Nourished By Time: “I always knew it was possible to have this success, but I honestly thought I was gonna get it when I was like 50”

An underground R&B star takes his experimental sound to New York City

At the beginning of 2023, not many people could have predicted that in a matter of months Nourished By Time, the musical alias of Baltimore based Marcus Brown, would be one of the artists dominating the year’s Best Of lists, with his record Erotic Probiotic 2 (released through DIY London based label Scenic Route) selected by Pitchfork, Fader, Stereogum and Paste – not to mention this very publication – as a favourite. Brown’s star had been quietly ascending: his sets supporting Dry Cleaning on their US run last January got rave reviews, he featured on the latest Yaeji record, and tracks such as 2020’s ‘The Rainwater Promise’ and 2022’s ‘The Wall’ started to crop up on tastemaking playlists and NTS shows. By the time Erotic Probiotic 2 came out in April, the buzz was getting louder still, but it was an album that warranted (and far exceeded) the hype, marrying the catchiest of melodies with distinctly off-kilter production and Brown’s smooth, almost croonerish vocal. It’s a hard sound to pin down – Oneohtrix Point Never perhaps described it best as “Arthur Russell meets Daft Punk but deep R&B,” telling The New Yorker that Brown’s is the “only new music I absolutely swear is next level.”

Speaking to me in December from his home in Baltimore, in a brief break from touring with Vagabon, Brown is reflecting on his whirlwind year. “I haven’t had much time to really process anything that’s happening,” he says with a laugh. “I’m super grateful for it all. But it’s also happening pretty rapidly. I’ve got a booking agent – I’ve got TWO booking agents!” He’s excitable, goofy even, but also extremely eloquent, and in talking to him it becomes clear that his meteoric rise is far from accidental. “I always knew it was possible to have this success,” he says, “but I honestly thought I was gonna get it when I was like 50.”

Growing up, Brown’s parents were big lovers of music, in particular his bass-playing father, who he says “loves music more than anyone I know – his attention to detail, the way he listens to music, is so insane, it’s really cool to see. And then from my mom, I get my love for pop music and really listenable music – my dad is more like avant garde and jazz, so I have both of those in me. I think it’s really fun to challenge both, and kind of use them to validate each other.”

Now 28, in his late teens he left Baltimore to study at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music (other alumni include Big Thief, St Vincent and Arooj Aftab), having started playing guitar just a few years prior. Whereas making music had always come easily to him, he struggled with the didactic nature of the courses at Berklee. “I wasn’t very good at anything that required me to sit in a classroom and pay attention, but I was good at the songwriting classes. It was a very Taylor Swift-, John Mayer-, Bruno Mars-based program, and I remember very distinctly trying to piss the teacher off every time I wrote a song: I was trying to either do the exact opposite of what the teacher asked for or, like, do something that I knew they wouldn’t like. I was just trying to challenge that – like, what if we wrote about something really weird?” Only Pat Pattison, a professor specialising in lyric writing, appreciated his approach. “He encouraged me to be weird, just as long as it sounded good. He let me write songs about drinking Drano [a brand of chemical drain cleaner] and falling in love with mannequins and shit.”

Some of those songs still exist in the depths of Bandcamp under aliases like Riley With Fire and Mother Marcus, but these days Brown takes a slightly more considered approach to writing. “I’m constantly changing the way I write, but I feel like now I’m more conscious of certain things… because this is a song that I’ll have to perform forever maybe, so I have to be a little bit thoughtful. I want to be known as a good writer. I try to write songs that I would want to hear and that I think the world needs. As an artist, I realised that I can add to the conversation, which is pretty cool.”

A quick glance at Brown’s brilliant, stream-of-conscious X/Twitter account shows his willingness to add to the conversation. It’s refreshingly opinionated, on everything from music and politics to fashion and social issues, in a time where a lot of artists’ social media accounts are expertly managed to the point of being devoid of personality or wit. Does he worry he might have to start censoring it as his audience grows? “I already don’t put my real true thoughts on Twitter,” he says, “it’s just me kind of messing around. If it’s anything political, like me feeling a certain way or just being a leftist or a socialist, then I’m already aware there’s a ceiling there for me because I’m not a capitalist. I will say no to certain things because of who I am. And I think it’s important as I hopefully get more successful that I don’t lose the core of who I am just to make more money.”

That’s not to say he doesn’t have aspirations. As we enter 2024, Brown plans to move to New York, get an apartment with a friend and grow a strong creative network there. “That’s mostly what I’m focused on right now – building a community of people I can rely on and that can rely on me.” Longer term, his goals are equally simple, if a tad bizarre. “I just want certain things, like I want to be able to buy a house, I want to have fun, I want, like, a pet fox,” he deadpans. “You never know how it’s gonna happen. In a way it’s kind of happening exactly how I want it to happen. Like, the people who I want to sign to are the people who are wanting to sign me and the people who are liking the music are the people who I want to like the music; people who are reflections of me in all types of ways, which is really cool. I think that’s all I can hope for. And even if it stops tomorrow, I’m super grateful for it all.”

Photography by Micah E Wood