(First published on Blogcritics.org)
I was reminded of a line from Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” as I sat down to interview country singer Ayla Brown before the Concerned Veterans for America Defend Freedom Tour in Las Vegas on June 11. Unlike the “senator’s son” in the song, this senator’s daughter (Senator Scott Brown, Massachusetts) doesn’t need any special advantages. She’s the whole package – singer, song writer, and owner of her own music production company, Ambient Entertainment. And that’s not counting her previous careers as a college basketball star at Boston College and a correspondent for The Early Show on CBS. She was also an American Idol finalist.
However, that Massachusetts background stuck in my mind, so I led with that.
Massachusetts: That’s not the first thing that pops into people’s minds when they hear the phrase “country music”.
I hear that a lot and I think, “Hey, have you heard of Jo Dee Messina?” She’s a Massachusetts girl, too. I’m very much not alone. You can find country music anywhere from Canada with Shania Twain to Australia with Keith Urban and everywhere in the States. That’s why country music is growing exponentially and it doesn’t really matter where you’re from anymore.
While I drove in from Rancho Cucamonga, I listened to both of your albums twice. The songs that grabbed me were “Stupid Me”, “Matches and Gasoline” and “Squeeze”.
Oh, you like the sassy songs!
You have a beautiful voice. I kept hearing touches of Miranda, and the depth of your voice reminded me of Martina McBride. Do you have any heroes you pattern yourself after?
When I think about my musical influences, I definitely have a lot of them and many of them aren’t in country. I’m not sure if that’s what gives me my specific style.
I grew up listening to people like Celine Dion, who is my absolute favorite. I just love everything she’s ever put out. I like a lot of adult contemporary; the big voices like Josh Groban, Whitney Houston, and Mariah Carey. I listen to a lot of music with harmonies. I love harmony. Whether or not that is reflected in my music, I’m not sure.
What about when writing? You write most of your songs, correct?
I either wrote them myself or with one or two or three other people. The process of writing a song is a whole other thing than how it comes out on a CD. You might hear it completely different with just an acoustic guitar and then all of a sudden it comes to life and it becomes this blend of so many different genres and influences.
When Carrie Underwood does a concert, she usually ends with a rock-and-roll set. Do you ever do anything like that?
Every time I do a full band show I always end with Fleetwood Mac‘s “Go Your Own Way”. I have been doing that for about four or five years and I don’t know why I just I feel like it’s a great way for people to sing along. They know it and it’s a good opportunity for me to take time to introduce my band. I should probably find a new song, but, for whatever reason, I like it.
That song was from before you were born, right?
I used to have that song on an eight-track because my first ever car was an ’83 Crown Victoria. I had a bunch of eight-tracks that were given to me as gifts and Fleetwood Mac was one of them.
You have two songs on the Heroes & Hometowns album – “Hero in Her Home Town” and “It’s Just a Little Rain” — dealing with military themes. You haven’t been in the military. Did you have friends of relatives who’ve served that helped you with those songs?
My dad served 35 years in the Army Guard. He was a colonel and retired a couple years ago, so, yes there is one very direct connection. His father was also in the military as was my uncle. My cousin is currently serving in the Coast Guard. We definitely come from a military family.
“Hero in Her Hometown” was inspired when I got back from Afghanistan singing for the troops. We went mostly to Marine bases and I looked around me and saw all these beautiful women kicking butt against the boys in training. I just thought “Wow I wonder what their backstory is?” Were they cheerleaders or homecoming queens or have they always wanted to fight and serve this country? I don’t know, but I put together a story of a journey. Everyone’s life has a start and an end and you don’t really know what’s going to happen. But, these women made me so curious, I decided to write them their own special song.
The other song, “It’s Just a Little Rain”, almost made me tear up.
Oh, I’m happy to hear that. “It’s Just a Little Rain” was the only song on the record that I did not write. It was written by four gentlemen in Massachusetts and it was previously pitched to another band, but it kind of fell through. We ended up recording it completely differently than the other band. It’s a really beautiful song, but, it’s the only song I’ve never performed live. I don’t know if I ever will because it is a hard song to get through. It would have to be for a very specific reason that someone requested it.
Soon, you’ll be back on your way to the Middle East. What are your best and worst memories from the previous trips?
The first time I ever went to Afghanistan, I stepped off the plane and realized “Oh my gosh, I’m in a different world.” It was scary but fascinating at the same time. We learned about the military missions and all their training and we got to visit the wounded.
In December of 2013, we did a Christmas tour. I remember Santa and his elves dropping in from a Black Hawk onto a fire truck and waving to the kids. And I was like “Where are we? This is amazing.” It was so special to be able to bring some Christmas cheer from the states, so that was fun.
The only bad thing was the first time over. I had a really bad chest cold, and I lost my voice completely. My sets went from like 20 songs per night to at the end it was “I don’t know if I can even do one.” But, by the grace of God, I just prayed and knew if I can get through this, I can get through anything. So, now I just keep that in my mind and think, “Yes, you can get through the National Anthem.”
Where are you going to be five years from now?
My main goal is to continue to keep doing what I love and be happy doing it. And, if in five years I’m still paying my bills, doing what I love, then I’ve made it.