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BACKSTORY: On the heels of his first Emmy nod, Braun is making the most of his pandemic-forced break from shooting Succession by way of his debut single
FROM: Born in Bethpage, N.Y., Braun is based in New York City
YOU MIGHT KNOW HIM FROM: Acclaimed HBO series Succession, in which he stars as the goofy, yet deceptively shrewd “Cousin Greg” Hirsch
NOW: Working on an “Antibodies” compilation EP, and soon to appear in Janicza Bravo’s much-anticipated A24 feature Zola
Long before he broke out as a fan-favorite member of the Succession ensemble, Nicholas Braun was making music. “It’s a love of mine that I’ve had my whole life, since I was very young,” he tells me. “I was playing piano as a kid, I was singing, and I’ve been writing songs for a while. I just mostly keep them hidden away.” That changed definitively with the late-July release of “Antibodies (Do You Have The),” a tongue-in-cheek charity single about the challenges of finding love in the time of COVID-19—not to mention Braun’s major-label debut, which counts the likes of Sia, Mark Ronson, and Dawes among its admirers.
“Antibodies” began as more of a cabin fever–inspired comedy bit than a full-fledged song. In an early-May Instagram video, Braun delivered the chorus (“Do you have the antibodies? / Do you wanna be with me? / Do you have the antibodies? / ’Cause if you don’t, you better stay away!”) in a playful, Johnny Rotten–esque a cappella, half-jokingly inviting any musically inclined followers to set it to instrumentation. “I definitely didn’t intend to make this song when I put my first Instagram video out,” Braun recalls. “I just had this chorus and thought it was funny, and there’s some reality to it.”
The reality in question? Braun, quarantined in a friend’s Los Angeles guest house, found himself longing for a romantic connection while stymied by the coronavirus. “We’ve had to reframe how we are with humans,” Braun says of the emotional drive behind the song. “If you come within six feet, I have to do a different thing now. You know, if you don’t have the antibodies, I have to be fearful of you.” Finding love was difficult enough before a global pandemic rewrote the rules of how we interact with one another.
That sentiment, as well as Braun’s appeal to the artistry of a cooped-up audience, clearly resonated—his video quickly went viral, inspiring fan renditions of all kinds, some of which Braun signal-boosted to his Instagram followers. As the song continued to take on a life of its own, Braun realized he had tapped into a rich vein of creativity: “I probably got over 150 videos from people. Some people sent multiple videos of different renditions. I think a lot of people were excited to make some music and get their brain firing in that way.” He soon shared more lyrics and set up an email address, committing to the bit with just one caveat: “The whole thing felt like, ‘Well, I’m just gonna keep this going as long as people want to keep it going. As long as it feels easy.”
“We’ve had to reframe how we are with humans. If you come within six feet, I have to do a different thing now. You know, if you don’t have the antibodies, I have to be fearful of you.”
Even when his bit began to blossom into a reality after Atlantic Records took notice of “Antibodies,” Braun kept that same energy. He recalls, “This A&R guy from Atlantic Records DM’d me, and he was like, ‘I know this is kind of funny, but I actually really like that bridge and that second verse, and the chorus is stuck in my head. Do you want to make this song?’” Teaming with pop-punk hitmaker Colin Brittain, Braun turned “Antibodies” into an infectious banger, and the song of a summer like no other, with proceeds from streaming, music video views, and merch (including face masks) benefiting Partners in Health and the COPE Program, a pair of organizations working to support at-risk communities during the pandemic.
Though it’s entirely different from the solo tracks he’s shared sparingly via SoundCloud in the past (“Normally, I’m in an R&B, electronic kind of zone,” he notes), Braun sees the success of “Antibodies” as an opportunity: “When you’re trying to be an actor, it’s tough to be like, ‘Hey, I also do this thing! Will you accept me as this other thing?’ It’s a hard kind of redirect for people. Putting this song out and being able to make this when I can’t film, it’s just felt like the right time to make music. I would love to put out some more stuff.”
That includes more “Antibodies”: Atlantic plans to release various covers of the single, then collect them on an EP later this year. “We’re working on that now,” says Braun. “I don’t wanna say too much, because we’re not sure where it’s headed, but we’re reaching out to some bands and talking to some people about alternate versions.”
As much as it has Braun looking forward to the future, “Antibodies” is, at its core, an effort to deal with the overwhelming here and now, both by coping through comedy and helping to combat the COVID-19 pandemic—a crisis that has affected Braun personally. His 81-year-old father Craig contracted the virus in early March, which Braun says “made it very real for me very early on. I definitely could have lost my dad to it. And luckily he survived, but there are people in my life that I have lost, and that’s the foundation of my understanding of what this is.”
The gravity of the situation didn’t prevent “Antibodies” from being funny: “(Please!) Can you find a testing site? / (Please!) Before you spend the night?” he shouts in the bridge, imploring his would-be lover to stay safe. “I think that that is my way into comedy, generally,” he says. “I want there to be jokes, I want it to be disarmingly funny, but at the core of it, I want it to be an earnest thing. I want there to be some truth behind it, and the way that I played it in that video, hopefully you sense that there’s real craving for that human connection.”
Despite our uncertain times, Braun’s future looks bright. He’ll soon appear in A24’s Zola, itself based on a viral social media story. “It’s a really cool, really special movie. It’s hilarious and dark, and weird, and uncomfortable,” he says.
September brings the Emmys, where he’s up for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. When I ask about his master plan to EGOT, he humbly quips, “Lots of people have been saying EGOT. I didn’t even expect the ‘E’ to be a part of the equation.” And in the fall, the third season of Succession is tentatively set to resume shooting. Music-wise, Braun dreams of having a chance to “just go crazy on a stage” someday, if and when touring as we know it can safely resume, and he’s sitting on “a bunch” of unreleased songs that suddenly have an audience. “They’re, like, 90 percent finished, and I just sort of don’t release them,” he says. “So maybe it’s time to do that.” FL