Leland, the Belmont University student turned hit songwriter, joins Chris Lindsey’s Pitch List podcast for a conversation about the ups and downs of making it in L.A. The artist also discusses writing with artists like Selena Gomez, Troye Sivan, and Ava Max, and how being queer has impacted his career.
In a nutshell, Leland’s career trajectory is the classic story of the underdog who made it big. Growing up in a southern Christian home, it was the discovery of MTV and TRL that sparked Leland’s love for pop. “I just remember thinking, ‘This feels authentic to me. I love this culture. I love this music. I want to be a part of it somehow,’” he explains.
From there, he attended Belmont University and found a group of friends to move out to L.A. with. Finally, after a long string of irregular low-paying gigs, he wrote his first Billboard Hot 100 hit, Daya’s “Hide Away,” and went on to land a dream job producing music for RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Writing with some of the biggest names in pop today, Leland has consistently topped the charts. Leland even earned a Golden Globe nomination for the song he wrote for the movie Boy Erased, a project which was close to his heart because of its importance for the queer community.
“I’m not out there only working with queer artists, I’m not out there only working on queer TV shows or queer movies, and I also don’t want to just work on queer content. I want to work on all sorts of things, but it is where I found success,” Leland says.
“And so many things came full circle,” he continues. “From potentially attending a conversion camp to then getting nominated for a Golden Globe for writing a song for a movie about a conversion camp that I think did a lot of good. And the movie was about the same camp [I almost went to]. So, there are a lot of moments where I was like, ‘Wow, this life is crazy.’ And I’m so grateful that I was one of these stories of someone who hopefully helped.”
Already achieving so much, it’s surprising that Leland has never released a major solo project, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t thinking about it. Hinting at the possibility of it, he admits that the reason he hasn’t is simply that he hasn’t found a time to fully dedicate his focus to something like that. However, he hopes he’ll be able to in the future.
“When I dedicate 100% of my focus on to something, it tends to work out. And if it doesn’t, that’s okay. But I have yet to dedicate 100% of my focus on my artist project. But yet, beautiful opportunities tend to happen and that’s amazing. I think there will be a chapter where I am fully focused on it but it’s not right now and that’s okay.”
For now, he’ll continue to supply the mainstream with poppy earworm goodness and comedic gold on Drag Race.
Check out the rest of the conversation on Pitch List as well as his hit single “Mattress” below.