To save a life from the family dynamic 

Brandon Stanley finds solace through songwriting

“Hold me now my Holy Ghost.
Take these demons from my mind so I might get some sleep tonight.
If I die please bury me
Somewhere deep beneath this hall of hollow trees.
I’m breaking down…”

—“Holy Ghost” by Brandon Stanley

On a rainy Friday evening that begins one of winter’s final weekends, singer and songwriter Brandon Stanley sips iced tea at a bar in Franklin, Ind.’s historic Willard Hotel. While a mixture of blue and white-collar denizens mingle with an assortment of Franklin College co-eds, Stanley, 23, shakes hands with friends and well-wishers between a reporter’s questions, while awaiting his turn at the microphone.

From a violent, broken home, Stanley endured a troubled youth, including jail time, anxiety attacks and a botched suicide attempt. He’s grown since then as a one-man band at the Willard with a realistic dream of making it big in the music business. His eyes have seen a lot.

Stanley has played his brand of jazzy, blues-infused rock every Wednesday night at the Willard since June 2006. He convinced manager Mike Schofield to hire him after closing time one evening when, at a mutual friend’s insistence, he picked up his guitar and began to play one of his 300 original songs. Now Wednesday nights at the Willard are becoming a popular local attraction.

Stanley’s shows offer a retreat from the vanilla cover bands and sing-songy folk rock that often make up the background noise in local drinking establishments. People are impressed with his guitar-picking and vocal control to be sure, but to listen to one of Stanley’s songs is to watch a scene from a dramatic film unfold. He has the ability to stretch time by finding the proper rhythm for his vocal delivery so as to emote the highs and lows of a personal experience, while taking the listener along for a soulful ride.

After his parents divorced when he was 15, Stanley dropped out of school. Problems with his family persisted, and before long, he left what he recalled as a happy home.
“The whole family dynamic changed for me then,” Stanley says. “People were constantly fighting and butting heads. All that happiness I grew up with was replaced by pure hate.”

Though he eventually would make a living by singing and songwriting, he first underwent a horrific five-year span during which he bounced between friends’ homes and his grandmother’s house. He says he abused drugs and was gripped by frequent anxiety attacks. One night he was involved in a violent altercation in Indianapolis, which left him jailed for six months before charges were dropped. Once he was released, he says, he contemplated suicide and once attempted to shoot himself with .22 caliber pistol, which thankfully malfunctioned, only damaging an eardrum and sparing his life.

“I just used to sit around every day afraid to move,” Stanley says. “Everybody [told] me to get up, get out and live. But being out was so much worse than jail, because my prison was in my head. I got up and walked out, but I was still in it.”

Stanley credits the intervention of a friend, Stacey Hunter, about whom he has written around 20 songs, with saving his life and helping him regain his confidence.

“One day she came over with a CD of music I’d recorded, and she told me that she was amazed,” he says. “She just kept telling me to stick with it, and I started writing, singing and trying to get heard.”

Another local musician, Matt Blue of Columbus, Ind., recalls meeting Stanley while playing at the Copper Room in Greenwood. A friend asked if Stanley could join Blue and his partner, Eric Whistler, for a song or two.

“I usually just flat-out refuse,” says Blue, who estimates that he and Whistler have played some 1,300 gigs together. “But I let him play some of his own material and we were just like, ‘Man, he’s good.’”

A year later, on this Friday night in Franklin, Stanley sits in for a set at the Willard in relief of another performer. Suddenly, the trouble and anxiety seem far away as he smoothly sings a few of his treasured numbers. Some of the spectators turn around on bar stools to put a face with the impressive voice they hear.

“Music is such a release,” Stanley says. “All the people — the pain of looking back — I put that all into my songs. This is what I live for.”

Editor’s note: Learn more about Stanley at www.myspace.com/brandonstanley2.

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