“At the end of the day, I want to be somebody you think of who sings and writes really great songs,” Napa, California-based singer/songwriter John Brazell says. He’s an acoustic pop folk storyteller with an easygoing demeanor, an entertainer who offers up comical banter from the stage and enjoys chatting with his fans. Brazell is most likely to take the stage in a T-shirt and jeans, and very little pretense of being anything other than a guy who likes singing songs.
“There’s not a whole lot of barriers, it’s just me for better or worse,” he explains. “If you’re in a band, you have the ability to be distant and mysterious and cool, because there’s a group of you. But as a solo artist, all you really want to do is connect with people. Because the reality of it is that I’m going to be playing a half-an-hour, 45-minute show and then people are going to walk five feet and we’re going to talk.”
Brazell likes to put himself out there, musically, too. “The way I kind of describe it to people is that songwriting is kind of like looking at a painting and describing what I’m seeing. I’ll get an emotion and get some imagery in my head, whether it’s a story or an experience that I went through…I just sing my feelings and thoughts.”
His frank viewpoint infuses both his releases, the five-track debut Gonna Get There (2009); and Restless Heart (2013), featuring 11 songs produced by Brazell and college friends Derek Bargaehr and Sean Beck. Even his music video for the single City Girl plays out like a “three-minute romantic comedy.”
Brazell is starting to enjoy some wider recognition. An instrumental version of City Girl was picked up for an episode of CW TV series Reign in 2015, and several the songs from Gonna Get There were used for incidental music in a movie called Turn Around Jake (2014). Brazell is now in the midst of recording an acoustic EP.
“I’ve been playing so much as a solo artist that I wanted to record something that was the reduced essence, the simplest form of me. And this is probably what you’re going to experience if you go to a John Brazell show in the next year or so…Still acoustic pop songs, but also kind of a little bit more raw.”
There’s a driven side to Brazell, too. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Azusa Pacific University, known for a rigorous music program. Growing up, he skateboarded and played water polo and tennis. And his approach to music was “obsessive”—“From like two years old I always had a guitar in my hand—when he wasn’t playing, he was attending concerts and listening to other artists.
“It’s this constant renewable resource of joy; you get what you put into it. It just clicked: This is what I want to do,” he says, adding wryly: “And I’ve had an interesting history of jobs that led me to want to do nothing but music.”
When he’s not recording or writing songs, he’s playing at a variety of venues from college campuses and coffeehouses to bars and wineries. Brazell says his music speaks to “Probably people in my age bracket, 18-35, people who are starting life, figuring out life. My goal would be to reach a wider audience, the idea would be everybody is welcome, but realistically I do have a bias to a more youthful, unsettled worldview.”
Fans have compared Brazell to numerous singer/songwriters, but his sound isn’t evocative of any one artist in particular.
“Generally it’s a compliment, because they’re comparing you to their context of a guy with a guitar. I’m getting a lot of Ed Sheeran lately, which is great because he’s on top of the world right now. Somebody told me I sounded like Bon Iver and I’m like, ‘really?’. I’ve gotten Justin Timberlake depending on what song I’m singing, Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz, Dave Barnes,” he says. “It’s hard to say with any consistency because people are constantly amazing me with who they think I sound like.”