Musician BRANDON SKEIE
Photographs and interview by DAVID-SIMON DAYAN
Styled by JAKE SAMMIS
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: Hi honey, let’s begin with an introduction. Brandon Skeie, singer, songwriter, gentle giant with a smile that makes your heart skip a beat. Where do you call home?
BRANDON SKEIE: First off, thank you for that kinda introduction! Although I am from Washington state and that was home for so many years, I definitely consider LA home base now.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: Lucky for us. When you first moved to Los Angeles, weren’t you making YouTube videos?
BRANDON SKEIE: I actually started making YouTube videos my junior year in high school, I didn’t really pursue it professionally until about 2015 though. YouTube is actually how I got my first big step into the music world, I did a cover of “Sorry” by Justin Bieber that my now mentor saw.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: How did you transition into music? Had you been making it the entire time?
BRANDON SKEIE: I wrote my first REAL song in 2011 when I first moved to LA. I had a really talented roommate who played piano and we both went to the same school for a few months. “Love Can Last” was the title, to say the least, I took that song down and let it disappear after a couple months lol. Not every song you write turns out good haha. I’d say my real beginning of songwriting, though, started when I was introduced to Hillary Bernstein. I was singing a duet with a friend at the time at a venue in Hollywood called Room 5, she was in the audience and asked me afterward if I had ever written and we set up a session shortly after that. We actually wrote my first single “So Bad” together.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: So it was genuinely unexpected. Beautiful how things align just like that. Now I’m curious which duet you performed.
BRANDON SKEIE: To be honest I can’t even remember the name of the song haha. My brain doesn’t like to hold onto information for very long it seems like. I remember being very nervous … that’s about it.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: When did you realize you wanted to be a musician?
BRANDON SKEIE: I kinda knew from a really young age, I’d say like 6th grade. I was really shy and nervous though and never really tried to sing in front of anyone. I would just sing in the car with my mom to Mariah Carey, Spice Girls & Neyo haha. In the back of my mind I had the dream, but I didn’t really REALIZE until my friend in high school made me audition for our school’s version of “High School Musical”. I got up and for the first time sang in front of my all of my peers. It went over well but it was probably the scariest thing I had ever done.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: Isn’t that where we should strive to find ourselves, though? As creatures of comfort, we so often crave safety and security, shying away from discomfort like a game of golf, in which the least amount incurred signifies a win, but what if we dive into that discomfort, aspiring to experience it in it’s face value, pain, the sensation, as opposed to suffering, the recurring thought of pain?
BRANDON SKEIE: That’s actually something I am learning right now. I have always had an overactive imagination & allowed my fears to overcome me. Its almost like not an option at this point. I have to just go for what I believe I am meant to do, lean into the anxieties & allow them to present themselves in whatever way they may choose. Although it is hard to see it sometimes I think it will make me a stronger more prepared person.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: You released covers at first, right?
BRANDON SKEIE: Thats right 🙂 I would make weekly covers on my YouTube channel. For some reason it was so much easier to sing online in the privacy of my bedroom then in front of people face to face ha.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: Oh of course. Performance, in essence, can generally be equated to sharing the intimacy with a crowd that exists without the spectator. Acting and music are quite similar in that way—with vulnerability being of utmost importance. Once you released So Bad, it pretty quickly took on a life of it’s own—How did that feel? Did you expect the amount of recognition it gained?
BRANDON SKEIE: It actually didn’t move as quickly as that. It really took like 6 months for it to build up and really start to do anything. It was remixed and re-released on Hypem and Soundcloud and from there it was really popularized. It was kinda crazy because at that point I had sang it a shit ton of times and was onto new music. None the less the recognition felt just like you would expect, amazing yet REALLY scary. I was extremely proud of myself and the people who worked on promoting it but at the same time I was like how am I gonna follow it up. Kinda set a high expectation for myself in my mind. The recognition was amazing & I have a really beautiful audience so I am lucky in that sense. I was really blown away when The Chainsmokers started reposting & sharing it though, I just didn’t even know how they saw it.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: By the time a piece of work reaches an audience a dissonance frequently occurs due to the sheer amount of time that often passes between the creation and consumption. Have you gotten the chance to speak with the Chainsmokers and possibly thank them?
BRANDON SKEIE: I did tweet them to thank them & had my publisher reach out but other than that I haven’t had the opportunity to really get to talk to them.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: “So Bad” became a bit of a queer anthem, playing often in gay clubs specifically, was that your expectation?
BRANDON SKEIE: You know I really had no expectation of that at all. I actually didn’t even know it was playing in gay clubs until some of my followers started sending me videos of them shaking their asses to it haha. Initially I wrote the song as a heart wrenching ballad so it was pretty interesting when it moved into the club scene.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: At that point, it’s no longer yours though, which I find so beautiful. We create these pieces of work, with our own ideas, through a personal process, then give them to the world, at which point can no longer turn around and edit. I always speak to a friend about the parallels between craft and parenthood. We can try our best to guide them, but once they’re independent of us, we must relinquish control.
As an out queer person and activist, would you say you create music to be listened to by that audience?
BRANDON SKEIE: I just tell the story from my own perspective you know? The thought that I need to make this specific for anyone else besides myself doesn’t ever cross my mind. When I write for other people, I try to make sure I write from a general view but when it comes to my own music, I write from mine. So if the song is about a previous boyfriend, you will know solely by the fact that I am openly queer but I don’t purposefully cater to one audience.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: We’re patiently awaiting the release, further, the return of your artist project after over a year away from it. What inspired this decision?
BRANDON SKEIE: Well for the last year, I have been writing everyday for other artists. At one point, I was told by certain people in my life that I wasn’t one myself & that kind of knocked me down. Made me think that I should give it up and let everyone else be a star besides myself… but after time and really starting to be specific in my writing, I realized there is no way I could not share my story. It became harder and harder for me to give up songs I really was connected too and at a point, I realized that regardless of what anyone says, I know exactly what I am supposed to be doing. I gained a whole new respect for myself through this process and a whole new vision of what I look like as an artist. I’d really say I was inspired by the step back. I think taking the last year to really just write and focus on that alone made me realize that I can do both. I can write for other people and myself at the same time and if other people don’t believe in me at least I do and if I change one life with my music then my I am fulfilled.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: That’s really touching. I’m glad you had that realization. Speaking of glad, I recently got the chance to meet Justin Tranter at the GLAAD awards where he auctioned off a songwriting session before doing a split in heels on the stage—It was incredible. You’ve had the chance to work with Justin over the past year and I can only imagine what is must have felt like being noticed by and taken under the wing of not only one of the most successful songwriters, but a torchbearer in regard to queer activism. Would you share a bit about your time together?
BRANDON SKEIE: Justin is amazing first and foremost. He is one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. He has a purpose for everything he does and is such a strong leader for the queer community. Aside from him being one of the best songwriters I know he also is very genuine. He doesn’t sugar coat or hide his true feelings which I deeply appreciate. His advice has not only made me a better writer but a better person. Working with him is easy.. I don’t think I have ever had a session with him were it felt hard in anyway. One thing he said to me when I first signed to him will stick with me forever.. ” focus on creation over attention & you will always win”.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: Can we plaster that on billboards? The temptation is strong, though, especially in the digital age. Let’s discuss your process for a moment—What inspires you to write?
BRANDON SKEIE: Literally everything. This interview right now inspires me. My mind runs a mile a minute and every thought sparks a memory and with that memory comes a song. I tend to be one of those writers that will just start singing mid thought and write songs on the toilet or the dinner table. I have gone through some serious shit in my life and to deal with those traumas, I write music. It is almost like a therapy for me instead of a career or “job”. I need to do it to survive.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: Speaking of writing as therapy, we were recently discussing The Artist’s Way, which you’re currently following. I haven’t finished it, but I can honestly say when I was completing my daily morning pages, it truly made an impact on my work and general state of flow. What are your thoughts thus far?
BRANDON SKEIE: The Artist’s way in incredible. The morning pages do the same for me. Its the best way to release any harboring negative thoughts aside from daily meditation. It is almost like you are cracking your skull open and pouring out everything into words and allowing it to fill up again each day without feeling overwhelmed. I cannot stress self-care enough. Without out it you have nothing.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: How do you differentiate between the tracks for yourself and those for others?
BRANDON SKEIE: I get asked this question a lot and I still don’t have a real answer too it. Its almost like my soul tells me … that’s yours, that’s somebody else’s haha.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: I’ll take it. People often ask how I choose selects with photos as well, and you kind of just know. You glaze over thirty shots that might seem completely interchangeable, but they aren’t. Have you ever written something for another artist in mind then decided to keep it?
BRANDON SKEIE: I actually try to never write a song with another artist in mind. That usually happens afterwards. I try to only write from a real place and real experiences whether they be mine or someone else’s in the room. That’s not to say that couldn’t happen in the future but I would hate for another artist to love a song I wrote for them and then have it snatched away. Not my cup of tea.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: Hahah. That’s truly beautiful, though, being able to listen to somebody else’s experiences, digest them, and embody it. It makes me wonder, is empathy a necessary element for every musician, dancer, actor, and so on and so forth?
BRANDON SKEIE: I would say yes if you want to write from a genuine place. I think without empathy you can tell whether the song meant something or wasn’t written just to be written.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: I’m fortunate enough to have gotten the chance to hear some of the new songs from this next chapter, but when will others be able to hear it—when can we expect a release?
BRANDON SKEIE: In reality that is still to be determined. I would love to say you will all hear new music before the start of the new year but there are a lot of things that go into play at this point. I have the songs and they are close to ready but production, team, etc.. I have to have all that in place as well. So all in all THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE haha.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: We’ll be here waiting. In the time you’ve taken to step away from your artist project—how have you grown?
BRANDON SKEIE: I have grown in a sense that I know exactly who I am now. I know what I stand for. I know what I love to write about and I am not afraid to share that. I cannot stress enough that knowing who you are is one of the most important things ever when it comes to being an artist or even a genuine human being. I feel like I am more able to check myself and tell my story by focusing on the creation of it.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: Well that begs the question, how does one get to know themselves?
BRANDON SKEIE: I think knowing yourself is complex in a sense that you being aware that you are always changing & always evolving allows you to get more in touch with your inner self. Maybe its more being ok with all your strengths & weaknesses mean you know yourself.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: Let’s take a moment and discuss your weight loss. During the process of self-reflection that you’ve really dove into recently, you’ve begun to change your physical self, shedding some of this shield and creating a more positive self-image—It’s over a hundred pounds now, so congratulations on that. I can honestly say there’s been a significant change in your energy and relation to others, not sure which came first, but it’s lovely to observe. What has this journey been like?
BRANDON SKEIE: It has been a vigorous journey & will continue to be. It would naive for me to think it will just be easy peasy after the initial start. Self-care & self-reflection are things you will be doing for the rest of your life. It is really hard to look at yourself for everything that you are. It is actually crazy to me at this point. I was scrolling through my photos on my phone a few days ago actually and came across a photo of myself when I first moved to LA. I literally look like a different person. Someone I do not recognize and I am so proud of myself. Just like mental care, self care in your body is most important. I want to be able to experience the world for everything that it is and do that in the healthiest way possible. Its all a personal journey and a decision you have to make on your own but I am sure glad I made that decision now.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: Was there a moment in which you begun putting on weight, or was it gradual?
BRANDON SKEIE: I had always been a heftier boy. I grew up with a pretty rough childhood and I think I found a lot of comfort in food. I do remember however my middle school years being where I put on the most weight. I was bullied by other boys at my school for awhile for being gay although I hadn’t been out yet. There was such a negative connotation around it in my hometown that I think I made friends with girls, cake, ice cream and pizza instead to keep my mind off of the thought that I was actually in fact queer.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: Well, all of the above make for great friends. Having been bullied actually continually comes up in interviews. It’s equal parts a shame as it is a blessing. We all have the choice to regard these negative stressors as weight, holding us down, or fire, propelling us forward, and it’s truly as simple as a change in perspective. I know, easier said than done, but I speak from personal experience. I volunteered at a women’s shelter for some time, and they had this project that will always stick with me. It was an arts and craft series they all work on during their healing, titled “Pearl,” inspired by the creation of a pearl, the result of sand, an irritant, getting into the mouth of an oyster who tries and tries to expel it, creating this miraculous object of awe. If you could, in one sentence, sum up how you’d hope to affect the world through your craft, what would it be?
BRANDON SKEIE: I want to normalize vulnerability & honesty.
DAVID-SIMON DAYAN: In the words of Ai Weiwei, “maybe to be powerful, is to be fragile.” If you could give one piece of advice to queer youth of today, what would it be?
BRANDON SKEIE: Don’t let what is happening in the world be what is happening to your soul. You are just as important as everyone else. We have the power to open minds, open hearts and fill people with love & kindness. Greatness comes to the great and positivity comes to the positive. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind or be a light in a world plagued by darkness. We need each other to survive and within community we will rise. Be consistent in your thoughts and pure in your motives. Let the universe provide to you as long as you are willing to provide to the universe.
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