As Brandon Stansell took the stage in his hometown last year, he hoped his show would earn him new fans as well as “jump-start conversations” with loved ones who’d rejected him more than a decade ago when he came out as gay.
Though the rising country artist’s October performance in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was enthusiastically received, both his father and four siblings chose to skip the show. The sole family member in attendance that night was his mother, Pam, who still publicly disapproves of her son’s sexuality.
Now based in Los Angeles, Stansell has captured these experiences for posterity in a new documentary. Directed by Trent Atkinson, “Three Chords and a Lie” follows the singer-songwriter as he revisits his adolescent haunts, including the school and Southern Baptist church he attended as a child.
Catch the “Three Chords and a Lie” trailer above.
The movie, which had its U.S. premiere at Outfest Los Angeles last week, succeeds in placing Stansell’s story in the broader context of country music, still seen as a conservative genre. Gay CMT personality Cody Alan and singer Shelly Fairchild, who lost a recording contract when she came out as a lesbian, appear in interviews.
But the film’s most poignant moments show Stansell breaking down in tears in rehearsal while recalling his family’s refusal to accept him as his authentic self, and being approached by young LGBTQ people at a Pride festival who thank him for living his truth.
“I think the movie can potentially help people like me, and families with people like me in them,” Stansell, 33, told HuffPost. “Even though I want to share my experiences, they’re really hard to share. I don’t take people home with me. There are sides of the coin I don’t really talk about ― not intentionally, but just because they’re hard to talk about. But if I had thrown up walls along the way, we would’ve ended up with something a lot different.”
Five years after the release of his debut single, “Dear John,” Stansell has come to occupy a unique niche within country music. Earlier songs like “Slow Down” and “Never Know,” for example, directly speak to the men he has loved. Newer tracks like “Hurt People” and “Like Us” relay the broader struggles of the LGBTQ community, namely the ostracism many queer people face at home and in the workplace.
In 2018, he set a new precedent when the video for his song “Hometown” premiered on CMT and became the first queer-themed clip to receive airplay on the country music network.
I have the vehicle of music and a passion for sharing my experiences in a way that I think can help change the way that we treat queer people in this world. I want to be a part of that.
Brandon Stansell, country singer-songwriter
“If country music is about storytelling, then it should be about telling everybody’s stories, all stories,” he said. “Until now, the queer stories in this genre have been missing. I have the vehicle of music and a passion for sharing my experiences in a way that I think can help change the way that we treat queer people in this world. I want to be a part of that.”
Following the premiere of “Three Chords and a Lie,” Stansell plans to spend the remainder of 2020 collaborating remotely with songwriters and producers on a six-song EP, slated to drop next year. The new music, he said, the “antithesis” of the four acoustic tracks he recorded for the film and more in the celebratory vein of his 2019 single, “Top Shelf.”
And he remains hopeful his parents and siblings will make a point to watch the documentary. Regardless of whether that happens, however, he believes its family-focused message will resound among viewers who are open to hearing it.
“Trying to convince my family that I’m not a broken person, that there’s nothing wrong with me ― that isn’t my job,” he said. “So I just keep rolling along and singing the songs, and doing what I do.”
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