by Rob Rushin | June 20, 2018

Fledglings: J.T. Brown is Fingerpickin’ Good

The Tampa Bay singer-songwriter pours his life into his music


Born and raised near the Tampa area, singer-songwriter and guitarist J.T. Brown was destined to live life loving music. With a “true connoisseur of music” for a father, J.T. ended up with a guitar in hand and stories he was burning to tell. His debut album, Phantom Heart (2016), perked up the ears of everyone who heard it with its savvy blend of folk, country, and Southern fried rock.

On the heels of the recent release of Down the Coast, his new EP, we called J.T. to find out a little more about him.

Tell us a little about your childhood in Florida.

J.T. I grew up in Lutz, a small town outside Tampa. It was pretty rural until the mid-’90s. Growing up, I spent a lot of time on the water, fishing in the lakes and swimming in the Gulf. And Lutz is an easy paddle to a primitive barrier island, where you can run around naked building fires and eating freshly caught fish.

How does your Florida background shape your music?

J.T. I think there’s a sense of ease that comes with growing up on the Gulf Coast. I’ve spent most of my life daydreaming, waiting for inspiration to strike. The older I get, the more I refine my ability to let go of the reins, allowing creative sparks to fly when the universe sees fit. I work on my craft constantly, but I write only when I’m inspired, and that’s usually when I’m on a beach or in the woods or floating down a river. I imagine growing up in Florida has informed my songwriting process in that way.

Your fingerpicking has a James Taylor vibe, and the electric breaks on Phantom Heart definitely have that Southern rock feel. Who are your big inspirations?

J.T. My fingerpicking technique came about by playing in bed at night, trying not to wake up people in the house. It’s a valuable tool when you want to express the intimacy in a piece of music. I played every guitar part on Phantom Heart. Playing lead, really digging into the emotion that’s driving the piece, is my favorite thing. As far as influences, there’s no one player that I favor. I took bits and pieces from all the greats and stubbornly taught myself. It’s not about how many notes you can play; it’s about how accurately you represent your being through your fingers.

Who are your singing influences?

J.T. I like vocalists that have a sort of bent voice. Imperfect, maybe a little rough around the edges. Things like articulation and tone should be fed directly from your soul to your mouth, without a filter. That’s the challenge. If you can do that every time, then maybe you’ve hit the mark.

If you could work with any musician, who would it be?

J.T. I would love to have had the chance to sit down and write with Townes Van Zandt. He had such a simple, sad hope in his writing. To me, he was brutally human, and it was beautiful.

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5 TOP Songs and fan favorites from J.T.’s Extended Plays

  1. “All My Love”
    Phantom Heart
  2. “The Devil’s Shoulder”
    Phantom Heart
  3. “Oak”
     Down the Coast
  4. “Headshot”
     Down the Coast
  5. “To Monterey”
     Down the Coast

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