Huntington Beach Singer Brett Young Takes Laid-Back Country to Nashville

Photograph by Chapman Baehler

O.C. native Brett Young is two number-ones into his debut record and touring with some of the biggest names in country music. He’s also up for New Artist of the Year at this month’s CMA Awards.

Young brought his Huntington Beach roots to Nashville. “I’m in love with the beach just like everybody else. It’s hard to grow up at the beach and not become a laid-back person; you breathe in the salt air, put your toes in the sand, take a deep breath. It affected the music a bit, too: There’s a kick-back, mellow element to my brand of country music.”

The singer grew up in a close-knit family he calls the most authentic, truthful people he has ever known. “One thing that was always taught to me was love and respect. One of the best examples of that is my parents’ relationship with each other.” They—along with a baseball career that propelled him toward the major leagues until an injury sidelined him—instilled in Young a deep work ethic.

“This is my 14th year making music. To everyone else, it seems like success happened overnight, and rightfully so—we weren’t at this level. It was such a slow growth for 13 years, and then this year it just took off. I didn’t see any of this coming.”

Once he signed with Big Machine Label Group, the whirlwind began as country radio bought into his easygoing yet deeply vulnerable brand of country music. His first record dropped in February and is full of ballads, culled from 300-plus songs he wrote over a decade. The two number-ones, “In Case You Didn’t Know” and “Sleep Without You,” are classic country love songs, devoid of bravado.

The same could be said for Young. “The funny thing about this business is that the glamorous side doesn’t really exist. It’s riding around on buses, sleeping in bunks; it’s sweatpants until a half hour before the show. It’s not what other people think it is; it’s not what I thought it was. If anything, a lot of it is humbling.”

Though performing under pressure certainly isn’t new for Young, he didn’t consider himself a performer until recently. “Last year, I would have said ‘I’m absolutely a writer.’ But after my experiences on the road over the past year, I find myself taking to the artist side of things. I’d call myself a ‘tweener’—I love both.”

When his frenetic travel schedule allows—he has been to 49 states so far—Young loves coming home to visit his parents and old haunts. “I love hanging down by Newport Pier; they call it the war zone. One of my buddies lives on the hill above Jack in the Box. I love to park at his place and grab his bikes, ride the boardwalk, go down to The Wedge, grab a bite at Sharkeez by the pier. One of my first gigs was at The Blue Beet on that stage in the corner.”

You get the sense Young is still the same guy who played in the corner—his corners have simply grown. “I played in O.C. three to five nights a week for five years. I hope people who remember me from Landmark, from The Blue Beet, from Black Bull Chop House in Huntington Beach, and The District Lounge that was by the pier—I hope they read this.”

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