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"If O Brother did anything for the industry, it reminded us that there are hungry music consumers out there who are looking for something fresh that they don't hear on the radio."
O BROTHER'S KEEPER
A Special HITS Grammy interview
With Lost Highway's Luke Lewis
Lost Highway chieftain Luke Lewis is in the Grammy spotlight in a big way. Despite being virtually brand-new, the genre-busting, IDJ-distributed Nashville label has snagged a whopping 16 nominations—for the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack (six nods, including Album of the Year), the Hank Williams tribute anthology Timeless (five noms, including Best Country Album), Lucinda Williams' Essence (three noms) and Ryan Adams' Gold (two noms)—while selling CDs like Krispy Kremes. This kind of success, both commercial and artistic, in such a short span of time, has made Lewis the toast of the biz. But he probably wished he'd taken a different highway after getting lost jawing with HITS' far-from-bona-fide Simon "O Brother, What Are You Talking About?" Glickman.

Congratulations on all your achievements. Did you ever think you'd nab this many Grammy nominations?
It's beyond my wildest dreams. It wasn't one of those things where we said, "Let's make sure we get it out in time for the eligibility period." I don't think it even crossed our minds a year ago, when we were putting the label together.
One wouldn't necessarily have thought what you were doing would've had this kind of mass-appeal impact.
That's beautiful, I know. We had it in our minds to create a brand with this label, so we got that done.
It's rare to be able to look at a label of a record and say, "This is probably good."
I'm old, but when I was growing up, you could do that, with labels like Shelter. I've always been a huge fan of Island, and it tickles me to be partners with them on this thing. When Chris Blackwell started Island, he wasn't trying to make radio records. He was looking for people he thought were stars and making good music. Hopefully, we can hold a candle to that.
How did the label first come about?
I'd been dreaming about it for 10 years or so, since I first came to town and had to get used to Nashville and figure out how mainstream Country worked. It was a new world for me. But I always believed you could do a label like this out of here. About two years ago, it occurred to me that mainstream Country radio wasn't targeting people like me anymore. I'm a male upper demo. [Laughs] Selfishly, I wanted to make music that wasn't targeted at soccer moms. [Lost Highway Sr. VP A&R and Artist Development] Frank Callari and I had known each other for several years and had had casual conversations over the years about someday putting a label together. Then the conversations got a lot more serious. [Sr. VP Media & Artist Relations Mercury Nashville/LH] Lauren Murphy, [Sr. VP of Promotion/Artist Development] Chris Stacey and I started talking seriously. Then I spoke to Doug Morris about it, and he liked the idea. I realized we needed some muscle on both sides of the musical spectrum, so Lyor Cohen and I started talking about that. I'd had a prior relationship with Mercury when Danny Goldberg was there, and we had an arrangement with Shania Twain that allowed us to use their people. There's some experience involved in figuring out that we needed more than just a little boutique label without affiliations that allowed our artists to go to places we couldn't take 'em with just a small staff. So the way the label was structured was key to the whole thing. We've received some Country airplay, though not a ton, on O Brother, which our Mercury staff has accomplished, and Ryan Adams has been the beneficiary of the IDJ promo staff under Ken Lane, and they've done really well for us at Hot Adult and Top 40. It's paying off in that sense, and I think our artists know that they can go wherever they want musically, which sort of sets them free. Hopefully, that's the kind of environment we can maintain, where we're not telling artists they have to cut a hit for one format or another, but if they do, we can do something about it.
The fact that you garnered any airplay on Country radio at all is impressive, since it represents something of a reproach to what mainstream Country radio has become.
No doubt. It didn't fit comfortably into what they were doing, in any sense. It was treated as a novelty record when it was played. And after time, when the record started selling to the point where everybody had to pay attention, some really wise programmers played it in the morning, and we got audience. It wasn't like regular rotation, but we got drive-time programming. It paid off, and I certainly wouldn't indict all of Country radio, because it's a little bit out of the ordinary.
And it's a hit anyway.
This record wasn't driven by a hit. The video for the song ["Man of Constant Sorrow"] had a huge impact, and I wouldn't deny that. CMT was really wonderful in the way they supported it.
It wasn't even necessarily the film.
I'll tell you what some people don't realize. The film came out in France first, where the Coens have a huge following. Our sister label in France, Universal, sold 70,000 records in a month. That was the first indication that we had something. Then the film came out here, and we had the same kind of impact. Then we had the benefit of the DVD release, then pay-per-view and cable. Every time the film reached more people, the record spiked. So I'll never discount the film's impact on this. The two concerts we did at the Ryman Auditorium and Carnegie Hall, one of which is a recording now, had a huge impact with the press and helped with awareness, and there's a tour out there now. So those opportunities kept organically cropping up, and we took advantage of every one of them that we could see. There's no genius on our part; it was a special thing.
You've also put younger artists on the disc, who represent the future legacy of your label.
I hope so. People keep calling the record bluegrass, and I wonder if they've even listened to it. Between that record, the Hank tribute we did, Lucinda Williams, Ryan Adams and Robert Earl Keen Those were the cornerstones of this label. I didn't particularly dream of it defining the label, and some of the alt-country references were almost disturbing to me—I didn't ever want it to be that constricting. We did want it to be roots, we did want singer-songwriters and we did want people who toured. Those elements are what the label was meant to be. I'm proud that O Brother and the Hank thing are definitive, in a sense, because of the artists that are involvedthe breadth of the music and the quality of the songs.
They tie the past and future together.
That's what Ryan Adams' music does. Anybody who has listened to rock & roll from the '70s will have an affinity for the sonics, at least, as well as the fact that he's a songwriter who interprets his own songs. And thankfully, it seems to be registering with young people, too. If we can get both crowds in there, he'll have a bright future. If O Brother did anything for the industry, it reminded us that there are hungry music consumers out there who are looking for something fresh that they don't hear on the radio.
And you now have a brand.
I just hope we can live up to it. How do we follow? We have the Willie Nelson record, which could introduce him to a whole new audience. We've got a really interesting record from Isaac Freeman, the bass player from the Fairfield Four; it's a really beautiful record. We have a woman from North Carolina who Ryan turned us on to, a singer-songwriter named Tift Merritt; a young singer-songwriter named Andrew Dorff, who did a record we'll have out in the summer. We've got Kim Richey. We just released a record by William Topley, a blue-eyed soul singer from England who used to be in a band called The Blessing; it's being well-received by APM right now and he's about to open for the Who. We've got David Baerwald, who has a record that's almost done which will be out in the summer.
Any other names you'd like to credit?
Kira Florita is our VP of Marketing. Ben Kline is VP of National Sales for both Lost Highway and Mercury, and he's been just incredible with this whole thing. Our National Director of Sales and Field Marketing Andy Nelson comes from the street and loves this music. He's a street animal, and he's had an amazing impact. The Island Def Jam promotion staff has been incredible—having Lyor and [Island President] Julie [Greenwald] and that whole staff involved and supporting this thing has been amazing. And then there's Doug Morris, who blessed this whole thing, thank God.

A TICKING HITS LIST
Surely you have the time to take a look. (8/7a)
THE GREAT CATALOG GOLD RUSH
Is mining the past the future? (8/7a)
TIKTOK RESPONDS TO TRUMP'S BAN
The kids are not alright with Trump. (8/7a)
POP SMOKE GAINS, DABABY LEADS OUR SONG CHART
And the streams just keep on coming. (8/7a)
THE BABE & THE MULE
Interscope's co-MVPs (8/7a)
BTS BRINGS IT
They're so dreamy.
VOTE BY MAIL
It's a conspiracy, because everyone does it.
IS IT CHRISTMAS?
No, but we're thinking about cookies.
WOKE MUSIC
Protest songs that sound like now.
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