Photo by Jasper Soloff
When Brett McLaughlin answers his phone, he's weaving in and out of Friday evening traffic on his way to dinner with a friend. His voice is energetic despite being in the throws of rush hour, modestly relaying the details of his successes in the music industry as if they were usual. Popularly known by the moniker Leland, McLaughlin is a man of monumental musical ability. Raised in Mississippi and now based in LA, he has written songs across genres for a plethora of different artists including Troye Sivan, Daya, Allie X, Sabrina Carpenter, Selena Gomez, Carrie Underwood and Lauv. After years of songwriting for other artists, he debuted his solo project in 2017 and has been hot on the rise since.
McLaughlin and Sivan have a longstanding relationship, and he's been there to watch the young artist bloom into the international sensation he is today. Having written on Sivan's 2015 album Blue Neighbourhood, McLaughlin also had a heavy hand in the album that launched him into orbit, Bloom. Of that album, the song I wanted to discuss was, of course, "My My My!," which currently sits at almost 130 million streams on Spotify, half of which I have singlehandedly amassed.
Brett was kind enough to discuss his friendship with Troye Sivan, honing his craft and crying happy tears.
OTW: Did you always want to be a songwriter or did you have other plans?
Brett McLaughlin: I think once I discovered that songwriting was an actual career, and became aware that the music I loved had people behind the scenes responsible for it, I began to wonder if it was a world I could be a part of. When you're just a fan of music you don't really think about those things, so once I realized I was like this could potentially be amazing.
OTW: What has your musical journey been like thus far?
Brett McLaughlin: I grew up in a very conservative home in Mississippi, so my influences and scope of music was very small. I didn't really know a lot about 70s or 80s, I just knew the bubble I was living in. So it was really once I turned 18 and went to college that I started to explore different types of music other than Christian. A big turning point for me was watching the infamous Britney Spears performance of "Oops I Did It Again" at the VMAs. I remember watching it over and over and over and just being captivated by it. So there were a few pop culture moments that ultimately shaped my decision in becoming a songwriter.
OTW: Where did you study music?
Brett McLaughlin: I went to Belmont in Nashville, Tennessee!
OTW: Did you have a good time?
Brett McLaughlin: Oh my gosh I had the best time. It was an incredible training ground for me because Belmont had different showcase opportunities in pop, country and Christian, and I had friends who wanted to audition for them, but they needed original music to do that. So my first time writing for another artist was writing for my friend Jenna who needed a country song for the showcase.
OTW: What made you make the leap the LA?
Brett McLaughlin: I knew if I wanted to give this a proper go, I needed to be there right out of college. It was the absolute hardest thing I've ever done. Not only financially, but I had to leave everything behind. Those people in Nashville were and still are like family to me. I moved to LA when I was 21 with $300 on my bank account, and I got a $300 speeding ticket on the way. I didn't pay it for a long time though I needed that money.
BRAIN: The Thought Process
OTW: Let's talk about "My My My!" Could you set the scene for us?
Brett McLaughlin: Troye and I had flown to Stockholm, and we were there for about three days of writing. I had just done like a 14 hour flight, and we met at the hotel, walked to get a coffee and went straight to the studio. It was the second day and we were in a room with Troye, Oscar Görres, James Alan and myself. Oscar, the producer asked Troye if he would just sing the vowel "ah" at different pitches. What Oscar did was turn Troye's vocals into a synth. So right at the beginning of "My My My!" that pad that comes in is Troye's voice layered over and over and over. Troye's vocals are essentially the foundation when it comes to the production of the song. Troye is such a strong songwriter; he knew exactly what he wanted and he sat there the whole time giving incredible notes while letting the producer be creative. We went into it wanting to make an anthemic song that would translate live, and I very much feel that we accomplished that.
OTW: How did you come up with the hook?
Brett McLaughlin: When I go into a session with an artist, I will stream of consciousness write some phrases or titles or words that I respond to and pitch them based on the energy. At one point I said the phrase "My My My!" and Troye really responded to it. Troye really took that phrase and adjusted it to make it appropriate for the chorus, so it feels like an exhale.
LEGS: The Means to Take Off
OTW: What do you think made the song take off?
Brett McLaughlin: The lyrics are "I die every night with you, living for your every move," but we spent a lot of time on that lyric so that those two lines made since with each other. Troye wanted to capture his emotion with his significant other, and I had to remember that first crazy experience of being completely and utterly overwhelmed. You can't have an anthemic melody and have a generic lyric with it. I think the reason why the song took off is because we didn't overwrite, we allowed space. Troye has always been confident, but with "My My My!" he exhibited this new level of confidence in himself that was infectious.
OTW: Let's talk about your relationship with Troye. You've been working with him since 2015, but how did you two connect?
Brett McLaughlin: We connected through our mutual friend Tyler Oakley, who is an incredible human and amazing friend. I remember Tyler saying, "my friend Troye is coming to LA, he is an artist and you guys need to write together." So he brought Troye to one of my shows and ended up writing together shortly after that.
OTW: What's it been like watching him take off?
Brett McLaughlin: I think I just like cry a lot. It's good tears but that's really the truth. To get to experience bucket list moments with one of your best friends who stands for something so powerful, and has a reach and an influence and spreads love and positivity and is a fucking fierce artist with something to say…it's so incredible. I know it's so easy to say this now, but I knew when I met him that there was something so special and unique about him. He has been incredibly generous through the years, whether it's opening for him on tour or asking me to write with him, to evolve as songwriters together and as friends, it's been really great.
OTW: Let's talk about you! How do you balance writing for yourself and other people?
Brett McLaughlin: I operate in a very compartmentalized way. I enjoy doing quite a few different things and have to balance them all. If I'm in the room with an artist, I'm writing a song for that artist. I will schedule sessions differently for myself. I have to not set expectations for myself that are unrealistic and understand that it is all a part of the process. As a songwriter, I've been at it for almost ten years at this point, but as an artist I truly feel like I just got started last year. I'm just now scratching the surface of what I want to say as an artist, my sound, visuals, so I just have to do my best to balance it and do everything with quality.
HANDS: Advice for Songwriters Who Need A Lift
OTW: What advice would you give young songwriters?
Brett McLaughlin: I do think there is a decision that has to be made at the beginning. You don't want to be good at a bunch of things, you want to be great at one thing. I feel very proud and lucky to be a part of the songs that I'm a part of, but that came with saying, "I'm going to only focus on writing with people who are better than me and hone my craft." My advice is to pick a lane and focus on it.
OTW: Ones To Watch?
Brett McLaughlin: Carlie Hanson is going to blow the fuck up. She is a superstar and is currently on tour with Yungblud. There's a new artist named Miss Benny, who is incredible and I really believe in him. I really love Conan Gray. I think he's really special and I like his songs. Songwriter-wise Sydney Cubit is fantastic.