Interview By Samantha Hissong

Over the past year, Arista Nashville’s LANCO has gone from playing to crowds of 100 to dazzling thousands. With “Greatest Love Story,” they became the first country band in history to achieve a platinum single prior to releasing their debut album. And the song was written entirely by lead singer Brandon Lancaster, marking the first time in over ten years an artist's first #1 on the Country Airplay Chart had been written solely by the artist. Lancaster even managed to hold the top spot on the Country Songwriters Chart—based on streams, sales and airplay—for ten consecutive weeks, and he was the only artist to do so in 2017. The band’s Jay Joyce-produced full-length, Hallelujah Nights, is now out. Just before announcing their 2018 tour dates with Dierks Bentley, we threw them a few questions. By the end, we’re sure they wanted to throw some things at us too.

You were on the road for much of 2017. Any wow moments from this recent round of gigs?
We played the Grand Ole Opry for the first time. We opened for Kenny Chesney at Buckeye Stadium in Ohio, which holds like 100k. There were lots of highlights, but I think that 2017 was more of a collective highlight. At the beginning of the year, we were opening in clubs and we weren’t an established act that a lot of people would even know. In 2016, we were hitting some of these festivals where we’d play to like 100 people—people just getting to know us. But this year, we played those festivals, and thousands of people came out and packed the tents. I think the highlight was just seeing the growth of our fanbase and selling out our own shows. It takes years to get there and then it’s all of a sudden. It really feels like a multi-year overnight success.

Chandler: We played the Minnesota State Fair and opened up for Sam Hunt as direct support. By this show, “Greatest Love Story” had started to climb up the charts. I don’t think it had even gone Top 20 yet. We played like a forty-minute set and closed with that song, and it seemed like everyone in that venue was singing along. That was a moment where I thought, “Well, this is starting to work.”

B: It was so loud. It was the loudest we’d heard—15k people singing every word. I had to focus harder on that song than ever before because I couldn’t hear myself singing it.

C: And selling out the Troubadour was really cool because it’s such an iconic venue. I’d never been there before, but I knew what that neon sign looked like. It was an incredible night all around. One of my friends who lives in L.A. and plays keys for a bunch of pop artists was telling me, “Man, when you told me you were playing The Troubadour, I was honestly a little nervous for you, because country bands just don’t play that venue very often.” But he went to the show and was like, “I haven’t seen the crowd that energetic ever in here.” It’s way harder to entertain people in L.A. than it is somewhere in the middle of nowhere because there’s so much to do, so many entertainment options. But that’s kind of been our M.O. since we started. We have to jump around and act crazy, be ridiculous. We just can’t give them any reason to check Instagram.

Aside from killer musicianship, the best part of your live show stems from your undeniable chemistry.
This was the first project I started after moving to Nashville in 2012. I approached Tripp and told him I wanted to put a band together. But I wanted it to be different. In college, it was always a revolving door. I really had the intention of being serious about this. When we got together, it was pretty easy. I realized I was calling everyone to see if they wanted to hang out more than I was calling them to rehearse. So we started out as fast friends who happened to be playing music together, and I think that’s carried us a long way.

Tripp: Since day one, we’ve all had such different personalities and we’ve all wanted this so bad. We’re all working toward the same goal. Everyone’s pretty levelheaded. There aren’t really any egos. If there’s a difference of opinion, we’re just upfront and honest about it. There’s never anyone talking about each other on the road. Everyone’s really chill and professional.

C: A lot of life has happened since we started this band. We’ve been through multiple relationships ending and new ones starting, family members passing away, great things with LANCO happening and then some duller times with LANCO where nothing really happens. That gives us a lot of chemistry on and off stage that you can’t really fabricate, buy or force.

How did you settle on the title of your first album? What does Hallelujah Nights mean to you?
This album is about looking life right in the face, despite your circumstances, and celebrating where you are and who you’re spending your time with. The title track talks about these being the best days of our lives, the ones we won’t get back, the ones that go too fast. There was a time when four of us were living in a two-bedroom house, and there were seven to eight guys all together in the house. Even though those situations don’t always seem so great in the moment, they end up being some of the best of your life.

T: We’re all guys in our twenties, and we love to have fun. To me, it celebrates normalcy. We’re not fantasizing about cars and houses and things we don’t have. We’re saying we don’t have a lot of gas, we don’t have a lot of money; we have a lot of jokes, we always think they’re funny. We’re saying live in the moment, put your phone away. To this day, we’ll sit around and talk a lot about that old house. We had all lost our jobs, and we got to do a record with Jay Joyce. Back then, we’d be like, “Ya’ll wanna play soccer?” and we’d all play soccer. Someone would say, “You wanna write a song?” and we’d write a song. There was speaker on the front porch and on the back porch, the front door was always open and a record was always playing. We’d dream all day long. And even though those weren’t necessarily “special” nights with huge parties, they were special to us.

It reminds me of the Oscar Wilde quote, “We’re all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.”
B: I love that you said that. That’s exactly what it is. To be way less scholastic and educated than Oscar Wilde, it’s Andy from The Office saying, “I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them.”

Is there anything you think people will be surprised to hear on the album?
C: We have our core sound, and we’ll stray to the right or the left of that at times, but there’s one song that sounds different from every other song on the album. It’s called “Middle of the Night.” With this song, we went back to some of our influences, like Alabama and the Eagles, more rootsy country bands. It’s still definitely LANCO; it still says you don’t need to have a lot to have fun. But I just love how it sounds. The lead instrument is actually a harmonica.

T: With five guys, there are a lot of different sounds we can choose from. I have different influences than Eric, and maybe Eric has different influences than Jared. And to an extent, we all have a different sound or thing that we do. I think you catch a little glimpse of everyone in each song. All in all, I think it meshes and comes together really nicely. And Brandon did a good job of making the writing cohesive. There are songs that fit together and moments in a song like “Pick You Up” or “Middle of the Night” that might be referencing “Greatest Love Story.”

Why do you think “Greatest Love Story” resonates with so many people so strongly?
That song has opened my eyes to how people are impacted by all songs. It has a specific story. The characters have specific actions and met at a specific time. But that song isn’t just about high school sweethearts falling in and out of love. The biggest moment of that song is, “I was what you wanted, you were what I needed. We can meet in between.” The song is about self-reflection and compromise in love. It’s about understanding who the other person is and how they can balance you out, knowing how important endurance is to a real relationship. That’s the theme that resonated with people.

C: I think everyone either has felt that way, does feel that way about someone or wants to. It’s such a common human desire that a lot of people were able to grab on to, and the song took a life of its own.

The act of telling the story with all the details almost makes it more universal, which is weird because it’s so specific. But people really relate to the authenticity and vulnerability.
There are formulas in all kinds of songwriting—whether it’s pop, country or hip-hop. There are things that work. You’re tempted to follow that at times. But, really, in songwriting and storytelling, there’s a conversation you’re having with someone. If someone’s telling you their story, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t been to that place or seen the people they’re talking about. It’s not like, “In that story you were driving a sedan. Well, I had a truck so I don’t like your story anymore.” I actually had multiple songwriters in Nashville tell me I needed to have “truck” in the lyrics instead of “car.” If I naturally would’ve said truck, that would’ve been fine, but, man, I grew up in Smyrna, Tennessee. I don’t need to be told what makes a country song a country song, because I lived it. It’s my life. And on top of that, I had a car! I had a truck for two days but got rid of it because the gas was too expensive! That’s my story and I think people can relate to that. Don’t be afraid to put the details in that you want, because people respond to authenticity even if it’s not exactly their experience.

T: Early on, a lot of people told us we needed to make the chorus the same; “you can’t have different choruses.” Or that we needed to make it faster, or louder. But it’s written from such a place of honesty. It’s simple but complicated at the same time. I think people manage to find some part of their story in that song, which is why it’s had the success it’s had.

Aside from Jay Joyce’s stellar reputation, what is it that keeps you coming back for more, and what sets his bar so high?
His process is so natural and creative. He doesn’t let you hold anything in, and he’s always striving to get a sound out of you that’s better than your first instinct. When you’re doing something because it feels safe to you, he’ll really push you. Even with his takes, he doesn’t want everything to be perfect. There was a time when I ran out of breath on a song, so I asked to do it again. He asked why. I told him it was because I ran out of breath and was really reaching there at the end, and he said, “I know, it sounded like a person was singing it. It sounded like you were struggling. That’s cool. You’re human. If we wanted it to be perfect, we have the technology; we could make a robot sing, but you’re not a robot.”

T: He’s a straight-up musical savant. You really have to be in the room to understand it. We’ll sit in a circle in the studio and start working on a song we’ve brought to him, and he’ll go around and spend 20-30 minutes with each person, talking them through each part and working on a new beat. The whole time everyone’s just continuing to jam. It doesn’t stop. We all just keep playing. As you’re doing that, you’re listening to Jay and he’s having you try this right here or this right there.

Sounds like he has a lot of patience.
T: He’s been so patient with us. He was the first guy to discover us. Brandon met him while working concessions at a hotdog stand and ran up to him, closed down the stand, struck up a conversation. They talked for like 30 minutes and Jay said to come by and play him some songs, so Brandon asked for his number. He called him, went over and played some songs, and then he had the band come over and play. He was like, “Yeah I got some down time coming up,” and he signed Brandon to a pub deal and let us do a record. That’s how it started. One day, we had normal jobs, and the next day we’re doing a record with Jay Joyce.

What does 2018 have in store?
T: We’re starting the Chris Young tour today. I’d love for people to come out and see a show. I think that they’ll find out they’re more like us than they’d think. LANCO is a culture, it’s more than a band. It’s a way of life. If our music does something to you, then you’d probably enjoy hanging out with us, going to dinner or grabbing a beer.

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