Y'all remember "Centipede," right? That jittery, 1984 hit by Rebbie Jackson was the jam in 1984 — and then the eldest sibling of the famed Jackson clan tucked herself away to focus on raising her own brood. Now, the next generation is ready to make their mark. Namely, Rebbie's youngest son, Austin Brown, 24, who is entering the family business with his own album, 85 (set to arrive early next year) and his song, "Target Practice," debuting now at austinbrown.com. Plus, his first video off the album was helmed by X-Men and Transformers co-mastermind Tom DeSanto!
I decided to get in on this early by chatting with the single scion about the project, auntie Janet's influence and the rumored age-old feud between his uncle Michael and Prince.
UsMagazine.com: What made you want to enter the music business?
Austin Brown: I always wanted to do things independently, and I was too stubborn for my own good. Music meant so much to me that I wanted to know that I could do it myself without having to go through any connections. I went through the regular struggles like anybody else, going through deals and things not going well with your sound. I'm happy for everything that I went through because it makes me appreciate everything that's going on now much more. The same things that got you there are the same things that will hopefully keep you there if you really stay focused and stay humble.
US: Exactly. Tell me about growing up in your family. Was there pressure to go into the business or was it the opposite?
AB: No, not at all. My mother in particular is such a wonderful loving woman and always made it a point to let me know that I am no different than anybody else. I had a normal upbringing — I went to school, had my friends, I played sports, she put me in my piano lessons, I was in band. There wasn’t really any pressure. The only difference was people saw my family do their job, but I loved my upbringing.
US: Did you grow up listening to "Centipede?"
AB: (Laughs) Of course! You grow up watching your mom do what she does and lovin' the song, and I was a proud kid.
US: What was your uncle Michael Jackson really like?
AB: My uncle was always big on teaching my cousins and me about song structure. He would like to break down songs — he would always start with the base line, and then start humming a melody. He wanted to teach me how things came together, how to portray my voice and where music came from. The main thing with my uncle was just the love he showed all of us and how caring and giving he was to other people as well. The most important lesson that he showed us was charity and giving back. All of this meant nothing if you weren't giving anything back.
US: Absolutely. What were some of the personal things that you got to do with him? Did you go on the rides at Neverland or go bowling?
AB: Yeah, we would go on rides and eat candy and watch movies. I know this might sound cliché but it was just like anybody hanging out with their relatives.
US: It's been a year since his death. What do you look back on and what was all that like? It must’ve been very tragic and completely emotional losing someone who was a mentor to you?
AB: Yeah, to this day it's hard for me to talk about. It just hurt me that much. What I'll always remember were the wonderful memories that he gave us. And for me, as a child, I remember the lessons and love he showed me — unconditional love.
US: How are his kids doing? Are they musical?
AB: All of my cousins are musical in some way. We all have the music bug and we all love music — every last one of us.
US: Do you think any of Michael's kids will go on and join you and do music as well?
AB: I'm not sure. I think their main focus is just being kids.
US:What about Janet? You've said before you were closest to her.
AB: She's probably the one in my family that I talk to the most. She's really good about teaching me lessons, just the whole normal factor in life. Whenever I have problems in school, problems with friends, or just different questions about music, she's always been there. I can ask her anything, and she's always there to listen. There hasn’t been one time where she hasn't been there for me.
US: What kind of advice has she given you?
AB: Most importantly to stay true to my art and stay true to my music and just take my time.
US: You also knew Prince. That's very interesting because Prince and your uncle didn’t get along so well, right?
AB: That's actually not true! My uncle actually told me a couple years ago that they talked about doing stuff together again, but it just never happened. When I saw Prince a few years back he was giving my uncle props and saying how much he loved his voice. So I don't know how true it is that they didn't get along because that's not what I saw.
US: I also heard you wrote a song about your uncle Michael called "I Never Will Forget," and it's supposed to be amazing.
AB: It's the fastest I've ever written a song. I wrote it in five minutes because the emotions were just pouring out of me. It's the most special song I’ve ever written, and I just can't wait for people to hear it!
US: So tell me about the new album. What does it sound like?
AB: I titled it 85 because that's the year I was born, and I wanted to do something that represented everything that inspired me to be a musician. I wanted to do something that inspired me the way everything else inspired me and then show my love of music. "Target Practice," which is my first single, is a little taste of the whole album.
US: What are your ultimate aspirations? Do you want to be as big as Michael and Janet?
AB: It's not about being big or famous — I just love making songs. The reason why I do music is because there's something inside that really moves you about a song. The crazy thing about music is you can get any emotion from it — you can be happy, you can be angry, you could be excited, or you can laugh, or you can just be relaxed and listen to a classical song. I love trying to connect with those emotions the best way I can.