Photo: Dan Snyder
Stylist: Michael Grayer
Stylist Assistant: Julia Englhardt
Photo Assistant: Kevin Tecson
Brooklyn, 2022


As we reached the end of 2022, we got together with our friend Britton Smith at his Bed Stuy apartment to chat about his plans for the new year. Check out the full shoot and interview below and give Britton a follow here.



JE: Julia Englhardt
BS: Britton Smith

JE: Hey Britton, thank you so much for welcoming us into your home the other day, and thank you for a great shoot. You were preparing for your end-of-year show at Nublu with your band Britton and The Sting. Nublu is a great performance space. How did it go?

BS: Yo, it was so much fun; it was really good, man. Thanks for asking. We’ve performed there so many times; It’s a safe place for us. I hadn’t been there in a while, but It’s still home. So it was nice that our last show of 2022 was there.

JE: Cheers to that. Can you tell me about your path to music and performance?

BS: Well, I think I got into music through church. I used to sing in the choir and grew up in a–I don’t want to say traditional–but like a standard black-ass small-ass Southern church where everybody was musical in some form. And so I grew up with quality musicians and quality singers. Women who could sing their asses off, who were just like, fucking secretaries at schools. But on Sundays, they opened up their mouths and were like angelic beasts. I grew up in an environment where music brought many people together. So I'm used to music being a gathering force. I grew up feeling the spirit, joy, and radical release through music from the church. 

I started performing in school naturally, though. Just as like, the class clown trying to gain attention, making jokes and saying things to the teacher that would make the whole class react and laugh. I really enjoyed that attention. I grew up in a single-family household, and my mom really just focused on keeping my brother and me alive. I wasn't getting a lot of attention at home, so the earliest stages I performed on were the streets and the classrooms where I could test out my authority, leadership, and jokes. The classroom wasn't supposed to be a stage, but it fucking was.

JE: I love that you treat life as a performance in that way. It sounds like you have been able to steer your life in a desired direction by creating these “stages” for yourself.

BS: You know, I did. But now I try to temper it so I can have a more dynamic, authentic experience when I'm not on stage. How can I perform less–this is the goal now.

When I was a child growing up, there was so much more focus on the need for attention and knowing that I was seen. Now my voice is not just about seeing me but about seeing who else is impacted and involved and a part of the message I’m sharing. I'm talking about seeing all of us. Hear what I'm saying and know that it's linked to Black and queer bodies, know that it's linked to liberation, know that it's linked to freedom, but please, hear me say it.


JE: What do you think allows you to tap into your authentic self in order to be that type of leader?

BS: I think the church really confused me because I thought I was this bright light, but they told me that I wasn't gonna be a sustained light, or like a good light, if I was different than what they asked me to be. Like if I was too loud or if I clapped more feminine than a man would clap, or straight up–if I was openly gay. So I think leaving the church, not even on my terms, but being kicked out of the church was the best thing that could have happened to me.

I was very active in the church. And it didn't dawn on me not to lie. The youth pastor sent me to his office, and he said, “Hey, I just want to check in on something. Someone tells me that you're struggling with homosexuality, that you're gay, and that you have a boyfriend. If you’re involved in that lifestyle, we can’t have you in front of people and leading here.” The message I took away from that was that I couldn’t be a beacon of light if this is who I am. That really fucked with me and like pushed me outside of a place I thought was home.

I was always labeled as a “troublemaker,” but I now realize that I have always been trying to fight for my space to be my most authentic self since a young age. And a lot of the time, that has gotten me in trouble. But this type of experience has built a community of people who have also been labeled as troublemakers. And this community that has fought to be themselves in similar ways and use their form of being as an action is revolutionary. It may not sound like a protest, shouting down the streets, but practicing authenticity, if you're marginalized, is a pretty brave act. And so I think my earliest days taught me that chains could be put on you, but it's really up to you to say, fuck you, Church, fuck you, family, fuck you, town, I'm gonna find space by creating it for myself. I saw a quote by James Baldwin that says something like, “I didn't have the space that I wanted, so I created it.” I felt similarly, so I used what I have and know, which is myself, to create a space. I’ve started to think about it as a ministry. I'm gonna create a space where authenticity is centered and make it contagious and see what happens. And It's such a drug man, authenticity.

JE:  I'm so sorry you went through that. It sounds like your instincts taught you to use performance and leadership to find authenticity and allow for a space for you to be yourself and others to be themselves with you.

How do you feel like that experience of performing and searching for a space to be authentic has influenced how you perform as Britton and The Sting or perform on the Broadway stage? Do you ever feel you have to access a different type of character to be yourself?

BS: All the music with The Sting has come from something really painful, like a bee sting. When that pain would come up, I was like you're not gonna fuck me up. I'm gonna use this pain for the betterment of myself and others. And so, every song has an umbrella of transparency and transformation. When I'm performing with The Sting, I get to place that we call our Moon place. It's like you're higher self, but you can't be in it all the time. I define this mindset as when you're most authentic, or you're most vulnerable. You’re most free where you’re dancing without judgment and singing open–when you're an open vessel. So I call that “your moon place,” and I'm not in that place throughout life day to day because New York is fucking hard. But when I'm with my band, and we're performing, I do kind of float to this altered state. It's not a performance, though. It's like my higher self that I can tether to while singing because it's in this space where we're all trying to tether to our higher selves. I know it's not Britton putting on an act; it’s Britton, looking to the best Britton and singing to the best Britton and sharing it with others so that we can all tether to our higher selves, at least for this 90 minutes and then see what it feels like and then when you leave to be like, yo that felt amazing what allowed me to be there. I wasn't scared, I wasn't judgy, I wasn't watching myself too much, and I felt community. I started thinking, how can I use that mindset as an example of what's possible? I didn't dream it; I really felt it. So what in my life needs to alter to be more like that higher self?

But in theater…I literally just emailed my agents today and was like, I'm so good. I don't need to act anymore.


JE:  Really, you're done?

BS: Literally, I sent the email maybe an hour ago. Yeah, I'm just not supposed to be somebody else right now. And so many things are confirming that, and it's beautiful. I was doing it all at once. I was doing music, acting, and running a nonprofit. And right now, I'm very confirmed–even through this conversation–and other opportunities happening that I am not supposed to be acting. I’m in meetings with people where they're telling me, “Yo, you built a baby that we want to support, and it's from an authentic, singular thing that we want to be a part of,” and that's the most affirming thing, being told that I am celebrated for being different and unique. Now People are like, “dude, whatever you have found in that difference–how can I support that?” And I just don't want to act right now at all. When you're in a theater show, man, you devote your life to being the most honest you can for the character’s sake. Like you treat this character that’s fictional or real, and you dig into research and make all this effort to be the most honest to lift their journey with honor, and it takes a lot of effort. It’s just not what I’m supposed to be doing right now. I feel that way.

JE: It's taking you out of the work you’re doing on yourself to be authentic and present. It sounds like that “moon place” you find yourself in while performing is real presence and engagement with the energy around you.

BS: That's the guide. The moon place is the guide and to meet other people on the moon place is amazing. Because it's almost like an oh, I see you because you saw me in my highest. And I see you in your highest. We can return to that, you know, and It's a beautiful thing that happens, and theater has not yet given me that, and I've been in three Broadway shows, I've left shows, I've been Off-Broadway, and nothing has come close to what I feel with Britton and The Sting. It's true.

JE: That's amazing. Congrats on that revelation; it sounds like theres a new chapter for you. So, what do you see as next? You've just wrapped your end-of-year show at Nublu and decided to stop acting. What do you have planned for this next year?

BS: Yeah, we’ve been working on an album for like two years, and so, I want to finish this studio album. We took a month in Vermont, the whole team and some creatives, to figure out what we are doing that’s working and how we can deepen that and clarify it. And so, we came back with this plan that we think we should be mobilized around the country like a tent revival. So the plan is to go to towns and cities with a similar market of people driven by liberation, and we park there for a little bit, do our tent revival, and then get out. Like, Praise the gospel and then be out. A tent revival similar to what mega pastors did back in the day. I want to be a black gay mega pastor with a tent revival-style tour where we do our thing and preach that queer people are fucking holy and then peace out. Love you, town, peace. We've solidified producers who are down to take this journey with us, so we’re doing it twice in New York in 2023 at a theater space and at the Apollo. That's gonna be the kickoff for the tour of our tent revival.

JE: Its inspiring that you’ve allowed all your experiences to shape this path. You have your goals and vision and are walking toward them.

BS: Thanks for that. I want to add that the ability to align with other artists, like Corridor’s designer, Dan, who is similarly rooted and has similar hopes of liberation and building community, is a really cool opportunity. I feel like there is storytelling in everything, and talking to Dan about Corridor and how it happened, how you all create the space that y'all inhabit together. It's very similar to how we at The Sting create a space together, so I’m excited to be aligned with a brand that I know has similar values. We're from a similar cloth of humanity that I can stand with, so it's worth it to make space for this.


Britton Smith is an Artist, Master Troublemaker, and Frontman of Britton and The Sting. Follow him on Instagram here.


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