The October edition of The Rant Monthly features musicians who “cut their teeth” in Sanford before going on to bigger things. Get a copy to learn about other artists like Black Sheep, Floyd Council, Taylor Phillips and Youth League.

Thursday: Aslan Freeman | Friday: Britton Buchanan
Saturday: Faith Bardill | Sunday: Stephen Brewer

September 25 was a big day for Stephen Brewer.

The Los Angeles-based guitarist watched as his most recent project — an acoustic album which he helped co-write and record with singer Cristian Machado, a former frontman of the heavy metal band Ill Niño — debuted at No. 3 on the iTunes and Apple Music Latin charts, as well as to some critical acclaim.

“The music isn’t the only thing stripped down,” reads a nine out of 10 star review by I’m Music Magazine. “The sheer raw emotion and heart poured into these recordings is truly inspirational.”

Brewer, of course, like every other musician profiled in this issue, hails from Sanford. He graduated from Lee County High School in 2010 and cut his teeth playing in bands around town and at venues in other cities and still maintains a deep connection with his family that lives here.

“I was actually at home helping my family for a few months recently because just like the music industry, the restaurant industry got hit pretty hard (with COVID),” said Brewer, whose parents own the Fairview Dairy Bar and the Flame Steakhouse.

Before COVID hit, Brewer spent last fall recording Hollywood Y Sycamore, Machado’s debut solo album, at Bunker Studios in Brooklyn, N.Y. under the production guidance of composer/pianist David Chesky and Jeff Lanier. The sessions were not only challenging because of the approach — all of the tracks were recorded live in studio, something that’s not so common in today’s music industry — but also because the songs were something of a departure from Brewer’s previous work in the heavy metal band Westfield Massacre, with whom he spent several years touring and releasing two albums.

“Acoustic can be pretty unforgiving when it comes to mistakes,” he laughed. “But the album is acoustic, it’s also got kind of an alternative feel, and it’s Latin. It’s a challenge (approaching a new genre), but mostly because you care about it and want to do it well. I was the least experienced person there, so it really put my musician survival skills to the test.”

In addition to maintaining a local connection through his family, Brewer’s also stayed connected to Sanford through another high-profile musician from town. In recent years, he’s been sharing a living space with Britton Buchanan, who is profiled elsewhere in this edition.

Brewer said he’d been aware of Buchanan’s success on NBC’s The Voice, and that he and Buchanan’s families knew each other, but meeting in Los Angeles, the two immediately had something in common.

“My friend Chad Spivey hit me up and said ‘hey man, Britton is moving to L.A.,’” Brewer explained. “He told me he might need a friend who’s also from Sanford. And I didn’t have that when I moved out here in 2014, it was sort of every man for himself.”

Brewer sent Buchanan a text, they got together in Los Angeles and eventually figured out it made sense to room together.

“We’re both professionals, so it was kind of meant to be I guess,” he said. “And I’ve gotten to play some guitar for him some, help him engineer some stuff. We definitely keep each other grounded, and to work with him professionally is a real blessing.”

Brewer traces his love for music to his 12th birthday, when he received a copy of Metallica’s 1988 album …And Justice For All as a gift.

“I loved it. I became obsessed with it,” he said. “After that I got a guitar about a year later from a pawn shop in Kendale. It just changed my life, man. That’s all I wanted to do from that moment forward.”

Brewer is also humble about his talents, saying success in music is more about what you’re willing to do to get there.

“I don’t know if it’s talent or something I just wanted so badly,” he said. “I remember playing a Depot Park, and doing whatever I could to get people in high school to come see us play. It never worked out well, but you gotta earn your stripes and pay your dues at every level. I even played at the Flame a couple times on like a Sunday. We’d move the tables around and get out there and play covers.”

And although Los Angeles, California and Sanford, North Carolina may seem worlds apart, Brewer said he carries his hometown with him in a lot of ways.

“I think the community aspect, the necessary need for a sense of community in whatever you do is a big part of me,” he said. “Always trying to do your best and putting your best foot forward. I hear that Faith Bardill is doing well, I know Taylor Phillips is doing real well. It makes me really proud because one person’s success is the whole town’s success, and it proves to anybody in Sanford who wants to have a career in music that it can be done.”

— by Gordon Anderson