Living life out and proud is scary, especially when you’re in the public eye. For many musicians, keeping a separation between personal and professional lives can often feel like an unspoken rule, especially in the early stages of a musician’s careerWhen so much is at stake, coming out as LGBTQ can feel like one more barrier to getting noticed by the industry.
Brennan Johnson, frontman of Denver’s rock band AMZY, knows this story too well. While he watched his band’s music gain traction in the local Denver scene, and has played headlining shows to sold-out audiences, he still felt like a part of him was in hiding. Though he has been out to his friends and family since he was 18, the now-29-year-old has finally taken to the stage to declare not only the fact that he is gay, but that he is madly in love and ready to share his life with his partner.
On June 29, Johnson came to a decision to not only propose to his boyfriend Trevor McIntosh but to do it in a way that finally told the whole story of the man behind the microphone.
“We have a song that I wrote called ‘Time to Change,’” said Johnson a little more than three weeks after the big night. “It’s about me going through some struggles, I actually wrote it around a time where I felt really lost and hopeless. That was during the time I met my partner, Trevor, and he was going through some tough times too. We both got through it and came out of it much better people.”
Johnson decided that was the perfect song to propose to. On that hot summer evening, eight years after the two had met, Johnson invited McIntosh front-and-center stage, got down on one knee, and confessed his love of the man that changed his life.
“I think it went over really well,” said Johnson. “He said yes, and the crowd was really supportive.”
Getting ready for that night wasn’t much different than a typical show night, Johson admitted, and it actually helped that the AC was broken inside The Marquis Theatre, because his nervous sweat blended in quite well with the sweaty and excited crowd. It also helped that McIntosh had essentially already proposed to Johnson, and after so many years together, they were both confident that they would eventually take the plunge.
Yet, how would the audience take it? That was the biggest variable in the equation, but Johnson was ready and willing to take the risk.
“As an artist in a band, I had always kind of struggled with this apprehension and uncertainty of being publicly out, even subconsciously,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t hiding or in the closet by any means, but it wasn’t something I really talked about.”
Fear of rejection around the fact that he is gay had kept him quiet over the years. By disclosing this part of his life, he has now set himself up to potentially receive negative criticism and could cost the band some fans. Yet, in the end, he knew it was something that he needed to do, no longer contorting himself to stay halfway in the spotlight.
“I wanted to not only propose to him, but to show him that I am definitely not afraid to be with him. I love him with all my heart and being, and I want us both to stand together and move forward, keep building our lives together,” Johnson said.
Since the beginning of AMZY in 2014, McIntosh has been Johnson’s number-one fan and biggest source of support. When the idea of starting a band came to mind, Johnson was apprehensive, yet McIntosh encouraged and pushed him to believe in himself.
“He is captivating; he has a light in him, and he could inspire anybody to do anything,” said Johnson. “I know firsthand, because before I met him, I had done a little bit of singing, but I was afraid of singing in public; I was afraid to show any of that. I didn’t think I could write music at all, and he definitely persisted and motivated me.”
McIntosh offered help with the business side of things by creating the band website and even coordinating clothing options for photoshoots, just a few of the things he was eager to do to show support for his partner and the rest of the band.
“Sometimes I don’t know how he does it, because I know it’s tough having a relationship with a musician,” Johnson said. “Especially one that’s really passionate and focused. It does mean nights where you’re alone, or you don’t get to see your significant other for quite some time.”
Yet, the pair has found a good and healthy stride after eight years, and they consider themselves already functioning as a married couple and plan on getting married by the end of July. Johnson said there’s no secret to sustaining a long-term relationship of this caliber; it’s mostly about keeping things fun and enjoying the person you are with.
“We persist and don’t take each other too seriously,” Johnson said. “Overall, we’ve always clicked, and the easy and the good times that we have together vastly outweigh any of the harder parts.”
As AMZY continues to grow, the band is currently working on new music and is looking to tour again soon, Johnson is sure that his being authenticity with his fans can only continue to help the music grow and evolve.
“I really haven’t used that many pronouns in songs, and I don’t know if I intentionally write vague as a way of being discreet in who I am or what perspective I’m trying to tell,” he said. “I want to make it a point to not shy away from it anymore in future songs; I’m going to try and take steps to maybe incorporate a few more [pronouns].”
Just as Johnson has looked up to frontmen like Passion Pit‘s Michael Angelakos, an out bisexual man, and bands like Placebo for making music without fear, he knows that he can be that for someone else who may still be suffering.
“Over the years that I’ve been writing and putting out music, a lot of people have come up to me and talked to me about how the songs we write have resonated with them on levels that I didn’t even expect,” he said. “So, when planning for this proposal, I really came to a full realization that there could be somebody in the audience like who I was in the audience as a teenager. I would go out to shows, and I’d be a kid alone in the crowd, not sure where my life was going and going through a lot of struggle. That kid might have made different decisions if they knew the person on stage was somebody they could relate to. It really dawned on me that this is a bigger, more important moment for the people around me as well.”
For AMZY, it really comes down to the music and the connection with fans in their live shows that they spend the most time focusing on. Putting on the best show they can and remembering what it’s like to be a fan in the crowd, is what continues to drive their energy and enthusiasm for the music.
“It’s really important to us for people to experience a good show; we know that the music is definitely important, but we want to make it worth it to come out to a show rather than just sit at home and listen to the album,” Johnson said.
“That’s probably been good and bad, because it’s led me to do things like jump on the second story balcony and dance around when I probably shouldn’t. I’ve dove out into the crowd on an inflatable raft and have fallen off quite a few times. So far, no injuries, so that’s good news, but I just want to put on a good show,” he said.