“I’m in service to the songs. And what I mean when I say that is songs kind of have a life of their own. There’s an energy when creating a song where I want the song to do what the song wants to do and not necessarily what I want the song to do,” says Breland, a singer/songwriter who has recently been made famous for his blending of country with hip hop and R&B. Although his sound is regularly categorized as country-trap, he finds the phrase “Cross Country” (which is also the name of one of his recent singles) to be a lot more accurate. During a recent phone conversation, he tells me, “Cross country is a term that I coined as a sub-genre that defies genre… It’s anything that’s country and something else,” going on to discuss how country music sounds have been utilized in a plethora of pop music of recent decades that often avoid the term due to its classical connotations, especially when discussing musicians of color. “I want to reach as wide of an array of people as possible,” he tells me, going on to discuss how much he enjoys the fact that he has sounds that appeal to, “young black kids,” in addition to sounds that, “older or middle-aged white people might like.”
When discussing Breland’s favorite music, he tells me that his five favorite albums, in no particular order, are Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder, Wide Open Spaces by Dixie Chicks, Anti by Rihanna, The 20/20 Experience by Justin Timberlake, and 24K Magic by Bruno Mars. This variety of influences is also reflected in the artists with whom Breland has collaborated (of which there are many). I ask him about some of the highlights of his career so far, which dates back to just 2019, and he mentions performing with Gladys Knight and Mickey Guyton on the 2021 CMT Music Awards, appearing on Good Morning America with Nelly and Blanco Brown, and writing and recording with Keith Urban in Urban’s homeland: “One experience that was a highlight was going to Australia with Keith Urban. We quarantined together and made music together.” His collaboration credits also include Sam Hunt, Dierks Bentley, and Chase Rice.
During our chat, Breland confesses that he’s still a bit in awe of some of these experiences: “Before you’re in the industry you never know about all of these possibilities. I mean, people like Sam Hunt and Chase Rice are people that I was listening to in college. To have music with these guys and relationships and friendships with them is really dope.” However, as grateful as he is, he does seem to be getting used to it. When I ask him about dream collaborations, whether entirely realistic or not, he laughs and replies, “I think it’s all realistic, as long as they’re alive,” before admitting that it certainly would have been cool to do something with Aretha Franklin or The Beatles, but says that Stevie Wonder is likely his favorite artist and at the very top of that list.
Breland’s had a number of hit singles (and two EPs) over the past two years, most notably debut single “My Truck,” an ode to country’s most iconic status symbol with hip hop swagger, and 2021’s “Throw It Back,” a twangy, country jam featuring Keith Urban. However, the originator of cross country is still yet to release his debut full-length, which he tells me is certainly in the works, but not something that he’s willing to rush: “I think on music and albums it’s hard to put a date on things… especially with your first record, because you really want to put your best foot forward.” He also admits that he’s not sure how many of the singles he’s already dropped will wind up on the album: “I’m not married to any of the songs being on the record.” But he does tell me that even if there are a few familiar tunes, the album will certainly not be a compilation of any sort: “There will be a lot of new music and probably some stuff you may not expect.”
Earlier this month Breland kicked off the Cross Country Tour, his first-ever headlining run, which will have him headlining our very own MilkBoy next Wednesday, September 22nd. In fact, the show will be a hometown show of sorts for Breland — who grew up 30 minutes outside the city, in Burlington, New Jersey – whose audience, he tells me, will be filled with family and old friends. Opening the show (and the first leg of the tour) will be Nashville-based singer/songwriter and friend of Breland’s, Ashley Cooke, whom he tells me he hand-picked for this run of dates: “Part of the reason I was excited to have her on tour is the role women are playing in country these days.” “It’s a really cool time for women in country music,” he says, before going on to discuss the important role people like Shania Twain, Reba McEntire, and Dixie Chicks played in his own love of the genre growing up. And, in terms of what can be expected of his show, he tells me that it’s likely to be quite eclectic.
“I think people can expect some of their favorite Breland songs and some covers and some new music. People can expect a lot of energy. And I like to crack jokes, it can be a bit of a stand-up thing… My show has a lot of different things emotionally, so it will be a lot of fun, but I’m not afraid to get a little emotional at times, either.”