Words: Joseph Ryan-Hicks
Despite blessing us with fierce allies like Dolly Parton and Kacey Musgraves, country music has been distinctly lacking in authentic queer voices for many years. But no longer.
Ditching Hollywood for Nashville, queer country singer Brooke Eden is back from a four-year hiatus with a bang (and some bangers).
The Florida-born songstress, 32, began dating partner Hilary Hoover in December 2015, and, in January of this year, made her sexuality public to the world. Brooke and Hilary hope their love story can be a beacon of light for other queer people struggling with their identity.
The ‘Sunroof’ singer spoke exclusively to Attitude about coming out in a deeply religious family, keeping optimistic in the wake of 2020, and getting back into the recording studio.
For Attitude readers who might be unfamiliar with your music, how would you describe your sound?
My music is retro soulful country. It has '60s and '70s elements, and just funky feel-good vibes that I really want to infuse into modern, soulful country. Even my ballads and my sad songs have always had some kind of hope infused into them.
You’ve described your early music as a little bit edgier and more cynical. What inspired the shift in your sound into what it is now?
My whole life, I never really believed in love or that it existed between two people. I believed in like, familial love. I love my mom, and I love my cousins. But I didn't know that true love was “a thing”. And when I met Hillary [my partner], it was just so evident that it was real. It changed my whole perspective on everything. It even changed the way that I dressed. I used to wear black everything and now the rainbow is constantly on my body at all times. [Meeting her] also changed my music. My music used to be darker and definitely more cynical when it came to love. But now it feels like I don't know how to write a sad song.
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Has it been difficult to maintain this positivity over the past 12 months?
This past year has been a nightmare in a lot of ways, but I just always try to see a little light at the end of the tunnel. What I was really thankful for this last year was being able to slow down and really spend time with Hilary and my close bubble of friends. There was also so much social injustice happening all around the world that has just been bottled up and pushed down for too long. It has been good being able to focus on those things too.
What were the positive outcomes of 2020 for you?
I think that people were spending so much time worrying about their health and the health of their family and friends, that they had less energy to focus on hating someone because of the colour of their skin or hating someone because of who they loved. To me, that just opens up the possibilities to be able to have more love and acceptance for everyone because there's just less room to hate.
Why is it important to you to be an out queer person in, not only the music industry, but the country genre especially?
Mostly because I was looking for someone to look up to as a queer person in the country music industry myself, and there wasn't really anyone. I think I was just wanting and waiting and begging for the world to change while I was sitting there doing nothing to be a part of the change. I had this really introspective moment where I was like, 'I'm asking everyone around me to change without doing anything about it'. I hope that being out and visible to the public, I can help other queer people who might live in the middle of nowhere and feel like they're the only ones. I hope that they can feel less alone and more seen and represented, especially in country music.
Why do you think representation in country music has taken so long to catch-up with the rest of the music industry?
I think that traditionally, country music was very just white, straight, and male. For a long time, people just stuck to those standards and the music lent itself to that. Now, country music doesn't sound like that anymore. There’s such a wider variety of sounds and musical tastes. Once the music started becoming more diverse, it also allowed more diversity with the artists as well. We started seeing more Black artists, like Mickey Guyton, Jimmie Allen, Blanco Brown, and more queer artists that have always been around but are just now feeling comfortable enough to come out.
There are some fierce allies within the country music scene, like Kacey Musgraves. Who are the country stars who you look up to?
Kacey especially is someone who is for our community. She was kind of ousted [from the country scene] because of her alliance with the LGBTQ community and her willingness to not give a shit what anyone thought about what she was saying. I respect her so much. Dolly Parton has always been a huge ally for our community, and also the prime representation of owning exactly who you are. For me, that was always something that I looked up to - artists who owned who they were. But yeah, Kacey and Dolly were big role models for me as a queer artist.
Do you feel the love and support from your LGBTQ fan base?
Yes, absolutely. It was so important to Hillary and me to really be role models for those people who haven't had any representation for so long, especially in the country music genre. We’ve gotten messages every day from people in the queer community who are just happy to see a relationship that they can relate to that - one that they can see on TV or on YouTube or on social media. It's been amazing to hear people's stories and see how they relate to ours. Amazing.
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You’re based in Nashville. What’s the LGBTQ scene like there?
It’s funny because we have a strip of gay bars called Church Street, which I always think is very funny. We also have a drag show that happens at a bar called Play, which is super fun. But Nashville in general is a very loving and accepting city. It's not a city where, if you're queer, you feel like you have to go to specifically gay bars. Nashville is a very loving and accepting city and I've never felt uncomfortable holding my girlfriend's hand, or putting our arms around each other, or even kissing in public. It’s not looked at twice.
Take me back to when you first met your partner - Hilary. What was that experience like? Did it come as a surprise to you when you fell in love?
Yes and no. I mean, when I was younger, like a young kid who was just figuring out what it was like to kiss somebody, I didn't ever see a difference between kissing a boy or a girl. For me, it was like a learned behaviour that you were 'supposed' to be with a boy. I went to a religious school for ten years of my life and it was just ingrained into us that girls are supposed to be with boys and boys are supposed to be with girls. So, I dated boys up until I was in my 20s. Then, once I was in my 20s and out of that super religious world, I was just like, what is the difference? If you have a connection with someone, and are lucky enough to find love with another person, what does it matter if you're with a guy or a girl? When I met Hillary, it was so obvious. I mean, there was like, no questioning it. We were three days into knowing each other when I was just like, 'Oh, I don't feel this way about my other friends'. And she felt the same way, luckily. For us, it was a very obvious thing what was happening, and we’ve never looked back.
What advice would you give to someone discovering their sexuality?
For me, my journey to self-acceptance and self-love was not a short one. It took me between three and five years to feel like I could fully be myself and see myself as someone in the queer community. I think it took so long because I was coming from such a religious background and because of the shame that's constantly pushed onto everyone by the Church. That was something I had to get over. My advice is to let yourself go through that journey. Don't rush it. It's no one else's journey, you're on no one else's time. Just let yourself go through that process. But at the same time, remember that you are just as deserving of love as anybody else. And I think what's such a big thing is that for so long, I didn't think that I deserved to love like my straight friends, or like my straight family. And that's just not true. My biggest thing is just letting these people know that we all deserve love just like everybody else.
Coming from such a religious background, how did your family react to you coming out?
My dad and nana had a really, really hard time in the beginning with it. It was a really hard struggle for, like, two and a half years with my mom too. Now everyone's on the other side. Everyone is so supportive of our relationship and so happy that we found each other. My mom, who had the hardest time [accepting it], wants to help other parents of queer kids learn to love and accept their children for exactly who they are. So, it wasn't perfect, that's for sure! There was a lot of struggle. But now it's amazing.
What do you think caused that shift in their attitude towards your sexuality?
I think that my mom was nervous. It all comes out fear. You know, like, they think that being afraid shows that they love you. And I think that it's very much the fear of being ridiculed or being disliked. My mom would just say, 'GHoney, this is going to be a much harder life for you'. And I was like, 'No, what's a really hard life is living as someone that you're not'. That is the hardest life that you can live. So, as much as someone might make fun of me because I'm gay - which doesn't ever happen anyway - people make fun of others because they have blonde hair, or wear glasses, or they're too short or too tall for their standards. Hateful people are going to make fun of you. They'll find a way no matter what. But those aren't the people that I'm worried about in my life. And I think she eventually realised, 'Oh, wow, the people that matter don't mind and people that mind don't matter'. I also think it helped seeing my love with Hilary and how we take care of each other. I think that once she realised all of those things it became easier for her to accept all of it.
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You recently released two new tracks, 'No Shade' and 'Sunroof'. Can we expect any more new music in the near future?
I have one more song called ‘Got No Choice’ that comes out next month. It deals with more of the struggles that Hilary and I went through as a queer couple. One of the lines is: “No approval from my mama, and daddy's got a problem”. It’s about dealing with the realities of any kind of forbidden love and the beauty of realising that this is the type of love that you would risk anything for. I also had a conversation with my record label a couple of weeks ago, and they want me to go back into the studio this summer and record more music. I don't know if that will be an EP or a full album, but we are working on that right now.
'Sunroof' and 'No Shade' by Brooke Eden are available to download and stream now.