The Beat ‘N’ Track plays on this month with sophomore transfer student Bryce Merritt, whose overwhelming passion for music and unending love for God led him to Belmont. He hit the boulevard running, making waves at Belmont on one of its biggest stages with some of its most seasoned artists at the Urban/Pop Showcase. Dustin Stout sat down with the self-described optimist to find out how his debut EP “Half-Full” and his “faith in unrealistic expectations” have helped him to fit the mold of his dreams.
Dustin: What were you studying at your previous school, and why leave that field and start a journey in music? Bryce: After high school, I decided to take my education to Drury University in Springfield, Mo., to pursue architecture. They had a very reputable program and I would have the opportunity to play tennis for one of the top teams in NCAA Division II. I originally thought the idea of pursuing music wasn’t the safest career choice and that I could keep playing on the side and be content. After a few months into school, I began to ask myself if I was doing what I really loved and had a passion for. While I enjoyed architecture, I couldn’t picture myself waking up everyday and loving what I did. It felt like homework. I prayed about it and talked with my parents and really felt called to music. It’s where I feel the most comfortable and when I’m the happiest. My parents have always stressed the importance of finding what I’m passionate about and pursuing it to the fullest. Although I had been singing and performing for a long time, it took losing that aspect of my life for a few months to realize the hole it left.
Dustin: Your YouTube channel features you covering several songs – everything from Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” to “Fly Me To the Moon” by Frank Sinatra. How would you pinpoint your style? And what’s you’re favorite style to sing?
Bryce: I’m often asked what genre or style of music I sing, and to be honest, I’m never sure how to answer it. My view of a true artist is someone who can literally sing anything … from classical to country to pop to jazz. I hate the idea of placing myself in a box and saying I only sing one thing. I like the idea of being able to write or perform whatever the emotion or occasion calls for. Having said that, my favorite things to sing are along the lines of Stevie Wonder and Jason Mraz. They both keep it simple enough for songs to be relatable, but still incredibly interesting musically. They’re both unique inside their own lyrics and their voices are two of my favorites. I hope to use them as my biggest influences in my future writing, but never closing any door on any genre.
Dustin: Speaking of being able to sing anything, I understand you began in country music. Why country music and how do these beginnings impact the artist you are today? Do you ever miss country and dabble in it a little?
Bryce: Growing up in Oklahoma, I obviously had a lot of country influence, mostly because that’s what my family listened to, and in the car I didn’t have much control over the radio. Also, most of the shows I was able to get my hands on – Oklahoma Opry, rodeos, bull riding events – called for country music. While I’ve now moved pretty far away from that genre, there are a lot of characteristics that country music still offers. While most songs are simple musically, people found ways to tell incredible stories. Whether it be hypothetical or personal experience, I think that’s what most listeners take from country music. A lot of what I take from country music is the idea of letting someone else in on your story and seeing their response to it.
Dustin: What’s the most played album on your iPod? What stands out the most about this album and this artist? Does this album/artist inspire you? Who else inspires you? Why?
Bryce: My most played album is Continuum by John Mayer. He’s been one of my favorite artists for a while, and … I think that album was his best work. There isn’t a single song I ever skip. I think he finds the perfect balance between the complex and the simple with this record. His lyrics are relatable but phrased uniquely enough that it stays fresh. Some of the songs are super soulful with a lot of really cool production, while others bring out the more acoustic qualities of the singer/songwriter genre. John Mayer is definitely one of my inspirations. I try and take different qualities from him, Jason Mraz, Stevie Wonder and John Legend to hopefully bring out a sound that portrays something that’s uniquely my own.
Dustin: Your EP is called “Half-Full.” What inspired the title? And how would you describe the six-song compilation to someone who hasn’t heard it?
Bryce: The title “Half-Full” was inspired by the idea of having faith in unrealistic situations, because it’s about what your gut tells you, not logic. In the end, a lot of the songs that related most directly to this idea I ended up saving for a future project, but I still hung on to the title. I felt like it still represented my feelings toward the record as a whole rather than toward individual songs. In the end, each song has its own story, leading to a diverse collection of songs. I hope a new listener would find something to relate to from each song – whether it be the lyrics, melody or even the music behind the words.
Dustin: I know your faith is something very important to you and your music. In fact, your biography on your website indicates “All you really need to know is I have a passion for Christ and a passion for music.” How did your faith help to guide “Half-Full”?
Bryce: I have always considered myself an optimistic person. As a Christian, I feel it’s a key characteristic we’re called to have. Because in the end, no worry or problem of this world compares to plan he has for us, so there’s always something to look forward to. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see through as glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” I think this verse epitomizes the ultimate reason for our optimism: the knowledge of our eternal life with Christ. Although “Half-Full” isn’t a Christian album, I feel we are called to apply this optimism to any situation in our lives. And rather than each song having its individual subject of hope, “Half-Full” represents more as an album of hope and optimism not only for my future as a musician but also as a follower of Christ.
Dustin: One of my favorites on “Half-Full” is “Song About You.” It’s been on loop on my iTunes. It’s got one of those choruses that you just can’t help but dance to. Talk about this song – why you wanted to write it, what it’s about and any feedback you’ve gotten.
Bryce: “Song About You” was one of the first songs I wrote upon arriving at college last year. It was more a release for the thoughts I couldn’t get out of my head. I was missing a friend more than I had ever imagined and couldn’t seem to even focus on everyday tasks. So, as any writer would do, I wrote a song about them. Ironically enough, when I was putting together the album and deciding what songs to include, “Song About You” was one I really considered leaving off. Since the album’s been out, it’s been an overwhelming favorite from listeners. That just goes to show how much I know.
Dustin: If you could only choose one song that best represents you and your best intentions with your music, what would that be?
Bryce: I would choose “Beautiful Mess” by Jason Mraz. It’s a commercially viable track that is overlooked but full of meaning. This is something I wouldn’t mind applying to my own career. … It’s the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard. He captures so much emotion in every aspect of the song – the lyrics, the melody, the music. I dream of writing something even half as good one day.
Dustin: Talk a little about being chosen to perform in front of a full house and among veteran musicians recently at the Urban/Pop Showcase. It’s quite an accomplishment to be chosen to participate your first year here.
Bryce: I still can’t believe I had the opportunity to play that showcase. It’s definitely the most fun I’ve ever had on or off a stage. The whole time leading up to the show seemed exciting but didn’t hold a candle to what I felt that night with the crowd. I had fun, so they had fun. They had fun, so I had fun. I remember before I walked on the stage, my emotions were all over the place. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to keep it together. It was a dream to play one of the showcases before I graduated, and there’s really nothing like living out a dream. I’ll never forget the feeling I had when I got to come off the stage and see not Brooks Dawson, my manager, but Brooks Dawson, my best friend. I knew we were doing what we were created to do. It’s still overwhelming thinking back to all the emotions from that night.
Dustin: After all these accomplishments so far, what’s next? Where do you see yourself in five years?
Bryce: To be honest, I have no idea. Every time I start to think I know where I’m going, I’m thrown another curveball. All I know is I wake up and love what I’m doing every day, and I’m going to keep doing it for as long as I can – hopefully, for the rest of my life. I can’t describe how blessed I’ve been with the friends and talent the Lord has surrounded me with. It’s humbling to know any success we receive has nothing to do with me but is all for his glory. And it’s so comforting to know whatever he has in store me is miles bigger than anything I can fathom for myself. So I won’t even try.