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Leland moves into the spotlight
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

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Brett Leland McLaughlin is an out singer, songwriter and producer known simply by Leland. He has written songs for several well known singers over the years including Selena Gomez, Carrie Underwood, Andy Grammer, Troye Sivan, Sabrina Carpenter, Betty Who, Daya and Charli XCX. He has also released multiple tracks as a solo artist such as "Middle of a Heartbreak" and "Another Lover."

For RuPaul's Drag Race he co-wrote segments Kitty Girls and Kardashian: The Musical, as well as being a guest on several episodes.

In films, he composed the score and wrote 11 original songs for the Netflix movie Sierra Burgess Is a Loser and composed the theme song for Boy Erased called "Revelation" with Troye Sivan and Jonsi.

Before playing Pride Fest in Chicago, Leland met up to talk about his projects.

Windy City Times: Where are you from?

Leland: I was born and raised in Biloxi, Mississippi. I live in LA now, but grew up in a really conservative home. When I was 18, I went to college in Nashville at a private christian school called Belmont University, which wound up being the gayest place in the world because everyone was just like me.

WCT: I read somewhere you do lectures.

Leland: That's so funny, I taught at a college for three years.

WCT: Where is your middle name Leland from?

Leland: It's my dad's first name.

WCT: Describe yourself as an artist.

Leland: I have been a songwriter first for quite a few years. Now I am exploring what else I like to do in addition to writing, that is making music for myself. I'm taking time to focus on what I want to put out as a creative individual. I feel very lucky to flex my creative muscles by releasing music of my own.

I'm producing other artist's projects. I am writing for Drag Race and for Comedy Central's The Other Two. It's a nice time for me and I'm enjoying it.

WCT: Similar to Meghan Trainor who eventually went into her own career after writing for other people, are there songs that just sound like something specifically for you instead of someone else?

Leland: I go into the room and know it will be a song for someone else or myself. I have it predetermined. I know what I am writing for that day.

I typically write a lot of my songs alone or with one other person. There has been a time when Troye, Allie X and myself have been writing together and we all wanted the song. We take turns on who gets it.

WCT: Are you influenced by any artists?

Leland: Definitely Prince, when I discovered him towards the end of high school. He was so flamboyant and fearless. He oozed sex, whether he was in heels and a corset or more masc presenting. I was very inspired by all of his looks.

Groups like Tears for Fears made anthems that I really enjoyed. I grew up on Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera in the era of golden pop.

WCT: What does being an out artist mean to you?

Leland: It's singing about whomever I am attracted to, which in my case is boys. It's writing songs without having to water anything down for any particular audience.

WCT: That must have been a gay workroom when you wrote the Boy Erased track with Troye and Jonsi.

Leland: It was and a really intense experience. As many LGBT people did, I had the option to go to conversion therapy. I did not go. The movie is about the camp that I had the opportunity to go to, but said no. Thankfully, I was at a place where I was financially stable and knew who I was. I didn't get any more pressure from it.

To revisit that and see those materials again was tough, but this time it as an out and proud gay man. Working on a movie with Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe and Troye Sivan was really special. We got a Golden Globe nomination for the song and lost to Gaga. It was all really amazing and the best thing that could have happened.

WCT: Talk about the fish in the video for "Middle of a Heartbreak."

Leland: I was putting together the vision board for the video and I loved the idea for a co-star. It turned out that it was a goldfish named Quincy. He did a great job and out acted me!

WCT: How was the Go West Fest in LA that benefitted GLAAD?

Leland: It was incredible with Troye and Charli. We all have the same managers so they worked to put it together. It was very inspiring. The crowd was diverse and inclusive. I hope it will be the first of many.

WCT: Is the RuPaul Drag Race set small?

Leland: No, it's a big set. I've been working on that show for four years now. It's a dream job. The show has been growing since I started and now it's really blown up. I'm very grateful to be there. I feel I am constantly learning.

Tom Campbell, who is one of the executive producers, is my mentor. He's a comedic genius and working with him is incredible. There's a lot of fun stuff coming up.

WCT: Tell our readers what you do on RuPaul's Drag Race.

Leland: I write the Rusicals with my co-composer Freddy Scott. The first one I worked on was Bad Girls of Herstory. Allie X was one of the voices on that one as Princess Diana. It's basically an excuse for me to use all of my friends on it.

I really took the helm on Kardashian: The Musical. I spear headed it and was the voice of Kourtney Kardashian. Since then, I did Farmer Rusical and Sitting on a Secret.

It moves so quick. As soon as it wraps, we are jumping into the next thing.

WCT: Do you have a favorite Kardashian?

Leland: I love Khloe.

WCT: You have worked with so many musicians, so let's name a few. How was Daya?

Leland: I've known her since she was 16 and I set up her Twitter account. I drove her to radio visits and wrote all of that first album. Now she is singing about girls and not boys.

WCT: How about Selena Gomez?

Leland: Love her. We have more stuff in the works.

WCT: And singer Little Boots?

Leland: She has always been so wonderful to me.

WCT: You composed music for a Netflix movie?

Leland: Yes, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser. It's with Shannon Purser from Stranger Things and Noah Centineo. I scored the movie and it did really well. Allie, Troye and I wrote a few songs together for it. Allie X sang the theme song called "Sunflower." We got a few award nominations for it. I put the album out on my own label and we had a good time.

WCT: What are your plans for the rest of this year?

Leland: I am writing for myself quite a bit during July and August. I am taking as much time as Troye wants to work on his next album.

I just started my own publishing company and assigned some writers. I'm moving them to LA and helping them get writing sessions. I don't want to travel much, unless it's with Troye to write. I want to stay in LA and work on things there.

WCT: Are you two like Elton John and Bernie Taupin?

Leland: Elton interviewed Troye where Elton talked about his relationship with Bernie. Troye brought me into that conversation and described it as a similar situation, which was really nice. That made me cry!

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