Leland isn’t a household name yet, but if you’re a RuPaul’s Drag Race fan, you’ve heard his work. The singer-songwriter, née Brett McLaughlin, is the music composer for the show and his latest masterpiece, the “Divas Live” medley (co-composed by Freddy Scott), was the soundtrack to yesterday’s challenge on All Stars 3.
Billboard caught up with Leland to talk about the challenges of writing the “Divas” medley, who eliminated contestant Morgan McMichaels would have portrayed and co-writing with Troye Sivan: “He is one of my favorite people in the world and writing songs with him is just the best.”
Billboard: How did you get involved with RuPaul’s Drag Race?
Leland: Initially I was brought in the Drag Race family by Lucian Piane, who I’ve known for many years. I met Lucian when I first moved to L.A. He had worked with Ru since season one and then one year he asked me to help him work on Bad Girls of Herstory, and then I sang on “Bitch Perfect” and and then, I want to say last year, Lucian handed over the reins to me to do the bulk of the music.
That’s awesome. The Divas Live medley was incredible. Who was the hardest diva to write for?
Well, thank you, first of all. I will say they were all really challenging when it came to making sure we did Ru justice by picking the correct song and pairing it with the right diva. I grew up watching Divas Live, so when I heard that we were going to be doing this and it was also going to be on VH1, I obviously freaked out.
They were all equally challenging because you want to give these queens an amazing foundation to put a great performance to. So I wouldn’t say there was one that specifically stood out as most challenging.
How did you come up with the idea to have Julie Andrews rapping?
We just tried two or three different songs, as we did for all of them. We work with an amazing team at Drag Race who we collaborate really closely with. It’s just an incubation of funny gays of all ages. We tried a couple ideas before landing on that and I think “Call Me Mother” immediately just felt right. We were like, “what is the most ridiculous situation we can put Julie Andrews in?”
It was a lot of fun to watch! Did you have a part that you wrote for Morgan McMichaels?
As always, we don’t know who is going to be cut or anything like that so we write more than what we need. We had written a Lana [Del Rey] song for her. It was “Dance With U.”
One thing that I think more people need to be aware of is Allie X’s involvement in Drag Race. Was she part of this Divas Live medley?
Well, Allie is one of my closest collaborators. On this one, she was the first person I thought of for Julie Andrews, because I know her impersonation. But we ended up working with this amazing impressionist, Christina Bianco, who did the majority of the voices because our challenge with this episode was, not only pairing songs, restructuring the songs, rearranging the songs, was finding vocalists who were sound alikes, and also, doing it on a timeline where we were ready for the show.
So Allie didn’t work on this episode, but she did work on Bad Girls of Herstory and I’m sure we’ll work on it again in the future.
You co-wrote “My My My!” What is it like working with Troye Sivan?
It’s just terrible. [laughs] No, I love him so much. He is one of my best friends. We were writing songs together before “Bite,” before “Youth,” so to continue to be a part of his project is just an incredible experience.
And what I continually think about is wishing I had an artist like him to look up to, when I was a closeted teen in Mississippi. So while it’s amazing to have the critical response and to have songs on the radio and all of that, what I do think is more important is what it’s doing for the kids around the world who, whatever environment they’re growing up in, seeing that someone can confidently be who they are and be unapologetically gay, and make gay music videos, and be embraced and accepted, and be played on the radio. He is one of my favorite people in the world and writing songs with him is just the best.
I’m working with Sabrina Carpenter a lot, who I just adore. I can’t say enough good things about her. I’m really grateful to be meeting her at this point in her career when I feel like she is on the cusp of just so many exciting things.
I’m continuing to work with Daya, who I also love. I experienced my initial success as a writer with two new artists. I didn’t have an experience of writing a song for an artist that was already a massive star, so my first things were Daya and Troye, and so to continue to be working with both of them is amazing.
I also scored a movie, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser. It’s a Netflix original movie starring Shannon Purser, who was Barb on Stranger Things. That’s going to be coming out later this year. I wrote eleven original songs for the soundtrack, which I’m executive producing the soundtrack. We’re going to release the track listings soon.
And will we be seeing a music video for your solo track, “Mattress”?
Yes. It’s all in the works. I signed with Universal about four weeks ago and we are now up and running. I put out “Mattress” last July, but it takes so much time. Obviously, I’ve stayed busy working on other things, thankfully, but I’m excited to shift my focus a bit.
The “Mattress” music video will probably be coming in March and we shooting an acoustic performance. Then there are four more songs that are ready to go in April. I’ll be doing a residency at The Peppermint Club in May, playing some Prides and then going on tour.