Brett Young is a proud romantic. The California native says he embraces love songs that explore the highs and lows of a relationship — he leans into the pain if it comes, so he knows what he has when there’s bliss. Growing up, his first memories of music and love came from his parents, who’d walk around the house singing BJ Thomas’ “Hooked on a Feeling.” It was their song since they started dating nearly 40 years ago.

"I like the idea of a relationship where you can need and rely on each other and not feel needy and not feel like that makes you not independent," Young says, still hearing his father’s voice as he thinks about it. "I think I realized my parents' relationship was special when I had my first girlfriend and she came from a broken marriage. I watched how much closeness there was between her and her mom and also how much bickering."

While easy for him now, performing was stressful when Young first started playing stages like Hotel Cafe in Southern California. Future pop stars like Katy Perry and Mandy Moore would play before or after Young. The 120-person room was their springboard, and it’s there he crafted his own sound out of a set of covers. Gavin DeGraw is a huge influence. Modern county stars like Sam Hunt and Thomas Rhett inspire him.

"When I moved to Nashville and started writing songs, I was still writing the stuff I had been writing in L.A., which at the time had always been the sad songs," Young says. "I guess you would still call it a love song, but everything was this heartbreak song, to the point where my family used to ask, ‘Are you happy? Are you okay?’ Moving to Nashville, what I learned, was I can take that same emotion that I was able to put into heartbreak and put it into happy love songs."

Young’s country career comes after he "made it" as a singer-songwriter in Los Angeles, which came after his dreams of pitching in Major League Baseball died with Tommy John surgery. The former pitcher says he learned a work ethic through athletics that he relies on today. The two pursuits are really not that different. Both are crazy dreams for most. Both are competitive. Both deliver ego blows, but Young says that’s never been an issue.

"To be honest, I don't really doubt myself that often,” he says, comfortably seated on a long leather couch in Nashville at the winter RISERS shoot. "It's the athlete in me that wants to compete and win. I mean, it's terrifying to come into this town and try to get a record deal and get songs on the radio and have success once it does. I don't know if I was ever completely sure that this would work, but I’m so, so grateful and blessed that it did."

Young’s self-titled debut album is now in stores and at digital retailers. It features his chart-topping single “Sleep Without You” as well as the follow-up “In Case You Didn’t Know.” It also features “Mercy,” a heart-wrenching breakup song he says was almost too personal to include.

"Somebody said these words to me, a couple years ago," he says. "They didn't mean anything in context, but then I went through something personally and I heard them in my head, and they immediately made sense to me. It's just, ‘Lean into it.’ It's really easy to try to distract yourself from feeling a broken heart when you're going through it, and I think the fastest way to get past one is to let yourself feel it and lean into what's going on."

This summer look for Young on Lady Antebellum’s You Look Good World Tour with Kelsea Ballerini. The 2017 ACM New Male Vocalist of the Year nominee will also play WE Fest in Detroit Lakes, Minn., in August.

Brett Young On Set at the 2017 RISERS Shoot