With his ridiculously catchy R&B hit “Drew Barrymore” certified gold and climbing the charts, a headline tour planned for early next year, and an album on the way, Bryce Vine is a name to know now.
Vine, born Bryce Ross-Johnson, has been playing music since he was 13 (when he taught himself guitar) but nearly gave up on the whole thing when he couldn’t get a record deal; in November 2017, he ended up releasing “Drew Barrymore” independently. Ultimately, patience and perseverance won out, and with two EPs under his belt, the hip-hop artist found himself with a choice of record labels to sign with.
The past year saw him become a Pepsi Sound Drop emerging artist, perform atop Radio City Music Hall’s marquee during the MTV VMAs pre-show, and sell out headlining tour dates to come, but Vine, 30, is just getting started. EW caught up with the up-and-coming artist backstage at the Hammerstein Ballroom after his Z100 Pepsi All-Access Lounge performance to discuss Blink 182, rom-com sweethearts, and episodes of Black Mirror — oh, and music, of course.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve had a huge year with the success of “Drew Barrymore.” Looking back, is there one highlight that stands out for you?
BRYCE VINE: This has been the craziest year. It started last November when I put out “Drew Barrymore.” I was an independent artist, and in August I performed at Radio City Music Hall for the VMAs. I’ve seen over the years, the Eminem show start there, I’ve seen No Doubt perform there, Red Hot Chili Peppers. You can’t be up there without feeling like you’re possibly living someone else’s life. It’s kind of wild. I was constantly thinking if I get too excited, I’m going to wake up. That was a big one. I was terrified up there too because I’m wearing my loafers and I was performing on glass, and I was like, “If I slip too far over, I’m going to fall off and I’m going to be the biggest meme on the planet — and not for a good reason.”
Also, about three weeks ago I thought I was coming into the office to do interviews and other work, and my team and everyone was there, and they surprised me with my gold record. I lost it a little bit then. It was such a nice thing to do. It felt very special to me, especially being so happy with who I ended up signing with.
You had a few options of different labels before you signed with Sire Records, right?
Yeah, for the first time ever. A couple of years ago I actually was going to be signed with a label and then the president took it away from me, and I was like, “You know what, screw it. I’m just going to write music the way I want to write it and at some point maybe we’ll sign a deal.” I couldn’t have even imagined how amazing it was going to end up being. Now I’m in a room full of all these great people, and they’re so happy to be part of it, and I’m so happy to have them. I’m very grateful.
Patience is key!
Patience is key, man. It sucks because you don’t know if it’s going to pay off. Patience is amazing in retrospect.
Let’s talk about “Drew Barrymore.” Where did that idea come from for the song?
I was just trying to write a song that focused on one girl and if you were in a room with somebody that you were meant to be with, the kind of things that you would be doing. I started doing it when I was at the Saguaro hotel in Arizona. It’s like this Wes Anderson, colorful, weird place, and that was the whole setting. I try to create a setting in a song. I really just wanted to talk about a girl that was funny and sweet and had all the personality traits that I look for in somebody: kind of a badass, kind of sexy, all that stuff. Drew Barrymore ended up being the right focus for it because she represents Hollywood royalty. She is those things. Her personality through the years of film and television has been that girl, so it was kind of fun to use her.
Have you heard anything from her about it?
Not yet… but it’s been out for a year. [Laughs]
Has your songwriting process changed at all over the past year as you prepare to put out more new music?
I have to move faster than I used to. They want more, but it’s been great. Because of the success of “Drew Barrymore,” I get to work with a ton of more talented people, and the right people. My friends and the people that I work with know who I am and what kind of music I want to make, so they’ll put me in the room with people who have written for Gym Class Heroes and producers that actually work with you. I’m not exactly the kind of artist who can just take some pop song and try to make it my own. I’ve been writing my stuff for so long now that it feels unnatural, and I think it comes off a little unnatural, if I’m honest. So that part has been super-fun, but I have to move faster. I’m always coming up with song titles on the road and working in that way.
That’s kind of cool though, because a random thing can become something way bigger…
Yeah! “Drew Barrymore” was random. What I’m always trying to do is just write a song that I can listen to a bunch because I play them so much. It would suck to get tired of your own songs.
Is there one person you want to collaborate with?
Yeah, there’s a bunch. I’d love to work with Outkast, if they were ever to make a new record. Gorillaz, [Childish] Gambino, Frank Ocean. I have this thing that I want to have Stevie Wonder sing a hook — that would be really cool.
Who were some of your early inspirations, and how have they changed over the years?
I’ve just added new people. Third Eye Blind was the first band that I loved. I listened to the CD back to front, and I still do. It’s the lyricism; they talk about things that I wasn’t used to hearing in music. In the ’90s it was either really honest stuff or really poppy stuff — kind of how it is now — and they had songs about a girl they knew who had gone through domestic abuse and what it was like to touch the scars on her skin and songs about recovering from addiction, but it was all in an uplifting way, like, “This is all just part of my life, and this is how I get out of it and figure it out.” Music was always a source of therapy for me. I just make my own therapy now, and it turned out that it helps other people too. So that’s cool.
Is it true you taught yourself guitar at age 13?
I did. I never wanted to be an amazing guitar player, but I knew if I was going to write songs it would be helpful if I could play an instrument, so I just started in my garage. I started playing tabs from old rock songs from Rancid and Blink 182. I always loved the acts that didn’t take themselves too seriously: cursing at each other on stage, saying stupid things, that seemed fun to me. Then when they wrote a really good song or serious song, I took them so much more seriously because I knew they were capable of the other side too.
Speaking of performing, you’re headlining your first tour next year. Is there one place you’re excited to play most?
Here, always. When I come back to New York it feels like a homecoming, always. The biggest things happen to me here, the most special moments happen to me here. I was born here, in my mom’s apartment in what used to be Alphabet City and now is the Lower East Side. I love coming back here. Indianapolis is a great city, the crowds go off there. It’s so cool to see the country that way too. It’s the best way to see it. I find a local restaurant that people really love, and then I go and play a show for all these kids, and you never know what you’re going to get. Atlanta’s amazing, Boston, I went to school in Boston. All my favorite cities are always the first places to sell out too.
And you have an album coming out in 2019 too called Carnival. Why did you go with that name?
My first EP was called Lazy Fair, and my second one was called Night Circus, and now Carnival… but that theme was an accident. It wasn’t on purpose. Carnival I got from an idea from a book title, but it’s also really how my mind works: It’s wild and colorful. I have crazy ADD and a form of dyslexia, so things don’t always make sense. I think that’s why it helps to write my own songs. Yeah, there’s just a lot going on. I like a lot of different music, so I have to put as much into a theme that I can and kind of keep it my own thing at the same time. So yeah, it’s a carnival.
What can people expect from it?
It’s just elevated. There’s a song for every mood, I think. I just try to get into a theme. I have a song that I wrote entirely off of an episode of Black Mirror called “San Junipero.” It’s a lesbian love story that’s so unaffected and beautiful, and it has twists and turns. I wrote it immediately after watching the episode.
Wow. That show’s such a mind f—.
It is! It’s a mind f—. I love doing stuff like that. It’s fun little experiments. I also have a song that I think will be the new song for people’s weddings, because it’s just about loving someone for who they are.
Is there any other goal you have for 2019 besides the album and tour?
I want to get to go to Africa and perform there. Uganda, Ethiopia. I want to know the world. You get very sucked into wherever you live very quickly, and every time I go somewhere that I’m not used to, meet people, see a different culture, eat the food and just see what’s going on in different places, I can’t help but just become a better, broader-minded person. Then, it’s just how do I get that experience out into the world?