The scruff and soul in Brett Young's voice is alarmingly refreshing. There's no wonder he collected his first No. 1 hit last year with "Sleep Without You," the romantic opener to his self-titled debut album. While holding tight to the syrupy sweetness currently dominating the airwaves, Young doesn't shy away with showing his vulnerable side--but there's enough power and layers in his voice to divide him from the wave of cookie cutter newcomers. His music is a little bit Tim McGraw and Kip Moore wrapped up in a neat little package, and his timbre is unmistakably his own. So, it's not surprising he snagged a nomination for New Male Vocalist of the Year when the ACM Awards called out this year's batch of honorees, a moment which is destined to be burned into his memory. "It’s very flattering. Just like #1 records, awards are never something I’m going to expect or take for granted," Young tells AXS.com over a recent phone call. "I think it would be possible for me to have a long successful career with songs that barely sneak into the Top 10 and never getting nominated for an award. The fact that this nomination came up is extremely humbling."
Last month, Young celebrated the release of his long-awaited first record on Big Machine, and coincidentally, that's when he heard the news about his nomination. "We had literally just put my new record out, and we were in Hollywood. Because of the time difference, all my friends back in Nashville had heard already. I woke up to like 80 text messages from people congratulating me on something I didn’t know had happened yet. It was pretty overwhelming," he recollects. "The first text message I read was from a buddy who’s kind of a jokester. My first emotion was I thought he was lying. Once I realized that’s what everybody had to say, I was shocked. I don’t know. I haven’t been on the scene very long."
Having grown up in Southern California, he was "the only one of my friends who was listening to country music," says the self-proclaimed award show junkie. "So, [the ACM Awards] is one of the [shows] I always made sure I didn’t miss. It’s crazy to go full circle. Last year, I attended but I didn’t even have my single out yet. It was somewhat surreal, but to be going back this year and have my name on a ballot is pretty crazy. And I’ll actually walk the red carpet this time," he chuckles, before reminiscing about one of his all-time favorite show performances. "There was one year when Lee Brice had 'I Drive Your Truck' out. They did a segment where instead of letting artists sing a whole song, they would give them a snippet. He did it in the middle of the room, acoustic. I remember thinking 'A) you hear an artist’s voice a lot better when it’s just them and one instrument and B) the power of that song and that moment was incredibly moving.'"
Now, if he had the chance to team up with anyone in country music on the illustrious ACM Awards stage, there's only one person who could fit the bill: Tim McGraw. "I still have to check off Tim on my bucket list," he says. "'Don’t Take the Girl' is the song that got me into country music. Until I get to check that box, the answer will always be Tim."
Not surprisingly, it was an early McGraw concert which sent him down the musical path even deeper. "There were a handful, but the specific country one I remember is--I was still living in California and I went out to see Tim with the Dixie Chicks and the Warren Brothers. I remember thinking from the beginning of the Warren Brothers set all the way through to Tim, 'wow, there wasn’t a song I didn’t like or a performance that wasn’t impressive.' I went to being a country radio listener to a huge fan. My guitar playing and songwriting began to gravitate towards country music even more."
Fans might be surprised to learn Young is not really that into partying, even when the backdrop is Sin City. "I’m not a gambler either. I enjoy Vegas in the summer because I enjoy the desert heat and the pool scene. I like to go out in 100 degree weather and lay by the pool and maybe have a drink or two and get an afternoon nap. Vegas has so many great restaurants, too. I end up catching up on sleep when I got to Vegas believe it or not," he says.
In terms of high-flying stunts like fellow tour mate Brett Eldredge (who is known to jump from a plane every now and then to celebrate a hit single), Young isn't as eager to be the daredevil he was as a kid. "My mom would walk out and find me on the roof about to jump off because I thought I was superman. As an adult, I’ve mellowed out a lot. Those extreme sport activities aren’t really for me. I’m always going to make sure I do something to celebrate. When we got the first #1 [with 'Sleep Without You'], we went out to the rooftop of a new hotel in Nashville and had family and friends come over. I’m more low key now."
While his album is still fresh in the minds of his fans, he considers the song he finds himself gravitating back to the most. "It’s been my favorite since before we even record it for the album. It’s a song called 'Mercy,' and it’s the last one on the record. I don’t know what it is about the song. A big part of it is everyone can really relate to the concept of asking someone to please let you go after a breakup. Sonically, we were really able to strip it down on that one. The message and lyric really jump out."
Young, who recently wrapped a stint on Luke Bryan's Kill the Lights Tour, reflects on the experience. "[Luke is] awesome. Everybody on this tour--his camp and Brett [Eldredge]’s camp, as well--is incredible and laid back and accommodating. They’re incredibly performers, too. I got to learn a lot during their sets. It was a blast and nothing sort of life-changing, actually, to get to play these venues." One of which was Madison Square Garden on March 1. "That was pretty insane. I had a list of five venues that would have been bucket list for me, and that was #2 on the list behind Hollywood Bowl (just because I grew up in Southern California). It was a bigger room than we’d played so far. It’s not a lie what they say; for whatever reason, the Madison Square Garden crowd is loud and they’re great country fans."
His bucket list also includes The Gorge in Central Washington and Red Rocks in Denver. When Young joins Lady Antebellum's You Look Good Tour, he'll be able to check off Nashville's Bridgestone Arena and the Hollywood Bowl on his list--the latter is "the last show on the Lady A tour in the summer," he says.
Ahead of the 52nd annual ACM Awards, Young plays the Joint at the Hard Rock in conjunction with ACM Party for a Cause, alongside other such noisemakers as Lady Antebellum and Kelsea Ballerini. "For whatever reason, country music fans in Vegas are some of the best country fans. I’m looking forward to that show."
Stay tuned to AXS.com for any and all updates.