Breland has some big names in his corner—Sam Hunt, Dierks Bentley, and Keith Urban to namedrop a few. When you’re around such time-honed artists, even someone as relatively green as Breland can seem like they have the knowledge of someone far more experienced.
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And while it certainly doesn’t hurt to have the likes of Urban being your collaborator, truth be told, a steadfast vision and deep confidence seem to come innately to the 27-year-old—which is likely what drew those A-listers to him in the first place.
From his earliest offerings, Breland has been determined to shed the confines of country music and bring in some new flavors that many have shied away from mixing in the past. Not many artists could have released the stellar, and unabashedly mercurial, debut that he did in 2020.
Ever since, the New Jersey native has been racking up accolades, collaborators, and hit tracks like no other. His most recent album, Cross Country, was released on September 9 and has amassed millions of streams. Like his previous efforts, the LP sees Breland treat genre as a passing thought, combining elements of R&B, gospel, and pop to compliment his country roots.
“I was trying to blend a lot of different genres together in the hopes of being able to bring a lot of different types of people together,” he tells American Songwriter. “I feel like country music is such an incredible space for people to tell stories, and there are a lot of people that, for whatever reason, aren’t able to connect with it.”
He continues, “I figured if I could reach across the aisle and bring in some elements from R&B, hip hop, pop, and gospel, we could create a project where people could all really agree on something.”
Breland has a number of collaborators on the album—namely Keith Urban, Mickey Guyton, Charles Kelley (Lady A), Thomas Rhett, and Ingrid Andress—though he says the decision to bring an artist onto a song is not one he takes lightly.
“I always try to look at collabs as something that will elevate the song,” he says. “If I’m gonna have someone else’s voice represented, especially on this debut album where I’m trying to be really mindful about making sure that my voice and stories are heard, I wanted to make sure that all of these features really served a purpose.”
He adds, “I don’t wanna have a song that like five other people passed on. Like, no, I wanted that person to be on it because they were the right fit for the song.”
Luckily, being choosy isn’t a problem for Breland. When it comes to collaborators, he seems to be spoiled for choice.
“In the grand scheme of things, this has all happened pretty quick,” he said. “So having all of these people in my corner this early on in the game has been helpful. I get to learn from all of them and we get to share stories and experiences with one another. It yields some really cool music.”
The entire album was deeply inspired by ’90s country. Artists like Deana Carter and Shania Twain’s influence can be felt deeply within each shuffling groove. One song, “Natural” is a direct tip of a cheetah print cap to Twain, with an interpolation of “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!”
The lyrics for the track are all very tongue-in-cheek, which no doubt makes Twain proud. She’s an ice-cold Natty, she drink like her daddy / And when she gets the night off, she dance her heels off / She’s southern and sassy, a barbecue baddie, he sings.
“I wanted to have something that had a nod to ‘90s country and Shania is one of my favorites of the era,” he gushes. “Sonically, we were into that shuffle tempo that is definitely paying homage to her.”
With no shortage of hits on the album, the high points can be hard to suss out on Cross Country—it’s all one big party that draws you in from start to finish. One clear contender though is “Told You I Could Drink.”
Breland wrote the smooth banger with Charles Kelley of Lady A, which has inevitably caused some buzz given Kelley’s decision to start his journey to sobriety. Despite the irony, Breland says he hopes he and Kelley can still perform the song together.
“We wrote this song at a time where he was still drinking and that’s what the song was born out of,” he shares. “Hopefully we can still sing it together and appreciate it despite the circumstances. I’m wishing him the best on his journey to sobriety. I have so much respect for anyone that can look themselves in the mirror and have those hard conversations.”
Breland is paving a new path in country music for himself, and inevitably, for everyone who comes after him. With every new hit, Breland is breaking down barriers that he hopes other like-minded artists can take as encouragement
“Genre is fluid and it is what you make of it,” he said. “I chose to come into this country space knowing that there really were only a few people that looked like me and even fewer that were kind of blending the genres the way that I am. But there are so many people who are listening to music and looking for music that represents all of the different genres that they like. If there’s something that you do really well, do it, and don’t worry too much about everything else.”
Watch the full interview with Breland below:
Photo by Jimmy Fontaine / Sweet Talk PR