By Drew Howard
Pop songwriter to the stars Leland (Cher, Selena Gomez, BTS, Addison Rae) reunites with longtime collaborator Troye Sivan for the Aussie pop star’s third studio album, ‘Something To Give Each Other,’ out this Friday, October 13th.
Inspired by nightlife culture, one-night encounters and sweaty dance floors, Leland tells Pop Crave he’s been working on ‘STGEO‘ alongside Troye and other collaborators – Ian Kirpatrick, Oscar Görres and Alex Chapman to name a few – for the past several years. The 10-track project, nine of which Leland co-wrote, is inspired by the sounds of Janet Jackson and his trips with Sivan around the world while creating the songs.
“Troye is taking so many big swings on this album sonically and visually, and that theme of taking big swings is carried throughout the album, this rollout and the tour – it’s just so exciting.” Leland tells Pop Crave. “Troye is all about big swings, he’s not afraid to take risks. That’s a fun place to be.”
Leland caught up with Pop Crave this week to talk about the creation of ‘STGEO,’ his response to the polarizing “Got Me Started,” and why track #8 “Silly” is his favorite cut.
Tell us about your involvement on Troye’s new album
I co-wrote nine out of 10 songs on the album. Troye wrote “Still Got It” with Oscar Görres. I’d be happy to be just be involved with one song, so to be involved with nine is really a dream. It’s just like hanging out with one of my best friends – even though it’s in the calendar as a studio sessions, it’s just ordering food with a friend and writing a song.
You’ve worked with Troye on all three of his studio albums – how did you two initially link up?
We were introduced through Tyler Oakley. At the time, him and Troye were very close working in the YouTube space. Tyler was one of my best friends at the time. He said, “I have a friend who’s coming to LA I really want you to meet, he’s going to be signing a record deal, and they want him to meet songwriters.” He told Troye about me and brought Troye to one of my shows. We chatted, I told him I’m working with Allie X if he wants to come join a session, and Troye said he’d love to.
Through all of that, we started writing. The first song all three of us wrote together ended up being a song for BTS called “Louder Than Bombs.” We wrote that years ago, and BTS made it their own and so incredible.
Five years have passed since Troye’s last album ‘Bloom’ in 2018. What’s the inspiration behind Troye’s new era?
With this album, Troye had such a clear source of inspiration. There is a secret playlist that gets built as inspiration, they’re songs that Troye is loving and I’ll text contributions here and there. Janet Jackson is a very clear source of inspiration on this album. Janet is an artist I’ve been a fan of since I was a kid, and still to this day, Janet is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.
I’ve always been inspired by her. I grew up in the TRL era watching her music videos. “Feedback” was a big moment for me in terms of falling in love with music and songwriting. She’s a huge inspiration and I know Troye feels similar. It was really fun to be inspired by her, you can hear it as a through line in the album.
‘STGEO’ still references ‘Bloom,’ and a little ‘Blue Neighborhood’ at one points – there’s this really authentic and natural evolution as we grow as songwriters, and he grows as an artist, while still having that foundation of Troye.
That’s good to hear there’s callbacks to prior albums – Troye has clearly evolved but I don’t think of him necessarily as an ‘Eras Artist’ where he switches it up 180 degrees every album. What specifically about Janet Jackson inspired the music this era?
This album feels really nostalgic, warm, hopeful and hot – it’s really fun to make. Janet uses warm chords and synth, and there’s this nostalgia that her music evokes. To me, Janet’s music isn’t over-produced. It’s just the right amount of sounds, the production is tweaked perfectly. Her inspiration is also on the vocal production, from the stacking of the octaves to the interwoven, tight harmonies and the way one note rubs with another note. Janet has beautiful voicing in her harmonies and vocal production – her background vocals play such an intimate role with the lead vocals. It’s all about that warm emotion that comes through Janet‘s music.
Troye Sivan in the “Rush” music video
How long has ‘Something To Give Each Other’ been in the works?
I think we’ve been working on this album for a few years. We worked on it in LA at Max Martin‘s studio, and we made it in Stockholm, London and Melbourne – we made it all around the world. We went to Paris to get inspired, going to museums and just walking around. The albums sounds as global as the way we made it. It was so fun to make it around the world.
Once we were able to start writing again after lockdown, one of the first songs we wrote together was “Got Me Started.” That one stuck around, which makes me so happy because it’s one of my favorites. One of the last songs we did at the end is called “Honey,” which I love! I love the chorus, it feels very Janet in its phrasings and rhythmic styles.
So does that mean Max Martin himself worked on this album?
I am going to let Troye talk about that!
Legendary hitmaker Max Martin
So exciting! I have a three-part question: Tell me which song on the album is your personal favorite, a potential fan favorite, and the sleeper hit.
My favorite changes – I’ve had these songs on my phone for so long, but track #8, “Silly” is definitely one of my favorites. It’s so much fun – we wrote these songs imagining how they’d play live. “Silly” is one where I can hear the live arrangement in my head. I could hear it as we were writing it.
Troye is taking so many big swings on this album, sonically and visually. That theme of taking big swings is carried throughout the album, this rollout and the tour. It’s just so exciting. “Silly” is definitely my favorite, that was produced by Ian Kirkpatrick who also produced “Got Me Started.”
Fans will love track #6, “Can’t Go Back, Baby.” That’s one that people are really going to fall in love with. It’s so beautiful. And as for the sleeper hit…to me I think it’s “Got Me Started,” but in the best way. It’s the most polarizing song because of the sample. I’m so proud of how we worked that out. The idea of putting the sample in the song came as were writing it – it wasn’t something that was just given to us after, it came together organically in the room. It’s been so fun to see the response from people saying they love it, or others saying “that didn’t work for me!” As a songwriter, you want music where people have opinions on it. And you’re not making music for everyone.
“Got Me Started” definitely got a lot of attention online. What was the process of clearing the sample for “Shooting Stars” by Bag Raiders?
We were writing the song, and Troye started hearing that melody along with the sample – Troye is Australian, and the Bag Raider‘s are an Australian group – so Troye texted his A&R in Australia, and I’m not kidding, within an hour and a half Troye got a text with the WAV file to the actual sample itself.
That is nuts it only took 90 minutes, because aren’t you guys also working off different time zones?
We’re different time zones, but listen – Australians stick together. The Bag Raiders had not approved that sample before. People used it in memes and edits obviously, but as far as approving the song for a single, for the actual composition, they never approved it before, and they had so many requests. We were incredibly grateful, and they were just incredibly generous with working out the deal.
Now I’m curious about the lead single, “Rush.” What was that process like making it?
“Rush” was definitely toward the second half of the album creation – “Rush” came about because Troye posted on his story asking for producers to send him tracks. One of our friends texted Troye the idea for Rush, and then Troye played it for me. He said, “What do you think?” and I was like, “I fucking love it!”
We were having a discussion, asking if we should dive into this idea and make it something that makes sense for the album. Troye is all about big swings, he’s not afraid to take risks. It’s fun to work with an artist who is not putting any limits on themselves, they’re very open. That’s a fun place to be, because I don’t know if Troye and I would’ve written “Rush” if we had just gone into the studio together one day. So to be given that gift of an idea, and then be able to write a song around it was just a really fun process.
Have you heard the version of “Rush” on YouTube where they delay the instrumental by four bars?
I haven’t, but I will check that out!
What can you tell us about the upcoming music video for “One Of Your Girls”
That question will be answered this week. It’s just going to be everything. EVERYTHING. This week is going to be a wild one.
I saw the most random rumor that Taylor Swift is somehow involved on the album
Well, not that I know of! But obviously, Taylor has been a huge supporter and fan of Troye. Me and Troye were just talking the other day about how incredible it was of her to invite him to perform “My My My!” at the Reputation Tour at the Rose Bowl. I just went to see Coldplay last weekend in the Rose Bowl, and the last time I was there to see Troye perform “My My My!” with Taylor to announce the ‘Bloom‘ album.
She’s such a truly timeliness and legendary songwriter, so it’s cool to have her stamp of support and continuous support. It’s so cool for an artist to use their platform and lift up another artist in that way.
Troye Sivan and Taylor Swift at the Reputation Tour
A lot of people said Taylor was being performative in 2019 with “You Need to Calm Down,” but then you see what she does to support artists like Troye and it’s really amazing.
Yes! I work with MUNA quite a bit, and they just opened for Taylor. Taylor has an unwavering support for the queer community, and the history just speaks for itself.
Let’s talk about some other artists you’ve been working with lately. You co-wrote two songs on Addison Rae’s LP: “I got it bad” and “2 die 4” featuring Charli XCX. I love that EP and could ask a million questions, but do you think your collaborative relationship will continue?
I would love for it to – she and I are still very good friends, if she ever called me to write more songs I would do it in a heartbeat!
Addison Rae’s debut EP, ‘AR.’
I think the Addison Rae EP will definitely be remembered as a moment. People who actually care about pop music had things to say about it. You also have something on Cher’s album, talk about that.
I co-wrote Cher‘s single, “DJ Play A Christmas Song,” on her upcoming album ‘Christmas‘ that came out this past week. She is iconic and a legend! She sounds unbelievable, it’s so cool and so much fun.
I am going to be annoyingly present this Christmas season – I did two songs on the Cher ‘Christmas‘ album, and I executive produced and co-wrote some songs with comedian Matt Rogers‘ album ‘Have You Heard of Christmas?” out November 3rd on Capitol Records.
Aside from that, I just had a song with LANY called “It Even Rains In LA” that came out this week too…and I just put out my first remix – I remixed “Rush,” so I’m going to start doing DJ sets here and there, that’s really fun. And then my work on RuPaul’s Drag Race is very much a full time gig. I’m curious to see what the rest of the year will look like, I’m going to New York tonight to celebrate the release of Troye‘s album with him this week.
Last question: What was your favorite moment making ‘Something To Give Each Other’ with Troye?
Going to Stockholm is absolutely one of the perks of being a pop songwriter. Going to Stockholm, we’ll write an idea that day, then usually walk to dinner or to get a drink after work. When we’re walking on the sidewalk, we’ll play what we made on a phone, holding the phone between us and just listening to the work. We did that that the day we wrote ‘My My My!” and we got to do that on these writing trips…that a nice memory we get to do every time.
Stream Troye Sivan’s latest single, “Got Me Started” on Spotify.