ALBANY — It’s simple to see why Preston Brust and Chris Lucas sing of loving life today — two Top 20 hits off their latest album “The Fighters,” along with being added to Spotify’s 2016 watch list for country artists — but, that wasn’t the case five years ago.
TheSpot518 caught up with Brust, after buzzing through town to play Alive at Five on the band’s tour to promote its chart-topping LP. In the following interview, Brust shares how grateful he and Lucas are for the band’s recent accolades, and some of the challenges the duo experienced during the thin years that nearly had the two considering throwing in the towel.
We also get Brust to explain his definition of what it means to be “Hillbilly Proud.”
Michael Hallisey: You’ve been out touring, and was just recently in our neck of the woods here in Albany. I’m going to get you in trouble here with my first question: Is there a difference between crowds in the North and crowds from the South?
Preston Burst: You know, I think country fans are just fun from any place. I think you’re right, there’s a little bit of difference with the lifestyle of the North compared to the South, and the East to the West. But, when it all boils down to the party, everybody just likes to get out and have a good time. And, that’s what I find about the country fans. Everybody’s got a beer in their hands, their hands up high and they’re singing every word. They work hard during the week, so when they come out to these festivals, it’s time to cut loose. And, that’s what I love about the country fans. Whether you’re in Florida or all the way up in Minnesota, everybody’s got this goal in mind to go out and have a good time at these festivals.
MH: Yeah, I pick that up in your songs. “The Fighters” just came out in June, and on there you have “I Love This Life,” which you released last year and has done very well for you guys, and “I Know Somebody” is up there on the charts as well. That’s got to be amazing. I don’t know that feeling, so I have to ask, how does it feel to be out there touring and to have both these songs up there on the charts?
PB: It’s pretty crazy, because we worked so hard for this. The reality of it now just confirms what your heart’s been telling you all along, to not quit and to keep driving, and that passion really means something. I think that that “never say die” attitude finally paid off for us. I think anytime that happens there’s this sense of pride that you get in your heart. We never gave up, and now country radio, everybody has just been so good to us, man. “I Love This Life” is still getting a lot of air time. “I Know Somebody” is climbing the charts, it’s sitting at No. 17 on the carts. Radio is calling us and they’re proud for us, too. Because, they’ve seen the hard work, and the fans are coming to the shows, and singing the words. It just makes it all worth it. To keep on striving on and not throw the towel in.
MH: That’s the common thread with the people I talk with. Fans, they’ll look at you and say, “Wow. I want that life. It’s awesome what they’re doing right now.” But, they don’t necessarily see the hard work and the sacrifice.
PB: Yeah, there’s been years. Twelve years of songs failing on the charts and losing record deals. You know, it was never really our songs fault. It was because our record labels closed down. And, it was never the music’s fault that anything ever happened. So, we just would hang in there, fighting, and that’s why this album is called, “The Fighters.” Because, it’s a symbol of who we are and how we feel. We’ve never been handed anything. It wasn’t an overnight success. No one ever handed us a record deal. We had to fight for everything we got in this business. Whether it be writing songs and trying to get there, or cutting a record deal and trying to get a song up the chart. We just hung in there, and tried to get there, and here we are. We’re proud that we fought through it.
MH: Now, I’m aware you wrote songs for Keith Urban and Tim McGraw, who do well enough on their own. How is it for an artist who is performing his own songs, to have one of your songs do well with another artist? Is there a sense of, I don’t want to say jealousy, but is there something a little different in there or do you still have a sense of pride in that?
PB: Well, I think it’s all pride, because early on… 2011 was the toughest in our career. We lost Christian [Lucas}’s dad, who passed away suddenly. We lost his aunt two weeks later. We lost our fiddle player that year. We lost our record deal. We lost our song on the charts. It felt like we were losing everything. It felt like we were just really spinning our wheels down to the lowest level. Loss just kind of hits you like that. It hits you in a way that you start asking yourself, “What am I even doing anymore?” You know? We’re trying to write great songs, and trying to stay positive. But, the hits just keep coming, and not the good kind of hits. And, so suddenly, at the end of the year, at the end of 2011, we’re sitting there looking at each other and realizing, “Here’s the towel in our hands. Do we throw it in? What do we do?” Then, we get this phone call in from Keith Urban, and he says, “Guys. That song you wrote, ‘You’re Gonna Fly,’ is gonna be my next single.” And, man. Boom. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. It kind of revived us. And, by late February, early March of 2012, the song went No. 1 for Keith Urban. It was a two-week No. 1. It completely changed our lives. So, I don’t think there was ever a time — to answer your question — I don’t think there was ever a time where we thought, “Man, I wish that song was ours. I wish that was us on the radio.” We were working to be artists. It was such a huge blessing to have him even record the song, then make it a single, then take it to No. 1. It’s kind of one of those things, divine intervention in our lives right there. We needed that.
MH: Thank God for that, because the stuff you put out now, the songs you have on the radio are just fun to listen to.
PB: Thank you.
MH: One thing, I’m going to have to ask you this. I’m listening to Tim McGraw, and I hear the words “Hillbilly Proud,” and I hear it all the time. Not just your songs or through him. So, I’m going to ask you this, what is Hillbilly Proud to you?
PB: I think, to me, Hillbilly Proud is a kind of lifestyle you embrace. It’s the sound of music that you love. Man, it’s where you come from. We’ve always said, the meaning of LoCash has nothing to do with financial status, whether you have a lot of money or you don’t have a lot of money. LoCash is remembering where you come from and being proud of it. And, I think that’s what it means to be Hillbilly Proud. I was born in Arkansas, and my mom and dad are from right there in the Southwest Ozark part of Missouri. You know, growing up, the color yellow on our house was pronounced “yella.” That’s my dad. So, I grew up thinking it was red, blue and yella. [Laughs.] So, I had to be corrected in school. But, that’s Hillbilly Proud, man. That’s your roots. That’s where you grew up. And, I think when you hear those kind of things coming from people, they just want to wave their flags and say, “this is who I am, here’s where I’m from and I’m proud.”
MH: Absolutely. Boots. Dirt. Mud. Beer in your hand, kind of thing.
PB: Right! Right.
MH: Now, reading up on what other people have written about LoCash, it speaks of one thing. Country is huge right now. I’m old enough to appreciate a similar time when The Outlaws were popular. Willie Nelson. Urban Cowboy. In the wider spectrum of the world, country’s popularity ebbs and flows. My perception, as a fan, is that country now is huge. I’m curious to hear from your perspective as to whether or not you see that as well?
PB: Yes. It’s very broad. There are so many people who love country music right now, and I think that’s great for the genre. Because, I don’t know that everyone that comes to listen to country music is going to love every single song that they hear. And, that’s the same for someone that goes and listens to every single rock song. They might like some rock, and they might not like some rock. People are different. We just have different tastes. I think it’s encouraging that the music genre is so big right now, because they’re getting something, somewhere. it’s bringing them in and they’re saying, “Hey. Maybe I didn’t always love country, but I sure do like this. Or, I sure do love that Rascal Flatts sound. Or, I sure do love Chris Stapleton. I sure do love that Thomas Rhett, LoCash.” That’s what it’s all about. Each one of us artists is not the same. And, if we were the same, it would be real boring, you know. That’s what makes every genre unique, I think.
MH: Yeah. I mean, you guys have been associated with different acts. We were talking about Keith Urban and Tim McGraw, earlier, also Colt Ford, just a few years ago. So, you almost bridge the gap in so many different sub-genres in country. Colt being a part of the newer country, introducing rap into the genre. Do you feel any pressure at all to settle into a particular sub-genre when you perform and write, or do you just focus in on what it is you’re trying to do?
PB: You know, I don’t feel any pressure at all. That’s a beautiful thing. I think that every time that we sit down to write a song, we just try to write the most honest song that we can. It’s not rocket science. Sometimes we just want to write a song about drinking. Sometimes we just want to write a song about having fun. Sometimes we just want to write a song about feeling good. I mean, look at “I Love This Life.” We weren’t trying to write the deepest song ever. But, somehow we stumbled upon a “really feel good” anthem that pulls on people’s heartstrings. Where people say, “You know what. I want to forget about all the negativity on the news and I just want to concentrate on feeling good for three minutes today.” And, that’s what it’s all about. Sometimes, you can stumble on to something that people can relate to. That’s what we’re trying to do everyday. We’re not trying to write, every time that we sit down, we’re not trying to change the world. It sure would be cool if we could someday, change the world in a song. I think that’s the beauty of song writing. You never know when you just might.
MH: I think people need that nowadays. To escape into a song is very special. — “I Know Somebody,” I’m watching the video. I love that video.
PB: Thank you.
MH: Tell me. Was there ever a time when you were younger or what not — you’re a singer, a musician, so I don’t see this happening to you growing up — but, were you ever that meek guy who had a hard time approaching a girl?
PB: Yeah, man. Definitely. I think everybody can relate to the underdog. I feel like the underdog story is one we all love and can appreciate, because it’s not always easy to get the courage to walk up to somebody and try to get their name and phone number, or strike up a conversation. And, that’s what “I Know Somebody” is all about. It’s got that little twist where it says, “Hey, if you need someone to show you around, I know somebody.” I mean, it’s kind of the cool way of getting up courage. Maybe if she shoots you down, it’s okay, because that “somebody” could have been somebody else. [Laughs] When we heard the song, we were just a fan of the song off the bat. Man. I had my shy days. If anybody says they’ve never had a shy day in their life, or they never had to work up the courage a bit, they may be lying to themselves. It’s just real, man. That’s what we loved about that lyric in the song. We were like, “You know what. We’ve been that guy, and we get it.”
MH: Love the song. Love the video. When we’re done here, I’m going to watch it again.
PB: Thank you. [Laughs] Awesome. Thank you, man.
MH: Yeah, that message, outside of the romantic end there, speaks towards your career, too. Not giving up. Feeling unsure about yourself, but you keep trying.
PB: Yeah, definitely. I think that there’s always tomorrow, where that phone can ring and it can change your life. I think never giving up on that possibility is so important in people’s lives. I’ve always said, you’ve always got to be looking forward to something or you lose sight on life. I think, whether it’s a big break in your career you look forward to, or a big vacation sometimes. You’ve always got your sights set ahead of you, and you’re always moving in that forward motion. I think that’s important to us.
MH: So, what do you have planned for now? “I Know Somebody” was released back in February. Are we looking at a third release in a couple of weeks or months?
PB: Well, “I Know Somebody” just jumped from No. 22 to No. 17 on the charts, so that job right now is for our record label to try to get “I Know Somebody” off to the top of the charts. So, we’re going to fight all the way and see if we can get there. And, once “I Know Somebody” peaks on the charts, we’ll release a new single. I’m not sure what single that’s going to be just yet. And, I’m kinda glad that we don’t because that just shows our whole team is focused on “I Know Somebody” right now.
MH: And, it’s nice to see that with this album you already have two hits. Two singles that have charted, so it whets the appetite for everybody to find out what that next song is going to be.
PB: Yeah, yeah. And, it’s great that the debut went all the way up to the top of the charts, and this song is Top 20 now. It brings a lot of attention to the album. Hey, there must be some material on this album that needs to be listened to.
MH: Is there anything different on this album from your previous albums? Obviously, its performance and how it has been received is, as this is the only one that has had two hits charted.
PB: I think the biggest difference is Lindsay Rimes, our producer. Lindsay Rimes is from Australia. He moved to Nashville to be a songwriter. And, when I wrote a song with him one day, I just heard the potential of him being our producer. He was working on a track, and I said, “Man, this guy just interprets sonically who LoCash always wanted to be as an artist. And, if he would produce us, we might be onto something. Because, he might be the missing link we’ve always needed.” So, we approached Lindsay, and he said yes. We started recording some music, and we knew right off the bat that the album sounded like the recordings we always envisioned for ourselves. So, I think we were always missing that link. And, then, once you start to find the producer who really defines your sound, and what you always wanted to sound like, then you can start to dig a little deeper to find the songs you really want to share with the rest of the world. That’s the one thing I can say about this album, “The Fighters,” it’s a genuine collection of songs that I feel really is something we’re proud of for the first time. We’ve always been proud of everything that we’ve done, and we’ve grown as artists and musicians, but right now in our lives and the way we feel in our hearts, this collection of eleven songs is genuine to who we are right now. And, that feels amazing.