Brett Young Makes a 'Case' for Romance On Country Radio

C. Baehler
Brett Young

Young's ballad goes for the heart without uttering the "L-Word."

ABC’s The Bachelor marked its 15th anniversary on the air this spring — an enormous accomplishment in contentious primetime TV — and much of its success can be easily traced to its embrace of romance. The roses, the kisses and the steamy poolside chats are all designed to tantalize the relationship fantasies and aspirations of the audience — particularly women who often find themselves linked in their real lives to men who have difficulty saying the L-word.

Mirroring that quest for intimacy is Brett Young’s sophomore single, “In Case You Didn’t Know,” a spacious ballad wrought with male vulnerability, exactly the kind of stuff that would excite many a female viewer of The Bachelor. It’s a tender love song, credited to four male songwriters, that never actually uses the word “love.”

“Isn’t that weird?” Young asks rhetorically.

Maybe. But it’s also a perfect way to capture the awkward way that many men relate to their mates.

“There’s a fundamental difference between how often men remember to say ‘I love you’ and how often women want to hear ‘I love you,’ ” says Young. “For the most part, it’s on the guy. He’s not withholding it intentionally. It’s just that we kind of miss the point sometimes, that even in the most nonchalant way, telling the person how you feel is important.”

Young’s debut single, the midtempo “Sleep Without You,” peaked at No. 2 on Country Airplay and No. 3 on Hot Country Songs following its release on the BMLG imprint. “In Case You Didn’t Know” literally came about as that artist/label relationship was building. He penned it during a songwriting retreat in Punta Mita, Mexico, in June 2015. Young received the first draft of his recording deal from Big Machine Label Group during his stay at the beach.

But he devoted larger chunks of time during the trip to writing prospective music for that deal. The first half of the retreat was spent with former Lyric Street artist Trent Tomlinson and singer-songwriter Tyler Reeve (“Whiskey on My Breath”), and they focused initially on writing the elusive positive, uptempo smash. Their first two songs were passable, but on June 21, the last full day of his co-writers’ stay, they had trouble getting anything going.

Finally that night, they overcame the block when Tomlinson related a story. His father — Don Tomlinson, the inspiration for his 2006 single “One Wing in the Fire” — had died four months earlier. In the aftermath, a family ritual with his mother, Brenda Tomlinson, had taken on greater poignancy. Whenever he left his parents’ house, Brenda invariably extended a reminder: “In case you didn’t know, I love you.”

The writers recognized the first part of that phrase as an ideal title for a ballad, and they launched into it with Tomlinson laying out a chord structure on a small electronic keyboard.

“First off, what we did was try to find the right melody and groove,” says Tomlinson. “We finally kind of got the right mood and [melody], and then the words just fell into place.”

They set up the guy’s communication issue in the first few lines: “I can’t count the times/I almost said what’s on my mind, but I didn’t.”

Mirroring that silence, they didn’t talk about avoiding the L-word, though there was definitely a group effort to not take the song over the top.

“The song is almost this wedding song that has enough cheese in it without being cheesy, but I feel like if we start saying ‘love’ and ‘the heart,’ then it’s kind of too much,” says Reeve. “I think we were all aware of that and tried to make it conversational, what you could say to a woman if you could say it and have it come out the way you want.”

The first verse and chorus were fairly easy. Getting into the second verse was difficult, but referencing “that second glass of wine” helped unlock the door.

“Really, it’s romantic-setting furniture,” suggests Reeve.

Plus, adds Tomlinson, “It’s not ‘I’ve had three bottles, let me tell you what I feel.’ ”

They encountered an even bigger block when they arrived at the song’s bridge. It’s remarkably short — “You got all of me/I belong to you/Yeah, you’re my everything” — but Young hits the highest note of the song in the last syllable of the chorus right before it.

“A lot of people like to put a little lead-in there, like a solo section going to the bridge,” says Reeve. “I always like to land the last word or the hook as the start of the bridge. Makes it cool to me.”

One of Young’s band members, Kyle Schlienger, built a track along the way with the percussive elements keeping the tempo focused during the write. But when they fashioned a demo in the early-morning hours, most of that was scrapped. Young sang over a piano track that Tomlinson played, and Schlienger added a light keyboard pad to give it some depth.

“As soon as we got done, Brett fired it off to [BMLG president] Jimmy Harnen at like four in the morning,” says Tomlinson. “I think Jimmy actually listened to this thing at four o’clock in the morning and got right back to us, saying, ‘This is a smash, guys.’ So that was well worth the trip.”

When Harnen brought producer Dann Huff (Keith Urban, Thomas Rhett) into the project, “In Case You Didn’t Know” elicited a positive response.

“I was absolutely blown away by the simplicity and the beauty of it,” says Huff. “It was just a piano demo, and it’s that good of a song that it works using a straight piano.”

Those don’t always blend well on radio though, so they recorded it at Nashville’s Blackbird Studios with a full band, attempting to keep some of the holes in the arrangement but still create a sense of movement underneath. The core of it was there, but Huff did a lot of tinkering at his home studio to whip it into final shape.

“We had a lot going on in that song,” says Young. “Before I even heard his first rough mix, he had pulled a ton of it out.”

Huff overdubbed a ganjo part, interspersed acoustic guitar amid Ilya Toshinsky’s original performance and layered in additional electric guitar lines. He ran a guitar through a Leslie amp for a twangy effect in the first verse, similar to the guitars in Rascal Flatts’ “Rewind,” and applied a wah-wah pedal in the second verse to create a swampy texture. The end result is something akin to a guitar-centered 2017 version of a Richard Marx ballad: spacious, sentimental, filled out with very contemporary instrumentation.

“If you played it with piano, that quarter pulse in the right hand, it very much would have been in that same tradition as a Richard Marx ballad,” says Huff.

Marx, of course, did well on the radio, and “In Case You Didn’t Know” is set up to perform in a similar manner. Fans started singing along in concert when it was still just a cut off Young’s self-titled EP released in February 2016. SiriusXM picked it up early, and there were weeks that it actually outsold the then-current terrestrial hit “Sleep Without You” in downloads. BMLG released “In Case You Didn’t Know” to radio via PlayMPE on Nov. 28, and it’s No. 4 in its 31st week on Country Airplay.

Tapping into the same emotional lane that guides The Bachelor, Young sees the single as one that helps men convey their feelings to the women in their lives, whether they actually use the L-word or not.

“That’s the whole point of the song,” says Young. “It’s not just about saying ‘I love you’ to get that point across. It’s about everything you can do all day in your life to make that point.”