ADAM Brand lived a fairytale. But now he is starting to think it might have been a nightmare.
Whatever it was, it began the day the country music star's wildest dreams came true.
One fateful morning in 2009, Sony Nashville gave Brand a golden ticket to US stardom. On the afternoon of that same day, he took a gig that would introduce him to the love of his life.
For two heady years, Brand had everything one man could want. But it was too much. It was as if these blessings burned so hot in his hands, he couldn't hold on.
First, he lost his marriage. And then, in his heartbreak, he let Nashville slip through his fingers.
Fewer than three years after Brand had it all, he had nothing. He found himself sitting alone and miserable in a $60-a-night Gold Coast hovel wondering what the hell went wrong.
"In both hands, I had everything I had ever dreamed about," he said.
"It was too much, so everything went away."
Until his late 20s, Adam Brand was Adamo Alberto Bruno, a part-Sicilian dental technician living in Perth, whose interest in country music came after a teen passion for Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp.
He wasn't, he says, a particularly good musician or singer. But he was a natural "show off" and when he was 27 years old, he threw a few bags in his ute and drove across the Nullarbor to have a crack at a career on the stage.
Eighteen months later, he won three Golden Guitars at the 1999 Tamworth Country Music Awards and his career was set.
It took another 20 years for Brand to decide to have a shot at the country capital of the world, Nashville.
He did a demo, flew over, met a few people, and a few weeks later, was invited back to do a full showcase for Sony.
The next day, he was offered a ticket to the stars.
The company's chief executive told him that Sony would invest whatever resources necessary to get him to number one in the US. Go home, they said, tie up loose ends, and at the beginning of the following year, move your life to Nashville.
"It was crazy," he said.
"Once you are plugged into that machine, all these door start opening up. I had a meeting with Doc McGhee, who manages Kiss, and he said, 'I want to manage you'."
On the same day Brand was offered a record deal, he received an email invitation to become a contestant on Channel Seven's Dancing With the Stars.
It felt like small fry by comparison, but he had some time to kill until the New Year, so "I said yeah, okay, I'll do it".
Brand's head was firmly in Nashville when he was introduced to his pretty dancing partner Jade Hatcher, who was then 19, and 20 years his junior.
But dance has a way of casting its spell, and soon Brand's mind focused less on Nashville, and more on Hatcher.
"The way I can describe it, is we relied on each other and became real friends," he said.
"We just fell in love, we fell madly, head over heels in love."
When Brand departed for Nashville in early 2010, Hatcher went with him, and they married six months later.
It was his third marriage; the other two had been in his 20s and 30s, but this was the one he sung to the rooftops, the kind of love he had never felt before.
"You meet someone and you click," says Brand.
"You can slow the process down and be careful and cautious and you can do all those things. You can deny it, you can fudge it, but it was happening.
"It gets to a point where you just make a decision that no matter what happens, no matter what career things, you can't do life without that person."
The Sony Nashville juggernaut was like nothing Brand had ever experienced. His first promotional photo shoot cost tens of thousands of dollars, more than any of his previous albums.
Sony hired a film crew to shoot footage of his time in Nashville, planning to air it as a six-part series on CMT (Country Music Television).
He spent every week for five months on a radio tour; he would visit radio stations across the country with a Sony executive, performing to program and music directors in the hope they would put his singles on their play lists when they were finally released.
He estimates they visited 100 stations.
"The success rate of that promo tour was through the roof," Brand remembers.
"The ground over there was so fertile. I was ready, I was finally ready, I knew what I was doing, I felt confident, the record company was behind me, I had fantastic management.
"For all intents and purposes, it was the perfect scenario to launch and go."
In 2011, Sony nominated Brand as one of a handful of new faces to support megastar Taylor Swift on a tour of the United States.
"On the first show of the tour, there was a package of pumpkin bread with a handwritten note [from Swift], saying 'welcome to the tour, I baked you some pumpkin bread'."
He met Swift a few times - "she was sweet," he says - but spent more time driving around stadiums in a golf buggy with her dad. Travelling from town to town, he had his own fully decked-out tour bus, complete with roadies.
"In Australia, we go to the baggage carousel, pick up our guitars, wheel them out to the Tarago and drive to Dubbo," he laughs.
It was head-spinning, but Brand didn't feel out of his depth. He was 40 years old, and had been around a long time.
"Was it blowing my mind? Not really. I knew what it was about, I enjoyed it, but it didn't make me giddy."
Amid all of this, however, Brand was trying to build a marriage with a young woman barely out of her teens.
They found an apartment, which Brand paid for - Sony's largesse didn't extend that far - and he tried to straddle stardom on one hand, and a love bubble on the other.
"I had this amazing new love which to me was the biggest and strongest thing I have ever encountered in my life, and also this career starting there. Everything was new, we were finding our feet. In a way it could be good for a new couple, but ultimately it probably wasn't," Brand said.
"It was probably premature to start a new marriage and a new career in a new country all at the same time."
As his career was launching, his marriage was dying. By the end of 2010, the couple had separated. He won't go into details of the decay - he doesn't blame it on the age difference, or long separations.
He will only say this: "It was all too much. Too big. Too much. Too many things changing, too many things different. If I could do things differently, I wouldn't expect so much from someone."
Asked whether Brand would have turned down Nashville for Hatcher, he nods, his eyes filling but he won't say whether he still loves her.
"It's not even a question I entertain now," he says, quietly.
Brand called Sony and asked if he could be released from his contract.
"I never went back," he says.
"I haven't been back to this day. It couldn't have been a stronger, more perfect set-up, but I realised that without someone by my side, I didn't want it."
He had released one single there, Ready for Love, which made the charts. Everything else was shelved.
He didn't have to repay Sony's investment.
"I would hate to think how much that would be," he said.
"It would be over a million bucks."
Brand went back to the Gold Coast, renovating his shack alone by day, staring at the wall of a cheap Gold Coast hotel by night.
"I felt like a complete and utter failure," he said.
"I felt everything I touched turned to dirt. Being unable to keep a marriage together which was the most amazing love story ever, unable to keep a record deal together that looked like it was written as a fairy tale.
"I was like a little hermit. I lost my confidence in everything - as a man, as a husband, as a brother, a friend, a performer - everything. Suddenly you are no good to man or beast."
He still did the occasional tour to pay the bills, but his heart wasn't in it - he'd lost his swagger.
He faked it okay, but felt he was cheating people. Some fans saw through it, and occasionally one would put their hand on his shoulder and say, 'mate, it's going to be okay'.
Once he'd finished the house, he re-grouped long enough to begin a restaurant chain, Brandy's.
That failed too. He hit rock bottom.
"Everything that happened had been emotionally disastrous, financially disastrous, humiliating and public."
Brand's depression was long and deep. It was never medicated, he never felt like ending everything, but was difficult, and painful.
It has taken five years for Brand to be ready to tell the real story behind the end of his marriage and his Nashville dream, and he is doing it in the hope it will help someone, because he knows that his experience of heartbreak and depression is not unusual - there are people across Australia feeling exactly the same way.
"One day I woke up and there were so many things that were going wrong," he said.
"I just had to find a reason to keep going.
"I found it in my music, which was there all along. In the rubble, I still had what I had before. And that's special, too."
Adam Brand performs at the West Tamworth League Club on Saturday at 1.30pm. His new album Get On Your Feet is out February 10.
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