Photo: Chapman Baehler/Courtesy Red Light Management

 “Accidental” country singer Brett Young has come a long way from his California roots to his humble Nashville stardom.

When you see a picture of Brett Young or get a chance to catch him in person, the country singer stands tall at 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds of muscle. He may look intimidating, but underneath the big frame is a big softy, with an affinity for his Pomeranian-Chihuahua mix Oscar, his family, his hometown, and his adopted city of Nashville. Soft-spoken and kind, he’s got just the right amount of Southern hospitality rooted in his humble upbringing to win over even folks who don’t typically warm to country music.

There was a day when that might have described Young. Before becoming a country star, he wasn’t always susceptible to the charms of country music. Growing up in Orange Country, California, he listened mostly to R&B like Boyz II Men. For him, country music was obscure —until Young accidentally discovered it was a great means to annoy his older sister.

“I have an older sister who didn’t like country music when we were growing up, and as siblings do, whoever gets the front seat, which is something that you fight over every time you get in the car, gets control of the radio,” Young says. “Whenever she would get the front seat, I would just sit in the back and wait my turn. Whenever I would get in the front seat, she would kick the back of my chair so I couldn’t enjoy my turn in the front seat. So what I figured out is that she didn’t like country music and that was the only way I could get back at her."

The method worked, but along the way, Young grew to appreciate country music more and more. He found himself listening less to bands like Blink-182 and Green Day, which were popular in Southern California at the time, and more to the songs he employed to aggravate his sister.

A turning point came when he heard Tim McGraw’s “Don’t Take the Girl,” and Young was inspired and enthralled by the storytelling aspects of the song.

“I remember thinking, Wow, that’s really impressive that that’s a 15-year story that he’s telling in three minutes. So I was drawn into the songwriting as well as Tim’s voice.”

Songwriting would come later for Young, because at the time, he was more focused on becoming a professional baseball player. He attended Ole Miss for a year on a scholarship before transferring to Irvine Valley and then to Fresno State College. Plans changed when the young pitcher’s flourishing baseball dreams were abruptly put on hold by an elbow injury.

Eventually, he would return to music. He was no stranger to making his own. “Beginning in junior high, seventh grade, I transferred to a Christian school and it was the thing to do,” Young says. “It was as popular to learn and play guitar as it was to play sports. My grandma’s new husband at the time gave me an old beat-up learner guitar, and I started playing. A couple of years later, when I was a sophomore in high school, one of the guys on the baseball team who led worship every Monday morning said he needed me to learn six songs and come up and play with him.”

Young took those moments leading worship at school to heart and developed his songwriting skills as he transitioned deeper into a new passion while coming to terms with leaving baseball.

“It happened pretty naturally because even though I wasn’t writing songs yet, I already loved music,” Young says. “I’ve always been a huge music person, and so the decision was, for me, Do you love anything as much as you love baseball? The only thing that came close was music, and at the time I didn’t know how much, obviously, because I hadn’t written songs. I hadn’t gone very deep into music. But, yeah, trying to figure out what career path I wanted to take after baseball was pretty easy. Now I say easy. Obviously, this was a pipe dream to chase a music career, but the decision that that’s what I wanted to do was the easy one.”

Finding catharsis in songwriting during his healing process, Young was inspired to take his career to Los Angeles, where he found a job as a bartender and several stable gigs playing locally. After a few years, Young realized he wouldn’t find success in country music in a city where it wasn’t flourishing. So he packed up and moved to Nashville, where opportunities in country music came naturally.

“I started playing writers’ rounds anywhere [in Nashville] that they would let me in, and it happened really fast. I was fortunate enough to play in front of an A&R person for Big Machine named Laurel Kittelson. She pulled the head of the label, Jimmy Harnen, aside at a Reba McEntire event and just said, ‘Hey, Jimmy, I’ve got this guy. You said if I was excited about somebody, you wanted to hear about it. I’ve got this guy.’”

That was about a year into living in Nashville, and within less than two weeks of meeting Jimmy Harnen, Young was offered a record deal.

“So Orange County and L.A. was a long 10 years, and then one year in Nashville and we were signing a record deal and making a debut album,” Young says.

Now his self-titled debut album has hit the shelves and his songs are hitting the top of the charts. His first single, “Sleep Without You,” put him on the map, reaching No. 3 on US Country, while his sentimental second single, “In Case You Didn’t Know,” reached No. 2. Both songs are favorites, he says, because they’re so successful, but the tracks “Mercy” and “In Case You Didn’t Know” are the most important to him.

“‘In Case You Didn’t Know’ [is special] because I think that it would have been really easy to be cheesy in that song, and we fought really hard not to be. So I know how much effort we put into making it exactly what it is,” Young says. “‘Mercy’ is one of those songs for me that — I’ve never said this when I’ve written a song before — but when me and Sean McConnell finished that song, I literally thought in my head, I really hope this hurts people’s feelings. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. Everybody’s had that song where you know listening to it is going to crush you, but you can’t help but listen to it. I was hoping that that would be that song for people and it’s seeming like it is. So I think it’s strange that those are my two favorites because one is such a sweet, sappy love song, and one is such a tough break-up song, but I think those two are for whatever reason the most special for me.”

Brett Young’s Nashville

  • Go down to Broadway to hear all the amazing cover bands.
  • Get yourself a Bushwhacker from Rippy’s.
  • Play Pop-A-Shot in the back of Paradise Park.
  • Have a drink on the third floor of Honky Tonk Central.
  • Go up to the top of the Orchid Lounge at Tootsies.
  • [For live music, drinks, and food, hit] Tin Roof on Demonbreun, and Winners Bar & Grill and Losers Bar and Grill in midtown.
  • Do family-style lunch or breakfast at Monell’s.
  • Check out the Grand Ole Opry.
  • Take the 30-minute drive into Franklin and see the old downtown.

To find out more about Brett Young, visit his website.