Behind The Hits is a column brought to you by Pop Crave to highlight the work that goes into crafting perfect pop music. The artists we report on daily depend on talented songwriters and producers to bring their sounds and personas to life. Without these talented musicians working behind the scenes, there would simply be no pop to crave.
Whether you listen to superstar led top-40 or more left-of-field pop, you’ve likely been listening to Leland. Leland is an L.A based singer-songwriter who crafts bop for artists like Selena Gomez, Troye Sivan and Sabrina Carpenter. In addition to songwriting, he records his own songs, scores film/tv projects, and runs his own music publishing company. Read how he makes it all happen in our most recent Behind the Hits column.
How did you get into pop-song writing?
I got into pop songwriting because when I was in college my friends needed songs to perform. And so whether it was the pop showcase, the country showcase, the Christian showcase, I was just like, if someone needs a fucking song, I’m here. And so just sort of writing with friends, for friends and it turned into moving to LA and giving it a go there.
From the outside, everything feels overnight but that’s never how it really is. Is there a moment that stands out to you from when you were trying to break into the industry that was like “what is my life?”
So yeah, a moment that comes to mind of when I was thinking to myself, “what the fuck is going on in my life?” is when I was catering Kim Kardashian’s wedding to Chris Humphreys and I was holding a chair with Kathy Hilton while Kris Jenner was dancing on it. And that’s a moment where I just thought to myself, this is…this is really hard. But you know, even during those times I made friends and had great times. So, yeah, catering. I catered a lot of crazy shit.
You have lots of long-term collaborative relationships with people like Troye Sivan and Allie X. How do you foster and nurture these creative relationships?
I feel very lucky to have connected with genuine people. With Troye, we were friends first and then we started working together, but we were introduced through Tyler Oakley. And then we just connected as friends, and I think if you just care about each other and care about nurturing that relationship and feeding that relationship creatively, but also just looking out for each other and not expecting anything, then those friendships are just going to be organic and really fruitful. With Allie too, I genuinely care about her as a person and care about her as an artist and respect her as a creative. But at the end of the day, I just care about them as people and I know they feel the same way about me.
We saw Allie a couple of weeks ago at Elsewhere. So good!…
When writing songs for others versus writing songs for yourself, is there a difference in that creative process?
The differences is I go into a session knowing I’m writing for myself and I’m like, “whatever comes of this, hopefully if it’s good then I’m keeping it.” I’ve never really had a moment where I’ve been like, I’m going to give this to someone else. I’m very fortunate to be working with a lot of people that I admire and respect and it keeps me busy. So when I have time to write for myself, I need those songs. And I’m also really grateful when people like Troye and Allie take time out of their day to come and write with me, for me. But, then when I’m going into the room with someone like Selena Gomez, I do prep work and I think of titles and I think of lyrics and I think of concepts and try to come in with some ideas that wouldn’t be right for me, but that would be right for her.
Is there a song you’ve written for either yourself or someone else that you’re especially proud of?
I mean, yeah, there’s a few. It’s hard to pick one. I mean, as a songwriter, I’m really proud of “The Good Side.” The day we wrote that song, I felt really special. That song sort of wrote itself in, I’m not kidding, like 25, 30 minutes. I’ve always wanted to write a song like that, that felt classic but but fresh. I set a goal to write for Selena [Gomez] and to be a part of her career with “Fetish,” it was very special to me and I just felt very lucky to be a part of that and for her to trust the song, and to give it her all and make an incredible music video. And I’m excited for what we have coming.
You and Selena Gomez?
You’ve recently crossed over into film curating the soundtrack for Sierra Burgess is a Loser and The Other Two. How do you switch gears from pop-music to cinema and scoring?
I enjoy being challenged and what I really loved about Sierra Burgess was I was able to include so many friends. I was able to score the movie with Bram Inscore, who did the last two Troye albums, and then write 14 songs for it and then curate it, bringing in different friends to sing different songs that made sense, that made sense for the film. You know, I would have loved to bring my whole group, but it just had to make sense for the movie. But the difference is it’s a bigger project. I’m doing more. I am doubling as a creative but also as an executive and I really, really loved that. And working on Sierra Burgess is what inspired me to create Good Pop, which is my record label and a publishing company. I put out Sierra Burgess on my label and then just signed my first writer to Good Pop publishing.
We loved your set at Troye’s Bloom tour last year. How would describe the experience of opening on that tour?
Opening for Troye on the Bloom tour felt like being on vacation. It felt like traveling with one of your best friends. We just did the UK and Europe together and that was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had. That was also the first time that I would step on stage and people knew the words and were singing loud back to me and that never gets old. Especially because I’ve been working for a long time, so it’s really nice to have those moments. It was just incredible. I hope to have another experience like that again, but if not, it was amazing.
We’re heading into the best month of the year pride month (Obviously!). It seems like you’ve placed your LGBTQ identity firmly into your music. Why was this important to you?
It took me a while to become comfortable with my sexuality because of the environment I grew up in. I grew up in south Mississippi where I was encouraged to be creative but not encouraged to be myself. And those were two things that really go hand in hand. And I felt like once I connected being creative with being myself, and discovering myself and figuring out who that is, what makes me happy, who makes me happy, I felt like I started to write better songs and be happier with myself. And as an artist, once I just embraced it and was like, “I don’t give a fuck,” I felt like so many more opportunities came in and organic fans came and people connected to the music more than ever. I’m not trying to do anything, which is really nice. Like I’m not trying to go out of my way to include male pronouns, but I’m doing it if it’s right, because it feels right and there’s a nice freedom in that.
What do you hope is next for Leland?
What I hope is next is that Troye and I get to make another album together. That artists that I respect put out songs that I’ve written, and that I just get to keep doing what I’m doing. I feel very lucky to be doing it and to be working with people that I respect so much. Even in the past few months, I’ve worked with some iconic females from Ellie Goulding to Kelly Rowland to just people that I respect, admire, and have wanted. And I’m just excited to see what’s coming.
Get into this songwriting king! Stream Leland on Spotify.