In terms of the local spotlight, R&B singer Brandon Marcel might only pop into its gaze peripherally – when you mention his name, he’s often associated with Leon Bridges, having met Fort Worth’s retro soul-sensation when the two played together at a Live Oak gig in 2014, after which they were roommates for a few months. The fact is, Brandon Marcel needs an updated footnote. During a phone interview after a late night in the studio, Marcel said he has been “keeping things pretty low key,” meaning he hasn’t been playing that often, despite a catalog that now includes two releases: 2014’s full-length The Audition and his brand new project, Alone, Etc., a nine-track album that Marcel calls an EP.
As on his previous release, his father, funk legend and longtime Cameo bassist Aaron Mills makes a guest appearance, laying down the bass in “Water From Stones” in a live studio band, along with songwriter Abraham Alexander and drummer/producer Derek Winkley. Contrasted with the rest of the digital slow-burn jams on Alone, Etc., “Water From Stones” is kind of a throwback, like if George Benson collaborated with Jodeci in the early ’90s.
“It’s probably the single that most represents the project,” said Marcel. “It means the most to me since my dad played on it.”
Marcel’s father is obviously a huge influence, but he also credits his mom for supporting his artistic endeavors –– their presence in his life is highlighted by two voicemail tracks, “Aaron’s Advice,” which opens the album, and the spiritually uplifting “Verlancy’s Advice,” found at the project’s midpoint. And while having a famous musician for a father is a mixed bag, ultimately, Marcel’s relationship with him is highly positive.
“It’s a good thing and a bad thing,” he said. “He wasn’t really there. My parents got divorced – long story. But on the positive side, seeing him with that energy onstage, seeing someone be so free on stage, that’s what impacted me the most. I love him to death. He’s my hero and a best friend.”
Marcel is also driven by the freedom to express real feelings through his art – he thinks of himself as a creative even more than he is a performer.
“Even though I’m a singer and a writer, I think of myself as an artist,” he said. “I like sculpting the melody and the background. I love the overall process.”
Indeed, “Water From Stones” was the result of Abraham working out a chord progression and Marcel seeing where inspiration took his melodies. He said he enjoys that malleable nature of songwriting.
“I like the overall creation of the artwork itself. You record songs that don’t come out the way you thought they would.
Alone, Etc. was tracked at Music In Focus Studios in North Fort Worth with a local producer who goes by Chico, who was introduced to Marcel through a friend, a local rapper named Christopher Brown, a.k.a. Da Deputy. The seven songs (nine, counting his parents’ tracks) flow into each other like the chapters of a novel, or at least one of those Friday nights that includes most of the spots on one’s emotional map. There’s love, lust, and bravado mixed with guilt.
Despite the honey dripping from Marcel’s golden vocal range, his lyrics are cast in unflinching emotional realism. In “Yonce Control,” for example, he confesses to an ex, “I do what I can to get under your skin / And I’m far from a man, I’m ashamed.”
There’s plenty of heartfelt entreaties to current and/or future lovers for physical intimacy that surround that song, but it stands out among the booty-call jams for its naked honesty – both about his love and what he sees as a self-centered nature.
Being real is of great importance to Marcel’s art, and he credits Frank Ocean and Childish Gambino as his chief inspirations.
“They’re both pioneers of opening the doors for real feelings,” he said. “Frank being bisexual … it showed his strength, in the face of people being negative, it showed his love and acceptance for himself. And Childish Gambino’s take on his music, people might call it weird, but it allows him to be himself. And you see him have success, you feel like you don’t have to make commercial music, necessarily.”
That’s not to say that Marcel’s music is hard to listen to or lacks mainstream appeal – quite the opposite, in fact. He knows his way around a hook, and apart from his own artistic aspirations, he also regularly sends material to producers throughout the country for use with other singers – most recently, he’s collaborated with a Los Angeles-based producer Bizness Boi. And last year, Dallas hip-hop station K104 ran his “Human Nature” single from The Audition for about five weeks. But he also knows that chasing commercial radio isn’t the be-all and end-all. He’d rather follow his own instincts than bother with trends.
“All you hear is trap on the radio. It’s popular,” he said. “I don’t want trap to disappear, but I’d like to see other sub genres be better represented.”
The vagaries of taste and influence being what they are, Brandon Marcel’s music might exist on a similarly under-the-radar level, even though it deserves an audience the way his better-known heroes do. But that may change. On February 3, Brandon Marcel will open for R&B hit-maker Ginuwine at House of Blues in Dallas. And while he might be singing the songs from Alone, Etc, he’s going to be singing them to hundreds of people. He might have to be a lot less low-key after all.
with Ginuwine. Fri, Feb 3, at House of Blues, 2200 N. Lamar St, Dallas. 214-978-2583. $32-60. Doors at 8pm.