Brandon Lancaster is well aware there’s an element of fantasy in country music. You can’t turn on country radio without hearing a stream of songs depicting field parties, endless summer nights, and tricked-out trucks. The irony of course is that those things all come with a price—if they’re even attainable at all.
“No one can afford those jacked-up trucks,” Brandon Lancaster says with a laugh.
As the front man, singer, and chief songwriter for the multi-platinum-selling band LANCO, Lancaster is focused on something different: reality.
The group’s upcoming EP—arriving later this year via Riser House Records—gives a hearty bear hug to the flesh, blood, victories, and disappointments of everyday life. Produced by GRAMMY Award-Winning Producer, Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Cage The Elephant, Brothers Osborne), the material is about soldiering on against the headwinds of uncertain futures, fluctuating bank accounts, and occasional heartbreak.
Lancaster—along with keyboardist Jared Hampton, bassist Chandler Baldwin, and drummer Tripp Howell—are no strangers to paying lyrical homage to lived experiences and the daily struggle. Lancaster wrote about an authentic relationship—from its birth to its breakup and rekindling—in 2017’s “Greatest Love Story,” a song that gave LANCO a multi-week Number One country radio hit and resonated with fans across all genres. When they released their debut album Hallelujah Nights the following year, they found themselves atop the Billboard Country Albums Chart, making them the first country band in a decade to have their first album debut at No. 1. The platinum single “Born to Love You” came next and Lancaster & Company—the long form of the group’s name—were on an undeniable roll.
Everyone’s most despised buzzword halted the momentum in 2020, however, when LANCO were forced off the road by the pandemic. The hiatus was eye-opening to Lancaster, who looked even further inward to take stock of what’s important.
“What we’ve seen in the past three years is that when status is taken away, what do you have?” he asks.
LANCO doesn’t shy away from the hardships of life on their new EP, but they don’t deny their fans a relief valve either. “Sound of a Saturday Night,” a collab between Lancaster, Spillman, the band’s Tripp Howell and his brother Tate, blows off the steam of the workweek with a slicing guitar riff, a relentless drumbeat, and a “whoa-whoa” finale made for singing at the top of your lungs. Yet again, Lancaster nods to a heartland hero: “Seger on the speakers, teaching us night moves” he sings, setting a scene and mood with just one simple lyric. “There’s some heaviness on this project,” Lancaster admits. “So I wanted a song that was like, hey, even when life’s getting you down, there’s still time to crank up the speakers and immerse yourself in those Saturday night sounds, whether it’s music, the voices of your friends, or even the marching band rehearsing at the school near my house”.
Their upcoming EP arrives as a follow up to their self-produced 2021 EP “Honky-Tonk Hippies,” recorded at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Like that EP and 2018’s Hallelujah Nights before that, their new music captures the band at a specific moment in time: seasoned but no less ambitious, musically evolved but still LANCO.
“Hallelujah Nights was representative of who we were in our early twenties. It represented a long time of our life. But this is who we are now. This is what we’ve been going through. This is what we’re still going through. This is how we processed it. And this is who we are sonically. Yeah, we have five-minute songs now and we’re not afraid to,” Lancaster says. “There’s a fearlessness and an honesty in this body of work that we’re all proud of. If you haven’t heard from us four guys in a few years, this’ll catch you up on everything you need to know. ”Put another way, it’s the sound of a band—creating, recording, and existing—in real life.”
It is readily apparent in love songs that have helped set the standard for a generation. Songs like “I Swear,” “I Love the Way You Love Me” and “I Can Love You Like That” still resonate across the landscape–pop icon and country newcomer Jessica Simpson cited “I Love The Way You Love Me” as an influence in a recent interview. It is apparent in the 2004 hit “Letters From Home,” one of the most moving tributes to the connection between soldiers and their families ever recorded, and in “The Little Girl,” a tale of redemption that plumbs both the harrowing and the uplifting. It is apparent even in the pure fun that has always found its way into John Michael’s repertoire–songs like “Be My Baby Tonight” and “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident),” where John Michael’s vocal earnestness takes musical whimsy to another level.
John Michael’s origins lie in deceptively modest beginnings. He was born in Danville, Kentucky, to parents who imparted a lifelong love of music.
“Where most people have chairs and sofas in their living rooms,” laughs John Michael, “we had amplifiers and drum kits.”
The family band played on weekends throughout the area, and John Michael and his brother Eddie eagerly soaked up everything about it.
“To a certain extent,” he says, “my dad always had a natural ability to draw fans and entertain people; I don’t care if it was on the front porch, the living room, or on a stage. I think that transitioned to me and my brother being able to do that on stage.”
John Michael took over lead singing chores after his parents divorced, and he performed for a while in a band called Early Tymz with Eddie and their friend Troy Gentry. Nashville talent scouts began hearing about and then seeing John Michael perform and by the early ’90s he had a record deal.
The hits followed steadily, with songs like “Rope The Moon,” “If You’ve Got Love,” “No Man’s Land,” “Cowboy Love,” “As Long As I Live,” “Friends” and “How Was I To Know” establishing him as one of the elite acts of the era. He received the CMA Horizon award and was named the ACM’s Top New Vocalist, setting off a long series of awards that included the CMA’s Single and Song of the Year, Billboard’s Top Country Artist, and a Grammy nomination. Heavy touring meant he kept the close touch with fans he had begun in the clubs back home.
“You get to know your fans and what they like more and more through the years,” he says, “and you kind of gravitate towards one another.”
Indeed, he has always had an extraordinarily close relationship with his fans, and they have stayed with him through good and bad times.
Asked what he thinks gave him the edge in a career that calls millions but gives stardom to just a few, he pauses, then thinks back to the legacy of his parents.
“I reckon it was good genes and good blood,” he says with a smile. Few who know the depth and breadth of his own growing legacy would disagree.