Jim talks with Brett Young about his debut single, “Sleep Without You,” going No. 1 on the MediaBase chart, his new single, “In Case You Didn’t Know,” working with successful producer Dann Huff on his new self-titled album, growing to love country music while growing up in Southern California and more.
Brett’s new album goes on sale Friday, February 10.
- Brett Young
- Jim Casey, NCD managing editor
Show Links & Notes
- Brett Young’s website
- Watch Brett’s “Sleep Without You” Music Video
- Follow Brett on Twitter
- Follow Brett on Facebook
Jim Casey: Welcome to the first Nash Country Daily’s Writer Room podcast of 2017. I’m your host, Jim Casey. Joining us today is a country artist who ended 2016 with a bang, and I’m sure he hopes to continue that momentum into the new year. Brett Young, welcome to the show.
Brett Young: Thanks so much for having me.
Jim Casey: Brett, you closed 2016, your debut single “Sleep Without You” reaching number one on the Media Base chart. When you released that song in February 2016, did you realize the potential that it had?
Brett Young: You know, that’s a hard question. We knew it was a good song, and we thought we had written something that was a concept that people could connect to and relate to. I also try to really manage my expectations, so I don’t get let down. I would be lying if I said I didn’t hope that it would do that, or have some sort of that success, but I don’t think I ever really believed it was going to go all the way to number one. It was pretty surprising.
Jim Casey: Not a lot of artists get a number one with a debut single like that. It’s pretty amazing.
Brett Young: Yeah, it was very, very humbling and flattering. It made for a really fun 2016.
Jim Casey: Yeah, this country music thing, it’s not so hard, is it?
Brett Young: I know, that’s what we’ve been joking about. “Oh, we just put number one singles. Let’s just only do that.”
Jim Casey: You grew up in California, played baseball in college at Ole Miss, Fresno State. At what point did music start to become a career trajectory for you?
Brett Young: You know, it wasn’t until I hurt my elbow in college and had to have surgery, and baseball was taken off the table, that I went from … In high school, I played guitar and lead worship a little bit, I went to a Christian school. Never really thought about it as a career. Then, when baseball was taken away it was like, “I got to figure out something that I’m passionate about.” The only thing that I really love as much as sports is music. I just started playing and singing again. I found a Gavin DeGraw record, Chariot, his first record. I went, “Man, he’s such a cool songwriter. I think I want to write songs.” It was this weird hybrid of only listening to country music, but wanting to write songs like Gavin DeGraw. It took me a bunch of years to figure out what the hybrid between those two things were. I guess I was 22 years old when I started pursuing music as a career.
Jim Casey: At what point did you decide that Nashville was the place for you?
Brett Young: I was visiting quite a bit about four years ago, made a record here at Blackbird, independently. I was meeting a lot of people that I really enjoyed and that I wanted to work with. I started to notice, in this town, you got to be here to get your foot in those doors and to get in those writers’ rooms. I tried to do it by coming in from L.A. every so often and set up writes, and it just wasn’t enough. After about a year of back and forth, I realized I needed to be here.
Jim Casey: West coast guy moving to the heart of Tennessee in Nashville, what was the biggest thing that you had to get acclimated to, moving here?
Brett Young: I was really worried about having some sort of culture shock, so I made sure I put myself in an apartment right downtown, where I could walk to things. The weather’s different, but it wasn’t that bad. I think the thing that I really needed to get used to was how many talented people there are here. I was intimidated all the time and it was something I had to talk myself out of. Just because everybody’s really good doesn’t mean you can’t go have success. It took a while, probably the first year, for me to get comfortable with being myself and putting myself out there, around all these talented people.
Jim Casey: You’ve got a number one single under your belt, nice feather in your cap. No more intimidation for you. You’ve got a new single out, it’s called “In Case You Didn’t Know.” It’s turning into a wedding song for folks. When you sat down and wrote that, was that the intent? Did you know it was going to tug at the heartstrings like that?
Brett Young: You know, when it was done being written, I think we all looked at each other and went, “I think that’s a wedding song.” In the process of writing the song, it was more about wanting to write something that everybody could relate to. In a way, I think men are really bad at saying I love you. It’s strange because women need to hear it all the time. We were just talking about how, as a guy, you got to remind yourself to say it. Even if you feel like you’re saying it too much, maybe it comes out like, “Hey, you know I love you, right?” or, “Hey, in case you didn’t know, I love you.” I think we just wanted to keep it really simple and down the middle so that everybody that listened to the song could make it there story. In the process, we accidentally stumbled on a wedding song.
Jim Casey: Yeah. Your self-titled debut album comes out February 10. It’s 12 songs, 11 of which you co-wrote. For a debut album, was it important for you to do all that writing, to give folks a glimpse about who you are and what we can expect from you?
Brett Young: I’m glad that it turned out that way but it wasn’t because I wanted to write the whole record. It was just because the goal of the record, for me, was to have a lot of myself, so that when people listened, they’re getting to know me. Every time we looked at outside songs, there were a ton of great songs but the feeling was always like, “It doesn’t sound like something I’d say.” In the process of trying to be really honest and genuine, it just turned out that the songs that I was writing were the right songs for the project.
Jim Casey: We listened to the album a couple times yesterday. It seems like, between the 12 songs, you’re either falling in love or falling out of love. You’ve got love songs on there like “Close Enough” and “Olivia May, Making Me Say,” as well as what I consider breakup songs like “Mercy,” “You Ain’t Here to Kiss Me,” and “Like I Love You.” It seems like you’re doing one of the two things on the album. That’s my interpretation.
Brett Young: Yeah. I think, for me, those are the easiest songs to write because it’s just straight from personal experience. I think everybody’s felt both of those. Everybody’s been in love, everybody’s had heartbreak. We noticed that, when we put that together, the 12 songs that would make the record that we liked, there’s not a party song on this record. I’ve written a ton of party songs and not that there’s anything wrong with that. I think, in trying to tell my story and let people get to know me, it seemed like we should talk about things that I’ve lived.
Jim Casey: Dann Huff produced the album. He’s worked with a who’s who of stars from Keith Urban and Faith Hill to Thomas Rhett. Was this your first … Obviously, it’s your debut album, so this was your first opportunity to work with Dan, I assume.
Brett Young: It was. It was such a mind-blowing experience because he’s a legend, already, in his own time. I went in scared of two things. Just nervous to be around him, because he’s such a talented, accomplished person. Also because I’m thinking, “He’s Dann Huff, I’m nobody. Who am I that he would want to make this record?” He couldn’t be more humble, down to earth. He has every reason to take the songs and do whatever he wants with them because that’s what he does so well. Instead, at every turn, he was checking in with me to make sure I was happy. He is just one of the coolest, most talented people I’ve ever worked with and met.
Jim Casey: We mentioned earlier that you grew up in California. It seems like there are a lot of talented artists coming out of that state right now, from Cam and Jon Pardi, then obviously legends who have come from that state, Merle Haggard and guys like Gary Allan, then transfers like Dwight Yoakam, who moved there. What’s going on in California right now where we’re getting this influx of all these talented youngsters?
Brett Young: I know, it’s a funny thing. When I was growing up, I was listening to country music, but it wasn’t really a thing yet in California, or at least in southern California. I was the only one of my friends that was listening to country music. I think there’s such an explosion of country music all over the country right now that now I go home and visit, all my friends are listening to country music. When I was a kid, my sister hated it. Now she’s probably the biggest country music fan I know. I think, for kids growing up in southern California that maybe didn’t think it made sense to pursue country music as a career, all of a sudden, country music’s taken over the world, including the west coast. Maybe it’s just opened doors that way.
Jim Casey: Yeah. In addition to your debut single going number one in 2016, you had a pretty busy year touring. You got to go out with Brad Paisley.
Brett Young: That was fun, yeah. It was a less conventional tour, I guess, because the shows were geared around college football games. I’m a big sports fan so that made it a lot of fun too. Also, just what a cool guy. So cool to learn from, so hospitable, humble, and kind.
Jim Casey: A renowned prankster. Did he get you with anything?
Brett Young: He didn’t. I heard that about him. I think we got lucky because we weren’t doing consecutive dates. We would meet up for a show a weekend, and I didn’t have a tour bus for that since it was fly dates. I think I got lucky. I don’t think he had the opportunity like he might have wanted to.
Jim Casey: You’ve got a lot of dates coming up in 2017 on tour, starting, I guess, in a couple of days as well as you’re going out with Justin Moore and Lee Brice for a couple of dates on their American Made tour in February. What’d you learn from Brad that you’re going to take with you on that tour and in the future?
Brett Young: I think aside from him being an incredible singer, performer, songwriter, I think the thing that I really learned and that I’m going to take away is the way that I was treated and my whole team was treated, from his tour manager all the way down the line, to the guys that were helping with sound every night. Everybody was so helpful. At that stage, it would be really easy to just be on the bus, not be involved, and let your opener go play his songs. From the very bottom up, everybody was giving Brad a good reputation every single night. I sat down with my team, my band right after that and I said, “Guys, look at this. The way that they do this, it’s incredible and we need to make sure that we’re doing this every night. Everybody that has an experience with us is having a positive experience.” I think it was important for me to learn that early from him, because I’m going to take it with me down the road.
Jim Casey: The new self-titled album comes out February 10. What do you want people to take away from it?
Brett Young: It was like I was saying with the songwriting thing. I hope that when people listen to this record, they feel like they’re getting a little bit of insight into who I am. So that when they’re coming out to a show, they’re not just coming to hear music but they’re coming to have an experience and hang out with somebody they feel like they’ve gotten to know, through my songs.
Jim Casey: Check out BrettYoungMusic.com for tour dates and be sure to pick up a copy of his self-titled album, out February 10. Available for pre-order now. Brett, thanks for stopping by.
Brett Young: Thanks so much. Appreciate it.
Jim Casey: Thanks for your time, man.
Brett Young: Of course, man. Thank you so much.
Jim Casey: Yep.
The Writers Room, Ep. 52, 11 minutes
photo courtesy BMLG