Brothers Bright Interview: Nicholas Kirk on songwriting, “Blood on my Name,” and most recent projects

Nicholas Kirk is an emmy-nominated songwriter, producer and composer—he owns and operates Whitestone Motion Pictures with partner Brandon McCormick set against the backdrop of the Appalachian Mountains. 

He also makes up half of the songwriting duo known as The Brothers Bright, a team that has served as the songwriting team for Whitestone Motion Pictures. The duo is best known for their track “Blood On My Name,” which was prominently featured in season 3 of NBC’s The Blacklist

Read on for our interview with Nicholas Kirk, where we take a deep dive into the Brothers Bright, songwriting, the story behind “Blood on my Name,” and his upcoming projects. 

What initially drew you to music and songwriting? 

Nicholas Kirk: Writing was because, I think everyone that starts out playing an instrument—whether you’re in marching band or picking up a guitar—you start practicing and getting better and most of those guys end up doing “how fast can I play and how complicated can I make it.“ I think when I was at Berklee and I went in there the very first day, you walk down the hall to go to your audition and I heard the greatest playing I’d ever heard. I was like “wow, damn, I guess I’m never gonna do that. Maybe I should focus more on songwriting.“ And it was right after that I listened to Brad Paisley say, “if you’re gonna solo all the time, you have to have a song to play over.“ And it kind of blew my mind from a sheer songwriting standpoint. 

What did your musical education look like? 

Kirk: I wanted to go get a degree, I wanted to go to almost a trade school and learn producing and engineering. I was of the generation where your mom and dad were like “you have to get a degree.“ I studied music at UGA for two years and switched to Berklee halfway through because I didn’t want to be a band director. I decided to go study the stuff that was interesting. And, any school that you go to that’s a music college, they usually stop at traditional harmony. Gregorian Chants and then Bach shows up and it starts to turn into where you’re just studying the rules of Bach, which is amazing, but they would never address any 20th century music and that was such a bummer to me. And that was my favorite part about going to Berklee. I remember being in their music theory classes and they used “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,” as an example of how you can have a three major chord, which technically didn’t exist when you study Bach. As you’re trying to learn how to be a writer, so much of it is, specifically in filmmaking, okay, “what emotion are you trying to get across here?“ How do I filter whatever adjective you said into this piece of music? Berklee was super instrumental in helping me put a name to the chords that meant something to me; it’s very much more practical. Berklee was great at the practical side of that, for sure. 

What does your songwriting or creative process look like when tasked with writing for film? 


Kirk: I would say 90 percent of it is the same for anything else. I will be the first one to admit that I am super weird, what we did with Brothers Bright was super weird, Whitestone is often super weird—I don’t know why that’s what’s in us, but it is. So that process whether I’m doing a song for myself or a movie is about the same, the only thing that makes it different in the context of film is “how does this work in the context of the story.“

Can you talk about the song “It’s a Wonderful life,” off of A Song Treasury

Kirk: We did a short film called Consumerism: The Musical and I don’t know what we even were inspired by, but it’s just this guy who’s obsessed with consumerism. He goes around making ridiculous choices, I feel like that’s, especially at the time, and way more now, our country, America makes a lot of terrible choices—I’ll go in debt to be cool, to convince everyone that I’m better than I am with a new house or a new car, and I’m not a big fan of that. We just wanted to be something that was funny and that was over the top on the purpose, to really make sure that you’re hammering home the point that’s parody. 

“Blood On My Name” was a really big track—can you break down the story behind that song and what it looked like to get a song on The Blacklist?


Kirk: We wrote another short, called “Blood on My Name,” and when they contacted me about it—I mean, again, I’m very flattered that you’re asking me these questions but it is funny, we never really set out to do anything. The Brothers Bright never even played one show. I wanted to be a dad; I wanted to be a husband, and the life of a traveling musician is not the most glamorous thing when it comes to peoples’ personal lives. And I just valued being a good husband and father more than trying to go out and find fame and fortune. For whatever reason, making films was something I always wanted to do—we can do this, and I can live here and have children and raise them and if people find it and love the music, all the better, that’s super cool, but I was okay being obscure. When it came to “Blood on my Name,” we just wrote it and put it out because it was the latest thing we did. Some of the films we did had big attraction, “Blood on my Name” was one of the bigger ones. 

We went back and decided to make a feature out of it; for us it was the latest thing we did, never thought anything about it. It was used in a bunch of commercials, HBO picked it up for True Blood—this is the most boring interview and worst advice—I asked them how they found it and they said “oh, we just went on iTunes and typed ‘blood.‘“ So, I’ll take it. When NBC called, their showrunner loved the short, he had seen the short. He kept telling me how influenced they were by “Blood on my Name”—when the episode came out and I finally saw it, there’s a scene where there’s three guys being hung—that was our short. It wasn’t so much that he loved the song; he loved the short and pulled tons of elements from it. And it was very flattering. Once he realized that that episode was heavily influenced by that short film, he reached out and was like “we might as well put the song in there.“ And that’s the beauty of music as a medium; in the way we approach it—you’re not gonna take out “Spoonful of Sugar” from Mary Poppins, but the music we do, you can pluck out a song and it can stand on its own, and that was always a very conscious decision. 

It was cool to hear at the time. I’m concerned with making stuff. I don’t know if that was just the great’s that I always respected would always crap on the industry. “No, man, you put your nose down and make great stuff and if there’s an audience, you’ll find it.“ And I, to a fault, believe in that. It’s been difficult trying to get some stuff out there—while we’ve seen success, it’s only in the fans of the people. There’s no one in the music industry I could call and try to pitch a song to; I’m not in it, it’s not my thing. 

For a lot of artists, music is a therapeutic outlet—in the kind of songwriting you do, with specific intentions or for specific placement in mind, does it still serve that outlet in some way? 


Kirk: The part of me that does music for fun is the guy that sits in bed at night and strums an acoustic guitar while I watch TV. It’s like a security blanket. You just hold it. It means something to me. It is therapeutic (sic), but it’s definitely more served in the making of it—they’re all the same thing; it’s a puzzle and it’s the hardest puzzle to solve. And that is interesting; I like that part and I like being done with it, but the actual making of it, I’m just too impatient. It all exists in my head the second I write it—the act of getting it from my brain to the mp3 is the work I don’t like doing. I want to go to Disney World. I don’t want to drive to Disney World. 

Do you want to explain a bit about your upcoming project? 

Kirk: We have a feature coming out here soon and that one, there’s just nothing like it. I would never tell you it’s any good, but it’s super unique. You’re either gonna love it or hate it. That’s exciting to me in a world where everything starts to get a little homogeneous, we’re way over here. We tell everyone it’s Mary Poppins meets Pulp Fiction, if you can imagine the ridiculousness of the gore of Tarentino but really catchy singable songs. It’s super weird, but I like it. It’s super difficult to rise above the noise, and doing this, making a Southern Gothic musical is just unique and if nothing else will get people to go, “wait, what?“ That’s the idea. Imagine “Blood on my Name,” the film or the song, but an entire feature universe. We’ll see if it’s any good, or if people like it, but it definitely won’t be ignored, I think. 

You can listen to The Brothers Bright here.


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