by Kevin Shaw | photos by Greg Campbell
Plenty of musicians have called Memphis home throughout the years and almost all of them seem to have a remarkably “dramatic” backstory to go along with their success. Add Brenna Villines (a child prodigy pianist) to that list whose backstory includes publicly embracing his HIV status (6 years now) and recovery from meth addiction (3 years sober). With a new album in the works and more attention than ever before, Villines is in a celebratory mood!
Focus: What does Brennan have to celebrate right now in his life?
Villines: Well, professionally, I’m coming off a really good and productive 2016! I got to do some pretty cool things recording wise and will be releasing some projects in 2017. I’m currently working on a new EP in Memphis (with video content) and New York City to follow up my personal album called “Free” from 2015 which dealt with some of my personal struggles. This new one is focused on relationships.
You were born in Kentucky, but then moved to Memphis?
I will have been here 11 years this August. I’m 29 years old. I graduated high school in Kentucky and then got the “bleep” out. I grew up in a rural, industrial town in western Kentucky. There are 700 people in my town—Dixon, Kentucky.
And you were the only gay one?
(Laughing) I was the only gay one, yep! I was one of the first people (if not the first person) to have come out of the closet while in high school. I came out when I was a junior in high school. I was outed by my best friend and I just “confirmed” the allegations because I was tired of hiding it. So, I was happy to move to the “big city” of Memphis as an openly gay man. You’re quite open about your addiction to crystal meth. I fell deeply in love with a guy who I didn’t know at the time was a meth user. I’m the kind of personality who says, “I’ll try anything once,” and I tried it and three years later, I was still doing it. It messed up my career and what ended that relationship was that I found out I was HIV positive and it wasn’t from drug use—it was from him. I later connected the dots that he knew (or had reason to believe) he was positive the whole time. That was hard to go through. I’ll be HIV positive 6 years in May which for me is a positive thing because it changed my life. It humanized me. It grounded me. Even though I had a “rocky” adolescence growing up gay in a place I didn’t want to be, I had a pretty good childhood and hadn’t experienced any real “trauma” until drug addiction and this positive diagnosis—two things I never saw coming.
Wardrobe courtesy Stock&Belle, 387 S. Main Street Memphis, TN
How does Memphis factor into your music career moving forward?
Memphis has given me everything I could have ever hoped for artistically up to this point, but I am looking to move on to a bigger city to help support the infrastructure that I need. I am currently recording in New York and I hope to move there one day. I am ready to take my career to another level.
So, what does “success” look like at this point in your career?
I’d like to be touring nationally or internationally and collaborating with artists around the world. After all that I’ve been through, I have no regrets. I have a lot to celebrate!
For more info on Brennan check out http://www.brennanvillines.com/