Ocean Springs songwriter has found success
You just can’t keep country music away from pop these days.
Take this weekend in Ocean Springs, for example. At the Mississippi Songwriter’s Festival, featuring dozens of mostly country songwriters, Brett McLaughlin’s pop voice broke through.
Plus his own song, “Mattress” released in July, has been streamed online almost 4 million times.
The Mississippi Coast native sat down with the Sun Herald on Friday to catch up since we first interviewed him last year, just when he was seeing enough success to be a full-time songwriter and quit the standard L.A. job serving tables.
“I feel like I’m just getting started,” he said then. Turns out he was right.
“A lot of doors opened from the songs that I worked on a year ago,” McLaughlin said.
Among those doors: A new song for Kelsea Ballerini coming out in November. Scoring a movie out next year. Oh, and writing “Fetish,” the No. 27 song on the Billboard 100 this week.
“To write for Selena has been a goal that I’ve had since I started writing pop music,” he said. “I’ve always admired her … and I felt like it was a really cool time to come in and hopefully contribute to her evolution as an artist.”
But getting to that point was “quite the process,” he said. When he heard Selena was working on a new project, he blocked out two weeks with his crew of fellow songwriters and collaborators.
“I was like, let’s just do it and see what happens.”
A song called “If I Were You” stood out as the favorite, and they sent it to friends who are producers to mix the sound, then to Interscope Records, which McLaughlin had worked with before with Daya. The label played it for Selena in March 2016. She made some changes (including the title), recorded it in December, and Gucci Mane added his tracks in February or March. McLaughlin wasn’t sure what was happening with the song until he watched the video for Gomez’s “Bad Liar” which had a teaser at the end that said “Fetish coming soon.”
He said he wasn’t worried waiting to see what became of the song, but he also got some good feedback.
“I was hearing that The Weeknd, who she’s dating, also loves the song and so that helped a lot,” McLaughlin said.
That songwriting process, where the artist chose from pre-written pieces, isn’t the only one. Many artists are involved in songwriting and even lead the creative process, including frequent collaborator Troye Sivan. But McLaughlin says he enjoys it either way.
“I love writing with artists, but I also love going into the studio with no limitations and just being creative with other writers,” he said.
“If every artist wrote their own songs, I wouldn’t have a job.”
McLaughlin also got the opportunity this year to write music for the big screen.
“I’ve just been wanting to branch out a little bit and try new things and stay inspired creatively,” he said.
A friend is the music supervisor on the upcoming “Sierra Burgess is a Loser” starring Shannon Purser from “Stranger Things.” She sings an original song in the movie, and McLaughlin threw his hat into the ring, knowing the competition would be stiff. Not only was his song chosen, he was later asked to score the movie. He and frequent collaborator Allie X both sing on the soundtrack.
Now that music is his full-time gig, McLaughlin has revived and re-tooled his solo project, called Leland (his middle name and father’s first name). He had put out music under that name a few years ago, but took it all down.
“I just didn’t have a sense of who I was as an artist, nor was I comfortable enough with myself yet to really say what I wanted to say in songs … for the masses and for everyone to hear.”
Now he’s back on track and preparing to promote his single next month in Europe and the United Kingdom. He’s planning on more songs and touring next year.
He’s 30 now, and dismisses criticism about starting an artist career this late in Hollywood years, pointing to artists such as Sia and Mark Ronson.
“I think at this point, right now where music is, it doesn’t really matter.”
“The transition from writer to artist is a lot easier now than it was five years ago,” he said, pointing to the steady growth of streaming services. Spotify in particular, he said, has really made efforts to build relationships with songwriters, making the transition to performing artist easier.
McLaughlin said he was glad to be back on the Coast, and jumped at the chance to perform at the festival. Andy Dalgo with the Mississippi Songwriters Alliance was the first person to record McLaughlin and his band when they were at Ocean Springs High School.
“I feel a little out of place here bringing my pop songs to what is going to be 99 percent country but that’s awesome and I think that’s what they wanted too, was just to have some diversity,” he said.
He also values being from Mississippi, because it gives him an appreciation for music a lot of people in Los Angeles don’t have.
“L.A. is very much a bubble, just like, I would assume, South Mississippi is. You know, wherever you are is very much your bubble and you forget how other people think and what other people are listening to.”
He’s no stranger to country music, having graduated from Belmont University and started out songwriting in Nashville, something he still does. In fact, a few weeks ago he said he got to sit in on a session with Shane McAnally, who’s written for half of country radio including most recently “Body Like A Back Road” for Sam Hunt, and Hillary Lindsey, who wrote everything for Carrie Underwood and is one of McLaughlin’s favorite songwriters.
Asked what advice he has for aspiring songwriters, McLaughlin’s best advice is to find a “crew.”
“I would encourage new writers to find a community of writers that you work well with, that you write good songs with, or that you write bad songs with that you will eventually write good songs with.”
He credits his success with being “annoyingly persistent.”
“But it’s not an easy business. I’m here today in Mississippi while there are probably 500 songs being written today in L.A., if not more.
“You just let your work speak for itself and eventually those doors will open.”