Arts in Lockdown #21: Musician Brayell

By Joanne Calitri   |   March 4, 2021
Brayell at Velvet Jones pre-COVID (photo credit: Luis Lopez)

Brayell is a multi-instrumentalist, recording artist, and music producer in the genres of rap, hip-hop, and alternative. He has recently explored a version of indie pop music in his just-released single titled, “Made Her Feel Good,” a heartfelt song reminiscent of a breakup. He began recording at age 15 and, in 2017, started releasing his music professionally. His instruments are guitar, bass, and keyboards, all of which he’s self-taught. His dad introduced him to the sounds of Sam Cooke, Bill Withers, classic rock, reggae, and soul music. He attended Dos Pueblos High School where he won a songwriting competition; in 2019, he went through the American Idol auditions. Brayell made it to the Idol Hollywood Week’s live performance at the Orpheum Theatre, after which he decided to continue his music journey minus the industry mold. 

Joanne’s Zoom interview with recording musician Brayell [Brandon Kelley] and his Artist Manager HWY101 Entertainment Kim DeVenne

In addition to composing, he participates in the creative process and co-directs his music videos. He’s paid it forward, too, by donating funds from performing to Santa Barbara’s Youth Interactive and Black Lives Matter. He’s also started a life-style clothing brand called Noleta that he launched online, and is currently in the 805 University store located in Old Town Goleta. 

All that and more for Brayell, a GenZ cusp millennial. Here’s our Zoom interview:

Q: During lockdown, is music a plus or minus for you?

A.The actual music aspect is a plus. Writing, creating, recording, and shooting music videos has been an important outlet during these challenging times. However, not being able to perform live is something missed. 

How does music influence the human condition? 

It can be an emotional, healing, or spiritual experience. Music is a universal language that sees no boundaries. Artists can use their platform to influence society and an overall shift in culture. 

Let’s start with your 2021 Valentine’s Day-released single “Made Her Feel Good.”

I wrote, produced, and composed the record. It features additional production from my mixing engineer and occasional production collaborator Philip Halloran. It is on my company label, Noleta. ​The song composition is live bass guitar, electric guitar, keyboards, synthesizers, and programmed drums. The song began in April 2020 after I woke up from a dream where I heard the music and lyrics. I got up, wrote it down, recorded and produced it at my home studio in a few hours. Then, it sat for nine months in my song files​. In January, Philip asked me if I had anything in the mix. I went through my song files and, when I listened to it, I had the same feeling I had when I first wrote it; that’s a good sign to me as a musician. I sent it to him, and he added an extra synth and auto-tune for a different feel than my current recordings. I also have an acoustic version of it. We decided to release the electronic version, as it’s upbeat and I felt like that was what my listeners needed during these times. For me, I record with analog and digital elements in my music depending on the direction I want the song to take. 

Do you feel typecast as a musician?

I don’t feel typecast as a musician. I felt that way when I first started to do hip-hop, but as I matured as an artist, I realized that I was neglecting my diverse musical background and influences. I grew up with instrumentation and melody, and I would be selling myself short to not include those elements. I intend to continue creating hip-hop/rap music in the future, but I’m not limiting myself to that genre. I create music in whatever I’m inspired by, in the moment, and my inspirations are day-to-day life experiences, the stories of others and my dreams.

During lockdown, what are you doing to stay creative and inspired? 

Brayell laying down tracks during lockdown at his home studio (photo credit: Ethan Koster)

During the first month or so of lockdown, I was extremely uninspired and had trouble creating. I stayed in touch with fellow creatives, meeting online in a community of musician friends, and there was comfort in knowing we all were experiencing the same thing. I came to an acceptance of it and ended up using the unexpected time to focus on my art and explore other aspects of music. I got really into the recording process and set up my own recording studio in my house. I had most of the gear I needed and just added on to it with a few more instruments and microphones. For production, I use software FL Studio, and, for vocals, usually Studio One. Recording inspired me to write and record more material, and to record and co-direct my own music videos with the talented director Tucker Horan. I’ve also been in constant collaboration with HWY 101 Entertainment, working on a short film, music videos, and exploring virtual performance opportunities. Last summer we hosted a full protocol, socially-distanced, outdoor concert in the brief time that it was permitted. That made me hopeful for the future and gave me inspiration to continue creating. 

What’s next for you? 

I have a vision of a full-length project. I’m currently in the creative process, writing and creating the accompanying visuals for it. More on that as it develops!

And your new streetwear clothing line?

I wanted to create something beyond my music that more people could be a part of. It’s available at the 805 University store in Old Town Goleta on Hollister Avenue and online. It is unisex casual streetwear, a lifestyle brand open for everyone. Growing up in and near the unincorporated area of Noleta, I always identified with that mindset of non-conformity. This intent is represented and expressed in every piece of the Noleta line.

What’s your dream collab? 

Brayell performing at a full protocol COVID safe gig in the Funk Zone in 2020 (photo credit: Tucker Horan)

J. Cole, John Mayer, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Isaac Slade, Eminem, Kanye West, Timbaland, and Stevie Wonder are among the many artists I’d love to work with. Prince would have been my dream collaboration. 

What’s your experience been with diversity, equity, and inclusion in the music industry?

Overall, I’ve felt embraced locally. When I started putting myself out there in a predominately white demographic, I was unsure of how I was going to be received. I was pleasantly surprised with the response from my local community. There are times, however, when I’ve felt boxed in the hip-hop/rapper stereotype due to expectations of me from both the industry and fans in general. For example, when I’ve pulled out an acoustic guitar at venues and, even on platforms like American Idol, I noticed a shift in perception from the audience and the producers. On a larger scale, I’ve noticed there can be issues with the gatekeepers in the music industry that sometimes typecast artists due to their race or background. I get through that by taking ownership of my work and by not relying on the gatekeepers. I make my music accessible to everyone.

What’s your advice for fellow musicians? 

Music is so subjective; take feedback with a grain of salt but be open to constructive criticism. The inability to perform can be discouraging, but perseverance and consistency in creating content for different platforms can be rewarding in itself. 

Find new things in life that inspire you and write about them. Your story is unique. 

Advice for music venues? 

Continue trying unique and safe approaches and adapt to the current times. My heart goes out to all the performance venues that are struggling. I can’t wait for a time when we can enjoy live music again. 

For your generation,​ ​what is the world looking like now?

There’s a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. But people in my generation are using their voices more and speaking out for positive change. 

What would you want to change, and how would you implement it? 

I’d like to help people believe in themselves and stay true to their beliefs. Through my platform and the messages conveyed in my music, I’m able to stand up for what I believe in. I hope it inspires others to do the same. 

What about giving back or paying it forward? 

I have people in my life who have helped me grow and who want to see me succeed. I owe it, not only to myself, but to them to continue striving to achieve what I’ve set out to do. I try to empower others with the knowledge that I’m gaining in the hopes that they can succeed as well. When live shows were a possibility, I performed at numerous local charity events and collected donations at my gigs for many nonprofit organizations, such as Black Lives Matter and Youth Interactive. •MJ

411:  Instagram-Facebook-Twitter – @brayellmusic


You might also be interested in...