It’s only an accomplished musician who knows how to comfort a bar patron still carting around the ashes of his departed dog. Senior Brinley Addington has had a bead on a career as a singer since as far back as he can remember. His December graduation is near and he is ready to turn his attention to his music. A veteran of venues like Exit/In and even downtown dive Tootsie’s, Addington knows a thing or two about keeping things simple—and how to handle being the opening act for folks like Marty Stuart.
How did you get started?
I’ve always loved country music since before I can remember. When I was 3, my parents and my grandparents took me to the Grand Ole Opry and they said after that, that’s all I wanted to do. I started singing in church when I was about 12. I’d always sung in the car and in the shower, and I was in the choir at my elementary school, but that’s really how I got started, singing in church.
You’ve said you were exposed early on to Jim Croce and James Taylor. Given the sorts of songwriters they are, what kinds of songs do you like to write?
I like to write songs that are stories. Sometimes they’re really deep stories and sometimes they’re just “hey, this is what happened” kind of stories. Really visual songs are very important to me. If it can make you see what that person was doing or where they were at, makes you see a music video in your head, that’s the kind of song I want to write. It’s challenging, but yeah, visual songs would be the answer to that.
Is there a way you go about writing those songs?
It’s always different for me. Sometimes I’ll have a melody first. That happens a lot less often than having a line or something that I think sounds cool, or an idea or direction right off the bat that comes like, “Man, I want to write a song about this,” or “Man, I want to write a song about something that happened to me.” Sometimes I just want to write a song because I think it’s a good idea, not because it necessarily happened to me, but it might happen to someone else and they could relate to it. Really, there’s no set processes. I’ll write things down on a napkin, I’ll write things down in my car, put it in my phone, or sit down at my computer and just start going at it.
In the past, what sorts of things have spurred you to write a song?
Being from a really small town in East Tennessee, rural life really— I don’t know. It just does something for my soul to write about farms, farmers, tractors and stuff like that and people from that country. That really speaks to me. Love speaks to me, too. I’ve experienced more love lost than I have love, recently, but that also is good, too. It’s good for the sad songs, and everybody goes through that. It’s good to write about that and it’s healthy to get that stuff out instead of bottling it up.
In 2008 you got to do a music video for “Why I Never Will.” What was that experience like?
It was a lot of fun. I got very lucky with that experience in that some friends of mine had just started a video company and needed content and asked me if I wanted to do a video. I got to be very hands-on with the treatment. The song was a very visual song, and it was very easy to put that into motion. We shot it in Gates City, Va., which is one of my favorite places. It’s a very small town, about 20 minutes from my hometown of Kingsport in East Tennessee. The people there were so great about it. I’ve always challenged myself, and acting is definitely a challenge. I don’t know if I’ll act in every video I’ll do— I’m like, “Oh my gosh, look at me.” It’s embarrassing sometimes, but it was a great challenge, and it was a great experience, and it’s been a great tool to help me promote my music.
You’ve played a ton of different venues, several being iconic Nashville venues. Is there one that sticks out to you or one where you had an interesting experience?
My favorite venue in Nashville is Exit/In. Those people have been so great to me, and it’s just all the history surrounding that venue makes it a favorite of mine. As far as my most interesting experience at a venue, I was playing at Tootsie’s and we got a request for a song that reminded a guy of his dog that had passed away. So after we had played the song, he tipped us, and after the show, I went and spoke to the guy and said, “Thank you for your request.” And the dude started crying. He’s like, “Four years ago today my dog passed away.” I sat down at the table with him and said, “Man, I’m sorry to hear that.” He was crying, I didn’t know what else to do. He slides a cookie tin across the table and said, “I brought my dog with me today.” He brought his dog’s ashes to the show. So, that’s been the most interesting thing that’s happened, by far. Every venue’s different and they all bring something different, but my favorite venue in town is definitely the Exit/In.
That’s quite a story. In your bio it says you’ve opened for Marty Stuart. How did that happen?
There’s a festival in my home town of Kingsport called Twilight Alive. I had opened it the year before for a smaller band and I had done some other opening things. The people in the committee knew that I wouldn’t get starstruck. I just think it’s a great opportunity when you get to meet people like that, to meet your heroes, and he’s definitely a hero of mine. They knew I wouldn’t freak out, so they asked me to do it. It was an incredible experience. That was the biggest crowd that festival had ever had. We got to see over 8,000 people that day. It’s on a long stretch of road downtown and you couldn’t even see blacktop. People just packed in everywhere you could see. He’s such a talented individual, and for every bit of talent he has, he has that much heart, too. He’s such a nice guy and really preserving traditional country music, which is certainly my favorite. I learned a lot from watching him and being around him and what he does as an artist.
When you’re not making music, what else are you into?
When I’m not becoming a more well-rounded individual at Belmont. … When it’s warm enough I like to fish, I love movies, I like going to movies. I do that a lot, actually. I love music, I love going to shows. When I’m not playing, I love to go watch my friends play. I like to even go downtown and watch the cover bands, just because it’s fun. I’ve loved music my whole life. Even when I’m not playing it, I’m listening to it in the car. I like to buy CDs and go for really long drives. I drive out to Leiper’s Fork, go out in the country and even just sit and listen to quiet stuff. Living in a city like Nashville, it’s sometimes hard to find quiet space, but if I can be somewhere rural, it’s fun. I like sports. My friends and I, we like to play pick up games, play some touch football, or softball or something when it’s warm enough.
You mentioned going for long drives. Is there an album you particularly favor or one that just works really well?
That’s when I like to really resort to the old stuff, the stuff I listened to growing up, like Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw’s early stuff, and even some of my more recent favorites like Josh Turner. That’s when I like to really get into the old stuff and just go to stuff that makes me feel good or reminds me of simpler times. I don’t get stressed out about a lot, but when I do, listening to stuff from my past really makes me feel good. I just reach for the old stuff, reach for the classics at that point. Sometimes I like to listen to new stuff, I like to just get out and go through a whole album, and I still buy CDs, believe it or not. I’d rather have something I can put it in, go all the way through and get to know the album and just get out of my brain for a minute.
You were talking about Josh Turner. I read that his album “Your Man” was influential for you. Why do you like the album? Why did it have such an impact?
I knew I always wanted to be a singer. I remember knowing that I wanted to do it and being in a position where I was really going to pursue it. I was like, “I’m tired of talking about it, I want to do it,” but I didn’t know what direction I wanted to go in. Obviously, my faith is a big part of how I make my decisions in my music and otherwise. After hearing Josh Turner’s interpretation of country music, I was like, “I want to get somewhere along those lines,” and it gave me a great starting point. I don’t know that I’m necessarily going down that road now. I’m trying a lot of different things, I’ve got a lot of new influences, but his testimony as a person is always an influence on me, and that’s been the greatest influence from that album. He had so many different things on that album. He had a bluegrass number, he had a gospel number, straight up country, and he had some more modern-sounding country stuff. It was a good, very well-rounded album, and subject matter was what was most important, I think. Talking about rural life, family, God and just good old country music.
“All Over Town” is your most recent album. Are you working on anything now?
I’m working on a new album right now, which should be out in February. It’s going to be a very big departure from “All Over Town.” I didn’t write a lot of “All Over Town.” My next album, which doesn’t have a title yet, is going to be a lot more of my writing. I still like cutting outside songs to make things well-rounded, but it’s going to be a closer look into who I am and what I want to say, a closer look at the kind of music I want to make.