Up-and-coming singer-songwriter Breland begins his conversation with The Tennessean by noting that exactly four minutes have passed since he walked through the front door of his Nashville home after a trip to Indianapolis.
That attention to detail that has helped the 26-year-old New Jersey native’s career soar since the least expected “My Truck” hitmaker to most-wanted status in just under two years. Industry watchers say it takes ten years to achieve overnight success in Nashville. But thanks to her meticulous organization and vision, Breland has already achieved double stardom in a quarter of the time.
At a time when the genre must quickly adapt to a plethora of sonic and cultural influences impacting the country simultaneously, Breland helps lead the charge toward a smooth transition.
So naturally, that compels him to quickly be accepted as a visible contributor in country music’s most vaunted spaces. So, in two weeks in November 2021 – and before a New Year’s Eve appearance in front of more than 100,000 people in downtown Nashville – the native of Burlington Township, NJ debuted with a “hat trick” of a standing ovation at the Grand Ole Opry, plus first appearances at the Ryman Auditorium and 2021 CMA Awards at Bridgestone Arena.
For country music and the rising artist, this has been less of an adjustment than expected.
“I opened for Deana Carter at the Ryman, and the people who come to see her are 90s country music fans who like [her beloved, 1996-released single] “Strawberry Wine” (which Breland covered in a Spotify-only release in September 2021). Since the music I make sometimes has a fundamentally different inspiration, I figured his audience would be critical, but that wasn’t the case,” he recalls.
Of course, Breland is an African-American country music artist. But it’s not a crutch on which to rest its laurels. It’s entirely possible — and it’s a notion the country music industry should accept — that beyond his race, he’s just as talented as advertised.
“[Above everything else] my talent has opened doors for me,” Breland said. “In Nashville, people value talent above a lot of other things. I’m not in the position I’m in because of a referendum on race. On the contrary, I think there’s a real traction that I gain for my career because people connect with the uniqueness of my story as an artist, and it’s all rooted in my talent.
Breland is a rare newcomer to Nashville who has released as many chart collaborations as he has highly rated original singles. His 2019 viral TikTok single “My Truck” was an intro and a game-changer. The platinum selling track was a Billboard Hot 100 crossover.
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The catchy trap-style single blurred the edges between pop, hip-hop and bluegrass-style country in equal measure, raising eyebrows and opening doors for the artist.
This unlikely success would be daunting for an artist with no plan for what was to come. Breland, however, was armed with what he calls his trademark “cross-country” musicianship. He aims to streamline what he calls a typically “messy” and “non-linear” creative approach into something broad but directly directed toward expanding the artistic, commercial, and connective reach of country music.
He says, “I don’t want to be in a box. Artists, radio reps, and country music labels often agree to be comfortable. It works for some artists who know they have a bread-and-butter sound and style that works for them. But I’m still working on a variety of songs in a variety of styles. However, I think they can all be part of the landscape of the country.
For the past year, Breland has worked with Keith Urban on the Lower Broadway nightlife-ready trap-country song “Throw It Back” and teamed up with HARDY and Dierks Bentley on the pop-country ballad “Beers On Me». Both songs reached top 40 country radio status. He collaborated on the soulful, autobiographical “Cross-Country” with Mickey Guyton, as well as the laid-back party groove “Big Horse” with rap-to-country crossover icon Nelly and virally popular and self-proclaimed “trailer trap” artist Blanco Brown. He also appeared on the 2021 CMT Next Women of Country class member releases. Level and a Christian-meets-country solo EP by Rascal Flatts Gary Le Vox.
As 2022 opens, Breland’s star is still rising.
“[In 2021], I dispelled the doubts that I had and that others might have had. [The sustainability] of my country music career seemed impossible when I came to town two years ago. Now I realize that what I’m doing is viable.
As for his next steps, he’s ready to take bold leaps with the support of a host of creative giants he considers his inspirations.
“I want a career that resonates for decades and inspires everyone,” he notes.
He enthusiastically names his collaborators to date, including Urban, Bentley, Guyton and Sam Hunt, as well as artists such as CMA’s 2021 Best New Artist Jimmie Allen, Kane Brown and Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard. However, he reserves one name for further consideration: Garth Brooks.
Regarding the Country Music Hall of Famer and member of the Grand Ole Opry, he says, “I respect people who have done something different. Everyone I connect with has done things differently than anyone else. When Garth debuted 30 years ago, they thought he was a college marketer making pop music. Now he has set the industry standard and sold out stadiums after doing that for almost four decades.”
“We all have to get out of the boxes. The future of the country is as much [inspired by] traditional as well as non-traditional, with as many people saying they dislike country music as people discovering new things about [the genre] benefit.
Breland’s most poignant reflection on his position in the country’s current landscape comes from his comments about the Grand Ole Opry game. There he was preceded on stage by Connie Smith, who has five decades of experience and is easily one of country music’s most respected performers. The lessons learned from the event resonated with him.
“[At the Opry], I sang “My Truck” in the same three-foot-by-three-foot circle where Connie Smith played. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, but it’s important to realize that there was room for both of us in the circle, metaphorically and in real life. I imagine that when I play “My Truck” in front of a newcomer in 50 years, they will call this song “old school”. It’s true what they say. Music, like everything, evolves.”