After bringing her passion to Austin City Limits this past weekend, Brittney Spencer stopped by to talk getting into country, The Chicks, and the release of her upcoming album.
Brittney Spencer is doing country her own way. After going viral on Twitter in 2020 for her rendition of The Highwomen’s “Crowded Table,” Spencer has toured the country, working alongside the likes of Carrie Underwood, Maren Morris, and Christopher Cross to name a few. Since striking out on her own and releasing her first EP, Compassion, in 2020, Spencer has garnered a loyal fanbase devoted to her unique style of country that blends genres and cultures to form an eclectic sound. Her newest album, My Stupid Life, is available via Elektra Records on January 19, 2024.
When the Baltimore-native musician took to the Austin City Limits stage this past Friday, she was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of diehard fans, country-curious music lovers, and everything in between. “I’m a new artist,” Spencer confided in the crowd, “So when I do shows, I never know what to expect.” The crowd hung onto every note as Spencer performed a diverse mix of songs, including originals, unreleased pieces from her upcoming album, and covers of classic country hits.
After tearing it up at Weekend One of Austin City Limits, Brittney Spencer came to chat with C&I about her upbringing in Baltimore, Maryland, the evolution of music, and the origins of her love for country.
C&I: You just added playing at Austin City Limits to your list of accomplishments. How was your experience?
Brittney Spencer: I love festivals like this because they’re full of music lovers. I don’t think they care so much about genre. I love these all-genre festivals, because that’s how I listen to music. It’s like bar hopping except with genre. I look forward to taking up 45 minutes of everyone’s time and just hopefully bringing something that they really enjoy.
I think [performing at ACL] is so cool and also very nerve-racking. I just announced my upcoming album that’s dropping in January. I performed so many songs that are on the album that aren’t out yet. I feel like I've done that for the last three years, having just three or four songs out and going on the road with Jason Isbell or Reba or Maren Morris and having to play for 45 minutes. So, I’ve spent so long performing songs that people haven’t heard yet because they’re not out. But there’s something about singing songs once they’ve been recorded.
C&I: Since your viral Twitter video, you’ve garnered a great deal of success in a relatively short amount of time. How are you adjusting to this new level of attention?
Spencer: You know, I'm still always shocked. Gosh, it's been really fast paced and it's a lot of learning about myself. I think being even more true to who I am has been the most useful adjustment tool for me.
C&I: What have you learned about yourself?
Spencer: I’ve learned so much about vulnerability. That's what I've really gravitated to. I've learned the importance of being honest about how I feel and being honest about my life and the things that transpired in it. I’ve also learned that it's important for me to find ways to express myself. I've been so tremendously helped by hearing other stories and music throughout my life, and I think one of the biggest lessons I've learned is that I'm actually one of those people. I'm not just a fan of that connectedness that I think we all feel through music. I'm not just a fan of it. I'm actually that person as well. And so I've learned how I want to approach music and discography — just trying to be true to that.
C&I: Baltimore is not necessarily the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of country. How did you discover the genre?
Spencer: My introduction to country was The Chicks, but once I started getting into country music and watching CMT and listening to country radio, I started realizing that I'd already heard so many of these songs before for most of my life. I would listen to the rock stations in school growing up, and a lot of the crossover songs were what I heard in elevators and in the mall and on the school bus. So, I’d already heard of Tim McGraw and the Chicks and Trisha Yearwood and Shania [Twain] and Dolly [Parton] and Reba. Those crossover songs were around. And I think a girl like me from Baltimore appreciates that. I love a good crossover country song.
Country music is actually pretty big in Maryland. Country radio is the most listened to station in the state of Maryland. I think we had one or two country radio stations within reach where I grew up. Country tours always stop in the DMV area. Country music is everywhere. As I go on this artist journey, I meet so many people from Maryland or New York or Colorado or a lot of the rural areas like Oregon and the Midwest. There really are a lot of country fans out there.
C&I: What keeps you in love with country music?
Spencer: Getting to take a step back from all the industry stuff makes me appreciate the storytelling, the creative community in Nashville. I love so much about it — the part of the country music community that is making their own thing. I’m not ever going to traditionally fit into anything that's already been presented in the genre, and I think what’s so cool right now about country music is I'm not the only one.
There are so many artists doing some really cool things that are very different — Abbey Cone, Gabe Lee, Zach Bryan. They're doing their own take on the genre. And I think that's needed. I come from a very innovative culture. We have literally abandoned genres and started new ones — I think about disco, jazz, blues, hip hop — and I don't want to lose that. So, I bring that with me in my pursuit of country music, because I want to be who I am. I don't know that there is a more fun and authentic approach to creating music.
Photography: courtesy of Jimmy Fontaine