BY DANIELLE PAQUETTE
Bloomington native Brice Fox stands barefoot in a Los Angeles recording studio, bobbing his fashionably shaggy blond head, contemplating how to best sound drunk. “Don’t belt it like Mariah,” says his producer. “Slur this a little. Like you’re in a bar.”
On this Friday evening, as friends text him about a birthday party in Hollywood, Fox sips only from a water bottle. His worn flip-flops, kicked off hours ago, rest near the doorway. His MacBook Pro silently plays an Indiana University men’s basketball game.
It’s a common scene for the 26-year-old singer — indicative of the life he has built here since leaving Bloomington, his beloved hometown and college town, two years ago. He’s still casual, free-spirited, funny — half of the IU duo who created and performed the Hoosier banger “This Is Indiana,” which, to date, has garnered more than two million plays on YouTube since its launch in January 2011 and is still played nightly in many downtown bars.
Now, after releasing in July his first pop album Okay, Hello on iTunes, Fox is intensely deal-driven. He strives to sell songs to the likes of Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, and Miley Cyrus. But first he must catch the rest of the world’s attention.
The pressure to stay svelte for photo shoots and music videos has introduced kale, for example, into the former Phi Delta Theta fraternity brother’s diet. (In the past year, he lost almost 40 pounds.) And despite the lights and buzz of L.A., he sometimes gets homesick. He misses the Assembly Hall insanity, the Kilroy’s bartenders sliding him free drinks, the campus where everyone knows his name.
“Okay,” Fox says, hands over his mouth. “Drunk. I’ll put a muffler on it.” Tonight, he’s recording an acoustic ballad. It calls for a sing-along part, he says — the kind where whoever is standing around the recording studio joins in, screaming the words like tipsy, high-fiving buddies on a karaoke stage. “I said I’m sor-ray,” Fox starts, fake-slurring into the microphone, “It’ll never be eas-ay.” His first thought, swaying there, eyes shut, screaming: I hope this doesn’t sound stupid. His second: This might be it. The best song yet. The big break.
Life in Bloomington
Fox attended Bloomington High School North, played baseball, and practiced the tenor sax. He often locked himself in his room, blasting Boyz II Men or the Backstreet Boys on his iPod. At 17, he produced a mock hip-hop album on his family’s computer. “I wanted to pass it out to my friends to make them laugh,” Fox says, “but it spread around.”
He joined a band and sang at Rhino’s Youth Media Center on South Walnut. At IU, he performed O.A.R. covers with his fraternity brothers. One day, practicing for the 2010 “Big Man on Campus” variety show, Fox, a sophomore, met junior Daniel Weber, a singer from Northbrook, Illinois. The pair’s first YouTube collaboration, “The IU Anthem,” was a social media hit. “Union Board contacted us and asked, ‘You guys want to do another video? A basketball video?’”
Flash forward: On December 10, 2011, after Coach Tom Crean’s Hoosiers beat top-ranked Kentucky in a buzzer-beater upset, students flooded the streets of East Kirkwood and danced atop cars for the ESPN cameras. In the background was Fox and Weber’s “This Is Indiana” chorus: “We’ve got banners on the wa-a-all. And this is how we ba-a-all.”
“That’s when it really took off,” Fox says. “Everything changed.”
He graduated and promptly moved to L.A. But there were moments of doubt. “I wondered, ‘Should I stay close to my family? Settle down? What if this doesn’t work out?’”
Life in L.A.
At home, with blinds shut to block out unseasonable heat, Fox studies photos from his most recent music video shoot. The song, “Sweet Serenity,” is about an improbable love. In the frames, he sports a gray muscle shirt and suspenders. A woman with curly blond hair pins him to a couch. “Oh yes,” he says, examining the stills, “This is gonna be hot.”
Fox’s white Hollywood house with barred windows is next door to a retirement home and four blocks from rainbow graffiti, neon-light psychics, and the $1,000 jeans of Melrose Avenue. He shares it with Weber, who moved west a year ago, and Macgregor Leo, a music producer from Connecticut who swam at IU. Monthly rent is $800, a bargain.
Fox sells songs to TV shows and films — most notably, American Pie: Reunion. He raised about $7,000 on Kickstarter to fund his iTunes album and has been pushing the tracks — his informal songwriting portfolio — to music blogs.
This pays the bills. For now. He’s pursuing his dream, his calling, a steady gig where he could write songs for artists all day, every day. On his iPhone are more than two hundred melodies, which he records as voice memos whenever the inspiration hits him, be it in bar bathrooms or Whole Foods.
The “Sweet Serenity” video, shot at a friend’s grandparent’s beach house, was an acting gig that felt natural, Fox says. The blonde woman, the star, is actually a ghost. She’s alluring, elusive, nearly impossible to catch and hold.
A metaphor for fame.
But he chases her anyway.