Having just released their first single “Feels Like a Party” on BMG/BBR Music Group’s Wheelhouse Records after a series of small independent deals, LOCASH brethren Preston Brust and Chris Lucas certainly have that story to tell – three No. 1s, a top five, two gold singles and three major award nominations. But that’s not the most compelling narrative to be found in the fortuitous pairing of thoughtful songwriters with a natural chemistry as entertainers.
The question that most begs asking is, how have LOCASH managed to run the music industry gauntlet for the better part of a decade only to emerge stronger with a new album on a top label? Maybe it’s because they’re not just a couple guys who write and sing together. Their connection is, in fact, a lot more like family.
Baltimore native Lucas gave up sports for music and moved to Nashville in the early 2000s. “I was a baseball player and tore up my knee,” he says. “I saw that as God’s way of saying I was meant to be onstage.” He met preacher’s kid from Indiana by way of Arkansas Brust, the two hit it off and soon found work as between-band DJs.
“One of us would DJ and the other would go out on the mic as master of ceremonies,” Chris says. Preston adds, “One day we were kind of bored, looked at each other and just walked out there at the same time. In that moment we realized we had something when it came to engaging an audience and knowing what they wanted.”
“The best way I can describe it is like watching Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin on TV with my grandfather,” Chris says. “I’m not comparing us to those guys – they’re legendary – but it felt like we had that kind of chemistry in front of a crowd.”
While the bands played, Chris and Preston were backstage comparing musical notes and working on harmonies. “I was showing him stuff from secular music and he was teaching me gospel harmony,” Chris says.
“After a few months of that, we’d developed a real sound,” Preston continues. “Gospel group harmonies are often built around a family blend and we realized we’d created something that really felt like that. In a way, we sounded like brothers. That’s what got us thinking about becoming a duo.”
They did just that, finding something unique along the way. “Chris has taught me so much about how songs are written and sounds are formulated in the secular world,” Brust says. “There’s nothing he can’t sing, especially up top. I think I knew the potential of his voice long before he did. Because of that, I knew we’d develop a sound that went wherever we wanted with harmony and lead vocals. That’s a weapon.”
Likewise, Lucas sees his partner as a perfect complement. “I would never want to be doing this on my own,” he says. “I need Preston’s attitude, his confidence and his musicality. I have no idea how to do under-harmonies and he’s got the ear we need to figure that stuff out. He’s also a master of melody. We could be writing with best in town, but when we get in that room, I’m looking at Preston first. He knows exactly who we are and what works for us. I trust him completely.”
Preston quips, “That just means if a song doesn’t hit it’s my fault.”
“And he always knows the right thing to say, as you see,” Chris laughs. ” He handles things so much better than I do— I’ve got a little more Baltimore in me, which isn’t always a bad thing. We round each other out.”
Their spark drew the attention of an independent label and, when that one closed, another and another. “Throwing in the towel is often easier than hanging in when things get tough,” Preston says. “‘Hey, the record label folded. I guess that’s it.’ There’s always an excuse. But we carry on and that resonates in our music. There’s a bigger picture.”
Through that stretch, LOCASH were building a fan base and having another kind of success as songwriters. “You Gonna Fly” was a No. 1 for Keith Urban and “Truck Yeah” was a top 10 for Tim McGraw.
“We’ve had our share of record deals, some better than others,” Chris says. “Everything’s a step in life, the key is to keep the steps going forward … going up. Even if you fall back, got to keep stepping up. That’s what LOCASH is all about.”
The big step up was 2015’s The Fighters, which included chart-topping, gold selling singles “I Love This Life” and “I Know Somebody.” “Ring on Every Finger” reached the top 20. Their success earned 2017 duo of the year nominations from the ACM, CMA and CMT. Those accolades, nice as they are, are simply by-products of the duo’s easy connection with their fans. In fact, when Chris and Preston reflect on the world and their place in it, the stats never come up at all.
Instead, they focus on those fans and how their new music will be received. The first LOCASH single for Wheelhouse Records, “Feels Like a Party,” was co-written and produced by Corey Crowder and Tyler Hubbard. “Sometimes people in the business will wonder if an artist can ‘get away’ with a song like that,” Preston says, “but I recently had someone say to me, ‘We need stuff like this. Taking a short vacation in a song has its own kind of impact.’ That affected the way I thought about it and we’re proud to be the guys who can deliver that kind of positivity for people.
Chris elaborates: “We write every day and are purposeful in focusing on the positive. Everybody has issues and there are tons of problems in the world. There’s a place and time to talk about that, but as kids we both turned to music to pick us up. So over our first two albums and definitely this new one, we want to make you smile. We’re not trying to change the world. Or are we?”
Even as LOCASH embrace the upbeat, they find a balance with deeper songs like “Brothers,” also co-written with Crowder and Hubbard. “You might tear up when you hear a song like that or ‘Story of Our Lives,’ which is going to be on the new album, but it’s still a message about making things better, not worse,” Chris says.
That’s not just the message in the music, it’s the truth about their journey. “We’ve figured out how to build careers, lives and families we’re proud of,” Preston says. “We keep climbing – rung by rung. Sometimes the next one seems just out of our reach and that’s when we lift each other up. We grind. We persevere. And in that way, we’re just like the people we make music for.”
Now that’s a story worth telling.