The bounce and sway of congas backing Micah Brown's song "Coming of Age" seem to tell the story of island shores kissed by rhythmic tides. But his brooding, country-blues guitar picking speaks of gray skies rolling across troubled waters.
Such is the sound of a California boy raised on the tunes of iconic bluesmen. Brown's mournful moan echoes a Mississippi chain gang mixed with a hint of the neo-soul of Maroon 5's Adam Levine. The mash-up isn't all that surprising coming from a kid born in the Bay Area, raised in SoCal, educated in Hawaii and now living in Dana Point. All that added up to Brown taking the title of Best Acoustic act at this year's Orange County Music Awards. Here's what he had to say about practicing his craft, backing bands and the curious effect his music has on the ladies.
Micah Brown performs with the New Limb, Ethan Hulse, Kiev and Chasing Kings at the House of Blues, www.houseofblues.com. Fri., 7 p.m. $10. All ages.
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OC Weekly: Let's talk chops for a minute. Your style of playing isn't exactly simple. How long have you been playing guitar?
Micah Brown: As far as that style goes, I've been doing improvisational finger-picking for a couple of years. I was listening to Lightnin' Hopkins and Neil Young and those types of finger-picking styles and started emulating them and spending hours practicing and infusing them into my own songs. But as far as guitar in general, I started playing when I was younger. My dad showed me a few chords when I was 10 or 11.
So you've done some obsessive practicing in recent years?
Yeah, it was always a hobby until I moved out to Hawaii after high school for a year of college. I was a drummer originally, but I couldn't bring my drums with me, so I brought my acoustic out there. That's when I started playing—practicing long hours and exploring songwriting.
You received the award for Best Acoustic act and played onstage at the Grove. Talk about that experience.
It was a great feeling getting a little more widespread recognition for what I'm trying to do. Having my family there was especially important to me. It's been a wild ride these past few months. It sort of took off out of nowhere.
That was definitely the biggest stage I've been on, but I've been performing solo for a while. The first couple of shows I played by myself, I had some stage fright. But performing runs in my family, and it's a natural tendency to be in the spotlight. My grandmother was a Ziegfeld Follies dancer, and my grandfather danced in Hollywood in the '30s—cousins, aunts and uncles all performed. It's something our family does.
Do you have any plans to expand your operation and bring more people onboard?
My next show will be my first performance with a full band, so I'm looking forward to that because I've never done a full show with a full lineup—unless it was the band I was in before [Stone Ave.]. But this will be the first time doing the Micah Brown set with a backing band, so I'm pretty pumped about that.
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I notice you have a devoted following of pretty girls dancing at your shows. Has being a solo artist made it easier for you to get phone numbers?
[Laughs.] I'd be lying if I said no. A lot of the girls I come across in bars and stuff like to dance. And if you have pretty girls dancing to your music, it's pretty hard to ignore that.
This column appeared in print as "Top Picker."