going to be the surprise. We’re working on it now. I’m constantly working and writing. I have some good ideas for features that I would like.

And in “Yes You Are,” you dropped some horoscope references. Are you big on that stuff?
[Laughs] I mean, I wouldn’t say I’m big on it, but I definitely pay attention to it. There’s definitely some truth to it as far as I’m concerned. I’m knowledgeable. I’ll put it that way.

With today’s R&B music, do you think it lacks soul? Like do you think R&B today isn’t what it used to be?
I wouldn’t say that. I think it’s variety. I think each artist is bright in their own way. They’re doing what they love to do and expressing it in their own way. What’s happening as I see is a lot of genres are crossing. The music is good as far as I’m concerned. The music I’ve been hearing is good but I want to put my stamp and essence in there. I sing real passionately and my take and stance on things is a little different. It’s definitely soul and music still, but I want to take it and expand on it.

Also, you’re a Motown guy. When people think of Motown, they think of guys like The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Jodeci, Four Tops and Isley Brothers. Is it safe to say that Brandon Hines is a product of that soul music environment you grew up in?
Yeah. It’s safe to say that. Definitely. I would definitely hope that my name will be mentioned in the names of those legends who came from Motown. A lot of it too has to do with the radio stations in Detroit. They were really good at playing a lot of different music that got the Detroit people moving and doing things both good and bad. The music has definitely taught me a lot about music, if that don’t sound crazy but it’s true.

We all know you’re a big fan of Marvin Gaye, but who else from the Motown era are you a big fan of?
Stevie Wonder, Temptations, Aretha Franklin, Prince, Michael Jackson, I love the Beatles. But yeah, I’m a really big fan of a lot Motown acts. Diana Ross, too. Just her star quality. But really, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Michael have probably the biggest influence on me.

What’s your earliest memory of Michael Jackson?
Oh man. [Laughs] Earliest memory of Michael was mimicking the Jackson 5 when I was young, doing the “ABC.” The shocking moment was when Michael bust out that fucking moon walk. That was probably everyone’s biggest Michael moment but I remember doing Michael Jackson and Jackson 5 impressions early on. I was watching the tapes and all that. Jackson 5 performances were probably my earliest memory of Michael.

I read on your twitter bio, it says “Mad Scientist.” What does that mean?
Well, you know. I have a doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hide personality sometimes. I’m big on history and science and I like to study it. But in my music –in the lab– I like to mix it up a little bit and get crazy sometimes. Mad scientist is like a mad chef, putting different ingredients and trying different things to see if it works and how it relates to people.

So then what’s your vibe like when you’re in the studio? Are you real chill or are you the type of guy where it’s like, “Let’s get this shit done in one take” type of person?
[Laughs] It’s different when I’m working with different artists and producers. It varies. Sometimes I come in there and be real chill and relaxed. Anytime I get up to record, I try to perfect it. If I can get it done in six takes, then that’s perfect. The less takes and more perfect on note I am, the better. When it comes to writing, I’m easy to work with. I’m chill and like to fish out for ideas that I think will work. It’s easy for me to work with other people. I’m getting more tight on time with recording. I’m more of a perfectionist with it but still trying to be someone people will want to work with.

And tonight, [Ed. note: This interview was conducted the day of the event] it’s the event at Greenhouse with Jermaine Dupri. You guys have been chillin’ with one another a lot lately so are there some music projects you guys are working on behind the scenes that we should expect sometime soon?
Of course. We’re still working on my album. Also Leah Labelle is a new artist. She’s great. Tonight at Greenhouse, it’s going to be poppin’. Poppin’ bottles and all that.

Follow Brandon Hines on Twitter