Nashville is called Music City for a reason. From the country music capital of the world to the home of the famed Fisk Jubilee Singers, Nashville is brimming with creative talent. Red Bull is working to elevate that creativity with SoundClash, its long-running event that sees two artists face off in a musical competition where the winner is decided by the audience. The artists entering the musical octagon must be willing to step outside of their creative comfort zones and adapt to new situations. Willing to step up to that challenge are two of Nashville’s rising stars: Bren Joy and Jake Wesley Rogers, who will take over Marathon Music Works on December 9 at 9pm EST.
Bren Joy, an R&B artist influenced by ’70s Motown and California culture, has credits that include writing “Dynasties & Dystopia” for Netflix’s hit animated series Arcane: League of Legends and opening for Megan Thee Stallion; Jake Wesley Rogers, a former America’s Got Talent contestant turned glam pop artist was featured on the Happiest Season soundtrack and has made fans in Hollywood ranging from Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds to Madonna and Elton John.
“I love companies that really invest in upcoming artists. That’s very important for me,” Joy shares with Audiofemme about what drew him to SoundClash. “I intentionally wrote these songs in a way that I can flip them and interchange them. I want to show people versatility.”
“It’s also a fun creative challenge too because it’s so different than a normal show,” observes Rogers. “I do like a challenge. I do like to be put out of my comfort zone because I think that’s when interesting things happen and this feels like a good way to do that.”
Part of that challenge stems from the fact that the artists are tasked not only with reimagining their own songs, but working together on performing collaborative renditions of each other’s music, along with a cover song.
Rogers says he worked closely with his music director to reinvent his sound for the occasion, adding a barbershop quartet to an a cappella version of one of his songs, with Joy teasing a “big surprise” for his performance of “Insecure,” his collaboration with R&B-soul singer Pink Sweat$, and even took himself by surprise with his new rendition of “Twenties,” the title track of his 2019 EP. He also hints at a special appearance by a female artist whose 2020 album he’s been listening to “nonstop,” teasing that they’re sharing a “beautiful moment onstage.”
”My music’s very special to me and it’s very close to my heart, so I think it’s going to be good for me hearing different versions of my music that I write. I’m very intrigued and I’m very excited for that. It’s a very unique opportunity,” Joy expresses, adding, “there’s so many surprises.”
As a Nashville native, this opportunity is especially meaningful for Joy, who asserts that he’s going to stick to his roots and “follow my gut” in presenting his music as an example of the diverse talent born and bred in Music City. “I’m so stoked for the opportunity to do something special in my city. Nashville’s very important to me and live music is a very special part of the city’s culture and I think whenever we can take live music and go a step further and really push the envelope and push the norm, that’s what I want to do,” he asserts. “It means a lot being able to do something like this that’s very original that I don’t know if I’d get another chance to do.”
Meanwhile, Rogers plans to take what he’s learned performing other live shows, going back to his theatre days growing up in Missouri and singing in a rock band in church. There, he learned about the value of transitions in maintaining the natural flow of the songs, skills he intends on channeling on the SoundClash stage. “You have to serve the moment and the live environment, what is going to serve this show and what is going to sound the best, feel the best, look the best,” Rogers describes of his approach, hinting that he’s had several new costumes made for the show, draped in sparkles and sequins. “I feel the most me when I’m performing. There is something so different about performing live when it’s a very intimate connection with people and it feels so cathartic.”
And while they’re poised to be competitors, Joy and Rogers are approaching it with a healthy mindset. Having met as students at Belmont University in Nashville, the two artists were already familiar with each other’s music coming into the competition, offering nothing but praise for one another’s gifts.
“Our styles are quite different, but I think we’re both inspired by each other, so that’s helpful,” Rogers laughs, citing Joy as a “sweetheart” and “stupid talented.” He adds, “It’s nice to talk to someone that gets it and understands how fun and wild this career is.”
For Joy, SoundClash has allowed him to connect with an artist whose style is vastly different from his own, the common ground allowing them to build a unique sense of trust needed to perform in such an event. “I love Jake, I love his music, and I think what’s important that people don’t realize in a SoundClash is trust. These songs are very vulnerable and special to me, so I have to really trust the other artist. I trust Jake to do my songs justice and also to be sensitive to the topics,” Joy remarks, calling Rogers “visually stunning.” “It’s definitely been interesting trying to keep the same motive and intention that Jake had in the song and be respectful, but also give it different legs. It’s been really cool.”
Part of building that trust is understanding who one another is as an artist. Rogers, who identifies as gender-fluid, is intentional about telling his story in a genuine way. Deeply observant, Rogers harbors a unique ability to capture the “friction of life,” pointing to the song “Pluto” as a metaphor for how many people feel like outsiders, and our lifelong quest to find love.
“Anytime anyone is able to be themselves, it inspires somebody else to be themselves, and that’s really important to me. My mission as an artist is to find freedom in myself and talk about it and hopefully some other people find it too,” says Rogers.
As for Joy, he reveals that 2020 allowed him to view life through a new lens, learning more about who he is at the core and leaning into it, that personal growth shining through “fully” in his music. “I think over the past year, I’ve fell so much deeper in love with my culture and my background and I have stood up for things in the past that I had been quiet about. I think that I’ve learned to be a badass, give no fucks,” he professes. “I feel like that’s where I really had this disconnect with my art in the past; I was coming from a very insecure place. I feel like now I’ve grown in my art and grown to love what I do and to stop caring so much about what people are going to think or what’s going to happen and really trust in my taste and the taste of the people that listen to my music. I feel like I’ve grown up. I’m a little more open, everything’s a little more queer, everything’s a little more cool. I feel like I am very zen at the moment.”
While the two singers have differing perspectives on how they want the audience to perceive them, the common thread is to feel a sense of connection and community. Rogers hopes fans feel the wonder of escapism in his presentation, while Joy encourages people see the vast range his music has to offer. “I hope they take away my versatility. I think versatility is something that’s very important to me and I have grown so much. I think we all have grown over the past year, we’ve all learned a lot, we’ve all been educated, so I am very excited for people to hopefully take away not only my versatility, but my ability to write songs,” Joy declares.
“I hope that they forget about their life for a minute and forget about their brain. Music is one of the most magical things in this world and I hope that’s a moment. I hope it’s cathartic. I hope it’s surprising,” Rogers reflects with a smile. “I hope they see themselves in me.”