Penn Hills native Tommy Brown is up for Grammys for work with Ariana Grande, Chris Brown | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Penn Hills native Tommy Brown is up for Grammys for work with Ariana Grande, Chris Brown

"I'm not going to the Grammys until I'm nominated for Song of the Year."

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"She was in Rodney Jerkins' girl group [Purple Reign], and of course we became fond of each other," Brown recalls. "I had sent her some tracks when I was staying in Pittsburgh for six months, and she wrote a song, and I'm like, ‘Yo, you're a crazy writer!' And I told Rodney, ‘She's a great writer!' And she wrote stuff for Diddy-Dirty Money, and we did four songs on [Shontelle's album No Gravity], and we decided to branch out from just working with [Jerkins] to form our own team. We're writing for everybody now."

Brown and Monet's biggest success of late has been with Ariana Grande; they wrote a song on her debut album in 2013, and last year had two tracks, including the title track, on Grande's Grammy-nominated follow-up, My Everything. (Brown and Monet also wrote on "Drunk Texting," a track on Chris Brown's Grammy-nominated album X.)

It's an interesting setup, especially given that while Brown is generally satisfied behind the scenes, Monet is a singer in addition to being a writer. She says it works, though.

"It'd be easy for me to want to keep all my songs and not give any of them away. But I have the ability to write a lot of different kinds of songs, so not every song is for Victoria Monet as an artist. It's nice to be able to give someone something you wrote and were able to feel, and kind of see them translate it into their own version."

Plus, there are certain things a singer can take away from watching other singers interpret her songs.

"Working with a bunch of artists, you get to learn their processes, and I also work as a vocal coach," Monet explains. "I'll be in the studio with the artist helping them with their vocals, and it teaches me a lot about myself.

Brown and Monet are now operating out of a big house outside of L.A., where they invite artists to come and work on tracks.

"I used to have a studio, but I moved out of the studio, because it's smarter to just have a huge house," Brown explains. "I'll have my producers and writers coming in and working on these projects. I might have three working rooms of production and writing. I'm executive-producing Amber Riley's project, so I'll have her in there, I'll have Ariana, T.I., different artists working in my main room while other people are working in the other rooms — all building this brand, which is gonna be huge this summer."

click to enlarge Victoria Monet and Tommy Brown
Victoria Monet, Tommy Brown's writing partner and girlfriend

For all the temptation and excess that comes with working in the entertainment industry, especially living and working in L.A., Brown and Monet right now are focused on working hard and smart.

"I want to stay far away from what anybody else is doing," Brown says. "I moved the camp, like, 30 minutes away from where anybody is, and we just work here. No distractions, no ‘Hey, I'm gonna go run to the movies.'"

The other key, Brown says: working together.

"People always try to separate you; it's like divide and conquer: ‘Yo, Victoria, you gotta go work over here; Tommy, you gotta produce over here, this is what's gonna make you bigger.' At the end of the day, they didn't tell Missy [Elliott], ‘Hey, Missy, you gotta go work with Pharrell.' No, Missy worked with Timbaland, which made one of the biggest production-writing duos, to me, in history."

Monet says she and Brown don't encounter may of the pitfalls some associate with working together with your romantic partner; despite spending basically all of their time together, she says they're as happy as ever.

"He's getting back into rapping, and I did a hook for him," she says by way of example. "And people can just tell, just by us being on the same song, that there's a certain vibe there, and I think it's dope."

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