Breland can’t get the words of Keith Urban out of his head and the music of The Beatles out of his heart.
“It didn’t matter the genre of music that The Beatles made,” begins the New Jersey native with the funky glasses and the irresistible smile during a recent interview with American Songwriter. “Whether it was rock or pop or country, they were just making The Beatles music and everyone who listens to The Beatles recognizes it as The Beatles. They fused genres together and created a new sound, And Keith (Urban) told me he’s always strived to create music that feels like Keith, and him telling me that was really inspiring to me, because the space that I occupy out here in Nashville and in the music industry is someone that is trying to blend sounds together and create new ones.”
Suddenly, Breland stops to adjust his glasses and proceeds to get ever closer to the lens of the Zoom call, as if to be sure that the words to come out of his mouth next are heard clearly and understood fully.
“I want my music to sound like Breland,” he says.
And it is this magical mixture of influences that one can hear in Breland’s new single “Cross Country,” a song written this past August and a song that Breland says he co-wrote in order to tell his truth about where he comes from, who he is and where he still plans to go.
“’My Truck’ got so big, that I could imagine people were asking themselves, ‘where did this guy come from?’” he says with a laugh that reminds all who hear it that this budding musical genius is still just in his mid-twenties.
Indeed, the platinum certified “My Truck” did much to catapult Breland into the country music landscape in 2020, with the addictive song snagging more than 200 million streams and its accompanying music video amassing over 40 million views. It was also the song that has resulted in him landing some flashy endorsement deals from Chevrolet and Tommy Jeans in recent months.
But this limelight came at a speed that made some wonder if “My Truck” was all he had in the tank. But one deep dive into the lyrics of “Cross Country” makes it quite evident that this kid has been on a journey, a journey that isn’t even close to being complete.
“There’s a line in the song that says, went to ATL where the nights are long/wrote a thousand songs that will never sell and that was me,” remembers Breland, a Georgetown University graduate willing to admit that he used to be the shy kid with the far from impressive voice. “In 3 years, I probably wrote 1,500 songs, and none of them ever did much. ‘My Truck’ materialized after years of trying to master my craft and work on my pen and elevate as a creative.”
And in classic Breland fashion, “Cross Country” not only tells his story, but tells all who are listening about his mission to create a lane within country music where all are welcome.
“I look at ‘Cross Country’ as a movement, maybe even a sub-genre of country music,” says Breland, who decided on a more ‘straight up and down’ delivery on this acoustic gem compared to the rather rap-heavy “My Truck.”. “R&B and hip hop and pop and gospel and dance…whatever that intersection and that hybrid is. ‘Cross Country’ is a movement that is bigger than this song. It’s place for common ground. It’s a place where people can unite. The fact is that I have a very diverse audience, some of which have never even listened to country music. Maybe ‘Cross Country’ can create that bridge.”
Indeed, the writing of the song itself occurred during one of the most pivotal moments in our collective history, a time in which our differences were magnified more than ever before.
“There were points last year when no one seemed to be getting along,” explains Breland, who wrote “Cross Country” alongside Sam Sumser, Sean Small, and Will Gittens. “I mean, luckily, it resulted in bigger conversations about race and brutality. And at the very same time, we were dealing with the pandemic and the isolation that went into that. So yeah, there was a combination of things that went into this song. I was inspired to tell my story, and when we get to tell our stories, that’s where we find common ground.”
And while the ground in which we all stand seems to be getting a little stronger and the genre in which Breland is fighting to find a place within is becoming more open, he knows none of this is going to be easy.
Nothing worthwhile ever is.
“I feel like I’m always going to be searching a little bit when it comes to being a player in this genre,” he admits quietly. “Nashville feels like home, but the fact is that I am still making music that isn’t conventionally country. But that’s okay. I’m up for the challenge.”
Photo by Jimmy Fontaine