Two years of the COVID pandemic have yielded some silver linings. For Virginia songwriter and independent artist Anees, it led to a fortuitous meeting — and eventual collaboration — with Scooter Braun.
The music mogul is no stranger to the creative process, and has been credited as a songwriter and producer on tracks by his longtime clients Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, as well as Ed Sheeran, and on the latest album by Demi Lovato, “Holy Fvck,” for which he served as EP and is credited as a producer on five songs alongside Warren “Oak” Felder.
But Anees’ song “Leave Me” marks a public acknowledgment of Braun’s work as a co-writer, contributing lyrics that are clearly drawing from his own recent experience of splitting from his wife of seven years. Anees shared a snippet of the song via Instagram on Aug. 21, writing, “The universe has sent me a million signs that this song will absolutely shake ground. … This song has blessed me beyond my wildest dreams and it’s not even released yet. Especially as an independent artist, some of these blessings feel too good to be true … like the fact that I got to write this song with my brotha @scooterbraun. Truly a special experience.”
“I heard ‘Leave Me’ and it really moved me,” Braun tells Variety. “I think Anees is an incredible songwriter with a really passionate voice that reaches people. I met him as a fan.”
To hear Anees tell it, the song had been put on the backburner, “but for some reason,” he says, “I felt this compulsion a couple of months ago to post ‘Leave Me’ again. And I did and that night I got a DM from Scooter that just said, ‘brilliant.’ And at first I’m like, Holy shit! Because it was Scooter and quite an honor to have him show some love for my work. So we tapped in, got to know each other through a series of phone calls. I told him all about the song. It was an unfinished demo – it was missing a verse and there was no bridge. He said to add a bridge and we talked through that verse. I’m like, ‘Damn, you’re giving me homework! It was well-received because I respect his opinion on these things.”
Among the lyrics Braun contributed: “I love you enough to let you be free / So I can’t blame you baby it started with me / I loved you but left you in moments of need / We broke like the promise you helped me to keep / And baby, it kills me lately / Cause maybe I’m the reason why”
The two worked collaboratively to “get the last couple piece of the puzzle together,” says Anees, crediting Braun for “providing inspiration.” Touring in recent weeks, Anees saw the song’s impact firsthand. “I sang it every night,” he says. “And I saw a lot of people were like, ‘Man, that bridge really touched me.’ Little did they know that was something Scooter and I cooked up on the phone.”
Adds Braun: “After lot of calls and emails back and forth, we ended up writing together. To be a part of his creative process and to bring this thing to life together was really an honor.”
In terms of crediting Braun as a writer, Anees says, “it came very natural — he helped write the song and there was never a question in my mind. … I’m a believer in abundance; there’s enough credit to go around. There’s enough love to go around. There’s enough room in the kitchen for the right chefs.”
Anees, who is half Palestinian and half Lebanese and was raised in an Orthodox Christian home, gave up practicing law to pursue music. The suit and tie life “depressed me and I felt super trapped,” he reveals. “There was no joy. Every day I wanted to go to sleep and not to wake up. It was dark, so music was my therapy to escape from the sadness.”
He took to Instagram, where his follower count currently exceeds 500,000, and developed a loyal fanbase from viral musical moments. His song “Sun and Moon” currently boasts 64 million streams on Spotify, where Anees has nearly 3 million followers. To that end, Anees didn’t exactly rewrite the new artist rulebook, but he was determined to have a career as an independent.
“We’ve had our share of opportunities and conversations, but I intend to remain independent,” he says. “There’s something about the independent artist way that feels right in my soul — the pace and manner in which I can move, the tone at which I can move. … I think people are going to come to see this, that independence for an artist doesn’t mean not having a team around you. The whole myth and bravado of the DIY do-it-yourself way is just that: a myth. I’m independent and I’ve got my manager, lawyer, agent, my brother, my wife, now Scooter – I’ve got a big, big team and feel very confident and comfortable doing it this way.”
In terms of distributing Anees’ music, Braun is leaving the door open. “I told him, whatever way he wants to do it. … If he wants to upstream, we’re going to help him. I’m rooting for him every step of the way.”
Anees has a sizable head start for a new artist, thanks to high-profile appearances on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” (with Chelsea Handler hosting) and Braun’s public co-sign — so much so that he can hardly believe it. “I do most of my work in my car, at grocery stores, parking lots,” he says. “I’m not in L.A. finessing the scene or at the songwriting camps. … I don’t know how it happened except there is a real power to manifestation. When you speak something into existence and you genuinely, delusionally believe it to the point where you can see it, this is the power of having a vision. And I relate on that level with Scooter because he’s a great example of being a visionary. You have to have faith and believe deeply, and anything is possible.”