Interview: Brett Young Channels ‘a Lot of Love and a Lot of Hurt’ Into Debut Album
On Friday (Feb. 10), Brett Young released his eponymous freshman album. The 12-track record (available on Amazon and iTunes), which comes a year after the singer’s self-titled EP, includes Young’s debut single, “Sleep Without You,” which has become a No. 1 hit for the artist.
Young is currently serving as an opening act for Luke Bryan, on Bryan’s Kill the Lights Tour, and will join Lady Antebellum on their You Look Good World Tour, which kicks off on May 26 in Bakersfield, Calif. The up-and-comer recently sat down with The Boot to discuss his new record, his songwriting and which artist recently made a major impact on his career.
How would you describe Brett Young?
This album, for me, is one of the most special things I’ve gotten to do since I’ve been in music, because I was able to take every song I’ve ever written and then choose the ones that I think are the best reflection of me. I think, a lot of times, it’s a goal, when you’re making a record, to have a common theme throughout, that tells the same story for 12 songs, in just different parts of it; I kind of wanted to do that at first, until I realized that I had the opportunity to pick the songs that were most important to me, and my focus kind of shifted.
So, I think, at this point now, this record is as clear of a picture of me as I can make with 12 songs — a lot of the heartbreak that I’ve been through in my life is in there, and a lot of the happiest, best things that have happened to me in my life is in there. There’s a lot of love and a lot of hurt. But in all of it, people listening to this record have an opportunity to kind of get to know me through music.
Why was it important to you to write most of the record?
I didn’t go into it trying to write the whole record; in fact, there were a bunch of outside songs that we considered. And, through the process, because the songs that I was writing were so personal, taking an outside song didn’t seem to sound like me, because it didn’t seem to mesh with the other songs that were already making the record.
I think the reason that it ended up being 11 of the 12 that I wrote on wasn’t because it was important to me that I wrote them; it was important to me that they sounded like me, because it was so important that, when people were listening, they felt like they were getting a glimpse into me and my life. And so, I’m happy — so happy — to be a writer on that many songs on the record, but I don’t think I’ll ever be the guy that needs that, as long as the best song is making the record.
Your debut single, “Sleep Without You,” landed at the top of the charts, which isn’t very common for a first single. Were you surprised by that?
I am extremely surprised by it. I don’t think anybody puts out a song hoping it won’t do that; that’s obviously the goal, that a song will have as much success as it can.
I say this all the time: I’ve always been really good at managing my expectations so that I’m not let down. But it’s hard, when it gets inside Top 20, and then it gets inside [Top] 10; it’s hard to not look at the chart and go, “Okay, can this thing go? I want this thing to go.”
But, every single move that it made on the charts was surprising to me, because you just don’t expect this to happen with your first single. So it was a pleasant surprise, but surprising to me nonetheless.
"This record is as clear of a picture of me as I can make with 12 songs — a lot of the heartbreak that I’ve been through in my life is in there, and a lot of the happiest, best things that have happened to me in my life is in there. There’s a lot of love and a lot of hurt."
When you released your EP last year, few people knew who you were. How has your life changed since then?
That year, after the EP came out, has been nothing short of life-changing for me. I’ve been at this for 13 years, and I’ve put out, independently, like, five records and EPs. You see small successes on very small scales, and that is very gratifying and validating, but we put these six songs out, like you said, almost a year ago. The power of a label and radio and a booking agency and all that — you never know until you experience it the first time, but being able to have a song on radio, but then go play a show for people that have heard the song on radio, and having it sung back to you, is, I don’t know how to describe it. The first time that it happened was extremely overwhelming, and that’s part of the machine and the team that’s been put together, and so, 2016 was a blur, but in the best way. It was such a blast.
One of the things you told us last year is that you wanted to keep your songs appropriate for everyone, including your younger fans. Is that still important to you?
For me, I never really understood why certain lines had to be crossed in order to get a point across. There’s a PG way to say everything, in my opinion.
That’s not everybody’s thing, and I don’t expect every artist to do that, because that’s not who they are. But, I always wanted — My sister has two daughters. I always thought, they all love country music, but why are there some shows only my sister can go to and not bring her girls? They like the same artists, but maybe, at a show, there’s going to be things that aren’t acceptable for her 12-year-old daughter, and that never sat well with me. So when we write music, I try to keep it as kind of PG as possible.
My dad’s a pastor, I grew up in the church, and it’s really easy to just have a healthy respect for what some people might be sensitive to.
I learned so much from Brad. He’s such a great performer, and such a great songwriter; you don’t even really realize, until you watch his show, how many hit songs he’s had. But I think the thing that I’ll take away, if it was only one thing, it was the things about him and his team offstage: He’s so hospitable, so kind, so helpful. Not just Brad, everybody on his whole team.
I walked away from those handful of dates that we played, and I got my whole band together. I said, “We need to talk,” because I realized that we have to have really high expectations of ourselves to ever be like Brad and his team, but those are my expectations. I let them know I expect to walk in and give everyone that meets us and works for us a good experience.
I think that’s something I never really thought about before, that we’re leaving a mark on people every time we show up and play a show, not just the fans. The fans are important, but you work with sound guys and promoters and radio stations and all that stuff. And Brad’s team is so good at that, and they’re so sincere. And so, I took away something way bigger than performance from that trip.
"For me, I never really understood why certain lines had to be crossed in order to get a point across. There’s a PG way to say everything, in my opinion."
What do you hope to accomplish this year?
In 2017, my goal is to maintain the same goals, basically. I think it would be really easy to have some small successes and have the goal to be, “Okay, well, how do we top that?” But in all honesty, I want to just be consistent with what we were trying to do all along, and that is write a good song, put out good music, make people feel when they’re coming to a show that they’re having more than just a concert experience, but they’re having an experience.
It would be really easy to make each show a replication of the album, and you show up, you hear the album that you already have in the car, and you leave. But for the same reason that the songwriting is personal, I want the live experience to be personal, and that’s what we’ve always done.
I just want to make sure that we continue do to that, and we don’t get lazy because we’ve had a little success. I think if we just keep doing that, and working hard, it’s just going to be a blast to see what happens.
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