Bryce Vine photographed on Sept. 4, 2018 at Optimist Studios in Los Angeles. 
Bryce Vine photographed on Sept. 4, 2018 at Optimist Studios in Los Angeles. 
Djeneba Aduayom

Chartbreaker: How Bryce Vine Scored a Breakout Hit With a Discarded Voice Memo

by Taylor Weatherby
September 18, 2018, 4:07pm EDT

Pop singer Bryce Vine (born Bryce Ross-Johnson) never thought he would strike big on his own. Inspired by Blink-182, Third Eye Blind and Everclear in his teens, he always envisioned himself in a band. But that changed this year when he had a breakthrough hit with the sultry R&B-colored track “Drew Barrymore,” which landed Vine his first chart placement -- it hit No. 47 on the Billboard Hot 100, and has climbed to No. 19 on the Pop Songs chart (dated Sept. 8).

After releasing the song independently in Nov. 2017, he recalls how he “had pretty much given up on getting signed,” before suddenly being approached by multiple labels. But it wasn’t hard for Vine to choose one — he immediately landed on Sire Records, thanks to label head Rani Hancock. “I loved the idea of signing to a female president,” Vine says. “I knew that the sensitivity of my project was going to be handled a certain way. I just knew that’s who I wanted to build my career with.”

Now, Vine, 30, is gearing up to do just that with the release of his first full-length album, Carnival, slated for an early 2019 release. And though it may seem like his ascent has been swift, he traces his start back to when his just hit his teens, when he taught himself to play guitar after receiving one for his birthday. After meeting a girl in his high school journalism class who played drums, he was recruited along with another classmate to form a punk band called Goodsell. As the only member with songwriting skills, he became the frontman by default: “I figured if you were going to make music, then you had to write it yourself,” he says.

As high school was coming to an end, Vine attended a Berklee College summer program. There, he auditioned for the school using a Goodsell song called "Good Action Movies Never Get Filmed In A Town Like This” -- “so Fall Out Boy,” he jokes -- which ended up being his ticket to college. But despite being at Berklee on a scholarship, Vine admits he felt out of his league. “I had no idea what I was doing,” he says. “I've always struggled with insecurity, thinking I'm not good enough to do the things that I wanted to do, but I just kept doing it because it was what I wanted.”

At Berklee, Vine toyed with everything from jazz to gospel in classes. But it wasn’t until he met budding producer named Nolan Lambroza (now known as Sir Nolan, who’s behind singles for Shawn Mendes and Selena Gomez) in a practice room that he began exploring what his voice could do over pop and rap beats. By his second year, he started to feel more comfortable with his direction, and, at the request of his mother, auditioned for the Glee-scouting reality series The Glee Project. As for his video submission song of choice, he sang and rapped Kanye West’s “Gold Digger.”

Vine made it to the final 12, but immediately knew he wanted out. “They wanted me to fit a character that I wasn’t, [who’s] a dick to everybody,” he remembers. “I wasn’t trying to be an actor on a reality show, I wanted to be a musician.” Subsequently, he was the first booted off the show, but he saw the dismissal as an opportunity: “Everyone's going to see me on national television, so [I thought], ‘I better start writing more songs.’”

He reunited with Lambroza shortly thereafter, and together they churned out songs that helped Vine refine his own sound. The pair started their own label, Kiva House Lambroza (“a way for me and Nolan to solidify our agreement between each other,” Vine says) on which Vine dropped his first EP, 2014’s Lazy Fair. The six-song project included a bouncy rap-infused pop track “Sour Patch Kids” that gained attention and gave him the confidence he needed to keep at it.

Eventually, Vine learned to produce on his own, but continued working with Lambroza, who in 2015 introduced him to his then-girlfriend, Julia Michaels. Vine and Michaels had mutual admiration for each other’s music, and she soon came up with a song concept for Vine, which he saved in a voice note on his phone. He wouldn’t revisit it until two years later.

“I had this concept,” he says, “I wanted to write a song about somebody that wasn't talking about their looks. Somebody that you’re in love with, but not focused on their physical appearance -- which was really hard to do, actually,” he laughs. But even with the beat and lyrical content in place, Vine was missing a hook. And that’s when he rediscovered Michaels’ memo.

Not only did Drew Barrymore’s name work for word play, but she was a perfect muse for Vine’s concept (“If you’ve seen The Wedding Singer, you understand,” he quips). Even as the song continues to gain traction, Vine insists his intentions are the same as when he first started in his punk band at 13: “I don’t write songs trying to make them a hit, I just write songs trying to make them good.”

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 15 issue of Billboard.