The New Cool: A Conversation with rapper Bryce Vine

At a not-so-long ago point in his life, singer-songwriter-rapper Bryce Vine was on the outside looking in, dreaming of becoming somebody — anybody — in the music industry. A player.

And then came Drew Barrymore. Or more concisely, “Drew Barrymore,” the song. His song, which rocketed to No. 15 on the charts and to date has racked up more than 140 million streams.

Suddenly, People magazine was calling Vine a “rising star,” and Time magazine deemed his sound as being the “definition of cool.”

And just like that, the 30-year-old New York City born and California bred Vine was on the proverbial map. Vine’s East-Coast-grit-meets-West-Coast-glass stylings have fans not only flocking to his music, but to his live shows as well. Many of the dates of his current tour have been sellouts, including his upcoming performance at Wooly’s in Des Moines this Thursday night.

“I like to provide an environment for people to feel like they don’t have to reserve themselves,” Vine said in a phone interview. “They can sing at the top of their lungs and leave all the stresses of their lives outside. I want to give them a place where they can feel safe and have fun and dance and move around without feeling like they’re being judged. It’s important to promote the beautiful things in life, too. Life is a lucky thing to have.”

ListenIowa caught up with Vine during a break in the tour to talk about how “Drew Barrymore” changed his world, his humble beginnings in a punk band, and his dedication his music “family.”

ListenIowa: You’re riding a strong wave right now, with sold out shows on tour and things happening with your music. That’s got to be a good feeling.
Bryce Vine: Yeah. That’s what all the work was for, but I had no idea was going to be on this level.

LI: What do you attribute all this to? How did you get to this point?
Bryce Vine: Every day I learn something new, going through trial and error. Having good people around me has always been important ever since I was a kid. I was an only child, so my friends that I made at an early age were my fans. I still have the same best friend I’ve had since I was 15. My manager has been my only manager, and I’ve known my producer and my DJ since college.

LI: A true family.
Bryce Vine: Yeah. It makes it so much more fun to celebrate the wins, remember the losses and talk about all the things that we shared. There’s nothing better than that.

LI: You’ve got an East Coast/West Coast mix in you. How has that bi-coastal upbringing made its way into your music?
Bryce Vine: Getting raised by New Yorkers in California is probably the way to go. It’s the realistic sense of how to accomplish goals from the East Coast people that’s kind of swept up into a Hollywood la-la land and the sunny weather and beautiful people. There’s so much to be influenced by. I love New York, though. Every time I go there, something amazing happens and it feels like coming home. But it’s amazing how different the vibe is. Every time I go pick up something new and use it for a song.

LI: You’re a self-taught guitar player who started your own punk band at one point.
Bryce Vine: I wasn’t very good, but I wanted to use it as an instrument for writing songs. And then when I was a sophomore in high school, I sat next to this little lesbian chick in my journalism class, and she said she played the drums. I told her I played guitar, and that’s how it got started. I became the lead singer by default because no one else could. We started performing, enjoying our afternoons and just going with it. I loved writing songs. I’d write in class, and was constantly drawing up CD covers and all the stuff that goes with it.

LI: It sounds like you’ve had a clear vision in your head of what you’ve wanted to do for a very long time.
Bryce Vine: Yeah, I have. It always felt like a child-like dream. It was fun to think about, but you can’t realistically imagine what it would be like. Right now, I’m on the first tour bus I’ve ever had, and the first day it was amazing. I was like, “Wow. I can’t believe we’re here.” We’d been traveling in vans and rental cars, and now we have a whole crew and bunks and all this space. And then the very next day, it’s like, “OK, cool. This is amazing. What’s next?” (laughs) You immediately realize that it’s a real thing and you move to the next thing. There’s always a little voice in the back of your head that thinks it’s not going to happen, even when it is. I never really felt established until my label surprised me with a gold record in New York. Then I couldn’t deny it to myself anymore.

LI: Your song “Drew Barrymore” catapulted you to a new level of everything. How did that song come about?
Bryce Vine: It started with the beat, then the next day I wrote the lyrics. But I couldn’t find the chorus. I knew the song was about admiring someone who you were meant to be with, for who the person is, not physically, which was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. All my references for songs that were romantic talked about how beautiful the person was. So I spent months trying to find the right hook. I spent time with different writers, and then finally I went back to the voice notes on my phone. I’m always recording ideas there. I went back three years in voice notes and found one from Julia Michaels, who had left it for me. It was over a completely different beat that had nothing to do with the song, but I thought it might work with what I was trying to say. I showed it to my team, and everyone thought it worked. I released it independently, and then right after that, it went on New Music Friday and all this shit started happening. (laughs)

LI: What have you learned through this process of suddenly being in the spotlight?
Bryce Vine: It’s changed my life completely. I signed to Warner and Sire Records, performed on (Late Night With) Seth Meyers, the (MTV) Music Video Awards; it was where I’d always hoped to get to. I just had to learn as we went on. My whole team, too. Once the song started taking off, all the years of touring and all those things that needed to get done, that was easy. Now it was time for a whole new round of things to learn — how the radio game works, going to the DJs, the interviews, learning how to talk and explain what you’ve been through without just trailing off. There’s so much that goes into any career, but especially this one. There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes that I had never known or appreciated. It takes an empire to make even one song big. It’s not just me.

LI: How big of a role did your producer, Nolan Lambroza (Sir Nolan), play in your success?
Bryce Vine: He’s like my brother. We’re exact opposites in almost every way. He’s very analytical and straight-laced and to the point. He knows music like the back of his hand and knows what will work on a massive scale. I can’t. He thinks way bigger scale. He’s the big picture guy, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him. I was struggling to record music when he hit me up a couple of years after college and said that we should work on something. He said he always thought I was a star, so we started working. It took this long, but he was right. (laughs)


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