By Clay Cane
Austin Brown comes from music royalty. The son of Rebbie Jackson and the nephew of the late, great Michael Jackson, Austin’s got rhythm and soul in his blood. Now, four years after he began working on it, Austin is releasing the mixtape Highway 85, which will be available for download on Christmas Eve via AustinBrown.com. Here, the BET Music Matters artist talks his sound, fame, politics and more.
Describe the sound of Austin Brown.
It’s a fusion but the root of it is soul and R&B — that is the root of me. To me, that’s where music really comes from. Pop and rock is just an extension of soul and R&B. It’s a fusion of all those things that inspired me to want to do music.
Some people say real vocalists have a hard time making it in the music industry today. Do you agree, or is that a misperception?
I think it’s a little of both. Talent is talent. When you have a real singer with an awesome voice, that can’t beat anything, but presentation is everything. It doesn’t matter how skilled of a singer you are, you have to know how to present yourself in the best way to show your voice in the best light. You have to make the music that compliments what you do the best. That’s why Whitney Houston is such an icon. Not only did she have a dynamic voice, but her songs matched the tone of how she sang it — you really felt her emotions. I think it’s a little of both. Yeah, it is harder for real singers sometimes because they get put into that “real singers” category. Unfortunately, people try to mold them into a Whitney, Mariah or Aretha — that’s them. For real singers, you can’t follow the blueprint of someone else. You can’t look at yourself through another person’s mirror.
Most people would think that you being part of the Jackson family would be a walk in the park in the music industry. How has it been?
The complete opposite! [Laughs] It has not been a walk in the park. I’ve gone through a lot in this business and am still going through a lot. It was meant to be harder for me and it’s okay. When you’ve had people be so successful — not just successful, my family has been a part of people’s lives. People are very passionate about them and passionate about their sound. “That’s my Michael!” or “That’s my Janet!” So, I get it. If they hear about me, obviously the perception is, “Oh, he’s just trying to do this.” It isn’t until when people actually meet me, they realize it is something completely different. It’s been an uphill battle. Little by little, we’re turning them. It’s all good.
Fame can be very dangerous and you’ve seen it first-hand. Are you at all afraid of fame?
You shouldn’t have a fear of fame. You should keep it in perspective why you’re famous. If you realize you are famous because of your music and you keep your music number one, then the fame aspect shouldn’t scare anybody. Naturally, people are ruthless. That’s just life, but the overall aspect doesn’t scare me because it’s always going to be based upon the music.
You did an interview with Rock the Vote and said the social issue closest to your heart is the national legalization of same-sex marriage. Why does that issue resonate with you?
We’re being so harsh on love and that’s why I’m passionate about it. I feel like we should not judge how a person feels about someone else. Who are we to give our opinion on someone else’s life? If it’s authentic and real, you’ve got to let someone live their life to be who they want to be with. That’s why the issue does mean a lot to me — many of my friends and different musicians I’ve worked with are gay. I would hate to think that I could do something because my sexuality is different than theirs. I’ve never looked at that as fair.
What can people expect from Highway 85 and from you in 2013?
With Highway 85, I want people to have an open ear when listening. These songs are real, passionate and from the heart. A lot of thought, time, blood, sweat and tears went into Highway 85. It’s been a four-year process. What was going to be an official album, which ultimately led to a mix tape — the most important factor is people hearing the music. So 2013 is going to be the discovery year. Having people discover my sound and what I’m bringing to the table as an artist.