Luke Combs doesn’t look like your typical country star. A big boy with an untucked shirt, a scruffy beard and unassuming persona, he’s more good ole boy than Grand Ole Opry. But his everydude embodiment and ability to channel post-“Boot Scoot Boogie” country has set him apart from the pack. Hitting the radar via two indie EPs (The Way She Rides, Can I Get an Outlaw) and a road-warrior schedule of local honky-tonks and clubs, the North Carolinian dropped his third self-released EP, This One’s for You, whose lead track, “Hurricane,” sold an encouraging 15k in its first week.

When Sony Nashville stepped in, the fleshed-out This One’s for You debuted at #1 on the Country Albums chart—and the re-release of the post-breakup “Hurricane” topped the Mediabase Country Airplay chart. Writing about hell-raising, busted hearts and chasing girls old-school style, Combs has forged a bond with fans who see their own lives mirrored in the DIY sensation’s songs.

You had a lot of success on your own with self-financed EPs. When you went in to record “Hurricane”—or the EP it was on—and only had enough money to master the one track, would you have believed what happened?
I had absolutely no idea, and would’ve told you, “You’re crazy." The day I moved to Nashville I was 100% self-sufficient. I’d put out those two EPs in college, and they were making enough that I didn’t have to worry about the rent or paying the light bill. So I could write songs willy-nilly— and that’s what I was doing.
It’s pretty crazy—a #1 single and #1 country album from a total outlier. Even your producer is unlikely. Scott Moffatt was part of a family act that didn’t make it.
He was a co-writer of James McNair, who said, “You should get my friend Scott to produce you,” because I’d made two EPs already. It seemed like the next step. I met him in a Waffle House parking lot, and we did the deal right there. We went into the studio and knocked out eight songs. Then, when he said something about mastering, I’d never done that on the two EPs I’d made—and I didn’t have the money.
So you did “Hurricane,” stormed the streaming charts—and it all came together, right?
Yeah [laughing]. I think at the end of the day, it was the kind of music I like writing. I didn’t think about writing an album; I was just writing songs. There was no master plan.
Were you writing songs to pitch to artists?
No, because that didn’t seem possible either. I had no way to get a song to somebody. There was nobody I was writing with that could do that, either. I mean, I didn’t sign my publishing deal until I had a record deal. It was just me and my friends, writing songs and playing Revival, which is still going; Whiskey Jam a good bit; Threesome Thursday; we played Belcourt Taps a lot. We'd just go out and play anywhere they’d let us play; we were buddies who believed in ourselves and had nothing else going except writing songs.
This is kind of a Cinderella story. A kid from Appalachian State, where Eric Church went to college, chases—and catches—the same dream.
When I started writing songs, I thought, this is so cool. I wanna be like Eric Church, this guy who writes his own songs. I didn’t find out he went to my college till I got to Appalachian State.
I figured you’d followed him there.
I went to camp there one summer during high school and stayed in the dorms. I liked it, decided I wanted to go there; it was the only school I wanted to go to. I applied to four, got into every one of them except Appalachian State. But I was so serious about going there, I figured I’d go to the local community college and reapply. I’d bought my books for community college and was all set to go when a spot opened up. I told my parents we needed to figure out a way for me to get there.
What were you studying?
I started out in business and realized that wasn’t for me. I switched to criminal justice; I wanted to be a homicide detective. Then I found out you have to be a cop for 10 years. I didn’t think I was tough enough for that.
How did you get serious about music?
I went home to work for the summer, and it was the year all my friends decided to stay in their college towns. I didn’t get the memo, so I had no friends at home—and there I was. My mother told me Kenny Chesney didn’t start playing guitar until he was in college—that was just what I needed to hear. My parents had bought me a guitar when I was in seventh grade; I took one lesson and quit. It was something they wanted me to do. But when I was stuck at home with nobody around, I spent that summer practicing and really learning how to play—though when I play, I just play what I know. I don’t do much more than basic chords, but that’s all you really need.
Your music has a strong ’90s feel to it. A lot of your peers lean urban, but you’re more Brooks & Dunn or Joe Diffie.
I’ve always been a huge Brooks & Dunn fan. I’ve loved Vince Gill, from when I was little, Clint Black and Garth Brooks. That’s what I grew up on.
You don’t look like the typical “country star” either. Does that work for you?
I know I don’t fit the stereotype of what a country artist looks like. I’m gonna have to go out there and play, let people see what this is, hear the songs and show them what this music is. But when you get them coming back, telling their friends, you know they’re telling them about what this is. We did 150 shows before we had a record deal. I love to work. Over years of playing shows, getting people excited and seeing which songs they react to, it’s a great way to home in on what I do, what my music is—and establish a relationship with the fans.
Do you have a master plan now?
I’m trying to take it as it comes. There’s not much advance planning, because we’re in the “What do we have to knock out today? Tomorrow? Thursday? Friday?” mode. That’s part of the fun of it—being in the moment and watching this grow. We’ve already been able to play the Opry and the Ryman. I got to help my parents out a little bit, had a #1 single and a #1 album. Got to go out on a major tour with Brantley Gilbert. I know I want to headline my own arena tour. I wanna play Red Rocks and Madison Square Garden. But really, I just want to enjoy every moment when it’s happening.
What's the big deal? I.B. Bad has the answer. (5/24a)
Biz bats come alive in May (5/24a)
A new chapter begins. (5/24a)
Numbers don't lie. (5/24a)
Steve, Max, Nils and the rest know what they're doing next year. (5/24a)
Who's next?
It's Comic-Con for numbers geeks.
Theories of evolution from 30,000 feet.
A&R in overdrive.

 First Name

 Last Name


Captcha: (type the characters above)