On the surface, singer-rapper Bryce Vine’s Carnival is the perfect summer album with its warm blend of sunny pop, breezy raps, and reggae-jazz grooves. Songs like “Classic and Perfect,” “La La Land (feat. YG),” the platinum-certified “Drew Barrymore,” and the mellifluous “San Junipero” overflow with new crushes, wild nights, and “wine in the swimming pool.”
But just as “San Junipero,” based on the scenic simulated-reality coastal town in a memorable episode of Netflix’s sci-fi series Black Mirror, eventually betrays its dark underside, so does Vine’s major-label debut.
The 31-year-old L.A. vocalist — and son of soap actress Tracey Ross — quickly moves on to weightier topics, such as overcoming childhood difficulties in “Love Is a Blessing” as well as dysfunctional relationships and the allure of dissociative “escapist” drugs in “Deep in Shallow Water,” “Love Me and Hate Me,” and “Factory Love.”
The “Hollywood” that Vine depicts is like a soap opera — or, rather, a carnival — with plenty of highs and lows. But it never rains for long in Southern California, so there’s always a note of optimism around every chord.
SF Weekly spoke to the crooner whose Carnival tour cruises into San Francisco on Wednesday, about the dark side of L.A., how music is like therapy, and why the ’90s were better than the ’00s.
Your debut album is about to drop just days from now. How excited are you?
The rare times that I really stop to think about it, it blows my mind. I have been working on music since I was 13 years old and we would draw photos of what my first full album would be and put the little parental advisory sign on it, so it’s always been this goal that I was aiming toward. To be able to still write my own music and work with people I like and have it all in one body of work is amazing.
Why call the album Carnival?
It is symbolic of life. It is a lot going on. It’s exciting and it can be loud, dark, and fun. Music reflects what people go through in life, so I have accidentally chosen the theme over the last five years since I started putting out my music on my own with my EP’s Lazy Fair and Midnight Circus. So Carnival felt like the natural next step.
Did growing up around the entertainment industry make your dream seem more feasible?
Yeah, more or less. It wasn’t easy. She didn’t make it look easy. It was clearly work. My mom and I lived in a basement years before she got the role that changed our lives, so when you see it from the ground up like that and how someone can remain themselves and humble and still be in the entertainment industry, it doesn’t scare you as much.
I didn’t think I ever wanted to be an actor. I found music when I was 13 and started teaching myself how to play guitar, so I’ve always known.
You first came to a lot of people’s attention in 2011 on season one of Oxygen’s The Glee Project, a Ryan Murphy-produced show that served as an audition for the hit Fox musical comedy series Glee. But you were the first to be eliminated. Do you regret that experience?
It depends on how you look at it. At first, I was like, “Wow, that was a waste of time,” especially after being the first one kicked off of this reality show. But it was good that I was because I definitely wasn’t right for it. I’m not a reality star. I didn’t do it because I wanted to be one. It was because I wanted to do music and Glee offered that opportunity.
During shooting, I learned so much that I still know now, even just how to be in front of the camera. But it was great. It taught me so much shit. Like even now, I still am unaffected by negative comments, because you get so much from that, for real, on reality shows. It’s crazy. I don’t know how these people deal with it. They must just love the attention.
Speaking of reality shows, you diss them on your earliest single, “Sour Patch Kids” when you say, “Wishin’ I could find a way to bring back Music Television / No more Jersey Shore’n whorin’ / Or horribly borin’ versions of shows from Great Britain.” You also reference Blink-182, Tupac, The Lion King, and Drew Barrymore on the new album. Why do you have such nostalgia for the pop culture of the past?
When I was growing up, I could turn on the radio and as far as pop culture, in the ’90s, there was a different vibe and not so much direct access to celebrities, and the spectrum of celebrity was a lot less wide. But there were just fun people to be fans of and huge stars like Eddie Murphy, Will Smith, and Jim Carrey, who were just coming up back then but are now known as legends. And seeing Men in Black and The Matrix in theaters for the first time. These are things that are now classics to everyone.
Carnival’s lead single “La La Land” is an homage to both the brighter and darker sides of Los Angeles. You also rave about New York in “Love Is a Blessing.” As someone who’s spent a lot of time in both New York and L.A., how do they compare?
New York summer’s a vibe. I don’t think there’s anywhere I’ve been in the world that makes me feel like when I’m walking around New York in June. I’ll just walk around with headphones on all day. What’s beautiful about New York is no matter how rich or poor anyone is in that city, they have to interact with each other all the time — every ethnicity, every race, every background. You can’t avoid being around certain kinds of people, so I feel like New Yorkers just have such a broader understanding of how the world works and they move at a pace that shows they understand that life’s going to end one day.
And L.A. moves at a pace that doesn’t seem real because you can walk outside at any time of year and be fine. You don’t have to rush to the next thing in the snow, so you could be very laissez-faire about everything here, but it makes for creativity on a scale like nowhere else. The most creative people all come to L.A. at some point, so it’s a really inspiring place to live, but with a dark side, which makes it even cooler.
Tell me about the dark side.
You can get sucked in, and from what I’ve seen, you could come here with a mission for yourself and be totally diluted by fun, drugs, partying, just being in the sun, and not having to work. It can make you want to be lazy.
How do you remain motivated and on track amid all those temptations?
The people you keep around you. I’ve just grown up pretty good at weaning out the talkers from the doers. I’ve been both. So I have a good group of people around me. I’ve had the same manager for six years and he’d get into a pool with me to shoot a promo video that we didn’t know if anyone was going to watch. And always trying to remind yourself that it can all go away. I’ve been lazy here and wasn’t happy and just had to do all the things that I knew were the right moves to get anywhere.
You’ve been very open, in and out of your music, about your struggle with depression and ADD and have said that the discovery of gangster rap — like “How Do You Want It,” by Tupac — helped you greatly. Does writing about these issues help?
That’s why I started doing it. Music was therapy when I was a kid. I was an only child and didn’t have brothers or sisters to bounce ideas off of or understand. Or if a kid wanted to fight me at school, I just didn’t have any backup, so there was no other outlet besides picking up an instrument and making those songs myself. They made me feel better and they still do. I want the people listening to feel relieved of their own stress, too.
Bryce Vine, July 24, 8 p.m., at Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St. $23-47.95; slimspresents.com/great-american-music-hall
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