Brett McLaughlin | Leland

Brett McLaughlin is the tasteful and daring recording artist known as Leland, a hit songwriter, and a composer on the rise. In the realm of film music, Brett recently co-wrote the Golden Globe nominated song, Revelation featured in Joel Edgerton’s critically acclaimed film, Boy Erased, served as the co-composer and executive producer of the soundtrack for Netflix’s Sierra Burgess is a Loser, and maintains a role in creating the exhilarating musical numbers of RuPaul’s Drag Race. As a songwriter published by Sony/ATV, Brett has landed cuts with a range of contemporary pop stars including Troye Sivan, Charli XCX, Selena Gomez, Kelsea Ballerini, Daya, and Sabrina Carpenter. In the coming year, fans can expect a debut EP from his artist project, Leland, led by the shimmering, anthemic single, Middle of a Heartbreak. In our brief exchange, Brett reveals the collective vision behind his writing process with Troye Sivan and Jónsi of Sigur Rós for Boy Erased and the values at the core of his art.

Courtesy of Subject

Courtesy of Subject

I understand that you are originally from Biloxi, Mississippi. What was your introduction to music making? During your formative years, what influence did your surroundings have on you and your creative path?

Growing up in a conservative home in South Mississippi, my introduction to music and music making was through church. I truly was a product of writing what you know and at the time, I only knew praise and worship. Once I discovered pop, specifically Britney Spears, I immediately fell in love with it and wanted to understand the process of how those songs came together.   

After attending Belmont University in Nashville, you relocated to Los Angeles, equipped with a publishing deal at EMI. What were your aspirations at the time and how have they evolved as you have garnered many accomplishments as a songwriter and now, as a solo artist? What impact did the success of Daya’s Hide Away have on your career?

When I moved to LA, my aspirations were to simply stay living in LA. Haha. Even with a publishing deal, it was extremely hard to pay all my bills, work, and find time to write songs.  Co-writing “Hide Away” completely changed my life. It opened different doors than the ones I was expecting because it was a hit with a new artist. Being a part of an artist’s journey who is breaking, as opposed to already big, makes a lot of people notice, thankfully.  

Congratulations on your Golden Globes nomination and for making the 2019 Oscars shortlist with Revelation. Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased follows a traumatic yet moving story based on Garrard Conley's 2016 memoir, which explores social stigma attached to homosexuality and radical Christian responses to same-sex relations. Upon your initial viewing of the film, what were the themes within the narrative that sparked your first ideas for Revelation?  

I am incredibly grateful that Troye called me and asked me to write this song with him and Jónsi. Troye and I were only shown the scene which we were writing the song for but that was more than enough.  The themes of acceptance and compassion really stuck out to me and I hope were conveyed in the lyric.  

Revelation is used to great effect during the moment when Jared Eamons has his first consensual intimate encounter with another man. What were the most significant considerations and stylistic choices made during your writing process with Troye Sivan and Jónsi of Sigur Rós? 

The most significant considerations we made as a writing team were to serve the scene. The point of the song wasn’t to distract from the scene but to enhance its intensity. We considered spacing so we wouldn’t overlap with dialogue too much and which points to grow and which parts to keep minimal. Every line of the song was intended to have a purpose and move the story along in a delicate way.

Long before Troye Sivan became a household name, you were a collaborator of his. You are also responsible for co-writing many of his biggest hits to date including My My MyYouth, and Bloom. What is the most personally meaningful song you’ve made together? Regarding your creative process, how do you complement one another? 

First and foremost, Troye and I are friends. We connected as friends and thankfully, happened to be good collaborators. Because we are so open with each other when it comes to what’s going on in each other’s lives, that makes the writing process a lot easier. The most important part of our writing process is that we listen and aren’t too precious with our own ideas. I also trust him completely as a songwriter and an artist. At the end of the day, he’s the one that’s going to be singing the songs and he knows what he likes. To me, the most meaningful song we’ve made together is Revelation because of what it stands for and the impact it’s having.  

This past year, you also worked with producer, Bram Inscore on the 80's flavored musical treatment for Netflix’s Sierra Burgess is a Loser, penning 11 original songs and tapping talents including Allie X, Betty Who, and Sabrina Carpenter to contribute. What insights did you come away with from the experience of scoring your first project? Do you feel as though you channel different skill sets when writing for film or is it similar to embodying the character of an artist you are writing for? 

Scoring a film was by far one of the most challenging projects I’ve done, but it was also one of the most fun. Sitting at a piano and establishing themes for characters and doing sound design was incredibly rewarding. You aren’t writing to pitch a song to an artist but to serve the scene, so it’s a different way of writing. I loved it and definitely want to keep scoring films.  

Your original songs for RuPaul's Drag Race have become a hallmark of the theatrical, larger than life reality series in recent years. What has been your brightest moment and your greatest challenge of working in this capacity for such a groundbreaking and beloved show? 

I would say that being a part of the writing team for the Rusicals has been a dream come true that I didn’t even know I had. Writing comedic songs for queens that I love is a feeling like no other. I get chills every time I’m on set. One, because it’s freezing, and two, because it’s surreal. Two of my favorite moments are Alyssa Edwards playing Annie Oakley and Detox playing Marie Antoinette. The biggest challenge is to do our best to make sure that every part is equal parts funny and a potential show-stopping moment for the queen.  

What are the core values that underpin your artistic identity? What is your most treasured form of self-expression?

As I’m diving deeper into my artist project, I’m discovering that I love to pair my music with choreography. I danced a little in the Middle Of A Heartbreak video and loved it so you can be expecting a lot more. My core values as an artist are just to simply be authentic and write about true stories.  

The rapidly evolving digital landscape has paved the way for an abundance of diverse talent to emerge, introduced dominant technological innovations, and forged new revenue streams for creators. In your opinion, what are the most fundamental tools and relationships for artists and songwriters to explore in today’s world? How do these components play into your next moves with your artist project, Leland?

There are so many amazing outlets for new artists and songwriters to be discovered but the most important factor is that the music has to be good. If the music is good, it’s typically only a matter of time before people start to organically connect with it. You also have to be your own hustler and seek out opportunities.  

Considering that it only took you four years to go from working as a caterer at the Golden Globes to becoming a nominee at this year's ceremony, where do you envision your career in another four years from now?

Four years from now, I hope to have signed and developed an incredible and diverse team of songwriters and artists. I also hope to have worked on more projects that are culturally important. I also want to have more songs with Charli XCX.