An Interview With Nourished by Time

Reed Jackson speaks to Marcus Brown aka Nourished by Time about dealing with an overactive brain amidst his recent stardom, nearly becoming a barber, the importance of meditation and more.
By    June 19, 2024

Image via Lauren Davis

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Reed Jackson once got called J Balvin outside a Publix in Miami.

In the back of the Lodge Room, something — or someone — is causing a ruckus.

Singer Laetitia Tamko, aka Vagabon, is on-stage at this historic former Masonic temple in Los Angeles’ Highland Park neighborhood. She’s vibrant, but the performance is an understated, acoustic version of her usual set, which isn’t helping. Her vocals drown in a smattering of laughs, chatter and what I think was a dog bark?

Vagabon politely tells the crowd to shut the hell up. I turn my head to see her tour opener, Baltimore’s Nourished By Time, at the center of the din. He’s flanked by three fluffy golden retrievers.

“Yeah, I got in trouble for that,” he says, laughing a few months later, phoning from New York. “I blame the guy with the dog. The fucking dog was… I’ve never seen a dog on tour.”

The singer, also known as Marcus Brown, admits he wasn’t exactly being a model audience member, either. After his performance, he had met up with some old friends in the crowd and was celebrating (not that loudly, he adds) the fact he’d just wrapped one of his biggest tours yet.

It can perhaps be concluded then that both Brown and the dogs were simply buzzing with excitement. (It should also be noted that Brown is quick to shout out Vagabon while we talk.)

After all, it wasn’t that long ago that Brown was a barber’s apprentice. And a videographer. And a Whole Foods employee. He’d been trying to make it as a musician for nine years, by his count, before finally breaking through with last year’s Erotic Probiotic 2, a record he mostly recorded in his parents’ Baltimore basement during the pandemic.

The project started as a “performance art thing,” he tells me, that was supposed to be more visually based. But Probiotic 2’s homemade style of warped ‘80s R&B, anchored by Brown’s husky voice and Roland synthesizer, struck a chord with listeners and made him a critical darling. Within a year he signed to XL Recordings and released an equally acclaimed follow-up EP, Catching Chickens.

The opener to Chickens, “Hell of a Ride,” is one of the year’s best songs – a euphoric breakup anthem you sing-a-long to at the club with your friends. Its soaring bridge and thrumming keyline sound like something drawn up by an English new wave band 40 years ago, not one dude on a home studio setup.

“I’m just not trying to fuck everything up,” he says about his recent success. “I’m trying not to, like, mess up the career stuff. It’s a whole thing. My brain has a lot of blocks for no reason.”

Brown has always dealt with an “overactive brain,” he tells me, and his sudden immersion into minor stardom has led to some serious overstimulation, he says. (This and smartphones, which we both agree are the devil).

But I’d argue that Brown’s artistry is a direct reflection of his fast-moving mind, which seems to glow with earnestness and wit as we quickly cover a swath of topics, from the misconceptions of liberalism (“there’s mad rich leftists”) to meditation being a little overrated (“it’s like a healthy cigarette”) to his so-so time spent at the Berklee School of Music (“everyone was trying to oppress each other”).

Even his stance on the Kendrick vs. Drake beef, which hits a fever pitch around the time we speak (with Kendrick dropping the snappy finisher, “Not Like Us,” a few days prior), goes deeper than which song has the cruelest jibe or hardest beat. Instead he’s thinking about the shadowy industry figures who are really benefiting from the battle.

Despite having a deep awareness of the world’s flaws, injustices and darkness, Brown seems to maintain an inherent appreciation for his existence. Each recognition of the harsh realities of life usually comes with a shrug of his shoulders and a crack of his smile. Most people would probably describe Brown as a deep dude but also maybe a silly one.

“I don’t like when people are content with how the world is because it’s trash — you shouldn’t be content. But also I don’t like just the doom and gloom.”

Before heading out back on the road, this time as the headliner backed by a proper band (he was solo on stage when I saw him at the Lodge Room), Brown takes a moment to reflect on how far he’s come in the past year and where he wants to go next.

I’ve been listening to your “Scrapple” playlist, which has so many gems I didn’t know about. As you’ve become more of a professional in music, has it slowed your exploration of music down at all?

Nourished by Time: My exploration is definitely going down. I’m super overstimulated and I’m just kind of feeding that stimulation. And that’s stopping me from like…feeling in a way. I haven’t really stopped [moving] since all this shit has happened. And that’s partly my fault. I wanted to put out a new EP.

I want to after tour, like in October, just get an apartment somewhere and just rest and not be on my phone and not be overstimulating myself. I remember when I was listening to a lot more music, and like it bothers me that I’m not listening to as much. But at the same time, I’m probably being hard on myself.

You strike me as a guy that thinks our minds probably would be in a little better spot without the advent of the smartphone.

Nourished by Time: When I got my first phone…I just got obsessed with girls and communication and overthinking and like, oh, what does this mean? What does that mean?

I was probably already there, but just the phone made it, I don’t know, easier to just be obsessed. I’m probably not going to have a smartphone much longer. I think after I get certain things, I’m going to tap out. I have this real urge to get as much as I want from the music industry and just, like, vanish.

Pull a Kendrick, huh? He supposedly doesn’t use a smartphone.

Nourished by Time: [Kendrick is] kind of the reason why I’m maybe depressed again. He broke all those records with “Euphoria” and “Not Like Us” and he netted like less than $300,000. And like, I’m assuming that’s before tax? It’s just such a smack in the face.

The whole streaming game…the fact a private company can come into an entire industry that’s been functioning a certain way for hundreds of years and can just come in and change it like that.

And like streaming was going to happen anyway, but like, it’s just so unregulated. It’s so predatory. That’s why Drake can compete with the Beatles is because…you can manipulate it. It’s like the stock market.

I know I have to function in it right now. But it’s just really ironic that I go from working at Whole Foods to working in music and it’s like I’m still fighting for pretty much the same thing.

Did you feel like you had to put out your new EP relatively soon after your debut to stay relevant in the streaming system?

Nourished by Time: No, I just wanted to. I’ve always just wanted to put out an album like, chronologically, each year. I just think that’s cool and like to just have no breaks.

I want to put out five albums that I think are amazing, that I feel proud of. That’s how I’ll be able to sleep at night as an artist. I mean, I can sleep at night now just fine, but I’ll feel like my spirit is at rest if I can.

Because for me, I want to just be able to say I competed with the best. Like that I competed with myself and like all the different versions of myself. And that I left it all on the table. And I just don’t want to have any regrets with this, like, really cool opportunity that I’ve been given and that I worked hard for.

With “My Day Off,” the Kacy Hill song you were recently featured on, I thought a new level of you was unlocked because it’s a slightly different, more pop-y sound than yours but you still fit into it so seamlessly.

Nourished by Time: Oh, it was really fun. Like, Kacy is really cool and also a really fun artist. And I respect her and her journey and her artistry a lot. And yeah, she kind of just hit me up and it was really easy. I kind of wrote it in like two seconds.

I want to write for other artists. I think I want to go really hard with Nourished By Time as myself, but I would love to write for like, mostly women, honestly. I just like, work better with women than I do with men.

You went to Berklee and so you’re technically trained but you also hated the structures and boxes they tried to put you in. Do you think there’s a right formula when it comes to how much production should be feeling and how much it should be technical?

Nourished by Time: I do think there’s a balance. I just get annoyed with the pretentiousness, like I hate pretentiousness in any field. I hate it in socialism. I hate it in anything. You can feel all you want, but like, you’re going to hit a wall unless you’re constantly learning.

As long as you’re growing. I think growth is like the main thing you want to focus on and whatever vehicle you take to get there.

For me, I just think about John Coltrane, and he unlocks that level of spirituality in his music. He was always great, but like John Coltrane in the Miles Davis Quintet was different than A Love Supreme John Coltrane. He had to learn and go through so much.

Art is so much about not touching your instrument or like doing anything practical and, I don’t know, it kind of goes against what I’m saying, but there’s a balance.

I feel like you kind of have this mindset with a lot of things where it’s like, “Yeah, shit is kind of fucked. But, you know, I still love some of it.”

Nourished by Time: I don’t want people to think that I’m always positive because I’m definitely not; I’m probably super negative actually. But I think I’m just, like, funny.

The world sucks. Like it’s pretty bad. It’s pretty awful actually. But I meet a lot of leftists and I meet a lot of just people in general and like…I don’t like when people are content with how the world is because it’s trash — you shouldn’t be content. But also I don’t like just the doom and gloom.

And I think that’s why I love things like community and community organizing and like, just creating these worlds within this shitty world.

There’s mad rich leftists, there’s so many rich socialists that should be putting their money into leftist communities and buying property and buildings. There needs to be ways that people can strike and not have to use their money. I feel like that’s the kind of stuff I want to do when I have money.

Maybe the future of Nourished By Time is using the money you collect as a solo artist to maybe help out other artists.

Nourished by Time: I’m definitely going to do something really cool. I’m really going to do that or like run for mayor of Baltimore or something.

I read you were almost a barber at one point?

Nourished by Time: I was going to be a fucking master barber. It was a really fun job. Just like you just meet a lot of really good people working at a hairdresser slash barber shop. But Covid happened, and they were paying me like dog shit. And so I just never came back.

You’ve talked about the concept of ego and what it means within the context of music and liberalism. That makes me wonder if you practice mindfulness or meditation.

Nourished by Time: I got really into meditation, and I dated a girl when I was in college that, like, really got me into the law of attraction. And I remember she showed me The Secret when I was like 17, and I was just shitting on it the whole time. Just being just like, “Fuck is this bullshit?” But she was really cool, so I kind of got more into it. I’ve always like…dealt with a very active brain, and I would just need an outlet for it. I guess that wasn’t, like, drugs or alcohol.

I was actually in like a fucking online cult for a little bit. It was this whole mindfulness, meditation cult. It was like, “Here’s the 50 day map to transcending,” and I was like, “Damn this is sick” (laughs).

But I saw the limitations of it, and like it’s really good for maintaining your lifestyle, but if there’s some real shit going on in your life, I don’t know if breathing is going to help. I got really depressed and meditation wasn’t doing shit [laughs]. It’s like a healthy cigarette, I guess.

I went to your show in L.A. at the Lodgeroom, where you opened for Vagabon.

Nourished by Time: I was just talking about [that show]. I got in trouble because that room is kind of echoey, and I was catching up with friends and we were way in the back. And people were like, “Shh! Shut up!” I didn’t even think we were talking that loud.

That’s funny ’cause I was actually standing next to you guys, and I remember looking over and seeing three dogs in the crowd next to you?

Nourished by Time: Yeah dude, that was it! That wasn’t our dog. It was some random dude who was just walking around with his dog, and everyone was just kind of excited about the dog. And I was catching up with some friends I hadn’t seen in like six years, and I was excited, and I was really drunk, and the tour was over.

So yeah, people were not happy. But I blame the guy with the dog. The fucking dog was… I’ve never seen a dog on tour. And it wasn’t like a service dog. I don’t think he had a ticket.

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