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Interview: Breland on ‘Praise The Lord’ and plans for new music

We caught up with the rising country star during his recent visit to the UK for C2C Festival.

Since first coming to prominence with his 2019 single ‘My Truck’, which became a social media sensation, Breland has become one of the hottest new artists on the country music scene.

He’s won over fans with his high energy performances and mixture of country, R’n’B, rap, gospel and soul influences, and racked up over 150 million streams so far on Spotify. Alongside this, he’s worked with a huge range of artists including Sam Hunt, Mickey Guyton, Dierks Bentley and Keith Urban – to name just a few.

During his recent visit to the UK to perform as part of C2C Festival, I caught up with Breland to talk about his latest single ‘Praise The Lord’ (which I was lucky enough to hear him practising a live snippet of before we sat down!), performing at the ACMs with Thomas Rhett, how he approaches his songwriting and his plans for new music in 2022.

Welcome to London!

What’s goin’ on? Yeah, it’s good to be here. We just got in, we came straight from the airport.

How would you describe your music?

I would describe it as cross country. So to me, that’s anything that’s rooted in country music that is playing around with at least one other genre. So for me it’s the intersection of country music and R’n’B, country music and blues, country music and rock, country music and hip-hop, country music and gospel. Those are usually the ones that I play around with but it can sound a million different ways.

You’ve been over in the UK to perform at C2C – what can audiences expect from a typical Breland show?

I think people can expect a lot of new sounds. Country music has changed a lot in the last few years so I think a lot of the stuff that I do is really indicative of that, and so they can expect a lot of energy, a lot of fusion. I’ll be bringing vocals as I do. It’s just a really big party.

You’ve just released your new single ‘Praise The Lord’ featuring Thomas Rhett. Can you tell us more about the song and working with Thomas on it?

Yeah, you just heard a little snippet of it. It’s a song that I wrote with a couple of my friends in Nashville, almost a year and a half ago at this point. I just felt like it was a really special song and the more I listened to the demo that we had it felt like something that Thomas Rhett could be a part of. He’s done a lot of gospel country collabs over the past few years and I just felt like he would be a good fit. I was able to get it over to him and he fell in love with it. His kids and his family really enjoyed the record and I think that’s a big selling point for him, whether he chooses to get on something or not. So I’m glad that his kids responded to the 20 bucks that I gave them all! [laughs] No, but having somebody like Thomas Rhett on anything, but especially on a song like this I think is really cool.

You also debuted the song at the ACM Awards last month – what was that like? Was that your first awards show performance?

It wasn’t my first awards show performance but it was my first ACMs performance. First time playing in a stadium, first time debuting a song at an awards show and it was the first time Thomas and I had ever played that song together at anything for that matter. So it was a lot of firsts. I felt like it went really well. The response that I got, I know you’re not supposed to read tweets but the Twitter responses were actually all very positive. So I felt like we nailed it.

I read on Twitter actually that you’d only done your first live shows just over a year or so ago…

Less. May of 2021 was the first show that I’ve played. So yeah, I’m still really fresh. It was kind of more of a timing thing with the pandemic, having signed my deal at the top of 2020 and then getting ready to play some shows. South By Southwest was one that we were gearing up to play and then everything shut down. So I think the one silver lining for me career wise with all of that though, was that it gave me some time to really lock in on what it was that I wanted to create, and gave me some time to actually put some more music out. So instead of just playing one song that was out I’m now having the opportunity to play 45 minute sets, hour long sets of music that’s out.

You’ve had two EPs out so far – when you were putting those together did you have a vision for what songs were going on each one, or was it more of an organic process?

Yeah, kind of an organic process. And even with those two EPs, those EPs came out a month apart, back in 2020. So basically since then I’ve moved to Nashville, I’ve been living there for a year and a half, and just kind of really developing a better understanding of how country music is made from the inside. And writing with a bunch of different writers and artists and just fully immersing myself in what country music is in Nashville, and then just figuring out where I can add my sauce. I think this project that we’re getting ready to drop this spring is really indicative of a lot of that growth. And if you like anything that I put out on those EPs, I think everything on this project is a step up from that.

Is it going to be an album?

It’s an album, yeah. We’re coming with a full album and I can now officially say this, it’s called ‘Cross Country’, which is fair given [laughs] how I call it. And also really cool to be able to fly over here [laughs] and now seeing country music from a UK perspective and being able to share energy with them. I’m sure that will inform of my writing if we go back in, if we do a deluxe or whatever the next project is.

How have you found the response from UK fans when they heard you were coming to play over here?

Yeah, it’s been really cool to watch. I’ve never played over here before and I’ve only been here once before I was putting music out. I’ve definitely had a bunch of people hitting me up like, “oh we’re so excited to see you at C2C” and I’m just like, “awesome”. I’m really pumped.

We’ve talked a bit about this already but you’ve got a collaboration list as long as your arm – both performers and writers – so are there any of those that have particularly stood out for you? And also anyone you’d still like to work with in future?

Yeah. Kind of a cheat code answer but honestly all of those songs and those collaborations are special to me. I mean, just as a new artist, for me to be able to have records out with so many of the artists that I respect and who have been doing this a lot longer than I have in this capacity, I’ve learned something from each of these collabs. You know, Keith has taught me things about what it’s like to be an artist. Dierks has taught me things, we went out on the road. Nelly, as someone who’s been blending the genres together. Everyone has a story and I’m really attentive and keen to learn from all of them. So each of them is special in their own way.

In terms of people that I would still love to collab with, I just wanna work with everybody. I feel like everybody that makes dope music, I wanna see what we can make together, whether it’s as a feature or just a song that we write. Even if it doesn’t come out, I’m always just curious to see what would happen.

I also wanted to ask how you’ve found the experience of making music over the last couple of years, given the strange circumstances we all found ourselves in? Has it been quite challenging?

I mean, making music without being able to test it against a live audience is a really weird thing, but it didn’t feel weird to me because it was all I knew. You know, as a songwriter when you write songs for people which is what I was doing before I started putting music out, you never really sort of get to see how it responds to a live audience. All you can do is hope that it does. Whereas now as an artist you have the opportunity to test songs out in front of a live audience. But I definitely think it’s been a great process of one, learning what people respond to in real time, which I think has informed a lot of the writing for this project is me understanding, “OK, this moves people, this probably won’t”.

But then, also just getting comfortable as a performer and just kind of shaking off some of the stage fright and some of the imposter syndrome that I know a lot of young artists feel when they’re on certain stages. And being able to come out here and play, coming on the heels of the ACMs, I think is really cool because that was one of the first big performances I had that I felt comfortable and confident in myself as an artist, as a performer. Hopefully there will be some carry over out here and people will be able to feel that energy that I have now.

I was going to ask you about your songwriting process and how you approach that. Do you have a typical routine or does it vary?

Yeah. So I always like to say that I’m kind of in service to the song, and so whatever it feels like the song wants to say or how it wants to move or what it’s doing sonically and conceptually, I just kind of yield to that. But in terms of figuring things out process-wise, I usually start with melodies. I’m a very melodic person and I’m constantly singing something to myself. If I’m not talking I’m humming something or singing something, and melody comes really fast and then concept is kind of the thing that comes second once I feel like I have a melody that can house it. And then I start digging out words from there.

You’ve had huge success through streaming and that’s something that’s probably been one of the biggest aspects of things that’s changed since the last C2C. How do you feel that’s changing country music? And how have you found the importance of that to you as an artist?

Yeah. I think streaming is major. I’ve had success with each of the main streaming platforms, some really strong relationships formed at each of them. I had a radio show with Apple, I hosted some things on Spotify, I’ve done a Spotify Original, a cover, and I’m the Amazon Breakthrough Artist. So I guess with each of them and being the YouTube Artist on the Rise last year, I’ve gotten a lot of love from pretty all of the main streaming platforms. But I also think that people are listening on those platforms, which I think is what has kind of alerted them to make some of those distinctions with my music.

I guess it’s really just indicative of the fact that country music is changing and there’s a younger audience that is consuming it in higher numbers. I think TikTok is a factor with that – we’re seeing a lot of country artists kind of pop off on the internet first and people starting to have a renewed interest in lyrics and storytelling. I think all of those things have made country music a lot more powerful on the streaming side over the past few years and I’ve definitely been the beneficiary of some of that.

I was going to ask you about the radio show. How was your experience of that, and is there anything from that you’ve applied to your music – or vice versa?

Yeah, I mean, I guess the coolest thing about doing two seasons of Land of the Bre is it gave me the opportunity to use my voice in a different way. You know, I’m someone that considers myself to be a multi-hyphenate entertainer, so writing songs and performing them is just a piece of the larger pie of things that I ultimately wanna get into. But with that show, I think the biggest takeaway was it gave me the opportunity to discover a lot of new music, which obviously will naturally inform your songwriting process, what you’re consuming.

But then also to have conversations with different artists and to ask them questions about their process and where they’re from – I’ve learned a lot from a lot of the people I had on the shows. And having guests every week or every other week on Land of the Bre, I think definitely helped me get a better understanding for how music was made in Nashville.

Were there any particular standout pieces of advice or tips or things you learned from that?

Yeah, I mean one thing that Keith talked about in our interview was that he has what he calls ‘beginner’s mind’, which is just like a childlike curiosity about the world, and that has been the main fuel for him and why he creates and the place from which he creates. And I think I want to always keep that with me. You know, you don’t ever want to get to a place where you’re just recycling through old ideas and old habits. But if you have beginner’s mind you don’t get stuck in those ruts.

I also wanted to ask you about the cover of ‘Strawberry Wine’ you did. What was it that drew you to that song in particular?

Yeah, it’s a song that I think has become kind of a staple in the country music cover world from a lot of girls, and I just hadn’t really heard any guys singing it. And I felt like it could be really nice to do. And then also just from a storytelling perspective, I was like, “you know, this is a really beautiful story about kind of coming of age and exploring first love”, and I think it’s something we can all kind of relate to in our own way – whether it’s that same type of story or not. I just love the song [laughs] honestly!

And it was the 25th anniversary, the timing of it worked out really well, where I got a chance to sing it was Deanna Carter on her celebration of 25 years of that album. But yeah, I just wanted to bring a different energy. I also felt like that song was kind of soulful on the low, so I was like, “maybe I can do a kind of slightly more R’n’B leaning rendition of it” and that’s kind of why I picked it.

I know this is a really hard question for a songwriter, but what’s the one song you wish you’d written?

Hmmm. Everybody always asks that! There are a bunch. Honestly, any song that I like that I didn’t write, I wish I had written it [laughs]. That’s just the truth of the matter. There’s a bunch. I wish I had written Russell Dickerson’s ‘She Likes It’ [sings] – that melody is so catchy to me, and being on the road with him, it just gets stuck in my head all the time. I wish I could’ve written Sam Hunt, ’23’, I wish I could’ve written Morgan Wallen, ‘7 Summers’. Just anything that’s kind of like, sweet chorus, melodic, that’s my bag in general. So any time I hear a song like that, I’m like, “ah, I coulda had it!”

You’ve mentioned this a bit already but you’ve got the album coming out and some tour dates soon as well. Are those the main focus for you for the rest of this year?

Yeah, those are kind of the main things – just getting more music out in the world and then playing that music for people around the world. And being able to come out here to London to play some new music and play some stuff that people might know, for the first time, I think is a big piece of that equation. I definitely want to be a global artist that people can not only stream around the world but also actually be able to see me live around the world, and having not been able to perform for so long, I’m just like, “hey, pile it on”. I wanna go everywhere, I wanna play for everybody and I wanna keep putting music out. So those are kind of my main two focuses this year.

We’ve spoken a little about the album but can you give us any hints to what that might be like? Will it be similar to what’s on the EPs?

Yeah, I think it’s just kind of the natural progression of where those EPs were leaning. You know, since putting all of those things out I’ve kind of coined the term ‘cross country’ and found a bunch of music from modern times but even going back and looking at music that I would consider to be ‘cross country’ from back in the day. Whether it’s Bonnie Raitt or some of the Bruce Springsteen stuff is kind of ‘cross country’ to me, a lot of the Glen Campbell stuff, leaning into Motown – Aretha Franklin had put out some kind of country covers. The idea of ‘cross country’ has been happening for a really long time and just kind of developing a firmer understanding for what that is, what it can be, and then digging that out. I think it’s the logical progression and next step of maybe what you would want from me, if there’s anything in my music before that you liked.

And lastly – do you have plans to come back to the UK?

Oh for sure. Like even if for some reason I totally bombed this weekend, I’m coming back. And that’s not gonna happen! [laughs] I just want to be clear, I love it out here, I wanna play shows out here for the rest of my career, and this is one of what will ultimately be many shows for me – not just here but all throughout Europe and all throughout the world. I’m really excited to be able to kick it off in this way and share some energy with everyone.

Breland’s new single, ‘Praise The Lord’, featuring Thomas Rhett, is out now on Bad Realm Records/Atlantic. His debut album, ‘Cross Country’, is due for release in summer 2022.

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