Back in October, Brett Young ticked an important item off the bucket list when he headlined Nashville's Ryman Auditorium in front of a sold-out crowd. He opened his set with a pair of new songs, "Here Tonight" and "Used to Missing You," that qualified as legitimately uptempo numbers within his ballad-heavy catalog. (Here Tonight is currently in Billboard's Country Music Top 20 chart)

  The crowd, a predominantly 30-and-up assortment of couples, was a bit slow to get out of those famous wooden pews and onto their feet. Young shifted gears.

  "You happy? Here's a real sad song to ruin that," he joked, introducing "You Ain't Here to Kiss Me." The audience shouted in approval.

  Later in the show, Young performed a cover of Gavin DeGraw's "Not Over You," a Number 18 hit on the Hot 100 chart back in 2011. He requested that everyone sing every word at the top of their lungs and they were happy to oblige.

  Young cuts an odd figure as an emerging country star in 2018 - he lacks the blue-collar bluster of Jason Aldean, the hip-swiveling goofball humor of Luke Bryan, the vocal firepower of Carrie Underwood - and yet, the 37-year-old California native has quietly racked up as many hits as Grammy-nominated fellow newcomer Luke Combs in roughly the same amount of time. His 2017 self-titled debut album produced four singles: "Sleep Without You" reached Number Two, while "Like I Loved You" and "Mercy" both ascended to the top of the chart. Then, of course, there's "In Case You Didn't Know," a Triple-Platinum wedding playlist juggernaut with nearly 150 million streams on Spotify as of this writing.

  But unlike Bryan, who regularly slips into fiction with songs about partying and reckless, youthful romance, Young's songs depend on their plausibility. With his soft, slightly frayed croon, he conveys the genuine vulnerability of a nice guy who's still working through heartache. And for the most part, that seems to be consistent with reality.

  Young keeps the sensitivity dialed in on his second album Ticket to L.A., but this time around he's in a happier place - he got married in November, so that may have something to do with it. He sings about the excitement of momentary connection in the title track, feels his fortune changing in "Catch" and tries to hold on to a perfect moment in lead single "Here Tonight."
  He makes room for good old-fashioned misery in "The Ship and the Bottle," singing from the perspective of someone who knows he's holding his partner back. Meanwhile, "Where You Want Me" employs an easygoing groove to upend a promising love story and "Used to Missing You" nods to the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" with syncopated stabs of piano and bass. And feeling the pressure to try something new, Young veers away from matters of the heart to write his own story as a set of three verses in "Chapters," featuring none other than Gavin DeGraw.

  "The label's been asking for a 'life song' that didn't involve a girl for three years, and it took this long to get one I was proud of," says Young, knowingly.

  Just before his Ryman show, Young sat down with Rolling Stone Country at an East Nashville Airbnb to talk about the album-making process, updating his sound and the influence of DeGraw on present-day country music.

Before we get into the new music, let's talk about your success. I distinctly remember several weeks in 2017 where it felt like
I couldn't go anywhere without hearing
"In Case You Didn't Know."

  [Laughs] Sorry about that.

Not to an annoying degree, but it was so ubiquitous. Was there a point where it dawned on you how big it had become?

  We were excited about that song from the beginning. It got a ton of adds at radio, so that was the first indicator, but the biggest one was that summer [when] wedding season hit and getting the amount of responses we did from people that that was their wedding song. For them to make your song a staple in the most important day of their lives, that's when I realized: this is a little bigger than just a radio hit.

Do you think about it being a career song and how you keep moving forward after something so big so early in your career?

  That's kind of daunting, to think of the possibility of having a career song with your second-ever single. It would be tempting to try to chase that. It probably is going to be a career song. And that's awesome. I love that the career song is going to be one I actually wrote, that I enjoy playing. "Sleep Without You" was a good kicking-off point - it was a great song for us, but "In Case You Didn't Know" was, for me, where I identify the beginning of the career, of the success.

Where did you get started with
writing songs for Ticket to L.A.?

  The oldest song on this record is a song called "Used to Missing You." I wrote that with Jimmy Robbins and Jon Nite and like two weeks after [that day], I wrote "Left Side of Leaving" [with Robbins and Nite]. Both of those songs were contenders for the first record. The thing is, they filed the same slot. They were breakup songs that sounded happy. It was one or the other, and "Left Side" won out. I guess technically "Used to Missing You" was the beginning of the writing process for album two.

Did you have a sense of what direction
you'd be going with this album?