Leland Dishes on Working With Troye Sivan, 'Drag Race' & His New Breakup Bop 'Run Into You'
Pop singer and songwriter-extraordinaire Brett McLaughlin, better known by his stage name Leland, has spent the last year on a meteoric rise to stardom. A longtime collaborator and friend of Troye Sivan, Leland co-wrote each of the singles off of Sivan’s upcoming album Bloom, along with writing for artists like Selena Gomez, Allie X and Charli XCX. He even lends his talents to RuPaul’s Drag Race and helps pen the show’s original music.
But Leland also wants to make a pop career of his own. After the success of his last single “Mattress,” the singer has returned with his new track “Run Into You,” a synth-pop dance track that explores the feeling of trying to have a good night out when you keep running into your ex.
“These last couple of weeks, I've just been in artist mode,” Leland tells Billboard about balancing his work as a songwriter and a singer. “I have never been able to do that, and it is so much fun. I'm excited to be doing more of that.”
Leland chatted with Billboard about his new single, what it’s like working with best friend Sivan, and the controversial brunch he co-hosted that led to a major online backlash.
I've been listening to "Run Into You" all day. It's super catchy. What made you want to write this song?
I mean, I kept running into my ex in West Hollywood and I got so fucking sick of it. At a certain point, I realized that this was something that was going to happen and that I was going to have to work through. Honestly, I wrote the chorus for it in the car, driving to the studio to work on the song with Jordan Palmer who produced it. I had the hook in my head, it came to me at the same time as I was driving to this studio in North Hollywood to write a song with Jordan for myself.
I really like that it is a very upbeat, fun song that is also about dealing with a breakup and being around an ex. Can you tell me a little more about where that came from?
Yeah, I had just been going out with friends and I kept running into him. Eventually, I was like, "This is too much, I need to get this out and work through this, it's obviously going to become a thing." I needed to work through this and have that mind-set of how the night was going to go if I do run into him. And, you know ... I just wanted to talk about something that I really cared about and that was personal to me. I've been getting more messages about this song and relating to the lyrics than I did with "Mattress," and that has been really cool to see.
I'm just shocked that you have been able to find time to record your own music when you're working with so many other artists, working on the music for Drag Race and more. How do you find the time to get all of this done?
Oh, I mean ... I'll take three or four hours after everything to go work on my stuff. Sometimes I'll be up until 2 in the morning or 3 in the morning, because my days can have crazy schedules. Sometimes I'll be working on Drag Race at 6 a.m., and then going to a session or a meeting at 10, and then going to another session at 1, one at 5, finishing a song. I mean, this was my day a couple of weeks ago when Troye and I had to finish a song from like 1 to 3 and then do a proper session after that. I met with Charli XCX that day, and then at 7 p.m., I went over to Jordan's to finish a song that we needed to finish everything for, and then shot the artwork later than night. [Laughs] But I will say my priority has been shifting. These last couple of weeks, I've just been in artist mode, and I have never been able to do that, and it is so much fun. I'm excited to be doing more of that.
What, for you, is the major difference between writing for yourself and writing for artists like Troye or Charli XCX?
I just want good songs, just like everybody else. So I am just as critical on myself as I am giving songs to other artists. I have a song that's gonna come out in a couple of months that's actually a song I wrote with Troye, and I just find good songs wherever they can come from. Obviously, I definitely want to write them, but I think the difference is that it has to be a true narrative to me. It has to be something that I've experienced, or it just has to be really fucking fun! Not every song is going to be about a relationship, not every song is going to be about a breakup, but that's what these first two have been. I think the difference is just making sure I sound good singing it [laughs].
You talked a little bit about the fan reaction to this song and especially to "Mattress." What has that been like, to see such a loud response from fans saying that they love your music and that it's explicitly about being queer?
The concept of having fans at all is just foreign to me. [Laughs] So that alone, just people reaching out on their social media, or texting me or whatever, it's so cool. To see how far a song can reach globally now that these songs are going out globally on Spotify and Apple ... anyone can listen to them, and getting messages from around the world is awesome. I think people are responding to it because, growing up in a small conservative town in Mississippi, I was dealing with "What are my parents going to think if I'm singing about boys?" And I finally hit a point where I just did not give a fuck anymore. I have a great relationship with my family, but creatively, I was like, "I won't care anymore, I'm going to work on exactly what I want to work on and say exactly what I want to say." And it was at that moment when I wrote "Mattress" with Allie X and Jordan, I started working on Drag Race and writing more songs with Troye. Everything has just been so personal with my experience just being happy with myself, and I think people are seeing that and listening to that, and hopefully connecting with it.
Speaking of Troye, you have been his biggest collaborator, especially on Bloom, which is coming up. What has that experience been like getting to work with someone who is so close to you?
Getting to write songs with your best friend every day for a year is a dream come true. And getting to do it again -- we had such a good time making that first album, so getting to do it again was just insane. We went to Stockholm, we wrote a lot of songs in the same garage studio that we did the first album on, and we just had so many fun experiences. I am so grateful for it, we do not take it for granted. "Bloom" was actually an inside joke of us just giggling in the studio, writing this song and thinking that it would never come out, and giggling about the subject matter -- you know, it being about "flowers." And then to see the response, and to be so blatantly queer, is just so exciting and so special. If you had told 16-year-old, closeted, Mississippi Leland, I don't think he would've been able to believe the projects that I'm working on.
I agree. I was at this brunch and was partially responsible for some of the invites that went out. While we invited a diverse group of people, the turnout did not reflect our intentions. I’m eager to learn, grow and take responsibility when it needs to be taken. --️-- https://t.co/j7iiHqMn49— Leland (@LelandOfficial) May 24, 2018
Let's talk for a second about the brunch that happened this week. You were one of the co-hosts of this meeting for LGBTQ artists to talk about homophobia in the industry, and some people online called out the lack of women and people of color in attendance. You tweeted some thoughts on it earlier this week -- can you tell me what happened there?
Honestly, I don't want to go into it much further than what I said on Twitter, because that really sums up how I feel about it. What I will say is ... yeah, it was a mistake, and it certainly was not intentional. I was one of the co-hosts, so I was responsible for sending out some of the invitations. I won't throw anyone under the bus, I just feel like it was really unfortunate that it came across that way, because that is how the picture looked. I can see it just like anybody else, and when I looked at the picture, I was like, "Oh my god, this sucks." We had so many people that were supposed to come that, for one reason or another, couldn't. So yeah, what's important is you learn, you apologize, you take responsibility, and you move forward and make sure that never happens again.
So moving forward, can we expect more music from you soon?
You know, I'm putting out a song every month until September. I am so excited, I put out "Mattress," and then I ended up signing a deal which I am super excited about. But all of those things take time, and so we sent "Mattress" to radio in Germany, and thankfully it did really well there. So now, we're at a place where we're putting out songs. I'm going on tour, which I'll be announcing soon. And I want people to know the songs! So I have so many songs that I'm excited about, and so yes, we are putting out a song per month. And then I'll be writing a lot more for myself. We're not slowing down, I just want to go for it.