High Hopes & LoCash Cowboys

A guy from Kokomo, Ind., walking into a Nashville bar might sound like the first line of a joke or a scene in a movie but it marks the true-life beginning of country duo LoCash Cowboys.

Since meeting in the early years of the new millennium, Kokomo native Preston Brust and Chris Lucas from Baltimore have been working almost non-stop writing songs and perfecting the act that they call LoCash Cowboys.

Brust and Lucas recently talked with Pollstar about life in the LoCash lane, describing good times such as having country great George Jones guest on their debut album, and bad times that included one of the men losing his father and the 2011 passing of the duo’s fiddle player.

But life is definitely on the upswing for the LoCash Cowboys today. Not only are Lucas and Brust one month away from the June 18 release of their self-titled debut album via Average Joe Entertainment, but Keith Urban and Tim McGraw each had hits with LoCash tunes.  Urban scored chart action with “You Gonna Fly” while McGraw struck gold with the boys’ “Truck Yeah.”

By now you’ve probably heard the latest single from LoCash Cowboys.  “Chase A Little Love” is all over country radio.

But despite success, Brust and Lucas are still two down-home guys making music while having the time of their lives.

(l to r) Chris Lucas and Preston Brust.

How did a couple of guys from Kokomo, Ind., and Baltimore, Md., end up making country music together?

Preston: I moved to Nashville in 2002 and Chris was already here.  I went down to the Wildhorse Saloon to hang out one night – a real popular concert venue and club in Nashville – and I met Chris right off the bat.  He was working down there and he got me a job.  From that day forward the journey began.  We started singing and working on harmonies and writing songs.

What was your job at that time, Chris?

Chris: I was a DJ, kind of like the master of ceremonies.  Keeping everybody entertained.  I was looking for someone to help me out and Preston was perfect.

Preston: When he brought me on, he didn’t have the authority to hire me, but he needed some help.  He acted like he had the authority and I started working.  I didn’t get paid for a few months so we finally worked it all out and the Wildhorse officially hired me.  We were the emcees. We hosted all the shows, were DJs and just kind of rockin’ the house every night.  And people started coming to not just to check out the bands, but to check out these two guys that were rockin’ the show every night.  We developed a little bit of a fan base and a little bit of a rapport.  I think we knew pretty much right away that we wanted to take it to the next level with singing, guitars, our own band and being on stage ourselves.

We started taking notes.  Watching some of the concerts at the Wildhorse and think, “We don’t want to do that, we do want to do this.”  We’d watch people very night and then we’d kind of hint to band members as well.  We’d say, “That drummer in that band would be really great” or “That guitar player in that band would be really great.” We approached different players and put together our own show and it was off and running.

Before moving to Nashville, were either of you considering a career making music?

Chris: We were both working with other groups.  Back in Baltimore I was in another group, kind of a rock ’n’ roll/pop thing but we also did country.  I’ve always seen myself as a musician even though I played baseball and football while growing up.  I started doing theme-park work, cruise ships. … When I met Preston I came to find out he had the same background.  You always dream about it but you never know you’re going to do it. Then, when you move, you’re in it, you’re in the dream, you’re living it.

Being from Indiana and Maryland; when did the two of you begin sounding like you were from Nashville?

Chris:[laughs] Ten years ago. 

Preston: That southern drawl, it sneaks up on you.  You wake up one day and you sound like you’re from here.

When the two of you first began working together, did you already have the LoCash Cowboys sound in mind?

Preston: I think we grew up on so many different styles of music, whether it be gospel, R&B, there’s some hip hop, rock ’n’ roll and country.  There were all these different influences that poured into who we are individually.  Collectively, when we began to write songs it was just one of those natural things that just happened.  Different melodies, different syncopations, different rhythmic patterns would just pour into these songs we were writing.  And we were like, “Oh, wow!  That’s really cool how that little part sounds like something that is a little bit more hip hop” or “This part sounds a little bit more rock ’n’ roll.  But overall it’s got this country feel.”

So, instead of denying it and turning it a different direction, we would embrace those things.  I think that’s what began to develop the sound of LoCash in the early days.  Now, with the contemporary modern way that country music has turned, some of those things we were doing early on ten years ago, five years ago, even, we were just ahead of the curve and I think some of it is starting to catch up now.  It’s starting to be in the sound of mainstream country music.  We don’t try to make it be that way, it just naturally happens.  I think it’s a really good time for us being that all the different things [that] have lined up, whether it’s country music turning that corner or whether it be our sound that’s kind of caught up with that.  Whatever it is, it’s all meeting at the right time for us.

Do the two of you love the big drum sound?

Preston: Yeah we do.  We really love a driving beat, a lot of energy.  The really cool thing is this is our first album to come out.  We’ve never had one out before.  In this album we get to show we have a more serious side, too.  Even some of our slow songs have some big drums and some big moments.  But like we said earlier, with our influences, it’s just who we are.  To drive the beat, be a little more energetic and feel good, too.  I think the drums kind of feel good in a way.  It has a good spirit about it.  Chris always says it kind of reminds him of the ’80s drums and ’80s rock.  So it’s pretty cool how we brought that sound back as well. It almost sounds like Def Leppard drums on some of it.

Chris: It’s more of a timeless kind of drum rather than just throw a beat in there.

Photo: Jason Moore
CMA Music Festival, Nashville, Tenn.

You have George Jones on a track – “Independent Trucker.”  Did he record with you in the studio or did he cut a vocal track and send it to you?

Preston: Just to back up a little bit, Chris and I found ourselves on a flight with George Jones on his private jet.  We were flying to do this show down south and they were taking two private jets.  In the lobby of the private jet [terminal] we were making coffee and such, getting ready.  It was [our] first time being on a private jet.

And George strikes up a conversation, we had a great talk and we were all laughing and having a good time.  And he said, “I really like you boys.  Why don’t you fly on my plane with me?”

So, a few moments later, we’re 30,000 feet in the air in a private jet with George Jones and we can’t even believe it.  We’re pinching ourselves. Is this really happening?

And he starts telling us stories of his career, his turning points, some of his regrets, some of his proudest moments.  We talked about our career and how it got started and where we hope to go with it. And he said, “Boys, if I can ever be of any kind of help, I would love to help you guys out because I really like you.”

From that day forward we started talking on the phone a lot, we’d hang out backstage at shows, and we would pick up where we left off each time.  Finally, Chris and I were going into the studio to record this album, and we said, “You know what?  We have this song called “Independent Trucker.” It’s got a little bit of a Junior Brown feel. It’s fun and fast and what a cool song to have George Jones on.”

So we called him up and asked him if he would be on this song with us and he said, “Yes.”

He met us at the studio a couple of days later.  We ran the music out to him so he could learn the song.  There are moments where … I was on microphone with him at the same time and we were going back and forth on the same microphone, just Johnny-on-the-spot right there.  It’s a day we’ll never forget.  We’re so honored and blessed to have him on this record.  It’s hard to believe he’s gone.  We’re going to really miss him because he was almost a grandpa to us. Some of his wisdom and his advice is even bigger than [him being] on the song with us.  It’s amazing to have such a legend on a song but it’s also going to be tough not to have him around anymore.

Tim McGraw and Keith Urban have recorded your songs.  Are royalties from those recordings providing the two of you with a healthy revenue stream?

Preston:  We cannot complain about the publishing.  Songwriting is where it’s at and we’ve been blessed by having Keith and Tim cut our songs.  It’s really unheard of to have two prestigious icons cut our music. 

Chris: We’ve been working it, writing every day.  Like Preston said earlier, I think our music is really “today.”  Even though we were writing it a long time ago, I think people understood we were on to something.

“I think we grew up on so many different styles of music, whether it be gospel, R&B, there’s some hip hop, rock ’n’ roll and country.”

Does it feel odd to hear other people playing your songs?  Are there moments where you critique the finished tracks, saying they should have done it differently or that your version is bette, or not as good as their version?

Preston: We look up to Tim and Keith so much. We’re such fans of their music.  Both of them, particularly, are so good at picking great songs and picking the right songs for what they do.

The very first time we heard “You Gonna Fly” by Keith, it just blew our minds.  It was actually Keith Urban playing guitar, singing the words, singing the melody to a song that we had written.  We were blown away.  He rocked it out so great.  I don’t think there’s ever been a moment where we ever second-guessed any of them. We were so thrilled and excited. And being fans of these guys, anyway, all of a sudden it was completely unreal to hear these guys playing songs that we wrote.  Speaking for myself and probably for Chris as well, there’s never been a time where we were like, “He could have done this different or he could have done that different.”   Keith even added a whistle that wasn’t in the recording. It’s a tiny thing, just a whistle, but what a cool touch.

We’re just thrilled and excited to hear where they took the song as well. Their insight through all these years has been so successful.

Do you have your own George Martin – a producer that totally understands what you’re about and how the music should sound?

Chris: We have two main producers.  One is Jeffrey Steele, who is one of the most significant and huge songwriters in Nashville, who is also an unbelievable artist and singer.  And a guy named Noah Gordon.  [Those} are the true producers that really found the LoCash sound to make it live and put it on a record.  Jeff has two or three of them on our albums and Noah really took to us real well, too.  We could go into the studio and they really get it. They understand what our live show is all about and how energetic and fun it is. 

Are there sort of visual trademarks, for LoCash Cowboys videos – a country setting, beautiful women, trucks and/or jeeps?

Preston: I don’t think there’s ever been a particular … we have to have this, we have to have that.  Chris’ wife was in the latest video [“Chase A Little Love”].

Chris: To be honest with you, if you look at music and you want to sell, guys sing about girls.  That’s what sells.  Girls sing about guys.  That’s the way it goes.  My wife comes out [in the video] with the dice in her hand.

Who’s the other lady in the video?

Preston: The other girl is a friend of ours. She was cast for the part and happened to be a friend as well. So it kind of made it fun because she wasn’t a stranger on the set just filling a part.  I had actually met her before, her name is Morgan and she is in the car with me.  It just made it a lot of fun because we were comfortable around each other all ready.

There wasn’t any time when we were like, “It has to be a girl that looks like this … this tall, this color hair” or any thing like that.  They cast her, sent us a picture, told us her name, and I said, “Hey, I know this girl. She’s a friend of ours.” And the next thing you know we were at the shoot and having fun.  It was great.

When you’re not working – recording, writing, performing or making plans – do you two still hang out together?  Is the relationship between the two of you pretty much the brothers-in-arms or family scene presented in your videos and music?

Preston: It is.  Chris is like the brother I never had. I have an older brother and a younger brother but never had a brother the same age as me.  Chris became that guy, he filled those shoes.  Chris is pretty much an only child so I feel like a brother to him.  And our families are all very supportive and involved. His mom is like my mom and my mom is like his mom.  There has always been a closeness among the families of the whole LoCash thing.  Even the band members.  We spend holidays together if we can. 

When you do 150-200 shows a year … and come off the road you do need a little time away from everything. Not even from each other but the whole picture. You need to breathe some fresh air for a minute because when you’re on that bus, you’re on a plane and you’re doing all the shows, there comes a minute or an hour where you just need to get away, you just need to go … maybe go fishing or go home and be by yourself.

What do the two of you do for fun that’s not related to being a LoCash Cowboy?

Chris: I’m a homebody. I like to spend time with my kids and my wife. I’m a movie buff.  I’ve got over 3,000 movies.  I have an addiction.  My little man sits in my lap and I’ve probably watched a million Disney movies and can respect every single one of them.  I love it.  My brain is always working but for some reason, I can really focus on a movie and put myself in it.  I’ve always been like that.

Preston: I love my car a lot.  I love to go to … I know it sounds kind of dumb, but I just love to go get a coffee and drive my car out in the country, look for deer. … That’s one of the things I grew up doing with my dad. Deer hunting and driving up and down old country roads looking for deer, looking for places to hunt.  I think when you’ve done that your whole life, it’s still one of those things that takes you away and says, “Hey, man, I’m going to get back to my roots.  I’m going to go driving a little bit.”

I still catch myself doing that on the bus, sometimes.  When we’re going down the highway and it’s a long trip – a 13-or 14-hour run – I’ll sit up front and watch for deer.  I still get excited when I see one, like we’re going to stop the bus or something. But we’re not.

CMA Music Festival, Nashville, Tenn.

How does a LoCash song come into this world?

Chris: I think a lot of it starts with an idea, whether it’s a line in a song or title.  Me and Preston especially, we’ll write down titles and look at each other like “We need to get to that soon.”  There are a couple we’re working on now that could be huge but it gives us time.

Preston: A lot of it, sometimes we’ll be hearing a different beat and we’ll start singing to each other and it writes itself.  When it hits it hits.  You start feeling it.  Sometimes you can feel a song and then change it in two weeks.  It creates magic.

Was there ever a time when you two felt like giving up?

Chris: Not necessarily giving up. You feel like, “What am I doing this for?   Why is this not happening?  Is it not meant to be?” You question it more than giving up.  What’s really cool is when one gets down, the other picks us back up. It’s back and forth like that. We’ve never gone through the emotional part of looking at each other like, “Oh, my God.  This is it.”  We’ve always had each other to lean on.  So the “give up” has never been in our lives.  But the questioning of are we doing the right thing, are we writing the right stuff, are we playing the right song?  The brotherly thing is there and we really do have each other.  And we have a great manager (Tony Conway) and if one of us gets frustrated we call him.  He’s experienced so much along with our producer Jeffrey Steele.  George [Jones]was one of the guys we used to call.  They explain to us this is how it works.  It is a very frustrating industry but it’s in your blood.

Preston: I can tell you that 2011 was the toughest year we had faced, ever.  In 2011, starting in January, we lost Chris’ father who suddenly passed away. That was really, really difficult.  A few weeks later we lost one of his aunts who was a close friend and fan, and we couldn’t even make sense of it.

A few months later, around July, our fiddle player  (Ryan “Troop” Jones) fell ill and within four or five months, we lost him, which made no sense to us at all once again.  In the middle of all that we lost our song on the radio.  We had a previous record deal, we lost our song on the radio, we lost our record deal, it was a very bleak year.

Around October, when we lost our fiddle player, we were looking at each other, going, “What’s going on?  What’s happening to us?  What’s happening to everything around us?”

I don’t think there was ever a sense of giving up but like Chris said, we began to, you know, stop for a second and say, “What are we doing?”  Then, all of a sudden, we get a phone call and Keith Urban is going to put “You Gonna Fly” out as his single. I mean, talk about someone saving us.  I can honestly say that moment turned it all around for us, which led to 2012 becoming an amazing year. All of a sudden “You Gonna Fly” goes No. 1, a two-week No. 1 and we’re on top of the world.

And, all of a sudden, Tim McGraw puts out “Truck, Yeah” in July.  And 2012 becomes the complete opposite of what 2011 was for us.  And then we end the year getting a new record deal with Awesome Average Joe’s Entertainment.  In January 2013 we begin recording the album, in February we finish.  In March we’re shooting our first video.  It’s crazy how it all turns around in its darkest moment.  You just got to keep the faith, like Chris said.  You never know when that phone call is going to come and change it all for you.

Do you two believe in the adage that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?

Preston: Definitely.

Chris: It’s funny you say that. After my dad died, I still think about it every day of my life.  It’s one of those things I question, but I can see the positive in a way, saying “Absolutely, for sure.”  It has made me a stronger person.  I don’t like it but you have to learn to live with it.  I do believe in it.

“What’s really cool is when one gets down, the other picks us back up.”

Upcoming shows for LoCash Cowboys include Indianapolis, Ind., at the 8 Seconds Saloon May 17; the Osceola Heritage Music Festival in Osceola, Ark., May 18; Fort Walton Beach, Fla., at The Block May 24; Atwood Music Festival in Monticello, Miss., May 25; “Jam N The Valley” in Eau Claire, Wis., June 1; Thunder On The Mountain festival in Ozark, Ark., June 7; Cornstalk in Saratoga, Iowa, June 8 and the Taste Of Country Music Festival in Hunter, N.Y., June 13. 

For more information, please visit LoCashCowboys.com as well as the duo’s Facebook home, Twitter feed and YouTube channel.