Ascending With Brik.Liam
Interview by Dorian Waltower
As a visionary and soulful melody carrier of the modern R&B world, Brik.liam, the man holding the mysterious red balloon, is a fascinating spirit of many talents. Somewhere in between opening for Lalah Hathaway and splashing onto the iTunes R&B top 10, Brik finds the time to remain humble and loyal to his craft. Brik has amassed a cult following with his seductive covers from his acclaimed Vocal Disc Jockey project and silky records like #theascensionLP. There is a war on love, music, and authenticity and brik.liam continues to ascend the culture while remaining true in the ultimate battle of self exploration and fulfillment. Creativity is boundless and brik.liam is not to be placed in anyone's box. Too busy getting lost in the art, Brik.liam’s artistic journey is still being written and we are thrilled to have a chapter in it.
UC: Could you tell us the meaning and inspiration behind the moniker brik.liam?
BL: My government name is Jacoby Williams. I knew at some point in time as I was recording music and trying to take it more seriously that I wanted to take on an alter ego. People were so comfortable calling me Jacoby and my other nicknames and I didn't have a personal relationship with them so it felt awkward. I was like 'let me switch it up'. My favorite color is red. I looked up synonyms for the color red because I didn't want the actual word red in my name. I wanted it to have meaning you know, it makes good for interviews and stories. Brik is a synonym for the color red. I made it look unique and added Liam, which comes from my last name which is Williams. So yeah brik.liam.
UC: I know you are a military brat and have lived several places. Tell us a bit about your upbringing. How has being exposed to various cities and countries shaped your artistry? How has it shaped you culturally?
BL: I was originally born in Virginia. My mom got married in ‘95 to my stepdad and we moved to Texas. In 2000, we moved to Germany where I spent 5th grade through high school. It was very different, especially at that time in my life as a pre-teen. Germany is basically where I grew up but not like people think. People ask if I can speak German but it was basically an American community inside of Germany so I was surrounded by other American kids. I didn't have long term friendships or relationships because we always moved. My mom also sheltered me. I spent a lot of time in the house, where my creativity was cultivated in my room playing video games and listening to music and experimenting. It kinda taught me about myself as an individual since I spent a lot of time alone. It also opened me up to being vulnerable to creativity.
UC: #theascensionLP debuted in the top 10 R&B charts on iTunes. Congrats on that! Do you consider charts and numbers important as an artist?
BL: Yes and no. Yes because it meant a lot that people would support me as an independent artist enough to actually chart on iTunes. But I'm also a big believer, regardless of getting a top 10, if you focus on the numbers it will mess you up. I'm also big on mental health, and on social media the numbers game continue to grow and develop and change and it will really mess with your mind. If I'm so focused on a top 10 debut then what happens if the next album doesn't get top 10? Or if the people around me are hitting number 1’s and I’m not? I'm grateful when those winning opportunities do happen but I try not to put too much focus on numbers. People can deter you from your journey and so many people are deserving but it’s so many politics and ways of getting things. But for sure as an indie artist it's amazing to see that I could record at a home studio, all my little weird ideas and was able to grow as an artist that people supported enough to debut in the top 10.
UC: To piggyback more on what you said as growing as an artist. I watched you perform at college talent shows to becoming brik.liam, to booking shows around the country. You are doing so many things, with a growing fan base of over 17k followers on IG plus chart topping EPs, tell us how do you measure all that growth personally as an artist?
BL: Honestly, I don't consider it enough. Although measuring growth is a way to keep you grounded and kind of a reflection of where you come from, I always knew this was something I wanted to do but I never actually thought it was possible. Somehow I pursued it without stopping. It makes you really really grateful. Thinking about where you started, I remember when I was getting booed at high school talent shows. I'm grateful for this journey and that I stuck with this. A lot of times you want to give up, so to actually see the fruit flourishing from being faithful to the craft, I’m grateful. It makes me feel like I was right in my decision. It's really cool because I remember when my mom didn't really support my decision because it didn't make sense to her, and there were other people who were not really understanding. In lieu of all that I still stuck with it and still believed in me and it worked out to a certain degree.
"My hope is that before I attempt to sing a perfect melody or write a perfect song I hope that people are connected to me on a spiritual level because they will always get it no matter what changes sonically."
UC: With regard to your mom not providing the support you needed as an artist due to not understanding -- that's a very hard, and personal thing to cope with growing up and I’m sure that may have had some effects on your artistry. You seem to be a very inclusive open book type of artist with your fans. With that being said how much do you factor in feedback, requests, and critiques into your projects?
BL: A critique is one thing but it has to come from a place where you respect it. You have to be careful about letting opinions drive what you do. I don't like the word fans but as far as my supporters go there are a lot of people that have been watching my journey for a long time. They see my heart in my music and that's my motive, my hope is that before I attempt to sing a perfect melody or write a perfect song I hope that people are connected to me on a spiritual level because they will always get it no matter what changes sonically. Because one day I may want to do a country song and I want people to still get it, feel it, and be connected to it whether that's 5 people, 5,000, 17,000 or a million it doesn't matter. It's more about the spiritual connection and I've seen that. It's not so much about the quantity of responses but the quality. I've seen people tweet me, and say my album helped them get through heartbreak. I've watched people play my songs and watch their whole moods and facial expressions change. I want to heal people, I want people to want to learn and grow and I want people to feel. I just want to make classic albums and keep that same theme throughout my career because I know if I affect people's lives they'll play my music more over time versus a song that's hot now and you'll never play again. So as far as critics and opinions I try not to let it ruin that sincerity or the authenticity that I want to connect to the people.
UC: Prior to releasing #theascensionLP, you've released a few covers. Could you tell us more about the conception behind your Vocal Disc Jockey project which featured some really unique covers?
BL: Oh! Whoaa! You've been listening! I see you guys are paying attention! Thats dope! I’m actually working on volume 2 of that project right now. One thing I enjoy doing is mashing up songs. Most people do covers and record the song identical to how the original records are. For me starting out in church, it puts you in that mode of learning how to flow collectively and creatively put songs together, so with my Vocal Disc Jockey project my idea was to do what I actually do live but put it on record. I also wanted to pick songs people wouldn't really hear me sing normally, like Britney Spears is on there, but you wouldn't mash that with Janet Jackson typically. I wanted to do a lot of songs that are quite bizarre mashed up and connect them through lyrics. I also wanted people to hear things they haven't heard before and research the songs and become fans of the music I'm a fan of already.
UC: That is our favorite project of yours! We thought that concept was super dope, and unique, and it has never been done in that way.
BL: I thought that project was very important. I don't like covers all that much because its been done so much, I’m big on authenticity but I do feel like there's a way to approach covers where it feels more original and different. It gives these same songs we’ve come to know and the same lyrics a different approach where it almost feels like my song because that's how much I’m connected to it.
UC: Not only are you a dope vocalist and composer but also a creative visionary, from your music videos, to your album artwork and IG curation. Could you tell us more about your visual projects past and present?
BL: If I'm being honest, all of it has been very experimental, and last minute decisions. If I curate something on IG, and have an idea in my head first, I’ll work backwards to create it and it'll all be done in one day versus planning ahead. I’m big on authenticity so I work it out in that exact moment when it sparks and then becomes a fire. I see things in my head all the time. I didn't go to school for graphic design so it's something I wanted to do and I stuck with it and got better over the years, same as music. I never thought I'd be good enough to do the things visually that I've done. It's more about experimentation and allowing myself to grow and learn in the midst of the experiments.
UC: Could you tell us some of your opinions on the state of R&B music, how do you see the genre evolving? Who do you think are some key players pushing the culture forward?
BL: It’s hard to give an opinion on music. I see music as such an artistic form. It's so subjective, I think it should remain that way. I hate the term “real music”, because there is no such thing as fake music. I think people should be allowed to do them. So many people single out trap artists. Of course there is the hip hop genre and culture that should be respected and held to a high standard but then artists come along and do their thing, you know? Once upon a time hip hop was looked down upon and so was R&B. I do believe it is unfortunate and weird that R&B is used throughout and influences other genres but can't be respected enough to be supported when it comes to people of color but can be admired and in some instances appropriated by so many other artists that aren't Black. But it doesn't mean R&B isn't good. I just love music so if it feels good I connect to it, I vibe with it.
As far as R&B goes plenty of my peers are talented people, and I feel like we push the culture forward, there are so many indie/underground people that are pushing it forward nowadays. I love the sounds of R&B as a hybrid. I love the old school R&B and I love listening to Tank, people like that are classic. I also love listening to Emily King, Solange, SZA and Daniel Caesar taking what they know as R&B and fusing it with Gospel, and fusing it with Folk, all these different things. Again I’m big on authenticity and originality so I love the fusion of R&B. The future of R&B doesn't have to sound like the old R&B, although the old sound has a place in the industry. But it's time the culture of R&B moves forward so it can continue to live. Like I said earlier, non people of color are able to carry it more than Black people can but that’s some other politics. Sometimes R&B from Black artists just isn't accepted but again it's all so very subjective. I hate that R&B artists have to be boxed in, people expect the artist to sound like one thing. Me as a Black male, I don't have to sing about the same stuff other Black artists sing about. I don't have to sound like all the other R&B artists. I remember I went to an Avant and Dru Hill concert and just watching all the different kind of people at the show it all made sense. There are gonna be people out there that prefer a Keyshia Cole over other artists, and vise versa and its okay! I feel like Black people, we get labeled as one dimensional and we really aren't. We are complicated individuals and have layers especially as artists. I wish people were more open to accepting that. I love so many things. I love Jazz, I can listen to it any day. Others may love hip hop. There’s so much judging and picking apart happening. It’s music. Just allow people to live and create. I'm big on supporting what you love regardless of how popular it may be. So many people spend time bashing and they don't support what they claim to love and are mad at the lack of representation. If people supported more than hate then maybe things could be in a better place. I’m a firm believer in shining light on what you like, and simply muting what you don’t.
UC: Being an indie artist isn't easy, there's no major label pushing you. You make it happen on your own. We see you put a lot of time and money into your craft in hopes that it connects with the right audience. What advice would you give to other artists trying to start out and how they could possibly connect people with their art?
BL: My advice for anyone trying to really do this. Simply just do it. Remain patient with yourself. You never know where you will go. We live in an age of instant gratification, people assume people blow up over night and that's not true. Yes people go viral and do any and everything to make it but that's not the process if you really want to last. You have to be committed to your growth. I don't want to blow up tomorrow. I’d rather see myself grow from one stage to the next to the next. You can be big today and nothing tomorrow. Stay patient with your craft and willing to grow. This applies to anything you are doing. Growth is going to be the only thing that keeps you sticking with it.
Check out Brik's latest visual here + his curated playlist below: