It’s been 20 years since Brian Falduto delivered one of the most iconic lines of the Jack Black-led School of Rock: “You’re tacky and I hate you.” At the time, due to his character Billy’s sass and affinity for fashion, the young actor was quickly labeled by the public as “the gay kid,” despite Falduto having yet to put a label on himself. It took some time, but two decades later, Falduto is embracing not only his queerness, but his lifelong passion for country music.
Earlier this month, he released the debut 8-track album Gay Country, featuring tunes like “Same Old Country Love Song” and “Big Boys Club” that are chock-full of references to Shania Twain, Carrie Underwood and other legends that inspired his artistry. Shortly after its release, PopHorror caught up with Falduto to chat about his road to becoming the artist seen today, the 20-year anniversary for School of Rock and more.
PopHorror: Your album Gay Country has been out for a few days now…how does it feel to have it available for the world to hear?
Brian Falduto: It feels kind of surreal. I mean, I’ve been working on this for almost three years now if you consider the writing, then the plan to record, the actual recording, the plan to release and then the actual releasing. It’s been a while, so it’s exciting that it’s finally out there.
PopHorror: Could you talk a bit more about the creation of the album?
Brian Falduto: Absolutely! I actually went down to Nashville at the start of 2020 to do some co-writing. I had some songwriters that I wanted to work with down there. But then I got to Nashville and there was a giant tornado. And then like a week later, there was COVID in March 2020. So what ended up happening is, I ended up stranded at a friend’s house for most of my Nashville stretch and I did a lot of virtual co-writing. But it worked out regardless because I got a ton of writing done during that time. You know, there wasn’t much I could do or places I could go and I was quarantining.
So yeah, that’s where all these songs were written. But then, with COVID in the air and everything, I didn’t actually get to record them again until October of 2021. And then I was just trying to be really intentional about the way I released them, and I knew I wanted to get a little team together first. It took some time to actually get them out there. Plus, I wanted to release them with the music video like I did, and I wanted all these great visuals with the album artwork and whatnot. I had this vision that I wanted to come to life and it just took some time. I’m an independent artist, so it’s a lot of just pushing it forward on my own.
PopHorror: Can you talk about “Same Old Country Love Song” and the music video for it?
Brian Falduto: I co-wrote it with my friend Thomas McGovern. I’m really proud of the way it came out. It was actually a little harder to write than I expected. I had this general idea of what I wanted to do, and I wanted to just take the song that everyone heard 1,000 times and make it gay, but I didn’t want to do it in a way that was too cliché. I wanted to really honor the format while also sort of calling it out for its lack of queer representation. So it was this blend of taking the things we love about country music, but then I also wanted to be heartfelt and not too cheesy or too parody-esque. It was also finding that blend of letting it feel authentic and earnest.
And then the music video, I think it’s just a testament to where I am as an artist and where I am also as a queer person. It’s one of the first times I just kind of let myself have fun, playing around with different aspects of my queerness and country music, and also sort of tying those two things together in a way that, when I grew up, I didn’t think was possible. The video ties together those elements, but also ties together the whole project and acknowledges some of my influences.
PopHorror: I love that you included the Shania outfit!
Brian Falduto: Oh yeah, we have Shania. We’ve got Carrie Underwood in there, Faith Hill, Willie Nelson, we have a Dolly Parton look which was fun to play around with.
PopHorror: Could you talk about your journey to becoming the country artist that you are today? I understand that this wasn’t an overnight thing for you.
Brian Falduto: No, not really. I grew up listening to country music, Faith Hill’s Breathe album was my first album that I ever owned. I would walk around the house belting the tracks. And then when Carrie Underwood won American Idol, that was when I really started to love the genre because I was a big Idol fan. Then I started watching the award shows and I got into all the different artists like The Chicks, Rascal Flatts, Zac Brown Band. I ended up working in country music radio for my first four years out of college. I went through some personal stuff at the time, and country music was just really there for me in a way that I didn’t expect it to be.
I ended up trying to write my own song sort of therapeutically at first. I eventually shared it with a friend, then a room full of friends and then an audience, and I just got hooked on that idea of writing something and using it as a connective vehicle with other people and finding a shared humanity. Songwriting was an awesome way to validate my internal experience. It took me a long time to find my voice, and when you’re writing a song, you can kind of say things that you wouldn’t normally say in day-to-day dialogue. The song serves as the vehicle for that. So it was a cool way of just putting myself out there authentically for the first time. I was hooked on it and I’ve been doing it ever since. I feel like each step of the way, I just get more bold about it and embrace the queer elements alongside the country elements.
PopHorror: And I feel like the country genre, at least in the past, has gotten a reputation for not being the friendliest toward the LGBTQ+ community.
Brian Falduto: The original LGBTQ representation within the genre, there are stories of people who have lost their careers coming out. So it’s not lost on me that what I’m doing is, well, first of all, I’m privileged to be able to do it at this time because of people who went before me. And also that it’s vulnerable because it is something that’s kind of not widely embraced within that genre.
PopHorror: And I feel like there’s been a shift happening. There was an episode on this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race where Maren Morris was a guest judge, and she actually apologized on behalf of the whole country genre. I thought that was pretty cool.
Brian Falduto: Yes, there’s a whole lane of country artists who are sort of doing this queer thing and embracing the queer thing. But then there’s also sort of the mainstream conversation, which is not acknowledging it, you know. I think the beautiful thing about streaming is that there’s no longer one lane, and so with or without mainstream radio approval, all these queer artists can start coming forward, which I think is pretty cool.
PopHorror: Now Brian, I’d love to chat about School of Rock. Did your time filming that influence you at all, especially being exposed to the entertainment industry at such a young age?
Brian Falduto: I think I just got a really cute idea of what the entertainment industry was like. I was a kid and it was just a magical, entertaining experience. We were treated like royalty as kids. It was also my first professional audition ever, School of Rock. So I think the next 10 years were just about learning how difficult the industry actually is, that it’s not all “first audition you get it” and being treated like royalty all the time. It’s a lot of hard work and it takes a lot of durability. It’s a resilience and you have to keep getting back up and trying, and you have to really love what you’re doing, too, because if you have to do it, you’ll keep doing it. But if you don’t have to do it, you’ll get enough “no’s” and then you’ll stop doing it. That’s kind of what I discovered. I feel like I’ve discovered that I have to do it because I just keep trying.
PopHorror: How old were you in School of Rock?
Brian Falduto: I always give the wrong age. I want to say that we filmed when I was 10 and then it was released when I was 11. That could be slightly inaccurate, but I think that’s correct.
PopHorror: Have you found that your iconic line has stuck with you over the years?
Brian Falduto: Oh gosh, yes. I think there was a Buzzfeed article, like 20 of the most popular GIFs, and that “You’re tacky and I hate you” line was one of them. So yeah, it follows me everywhere, but it’s become a good thing. I think for a long time it was a hard thing and now it’s a good thing.
PopHorror: And I saw that your single got some support from Jack Black on TikTok?
Brian Falduto: Yes, it’s crazy. Not only was I fortunate enough to be in the cult classic film that inspired musicals and Nickelodeon TV show spinoffs and all these things, but the star of it all these years later is supporting my music. I definitely lucked out at a young age, and I think it’s also a testament to how great of an experience filming that was because obviously it’s lodged in Jack Black‘s brain as something important to him because he’s maintaining these connections all these years later. I’m excited for the 20-year reunion, that’ll be fun.
PopHorror: Is there a reunion happening!?
Brian Falduto: I think so…nothing’s official, but there’s been conversations happening.
PopHorror: Very cool. Now if we can shift back to your music career, what do the next couple of months look like for you?
Brian Falduto: Well, the album’s out and this whole weekend I’ve been kind of like, “OK, so now what?” But I do have a conversation for a performance with the Pride festivals and a lot of shows lined up. So it’s probably going to be a lot of performing the album and trying to get out to as many cities and areas as possible. And then I have tons and tons of songs written. I’d love to tackle and maybe try some new styles and, not necessarily leave the country genre, but maybe country as an umbrella term. So experiment with different sounds within that genre and just keep building on my artistry and my storytelling.
The weird thing about all these songs that I’m putting out now is that I wrote them three years ago, so they don’t feel like present-day me as much as the songs that I wrote last week. There’s always this weird lag time with what I’m showing the world and what I’m actually saying in my own head and heart. I’m excited to put out what I’m currently writing.
Thank you, Brian, for chatting with us! Be sure to check out Gay Country on Spotify and YouTube.