Baby Fuzz ("Stereo Hearts" co-writer)

by Corey O'Flanagan

Before Adam Levine, Benny Blanco and Travie McCoy got to it, "Stereo Hearts" was an emo song Brandon Lowry co-wrote on a piano. Fed into the star-on machine (otherwise known as The Voice, where Levine promoted it), the song got swole, amassing half a billion streams on YouTube alone.

Contrast that with Brandon's life as an independent artist. Recording under the alias Baby Fuzz, he makes music with a dark humor that hints at the end times - it's the perspective of an environmentalist. On his last tour (pre-COVID), he slept in his van at Walmart parking lots.

Like Greta Thunberg, Brandon is immune to celebrity, which gives him an advantage when working with artists like Madonna and Britney Spears. In this episode, we talk about his approach to superstar collaborations, get the "Stereo Hearts" story, and hear about his latest project, Welcome To The Future (Season 1). The transcript is below.


"Welcome To The Future"

I wrote this song in 2015/2016 with Eric Nally and Scott Harris. Conceptually the song is essentially about dystopia and the preconceptions about what the future would be like, and how once you get there it's not anything like what you thought it would be. It's supposed to be a very tongue-in-cheek song, but also with some messaging behind it. At the end of the day it's an environmentalist song.


Environmentalism

Seeing my dad working for a factory and then a coal plant, that really pushed me into wanting to be a musician. The environmentalist within me has come from a genuine concern that we are going to ruin the world. I don't think of myself as an activist, but I think everyone should be aware of climate change and what we have to do. If you're not on board, you have to wake up.

I didn't want "Welcome To The Future" to come across didactically in the way of, "you've got to do this." I am preaching, but I wanted it to be hilarious. I wanted to point out the inconsistencies in the way people live.


From Conductor to Producer

I grew up playing classical piano and that was kind of my outlet. I have a hard time expressing emotion, so instead of talking about things, I would retreat into a room and play piano and express that way. I started playing guitar when I was 15 or so, and then got into punk bands and then eventually went to college to study classical music. It's basically the only thing I'm decent at, so I've been running with it since I was 5. I've done quite a variety of stuff within music itself. After college I was a music conductor for off-Broadway shows. I did maybe three or four different shows in New York and it was pretty difficult. You would have to take a score from a musical that did or did not exist, then teach it to the cast and rehearse it for weeks. Certain ones, I had to pre-record a bunch of songs. Sometimes I had to be there live and get a pit of musicians together. It was different for every show and a lot of the stuff I did was experimental shows in black box theatres.

I've also done film scoring and sound design. I didn't get into pop production and songwriting until later on in my 20s. During the mid-2000s there was still a huge rap production culture around New York and I got into that recording studio culture and that was what gave me that jump into producing and songwriting.


Recording and Production

My first experience recording was when I was 8 or 9. I had a portable tape deck. I used to carry that around and record stuff and I guess that kicked that off.

I produced "Welcome To The Future" with one friend. This song was tricky and I worked on it for five months straight - I guess I had too much free time during quarantine. I will work on a song and if I don't think it's done, I will keep working on it. Sometimes that's a couple weeks, sometimes it's a couple months, and if I don't think it's finished, I will shelve it and come back to it later on. That's why sometimes I will release a song that was written six or seven years ago.

If I'm producing for someone else it's either a work for hire or free on spec. If it's the former, you usually have a loose deadline which helps the process go quicker. I'm not the hired gun kind of guy and throughout my career most of the work I have done is free on spec. If they like the song, then we will figure it out with the label as opposed to charging them up front.

I wanted to keep it more personal and go into the studio with someone because I liked their music and it would feel more collaborative. I don't want to be the guy who charges people an hourly rate. I always look at the producer as an extension of the artist and I think when you start charging them by the hour it becomes more transactional and more of a clock-watching exercise. I'm not into that.

I'm not producing for a lot of people in general these days. I think a lot of new artists either self-produce or work within their own tight team.


Along with Dano Omelio, Brandon was part of the production team Robopop, whose clients included Lana Del Rey and Adam Lambert. Brandon used the pseudonym Sterling Fox at this time.

The "Stereo Hearts" Story

I co-wrote this song with my business partner / production partner at the time. We wrote it with this guy Ammar [Malik]. It was originally more of an emo-pop-punk thing. We were pitching it to artists to record for their albums and somebody at Fueled By Ramen / Atlantic Records heard the chorus and it became this bastardized - in a good way - hodgepodge of a bunch of different people collaborating on this one song. It turned into this entity of rapping and singing, but the original song was me and two other people that we wrote on a piano.

The label had us cut out the original verses. They took the chorus and sent it to the legendary producer Benny Blanco. He then made the song around the chorus and took some of the original demo parts, then sent it to Travie McCoy from Gym Class Heroes, who did the raps.

It started to take shape, it started to be awesome, then Adam Levine jumped on the hook because he was friends with Benny. He wrote the bridge and suddenly we have a song. They didn't know whose song it was - is it a Maroon 5 song? Is it Gym Class Heroes? It ended up being Gym Class Heroes featuring Adam Levine.

They released it and it really didn't do anything for a few weeks, but Adam was on this new show called The Voice, which was in its first season. He gave it like a 30-second shout out, and that did it. Over the course of the summer it climbed up the radio charts and by the end of the summer it was #1 on the pop radio chart for that year.

Before that I was literally broke and about to move back in with my parents. My partner and I had been working on pop songs for two years with no luck, and we were about to quit. Then a few weeks after that, this happened and it became a life-changing song.


Superstar Collaborations

I just love the challenge of collaborating. I don't listen to much pop music, and I never have - I like obscure indie music and punk rock. So for me to attempt to make radio pop was always like a stupid challenge.

I lot of the artists I was working with, most people would be starstruck, but I was like, Whatever. I don't listen to your music and I'm not freaked out by working with you. That immediately made it easier to work with some of these bigger pop artists because I wasn't really into their music. Later, I got a real appreciation for what they do and now I would be more starstruck, but I was too innocent to be affected by that. 


Baby Fuzz

I have all these songs that through the years I had written for other people that are just sitting on a hard drive. Baby Fuzz is an outlet for me to release music that I have written and I'm just sitting on. It started out as a funnel to release some of that stuff, but now it has almost become more legitimate and turned into an alter ego.

It started as me being unaware that there was a bunch of different genres on my first album, and when I listened back I was just like, "oh." At that point I was like, "I'm just going to work with that," and now all of the songs are completely different. I want it to be a different listenable experience as you go from song to song. I'm embracing the fact that jumping from genre to genre is OK.

I did a tour last year both with a band and then solo. That was super crazy and super fun. I was the only person on the tour. I was driving my van alone doing over 100 shows. I would go in and perform for five people, sleep in the Walmart parking lot, then move on to the next. Twenty days into the tour it became performance art. I became a caricature of a better musician. That's where the project really took shape, that's where I realized the whole project was dark comedy and I just ran with it.

These sad moments on tour where I was playing on stage with two people drunk in the crowd is just where the project went and that's where my head was at for the second album. I got a lot of comparisons to Bo Burnham on tour with all of the self-aware, dark comedy elements going on. I would be in a song, then it would go into a rave sequence for 10 minutes, or a TV preacher sequence. They were all comedy bits I had planned.


Artistic Voice

"At first I was confused about what my artist voice should be, you know, "should I be singing soft all the time?" I figured if I could do it either way, why not try both? The new album is more high energy and in-your-face, and even has a few ballads on it. I have no problem jumping around with style, I think of each song as its own little film. The context of going song to song is more lyrical than it is musical.

Lyrically, I really like "Welcome To The Future," I'm proud of that one. I hope other people like it, but I do music for therapy, for personal reasons. Once I'm done recording it, I move on. The part of "Welcome To The future" that will be released in a few weeks is part 1 of 2. The second half will come out later this year, and ultimately it will be a double vinyl.

February 10, 2021

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