For what it’s worth, BRELAND is set up for his first solo radio single about as well as possible.
He has collaborated with Keith Urban, sung with Lady A, and already had a No. 1 single, alongside Dierks Bentley and HARDY, with “Beers on Me.”
“For What It’s Worth,” built on a common phrase, is an easygoing piece of melancholy, delivered with a smooth grace. But the title also creates a distraction when said in everyday conversation.
“That phrase has been forever changed,” BRELAND says. “Like, I casually will use the phrase ‘for what it’s worth,’ and now, anytime it happens, it’s like I have to sing the song.”
The song’s sentiment will make sense to most listeners, though not everyone has experienced it firsthand. It requires a level of humility and maturity that usually comes through rugged self-examination.
“It’s tough to put the mirror in front of your own face when a relationship ends, to be able to see some of those areas of weakness or places that you need to grow,” BRELAND says. “It really is about closure. There are a lot of times you never have that follow-up conversation and you wish that you had.”
Singer-songwriter Greylan James (“Happy Does”) had the basic premise of “For What It’s Worth,” and he came about it the hard way. He had gone through a crushing breakup, and only with distance had he come to recognize that he was the problem.
“I remember her telling me that I was immature, that I wasn’t marriage material, and of course that hurts,” James says. “Two years removed from it and writing that song, I was like, ‘God, I was. I was immature. And I was insecure.’ That day, for whatever reason, those feelings all found a way into that song.”
For what it’s worth, James had carried the idea around for several months before he introduced it during a writing session on Aug. 16, 2021, with BRELAND and Rocky Block at the Big Loud office of Jacob Durrett (“All on Me,” “Big, Big Plans”). The cramped room wasn’t designed for four people and a studio.
“BRELAND was almost in my lap on the couch,” James quips.
BRELAND was the last to arrive, and before he got there, the other writers knocked around ideas. James suggested “For What It’s Worth” and offered a few support lines as well: “For what it’s worth, I’ve done some growing up,” “For what it’s worth, I don’t drink as much as I used to,” and for a twist, “Now I see you and your love for what it’s worth.”
Block and Durrett bought in, and when BRELAND showed up, he was won over, too. Durrett started playing a simple, five-note lick on acoustic guitar, alternating between two major chords, though he had the strings set to an alternate tuning in which the two highest notes continued ringing, setting a deceptively moody foundation.
“That whole week I was writing songs all in open D, and this was just a nice little melodic lick that happens in that intro that just kind of came out the first time I started playing,” Durrett recalls. “BRELAND was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. That sounds like exactly what we’re trying to do.’ ”
Durrett captured it on his laptop and played it back on repeat to set a base for their work. Then they dug in on the chorus. “I try to start with a chorus, make sure that we’ve landed that the way we want, because it’s going to come back three or four times,” BRELAND says.
The four were mildly surprised that “For What It’s Worth” had never been the title of a country hit, and with the initial lines James had given them, they were able to craft the chorus in a scant 20 minutes. “It’s like low-hanging fruit that you would think had already been picked,” Block says. “When Greylan set it up, we were all going to know how to do this.”
Once the chorus was finished, they built the verses with a more conversational tone and a slight hip-hop cadence, set in a lower section of BRELAND’s range. The protagonist owns his mistakes in a way that could be a verbal conversation with an ex or a projection uttered alone.
“It could be, ‘I’m actually at dinner with you, and I need this closure,’” Durrett says. “Not rekindling anything, but, ‘I just need to tell you that you are the reason that I will never do what I did to you again.’ [But] he could be talking to himself in the mirror in the morning. You know, he’s like, ‘How did I mess this up?’”
The first verse included a vaguely familiar, if oddly constructed, phrase: “heartbreak war,” a truncated take on a John Mayer title. “I don’t know if it was necessarily a nod to him or anything,” Block says, “but having heard ‘Heartbreak Warfare’ growing up and knowing that as a saying, ‘heartbreak war’ was just on the table.”
Another slightly askew line, “You got me looking in the mirror and not just in the rear,” underscored the man’s dedication to fixing himself. It’s paired with a linear melody stuck on the seventh note of the scale, a tone that begs for resolution, mimicking the tension in the story.
“For What It’s Worth” quickly became a priority track as BRELAND assembled his Cross Country album. Durrett produced a demo, which producers Sam Sumser (Mitchell Tenpenny, Keith Urban) and Sean Small (Jimmie Allen, Plain White T’s) used as a guide, periodically consulting with Durrett as they reworked it. Sumser played most of the new parts, though they had Evan Hutchings lay down a drum track, and Ilya Toshinskiy redid the central guitar lick and added a simple baritone solo that provides extra space in the story’s progression. Sumser also fashioned an ethereal version of the signature lick for glassy sonic variance.
“We took that riff and pitched it up an octave, maybe two octaves,” Sumser says, “EQ’d it and then put some cool reverb on it. It’s actually a guitar that you’re hearing, but it sounds like a vocal.”
BRELAND recorded a new vocal for it, plus two harmony voices, purposely delivering on a day when his voice was around 75% capacity, a level he could reproduce in unpredictable live settings. He enhanced the performance with a few dazzling vocal runs, though he was judicious about it, picking his moments and keeping them short.
“A lot of times, singers like that, all they want to do is run,” Sumser says. “But BRELAND is smart enough and disciplined enough to know that less is more, so he’ll tastefully do a run that might not sound too crazy. We always want people to be able to sing along, and I, for one, wouldn’t be able to sing the runs that BRELAND can do.”
Warner Music Nashville released it to country radio through PlayMPE on Sept. 12, with Oct. 17 set as the add date. For what it’s worth, the single is a good summation of the multigenre aesthetic on Cross Country.
“With this one, it has a soulfulness to it just based on the way that I generally perform,” BRELAND says. “There’s kind of some R&B melodies, like on the prechorus. But then there’s also this rock feel to it, because of the way that chorus hits. It’s powerful. It feels. So it felt like a good marriage of all the different sounds that we’re playing with on this project.”