Nicholas Braun & Andy Shauf: In Conversation
On making music in quarantine, Emmy nominations, and emo.
Summer 2020's most surprising smash hit wasn't Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion's "WAP" or Harry Styles' "Watermelon Sugar," or even anything that went viral on TikTok; it was a pop-punk ode to COVID-19 antibodies by Nicholas Braun, the 32-year-old actor best known for playing Cousin Greg on HBO's Succession. Released in late July, "Antibodies (Do You Have The)" came alongside a moody music video and even spurned a momentary chart war with Nickelback. ("Sometimes you just gotta beat your heroes, even the ones that came before you," Braun says).
It was an interesting, though not unwelcome, entry into music for the actor (who also happened to get his first Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor the day after releasing the "Antibodies" music video) — and the perfect time to catch up with one of his favorite musicians, and now friend, Andy Shauf. In early August, the Canadian-based singer-songwriter, who released two new B-sides from his most recent album The Neon Skyline in July, and Braun talked with NYLON over Zoom to discuss Shauf's writing process, the vulnerability of releasing music, and the enduring legacy of Dashboard Confessional, which you can now read exclusively here.
NYLON: How did you two first get connected?
Nicholas Braun: Well, I think it started because I did an interview and they're like, “What are you listening to right now?” And this was last year, I think, but I still was listening to The Party, basically ever since I heard it. Then I think maybe your manager, John, reached out from seeing that and slid me the new album and I was just like, “Holy sh*t. I'm in the coolest club. I get to listen to this before anybody else.” So that was already exciting for me. And then you guys came to New York for some press stuff and we met up at a Dominican place that I love in Hell's Kitchen and ate some chicken and rice. That was our first meeting.
Andy Shauf: Then we went to the camera store.
N.B.: We had a nice day together, didn't we?
A.S.: We did.
NYLON: Since you are both making music now, who do you consider as the bands who shaped your sound?
A.S.: It's a complicated journey. I was listening to a lot of pop punk. Blink-182 was a big band for me. I was a drummer, so I was really into Travis Barker breaking drumsticks and cymbals and stuff. And then it was emo time. A lot of people were into Dashboard Confessional, and I got into that. And then that led me to—
N.B.: I love Dashboard Confessional.
A.S.: I was listening to it the other day, still holds up.
N.B.: I think I've listened to “Screaming Infidelities” hundreds of times.
A.S.: Do you remember there was a DVD, right? There was a DVD where he was in the recording studio and he was singing that so hard that he just started crying.
NYLON: Did either of you ever go to Warped Tour?
N.B.: I think I would have, but I lived in a really small town. I was afraid of big concerts as a kid. I was like, “That seems like something adults do.” I just didn't want to ask my mom for a ride to a show.
NYLON: Andy, how did you first start playing music?
A.S.: My parents are piano players and singers. I always sang in church and stuff and my parents would make me sing. It was called special music at church where it was just me and my brother singing songs on the stage and everybody watching us.
N.B.: It was special because it was you and your brother?
A.S.: Well, it was special no matter who did it, but it was just called "special music." You'd have an order of service and it would say special music and it was me and my brother, just two dorks.
N.B.: You were the headliners of that mass?
N.B.: Are you pretty religious or did you grow up religious?
A.S.: Yeah. So I was into Blink-182 but I was also into Slick Shoes and MXPX. What were you into?
N.B.: I was into Lauryn Hill and Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men and Usher and then also Blink-182 and Sum 41 and Weezer. I was a huge Weezer fan. A lot of No Doubt. My mom was basically putting on a lot of R&B and then my dad was putting on Steve Miller Band and the Eagles and Men at Work and stuff like that. When did you start making music yourself? When did you realize this was a thing?
A.S.: When I was in grade 11, I started listening to Elliott Smith and writing songs, and the summer between grade 11 and grade 12, I made a record. That was how I had money during grade 12; I would just sell that record to my friends over and over again. This was 2004, I guess.
N.B.: When's the last time you listened to that record?
A.S.: I don't have it, thankfully. I know that it's really bad. It was on CDR. Those have a shelf life, right?
N.B.: Did it feel good to make a record and put it out?
A.S.: Yeah, it was cool. People told me that they'd like the record and that was probably half true. But it was a good feeling. I was like, “Man, this is so easy.” You can just record something on your computer and burn it to the CD, and maybe they put it on the radio.
N.B.: Did you send it to radio stations?
A.S.: No, I actually sent some of the songs to my current manager. He had a label at the time, and he passed. Which makes sense; they were terrible songs.
N.B.: What was it like putting out your first official album, Darker Days?
A.S.: I had just graduated. The town that I grew up in was a Bible college town, so they had a studio and a little recording program in the college. I got my friend who'd taken the recording arts class, and we went to that little studio and made that record in a week or something. It felt a little more legit, but I really dislike that record. Did you listen to it?
N.B.: Dude, you’re crazy. There's so many good songs on that album.
A.S.: I don’t know. When you're 19 and 20 writing things, when you're 30 you're going to have a different opinion.
N.B.: There's definitely the Dashboard influence, but there are a bunch of songs on that album that when listening to it last night, I thought it was from The Bearer of Bad News or something. There's some really good melodies, good catchy songs, and good production. So, when you're like, that makes me cringe, I can't believe that.
A.S.: I think after that record, I had a moment where I was like, “What am I trying to do here?” A take-stock moment. There's just a lot of cute stuff happening on that record. It made me feel very self-conscious realizing that was what I was making. So I stopped. Or did I?
N.B.: So what was the shift, then?
A.S.: It was probably a breakup or something. All of those love songs were like ... I hated them probably. I can't quite remember what the shift was. At a certain point, I was like, “I'm never writing about relationships and love again.” Which was dramatic, but I was 25.
N.B.: Do you think you found your way into love songs now by talking about characters as opposed to you and another person? In your most recent album, it's through the perspective of a third person.
A.S.: Yeah, that was my way out of the cutesy thing, trying to do stories and stuff. I guess I just found my way back to cutesy stories with characters.
N.B.: I did want to talk about the song “You Slipped Away” because you never really talk about it and I love that song.
A.S.: I think there are a lot of confused people wondering why I just released the song with Amazon for no reason.
N.B.: I think that's the main thing. But once that song gets released on the rest of the platforms, I feel people are going to love this song. It's a beautiful song.
NYLON: Nick, how did you suddenly find yourself with a music career in the middle of a pandemic?
N.B.: I've found that if I'm not productive, I feel really bad. I spent the first three weeks in March just playing video games and drinking and sleeping a lot and doing nothing, which was great. I was with one of my best buddies. It was fine and we had a good time. But then I started to have this thing of like, “I have to do something right now. I have to make something or I'm just waiting to start shooting my TV show again.” I need to put something into the world or have some creative outlet right now because if I just go to work and in four or five months, when I look back and I was just playing "Call of Duty" the whole time, I'll feel really sh*tty.
I started writing some music and it was real moody. It was really just sad stuff. I was like, “This is a little too mopey.” And then I wrote a screenplay, and that felt really good. I was quarantining with a couple. I'm staying in the guest house, they're in the main house. I think [I was] a little jealous of them having somebody to work out with every day and cook with and go on walks with and stuff. I wanted to go on a date with a girl that I've been talking to purely online, we've never met in real life before. And in the anxiety of like, “Can I do that? Is that OK? Can I be with a person?” That inspired “Antibodies.”
NYLON: Did you plan to release it online when you wrote it?
N.B.: When I first heard the chorus, I did not ever think I would make that song. I just thought I would put this on Instagram, see if anybody thinks it's a funny bit. Then people started sending me their versions of it playing on the piano or playing on guitar and changing the melodies, but it wasn't until I got a DM from an Atlantic Records person that I was like, "OK, maybe we should make it." Even then I was like, "Is this insane?" If it wasn't quarantine, I probably wouldn't have done it, but it was like, “Well, this will give me an excuse to leave my house and go be creative with some people today.” We ended up making something we all liked, but it was not the intention.
This is also the first music I've properly released in my life. I've been very hesitant and fearful really to put out music in a real way. There were all these different signs that were giving me permission to continue going forward with this. I get to direct a music video, I get to be this ridiculous character. And it's far from what I actually make. It just felt like f*ck it, you know what I mean? F*ck it. I'm just going to go for this and it'll just be at least going for something and then it turned into just more and more and just really fun, really rewarding. And so now here we are.
NYLON: What does the music you make genuinely sound like compared to this, which was more parody?
N.B.: I'd be curious to hear what Andy thinks. How would you describe it?
A.S.: It's vocal-based pop, R&B music. I'm curious how you make it. How much do you have recorded? Is it something that you're ever planning to release or is it just a personal thing?
N.B.: It's hard for me to want to put these out fully. They've really been under the radar. And I think when you're an actor and you're known for being that, it's hard to introduce a whole other aspect of yourself to people and know how to do it properly. I listen to those songs, I still like them. I feel like I could redo a bunch of stuff, but when making it, I was like, "Yeah, this works." I just have a lot of things stored on my computer that I had never put out. I'm shy about putting music out.
NYLON: It’s much different than playing a character on screen.
N.B.: Maybe that's it. People are looking at me, Nick, and they're judging and listening to the lyrics and projecting them onto me, whereas as a character, I'm wearing some clothes that aren't mine and saying words that aren't coming out of my head.
NYLON: What was it like in the 24 hours that you both released the “Antibodies” music video and got your Emmy nomination?
N.B.: I didn't expect to get a nomination. I was like, "Y'all, I released 'Antibodies!'" And thought that the next day "Succession" will probably get some stuff and that'll be fun, but to get the nomination myself was crazy. I was literally running around this apartment screaming, and calling my parents and my mom's just freaking out. It was really great.
NYLON: What did you get more texts about? The music video or the nomination?
N.B.: It's 50/50. Or what would happen is the song came out on Wednesday and on Thursday people were like, "Hey, just want to congratulate you first on the Emmy nomination. And secondly, ‘Antibodies’ is just f*cking crazy.”
NYLON: Did you hear any from other musicians about your music?
N.B.: Well, Andy Shauf texted me, and that was pretty cool. But yeah, a bunch of musicians reached out and it felt really nice. It felt really good. Andy, I don't know how you feel when you are ready to release a song, but once it's actually out it's a very crazy feeling because you've been living with it and thinking about it and protecting it.
A.S.: Do you think it's a good feeling?
N.B.: Yes, mostly, but there's that thing where it can't be changed anymore. I guess it is the same thing as when you're making a movie or TV show where you're in this really intimate environment and then all of a sudden, it's released into the world and people can see it and consume it. And it's crazy to just have a file sitting in your phone or your computer, and it's only yours and then it's on Spotify. Then it's just everyone's and you can't do anything to change that file anymore.
A.S.: I don't think it's that good of a feeling. It's nice to be done with something but when you know that people are listening to it, you know they're judging it. It's scary.
NYLON: What have you both been listening to in quarantine?
A.S.: Nick's SoundCloud.
N.B.: Yeah, you're my most active user now. I've been listening to James Blake, Baby Keem, and this band called Peach Pit.
A.S.: At the start of this I was starting to get into [the genre] mallsoft and vaporwave. It’s these albums that kids these days are making that’s like the experience of going to a mall in the '90s. I would recommend checking it out.
N.B.: I’m writing it down. Do you miss performing?
A.S.: Yeah. I did an online stream a few ... what could have been years ago. After I did that, I was like, "All right, this is actually super fun." And I had a good time. I was dreading it because I thought it was just going to be not fun, but it was a good chat stream going and I had a great time.
NYLON: When do you think we’ll be able to go to concerts again?
A.S.: Definitely not this year. But next year, we’ll be all good.
N.B.: January 1, the virus dies.
A.S.: It should be January 1, but it could be 2.
N.B.: It will take a day to die.