By Tabassum Siddiqui
Over his 15-year career, Canadian country singer-songwriter Dean Brody has been racking up number-one hits with tracks like “Bring Down the House” and “Where’d You Learn How to Do That?”, but he never dreamed of becoming a country star back when he was a little boy growing up in small-town British Columbia taking piano lessons and listening to the radio.
“My family wasn’t very musical, but my dad always had the radio on, and my granny as well,” Brody says on the line from Kelowna, B.C., where he’s currently based. “We grew up listening to music on the radio, whether it was in dad’s farm truck in the morning, or during breakfast – it was just always on, and that was what introduced me to music.”
Now one of Canadian country music’s most popular songwriters and performers, with 18 Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) Awards, two JUNO Awards, 435 million global streams, and multiple gold and platinum-certified singles to his name (including 1 triple platinum and 4 double platinum), Brody got his start trying out different styles of music before finding a home in country.
“I actually didn’t understand that there were different genres of music until probably in my early teens – we had a local radio station that would play everything from Anne Murray to AC/DC,” he recalls. “I started a covers band when I was 14 years old and we played all sorts of songs, but country wasn’t a love of mine until probably my late teens.”
Country songs immediately resonated with the budding musician, who heard his own life experiences being chronicled through the genre, with references to trucks, bonfires, bush parties and other elements of how he grew up in Jaffray, B.C. Brody began singing country songs at karaoke nights and other events – encouraged by the positive response from friends and family, he picked up the guitar and began writing his own songs.
“The thing I love about writing songs is that every time it’s brand-new – there’s some element of magic,” Brody says. “Even if it was a terrible song, it’s still something I’d never done before.”
Seven albums into his career, Brody is known for his classic, straight-shooting songwriting style – which took years to fully develop, he acknowledges. He recalls early attempts that fell flat – including the time he sent a new song down to Nashville (where he lived for many years while trying to break into the music scene) to be critiqued, only to receive the tape back with a response telling him he would never make it as a songwriter.
“It broke my heart – I remember being so devastated,” Brody says. “But I kept writing songs – it eventually took off and I just didn’t stop. And that’s the thing, right? Whenever you start anything – whether it’s music or anything else – you’re going to make some mistakes. Part of learning something new is that you often suck at it first before you get better.”
Brody’s storytelling – full of rural settings, vivid characters, and Western imagery – quickly caught the attention of country fans and the music industry alike, landing him more than 30 top-ten singles over the years.
“If you grew up in a small town, you’ve got so many characters in your life to begin with, so it’s easy to draw from that when you’re writing a song,” Brody notes.
“But as the years go on, it’s like, ‘How many times can you write a song about a truck driver and still make it relevant?’ I find myself inspired more by abstract storytelling these days. On my next album, I have a song about a convict coming out of prison – and the whole premise of the song is, ‘I don’t look for trouble – trouble finds me.’ In my head, it’s almost like a movie, and I’m trying to paint the picture. I find that challenging and fulfilling.”
In 2019, Brody established his own publishing company and label, Scurvy Dog Music. As a self-published client of CMRRA who mostly writes solo, Brody says he’s learned a lot over the years about ensuring his rights as a songwriter are protected.
“When you write something that’s 100 percent your own, you want to make sure you fully own the publishing rights to your songs,” he says.
“Having my own publishing company has also been great in terms of when syncs come up and having the ability to move fast on something. If you write with three other people, you need permission from everyone to be able to place that song. But when you handle your own work, you don’t have to go through all the red tape to actually use that song. So having control of my own catalogue is important to me.”
Brody’s songs have formed the bedrock for a massively successful career – this year, he’s nominated for four CCMAs (which will be awarded on Sept. 16), including Entertainer of the Year, Fans’ Choice, Male Artist of the Year, and Single of the Year for “Where’d You Learn How to Do That?”
“I remember a time when I was an outsider in the music scene, looking up to all of these other artists – so to be in the inner circle, so to speak, with these people who have now become good friends, it’s a real honour to be recognized alongside these other amazing artists,” Brody says. “If you told younger me that would happen someday, it would have been hard for me to comprehend.”
Founded in 2011, the foundation began after Brody read the book Remember Me, Rescue Me – which detailed the exploitation of girls in remote communities in Brazil – by British journalist Matt Roper, who went on to become a friend and collaborator.
“The award means the world to me – it’s amazing to have gotten to a point where I can highlight an issue of social importance like child exploitation,” Brody says. And that’s why I’m so excited about the award, because it will raise awareness around the issue.”
Over the years, Brody travelled to the region to work alongside Meninadança, a non-profit founded by Roper which builds safe houses for at-risk girls along Brazil’s BR-116 highway. Since then, the Dean Brody Foundation has expanded its work supporting the rescue and prevention of young girls being trafficked around the world by partnering with the International Justice Mission.
“I’m excited to see some of these girls growing up in these houses and going off to college, learning their basic human rights and gaining dignity in their communities,” Brody says. “It’s been so rewarding to see them gain confidence and understand their intrinsic worth.”
In addition to supporting many grassroots charities across Canada, Brody also partnered with the National Hockey League Players Association in 2022, donating $60,000 to the local minor hockey community in Cranbrook, B.C. to ensure children of families facing financial barriers could access the sport.
As a successful songwriter, he also wants to support the next generation of emerging singer-songwriters who are still figuring out how to tell their own stories through song. His advice is simple: learn the rules before you break them – but it’s okay to try different things along the way.
“Just keep writing – keep writing every day, and even if it’s not good, just write it. Say goodbye to the ones that don’t work and move on to the next one,” Brody says.
“Also, it’s okay to have a bunch of irons in the fire. I like to have four or five songs going at once, so I don’t get burned out by being laser-focused on just one thing and maybe lose your passion for it. It’s a great way to write to keep the creativity flowing.”
When he’s not busy writing hits, Brody is regularly on the road touring, drawing thousands of fans at annual headlining shows at Toronto’s Budweiser Stage, a 10-night residency at the Calgary Stampede, major festivals across the country, and a cross-country fall theatre tour starting in October.
Engaging with fans online and in person at the shows is important to Brody – as an introvert, posting on social media doesn’t always come naturally to him, but he recognizes it as an important tool for connecting with people who love his music.
“It’s a bit of a balancing act for me as a super-quiet guy, so sometimes when I share online, I feel like too much of myself is out there,” he says with a laugh. “But then you recognize that everyone else also feels much the same – we’re all a little bit insecure about things. And so sometimes I will share a bit about my life and there’s a connection there with others that is really special.
“But I think my wheelhouse when it comes to engagement is when I’m on the road – when I’m performing, especially in a theatre atmosphere, I get to open up a little more and there’s a vulnerability there. When someone’s bought a ticket and they come to a show, they’re invested in the songs and the process, and for me it opens up another level of connection – both musically and personally.”
When he thinks back on his career and the power of music to engage people, Brody immediately flashes back to one of his most emotional songs, in which the narrator wonders what happened to the teenage mother who gave him up for adoption.
“When ‘Trail in Life’ came out, I was out there singing it a lot. We had people come up and say, ‘I reconnected with somebody in my life that I lost contact with a long time ago.’ And it was so encouraging to hear those stories. Some of them were so sweet – and some were disappointing. You realize that life is so complex,” Brody says.
“Music is just one of those places where we can all gather and find commonality. I love that about music and writing a song – one song can mean one thing to somebody, but something completely different to someone else, and yet it still brings us together.”
To learn more about Dean Brody and the Dean Brody Foundation, visit deanbrody.com.