On the ‘Cutting Edge': Breland Talks His Brand of ‘Cross-Country’
Country music fans got a first listen to Breland when he dropped his country-trap hit “My Truck” in late 2019, so it was no surprise to hear him say during our conversation, "I like to be on the cutting edge of things.”
It's a little more surprising if you know his background: The New Jersey-born artist is the son of two ordained ministers and was raised on a strict diet of gospel music. It wasn’t until he went to a boarding school for high school that his metaphorical musical walls came down and he was introduced to secular music through pop, rock, R&B and country.
“I'm a sponge creatively; I've always been writing songs. But when I got to high school, I started to take it more seriously,” Breland shares during an earnest Zoom conversation. “Once I had more colors to paint with, my music started to sound a lot different.”
Breland originally marketed himself as a cover singer, but began to view songwriting as a professional craft when he moved to Atlanta, Ga., for college and leaned into the city’s R&B and hip-hop scene. He was splitting his time between music and a 9-5 job — donning a coat and tie during the day and writing songs at the studio by night — and maintaining that non-stop pace meant that food and rent sometimes fell by the wayside. He was literally starving for his dream.
“I was making a lot of physical, emotional and psychological sacrifices to be able to pursue the dream,” Breland recalls. When he eventually reached a breaking point, he forced himself to focus on music full-time by becoming a voice teacher.
It was the power of his own pen, though, that altered Breland's destiny when he recorded a demo version of “My Truck." The song, which boasts a hip-hop beat tinged with a smoldering banjo and hand claps and signed with Breland's signature “skrrt,” blew up on Tik Tok and climbed into the Top 30 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, catching the attention of Sam Hunt, who appears on a remix.
"I know that everyone that owns a truck feels very passionately about it and doesn't want other people to touch it, so we built somewhat of a comedic premise of that chorus of all these things that you wouldn't want someone to do, but that you would rather them do than touch their truck,” Breland explains.
“My origin story is not inherently country, but it is inherently country in the sense that I come from a small town and I have overcome a lot of obstacles and the odds to be in the position that I'm in," he adds. "That is inherently country and hip-hop, which is why me being able to blend those things together with my cross-country fusion, especially on a song like "My Truck," is really cool.”
"My Truck" also led Breland to a partnership with Chevy: He's front and center in a new ad campaign for the debut of the Chevy Silverado ZR2 alongside actor and country music fan Chris Pratt, NASCAR driver Chase Elliot and off-road champion Chad Hall, and the song is also featured in a commercial for the Chevy Silverado Custom.
“For one song to have led to all of that is really cool," Breland says of the partnership. "But also, seeing what my mission statement is in terms of bringing new people into this space and seeing what Chevy is trying to do in cultivating the next generation of truck owners and truck drivers and hoping that next generation is diverse, I think we're definitely aligned in our objectives."
Breland's formula is a winning one so far, with several big-name artists co-signing by collaborating with him and bringing him out on tour. In June, he released “Throw It Back,” featuring Keith Urban, who was persistent about working together after hearing the chorus Breland and written and asking if he could write the verses.
"Keith is very open to making music that feels good. He’s someone that creates from the heart. He's a very pure artists in that regard," says Breland, who also worked with Urban on the superstar's newest album, The Speed of Now Part 1. "Everything that we have together sounds entirely different."
"He took a chance on me, taking a song to country radio with a young Black artist. He’s done a really good job of helping to create space for me and really giving me an additional platform with his audience to come out in the middle of his set," Breland raves, calling Bentley a “really good guy.”
Nelly has proven himself a mentor for Breland, too. The rapper, who has several high-profile country collaborations in his catalog, invited Breland to work with him on his country-meets-hip-hop collaborations album, Heartland, and perform with him during a recent CMT Crossroads episode. Breland says looks to Nelly as an inspiration in reaching across genre lines, calling him a "cross-country trailblazer."
“I think all of the music that I have with people tends to be best when I have real relationships with them, because then I know that I can be myself and trust that they're going to be themselves, and that authenticity reads on the record,” Breland reflects. “All of those collaborations come from a mutual respect and friendship, and appreciation for music and not wanting to put any barriers and labels on what that music is, but doing what's best for the song.
"I think that the end goal of all of this stuff, including these collaborations, is being able to help inspire unity, give people common ground ...," he continues. "I want everything that I do to be with that in mind, because that's the only thing that drives me.”
Common ground and unity are at the heart of Breland's autobiographical ballad "Cross Country." With the song, Breland says, “I got a chance to really tell my story directly and people connect with it, because I'm talking about my experience of trying to find a musical home and being an oddball who doesn't really fit cleanly into one box or category ...
"I think people resonate with that because nobody wants to be in a box," he continues. "Everybody wants the freedom and independence to create and think and exist freely, and I think that's the heart of what it is that I'm doing and hopefully inspiring people to do.”
Looking back, Breland notices that "My Truck" is also part of that process. That song, he says, "helped me have a purpose to what I was creating and why, and right now, that purpose is really built around bringing people into country music, helping to redefine what country music can be, what it can sound like, what it can look like, and erase some of the stigmas that currently exist around it so that it can be a more inclusive space."
"[My] overall objective," he concludes, "is to be able to bring people in and be a cultural bridge, where every concert that I have is going to be very diverse and [allow] people who come from all different walks of life and backgrounds to be able to share their stories and experiences with each other and hopefully move toward a world that's more loving and more accepting of each other.”
Breland is out on the road for his headlining Cross Country Tour through Oct. 27.
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