It’s early morning in Tennessee when guitarist Michael Britt and keyboard ace Dean Sams – aka half of the band Lonestar – join Holler to chat about their latest record, TEN to 1.
Lonestar have been going for an incredible 30 years, and Sams reckons much of this is down not only to their love of music and respect for one another, but the fact that they all have varying taste in what they enjoy listening to.
“For some reason those differences make us stronger as a band. You take all those musical influences and bring them together,” Britt says, recognising their fortunate over the years. “It’s the longest I’ve ever done any one thing my whole life. I don’t think that longevity puts any pressure on us, but it does make us go: wow! We can look back and be proud of everything we’ve done and all the hits that we’ve had. And every year, every next tour, we always want to keep doing it… until we probably can’t any more. We just enjoy it.”
Sams adds that they see themselves on the outside of the Nashville music industry now. “Time moves on. I remember when we were the new band, the new ‘it thing’. There was even a song written about us called ‘Murder on Music Row’. It was after ‘Amazed’ became a nine-week no.1 country hit and two-week no.1 pop hit. We were across the pond doing Top of the Pops, all these different things were happening, and people said we were killing country music.”
Lonestar, however, felt they were bringing people who might not be country fans into the format – much like what’s happening with other artists today, even if some purists don’t consider it country.
Both feel there’s something here for fans old and new. “They’re used to us constantly reimagining what we sound like live, which makes an easy transition to this record”, they share. “Plus, we feel like we’re playing and singing better than ever.”
Track by track, both Britt and Sams are eager to take us through their new album, TEN to 1, which updates and reimagines their no.1 hits from across the band’s three-decade career, in chronological order.
Michael Britt: Our first no.1! When it came out it was quirky and weird and unlike anything else. It had interesting chords and kind of crazy lyrics, with Grateful Dead and all these pop culture references. That song hit people from out of nowhere – and being the first song, we wanted to hit them from out of nowhere again. I came out with this wacky guitar thing and I said to Dean, is this too weird? And he said, no, it’s cool, let’s do it! So my contribution was weirdness for that song! Everything else kind of morphed as we started playing it in the studio, and Keech (Rainwater) has some really cool drum fills. We kind of made it our own a little bit more, and a little bit wackier.
Dean Sams: We hadn’t put that song in a show in some time because I felt like the track itself kind of lay there, especially live, where our bread-and-butter is these days. So I wanted to change it up quite a bit. I’d been to a Lumineers concert about the same time we were going to start this record. I was watching and listening to the crowd clap and be involved, and started thinking it would be cool to take this song in that direction. Michael and I talked it over and what ensued was this almost anthemic, crowd-participation type track that has taken this hit to a whole new level.
MB: To me, this is a classic country song. It was written that way and there wasn’t a whole lot we could do to it, as far as making it totally different than the original recording. So we just tried to put a little bit more soul in it. Now Drew (Womack) sings that song, it has a different feel, more soul. That, along with Dean’s production, makes it a little tougher sounding, it’s not as pretty and floaty sounding to me now.
MB: We didn’t want to mess this one up because it’s one of our most iconic songs. It’s gotten bigger over time, and not just in popularity. When we recorded it was just another song on our Lonely Grill album. We had no idea what it was going to do. Once it was released it started getting such a huge response - we felt that energy, so started playing it bigger and louder and more rocking live. We created this intro and the song morphed over time. We didn’t want to change the melody or the basic bones, because it is such a unique song with all the key changes. Sometimes we treat it with a little more respect, and that’s what we did here. Dean’s production sounds more powerful than the original, capturing more of the energy we play it with live.
DS: This is one of those songs where I was so thankful we had the hit. When I listen to the original recording it’s such a great track. I felt like the old version was flowery, real sparkly acoustics and piano. I did these drum loop and played a different part on the piano; I wanted to take it a little heavier, so as to match the heavy subject matter - I felt the track needed more of that melancholy yet tough approach. Everybody went with it, and it truly sounds so, so good.
MB: That song has always been jumpy and skippy, and that’s what we love about it. It’s pure energy, and from the minute we heard the demo it had this driving feel – it’s about a car. All it needed was an update that put some new tyres on it and a new coat of paint! It’s a fun song to play, one of my favourites live, because once those choruses kick in, the crowd sing with us every time. We wanted to make it sound energetic, and I think we captured that.
DS:To add to that, Michael’s such a huge part of our Lonestar sound with his amazing guitar playing and he’s such a technical guy. Over the years we’d incorporate different things to make the live show interesting, and he pulled up this delayed guitar and we ended up making that the intro for our show, so that’s how the cool guitar bit ends up being on this. Michael’s brought all his knowledge and expertise to set this track apart from the way it used to be.
DS: Dramatic is a great word for this song. Take the lyric – I think all of us guys need a reminder. Sometimes we just get in the doldrums and forget to tell the ones we love exactly how we feel about them. Over the years we have new versions of songs, and this latest is a culmination of 20-plus years of taking bits and pieces of each live version and some recorded versions to make this new, incredibly dramatic version.
MB: This is our other biggie, along with ‘Amazed’. It became a huge hit with the military because they were away from home for so long during all these deployments. We wanted to keep that one true to form and respect it, because once you play a song that many times and people love it, it becomes their song. If we changed the melody or made it a different song I think it would hurt rather than help it. We were trying to be respectful of it, but again when you have Drew’s voice on this, it sounds different and better. I feel more of the lyric when I hear him singing it, and feel more connected to that song now than I ever did.
DS: Once again Michael is so cool with his approach, his guitar and sound on this version. It came up when putting together a live show and creating all the intros and stuff. We collaborate on how to make our intros cooler for when we walk out on stage. When we were using ‘Front Porch’ as the opening and Michael was doing some other cool stuff, it translated so well into this modern version. It sets up the energy of the song really well, so when the actual hook of the song musically kicks in, it pops a lot more!
MB: Even though this is a little cheesy and wasn’t our favourite to play compared to everything else, there’s a fun aspect we’ve always embraced – and the crowd loves it. We thought: how can we make this more fun, and started throwing ideas out. We simplified some chord changes going into the chorus and added some crazy stuff too. I put baritone guitar on there and it just seemed to fit. The way Dean approached the production, that’s one of the more fun songs to play, the crowd enjoys it, and I get to play stuff I wouldn’t normally play, so it feels like a new song.
Ten to 1 is out now on Band Cave records.