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Brett Young on His Infectious Duet 'I Do' With Astrid S: It 'Sounded Like Something That I Would Write'

Brett Young and Astrid S
Adam Taylor

Brett Young and Astrid S

While Brett Young is respected for his distinct vocal phrasing and confessional lyrics on ballads of love and heartache, today the country singer-songwriter shows a different talent: duet partner. Young teams up with European pop star Astrid S -- real name Astrid Smeplass -- with the release of the infectious “I Do,” out Friday (Feb. 28).

Written by Astrid with Jakob Gustaf Hazell, Svante Halldin, Tia Scola and Julia Karlsson, “I Do” tells a vivid story of heartbreak, and it was the lyrics that initially drew Young to the pop track. “I'm a songwriter first, so I'm usually pretty hard on lyrics,” Young tells Billboard over the phone a day ahead of the song’s release. “I was immediately impressed about not just the story that was being told, but also the way that it was being told. I thought it was very, very lyrically sound and sounded like something that I would write and even in a way that I would say it.”

Young was captivated by Astrid’s “unique and cool voice,” and wanted to sing the song with her. “Even more exciting than hearing how the vocals blended, it just turned out to be a really cool project and I was super flattered that she asked me to do it.”

Ahead of soundcheck during a tour stop in Omaha, Neb., on Feb. 27, Young spoke with Billboard about “I Do,” the country genre’s growing collaboration with pop acts, and his current the Chapters Tour. His sixth single, "Catch," is currently in the top 10 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart.

What made you connect with “I Do” and decide to collaborate with Astrid S?

I don't think there are very many stories that haven't been told. For me, it comes down to a clever new take on [a song] or a twist. It was a concept that I could completely grasp, and it was just said in a new, fresh, different way.

Collaborations with non-country artists are not a new thing, but they seem to be happening more frequently. Why?

In the six years I've lived in Nashville, I've watched the country genre change a ton. I think the biggest change we’re seeing is the influence of pop music in country radio. I think the country genre is already moving in that direction a little bit. So it's less of a departure to just start doing collabs, and also country has exploded so our access to those pop acts is better.

We’re spending more time in L.A., whether it's for awards shows or writing collaborations or whatever it is. I think the worlds were already colliding, and so an obvious next step is starting to make records together. I don't think it was any one decision. I think the genre has migrated enough that pop just makes sense.

You’re no stranger to cross-genre collaborations. You teamed up with Boyz II Men during a taping of CMT Crossroads last year and also have a duet with Gavin DeGraw on 2018’s Ticket to L.A.

There are very few country music fans that only listen to country music. I grew up listening to R&B, soul, rock, punk, country; I was all over the map. It's just a cool thing to give your fans that you assume are listening to pop music as well as country music on the regular. You hope that that assumption can go so far as that they're already fans of Astrid S or whoever you're collaborating with.

I think it's really important whether you're trying to crossover as an artist or not -- which I'm not, that's not what I'm trying to do here -- to continue to give your fans something new and different and fresh every once in a while so it doesn't all get a little mundane.

Some argue that men in the genre should collaborate with female country artists, given the struggles females face at country radio. What female in the genre would you consider duetting with?

We’ve had our eye on that concept ever since we put the first record out, and I thought for sure it was going to happen on the second record. As a songwriter, I don't want to do it just to do it; I want to have the right song. Every third or fourth write I’d be going, “Let's try to write a duet today and just try to get that.” The irony is that I had a record with Gavin DeGraw and writing one for a female was the goal.

For me, just because I had a chance meeting with her way back in the day before she had a record deal when she was still on American Idol … I had a chance meeting with Carrie Underwood at a Dodgers game and followed her on Idol and have been a fan ever since. If I was going to pick a female to duet with, it would probably be her just because that would be a cool full-circle moment for me.

You’re about a month into the Chapters Tour. How’s it going so far? Will you be playing “I Do” on the road?

I just don't know how that song works with me by myself. I think Astrid is magic in that song … I got really good advice from Thomas Rhett back when I was on my first single. His advice was to never stop growing the production of your live show, and he goes, “It'll keep getting more expensive and that's OK. That means you're playing bigger rooms and you can afford it. Don’t get greedy and try to start making money right away. Put the money back into the production and it'll pay off when your live show continues to grow.”

It seems you’ve really kicked it up a notch with the production. Can you tell me your vision behind this tour?

This was the first year that we had a little bit of a budget to actually build content, film content and add a video package. It was a really cool idea that my managers [Van Haze and Haley McLemore] had. Haley came to me and said, “You know, you got the song ‘Chapters.’ It's a cool name for a tour and also I think it's an opportunity to tell more of your story.” I just loved that.

I got my buddy Seth Kupersmith, who was the director for both my “Mercy” music video and my “Catch” music video, and we spent some time out in L.A. shooting content together and putting together a little bit of a story. I get 90 minutes a night to tell my story with my songs, but I wanted to take some of that 90 minutes and tell more of the story with some video and some interviews and some pieces that are fresh and different from what a normal concert looks like.

Why is it important to show that side to your fans?

I think that that's an obligation that we have as artists to our fans. I think it gets really easy sometimes to forget that it doesn't go as far as putting a song out, playing the show, run back to your bus: A big part of our obligation to our fans is to let them know that we appreciate them. The way that I found works for me is to be vulnerable and be transparent in my songs.

It's been fun to watch the reaction and it allows people to go, “Hey, he’s been through that too. We're the same in that way.” It makes people want to keep coming out rather than check out the live show once and check it off on their to-do list.

Is there one photo or video you include on the tour that holds more meaning to you than the rest?

Absolutely. Right now, the first song of our encore is a song that's not out yet that I wrote to my daughter, “Lady.” The video playing in the background is all pictures of her, me and her, my wife and her, all three of us. Everything that we're putting up on screen on the tour is really personal. But obviously with our first child being 4 months old and a new song to her about her mom, that's definitely the moment that that gets me every time.

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