Brandon Mills has walked many, many paths; some figurative, many literal. He moved around a lot as a kid. He joined the Marine Corps at 19 and was deployed to Afghanistan. He traveled across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East doing charity work for three years following his service. He trained special forces out of Santa Cruz and had a taste of the high life working in Hawaii.
It was during his time in the Aloha State that Brandon reached a fork. On the one hand, he was making the best money he’d ever made, there was abundant sunshine, and pretty exceptional shores were readily available. On the other hand, he’d long valued the artistry of music, going back to his treasured Beach Boys cassette as a child and his saxophone days in band class. Music felt right, and making it was a therapeutic experience, but a career in it had never seemed possible. “I was grateful, but I wasn’t fully satisfied,” Brandon reflects. “There was still a longing that I needed to fulfill. I said, ‘I’d rather go do something I love and fail at it than continue down this path.’”
Brandon quit his job, sold everything, and moved to New York City to at last try his hand at making music full time. It wasn’t an easy change. “It’s probably the most intense move you could possibly make living in the same country,” Brandon says. “That was a kick in the ass, in beautiful and difficult ways. I call New York the ‘boot camp for humanity.’” He logged in long and hard hours gigging around while going to school for audio engineering in music production, until eventually it was time for yet another move: “I had kind of gotten a little burnt out living in New York. It’s just a lot of energy there. I felt like my time was up, like I’d learned what I needed to learn.” From there it was onto Nashville, where he remains today. “It feels like home,” Brandon confirms. “For the time being.”
For as colorful as Brandon’s journey has been, at the heart of his music lies a philosophy of minimalism, of direct connections with little between the listener and the musician. “I tend to write a lot of acoustic stuff,” Brandon says when asked to describe his sound. “I want to be moved by an artist through their voice and through one other instrument. I like the raw exposure of that, and I like that you can’t hide behind any of the production.” That rawness dovetails with the storytelling aspect of his lyrics, which are driven by emotional candor and themes of grace, unconditional love, forgiveness, and justice. As with his charity work, his music strives to lift up and empower others. “One of the things I want people to say when I die,” he muses, “is, ‘Brandon encouraged me.’”
Brandon has plenty of aspirations for the future. He’s recording a new EP, and he’d like to hit 100,000 album sales eventually. He’s working on building connections in Nashville (“You can’t really throw a stone without hitting someone who’s written a Billboard Top 100”), and he’d love to collaborate with Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic (“He just seems like an all-around fantastic human being; we share a lot of the same values”). You can also catch him on the 2020 season of ABC’s spin-off series, “The Bachelor Presents: Listen to Your Heart.”
Perhaps his most ambitious goal is to blend his music with his passion for charity. “I’d like to book like a 30-40 city tour,” Brandon explains, “sell out a small venue, and then spend some time doing nonprofit work in that community. I don’t know of anybody doing that.”