Home Free is without a doubt the leading a cappella group in the world.
After winning NBC’s ‘The Sing-Off’ in 2013, the band has worked its socks off releasing almost an album a year and touring the global non-stop. Their fresh takes on Country songs we all know and love, along with their strong originals, has won them a legion of fans known as the ‘Home Fries’.
To celebrate the release of their patriotic new album ‘Land of the Free‘, I caught up with group member Austin Brown to talk about the story behind the new record, discuss recording with Don McLean and to find out their plans for the next few months…
Your new album is ‘Land of the Free’. Why did you decide to release a patriotic album at this time?
On the heels of arguably our greatest release of all-time in ‘God Bless the USA’ with Lee Greenwood, it’s something that just made sense to us in an almost post-pandemic, world. Over here, things are starting to open up. It’s tentative and we’re all just trying to move forward with baby steps. The whole wide world really took so much for granted, I think, not that we knew that’s how we were operating of course, you never do. Things have have changed so much in the last year and a half. We wanted to do something that would really bring people around us together. We don’t know when we’re going to be able to tour internationally again right now. We’re hoping that we can actually finish the tour that we now have scheduled through the end of the year over here in the States. We wanted to do music that would inspire the people closest to us and sow a seed of hope that things will continue to get better and that we can come together as a country and as a family in the Home Frie community, hoping that we can make this world a better place.
These last 12 – 18 months have been a time of reflection for so many of us and people have had the time to really re-evaluate what is important. I think that has brought out patriotism in certain countries, and it feels timely to remind America of the great things that do exist in the country. Working within the patriotic theme of the record, how easy was it to find songs that you could arrange and make your own that fit this theme?
A lot of the songs on this record we’ve talked about doing for years anyway, most specifically the title track. ‘Land of the Free’ is a song that our bass, Tim Foust, wrote. I had heard this song when I first met Tim, and Home Free, many, many years ago, and we were exchanging music. He played this song for me and it’s a song that I’ve been trying to get Home Free to do since I joined the band, and this finally made sense. It was the perfect song for this record, and sort of how we picked every other song afterwards. Of course, it became the title track, it just made the most sense. It’s a beautiful tune about how we’re all so different. We still love our country. We still love this world and we want it to be as wonderful a place as it can be, despite our differences we’re able to celebrate what we share together. Every song after that on the album is really a reflection of that idea of how lucky we are to be here right now, despite having lived through a pandemic for the first time in recorded modern history. It’s been a ride and we’re still on it.
One of the songs I love on this record is “Travelin’ Soldier’, which is my favourite song by The Chicks. It’s a brave group that tackles that and I understand it was your idea…
Yeah, absolutely. I thought it might be a great song and a couple of the guys hadn’t even heard the song. Tim and Chance we’re all just like, ‘that’s a great idea’. I’m not sure if you noticed or not, but my favourite thing about that song is that we actually reversed the gender roles in the song. When The Chicks sing it, and released it to the radio, it was about a female waitress at the beginning and a male soldier going off to war in Vietnam. We thought why don’t we switch those gender roles because there are so many more female soldiers these days, and set the stage in the Middle East, which is of course much more contemporarily relevant. We all know people who have lived and served over there. It just seemed like a poignant take on a song that has been important to a lot of people for a long time.
You’ve even managed to get Don McLean to re-record ‘American Pie’ with you for the album. That must be a bucket list moment surely?
You said it, man. We’ve worked with a lot of incredible people and Home Free has had some amazing collabs over the years, but working with Don McLean on a song like ‘American Pie’, I mean, by all metrics it’s a top five song of all-time in any genre across the world. It’s one of the songs that it doesn’t matter what country you’re in. We’ve been in Germany and had this experience happen, we’ve been Prague… we’ve been all over the world and you’ll be in a bar and that song will come on at 11pm or 1am and everyone will sing along. It’s just one of the songs that we’ve wanted to do for years. The universe conspired to bring us together with Don McLean, and he wanted to do that song with us.
For the first time, I’ll say, he’s never re-recorded that song in the studio ever since the original recording until he came into the studio here in Nashville, and sang that with us. He’s just such a star. We’ve worked with so many people and everybody’s got something wonderful about them, but Don., he’s got that star power. He walks into the room and he carries this air about him that you just respect, and you live in awe. Hearing him talk about the song, its inception, about what it’s been like to sing it for 50 years, and why he wrote it. He’s had so many conversations with people like Johnny Cash over the years about how they received the song. To think that we had the honour of reinventing a song like that, and giving it new life, not that it needs it (laughs) was easily one of the top five moments that we’ve ever had as a band.
You’ve collaborated with Jeffrey East on the track ‘People’, which is one of the only times you’ve recorded an instrument on a track. Why did you decide to do that?
We do have one track on the Christmas record we released last year that has electric guitar on it but this is the first time we’ve ever done an acoustic guitar. It’s the first time we’ve ever had a rhythm guitar playing the whole song. We’ve had a fiddle on a track (previously when) we were able to do the ‘Devil Went Down to Georgia’ with Charlie Daniels. Other than that, and him actually playing his fiddle, this is the first time we’ve ever really done a track with instruments and it just feels right. That was honestly how we built the demo. Jeffrey wrote the song and we loved it, and then we arranged the song around that as just a basic demo to start with for our Christmas special. We thought about losing the guitar but we thought ‘why would we? It sounds so beautiful as it is and it’s how Jeffrey would play it in any scenario ever’. We wanted to really do honour to it instead of trying to pigeonhole ourselves and go, ‘we have to do everything with no instruments’. We wanted to take a moment and allow ourselves to grow as artists and to show folks maybe a new side of us that they hadn’t heard or imagined before. That song in particular, it’s so emotional. The message is so important and hearing Jeffery played that guitar so beautifully, we just knew it was something we had to do.
One of the most impressive aspects of the Home Free story is just how incredibly prolific you are. In the past decade you’ve rarely gone a year without releasing a new record and you’re always on the road. How do you keep up with that pace?
It’s been just a part of the process. It’s been a strange rebirth of Home Free in 2021, having gone a year and a half almost without performing at all. It was something that was hardwired into us up until that point. We toured for 250 days a year, maybe more than that, for many years. We were always on the road and together. There were many years where I didn’t have rent or a house anywhere, because we toured so much that I didn’t feel like I should. It felt like a waste of money so I thought, ‘oh, I’ll just save money and stay with friends and family for the week that I’m off every six or seven weeks’. It’s been a strange adjustment being home for the first time in my life, for more than a week or two. Very literally for the first time in my entire adult life, this is the first time I’ve been home for more than a week or two. It’s been strange readjusting to that. It’s really just been the Home Free way and we didn’t know any other way. We just made music and toured as often as we possibly could. If you don’t keep yourself relevant in this world, in this TikTok ADD culture, people will forget about you in an instant. We just wanted to take advantage of the wave of momentum and the attention and the support from our fan base that we have. We’re really going to try and jump right back on that same train so get ready for the next six months.
You mentioned earlier that you’re scheduled to tour for much of the rest of the year. Is that going to be your focus once the record is out?
It is and and hopefully we can keep that going. It’s a dream come true to be able to have a career like that and to be able to be musicians and to go on the road and to sell out shows. That’s the dream of so many. Knowing that we have that opportunity, we’re not going to let that pass us by, not that we ever took it for granted before, but now we value it more than ever.
Looking past the next few months, is the plan to get back over to Europe to tour and are you thinking about the next record at this point?
We want to go back to Europe and finish the tour that we had to leave, as soon as we possibly can, and that comes down to the powers that be whenever they will allow us to go over there and fill up a room. Currently we have a tour planned in the States. We’re also going to Canada in 2022. We’re always recording new music so we have this album out right now but we’ve also been recording many, many singles so that we can always release at least two music videos a month. We have the Christmas tour coming up. We may release a Christmas single as well and we’re already working on another album. It’ll probably take us till late 2022 to get that out but we don’t know conceptually what it will be or the music. We just know that we’re trying to slip that in there. This is our livelihood and this is our dream and we just want to continue. We’ve never had more support than we do right now and I think that that’s a really remarkable thing coming out of this pandemic. We’ve never had a more rabid fan base than we do right now and all we want to do is honour them and do right by them, and give them you as much music and work as hard as we possibly can for them. They’re the lifeblood that has gotten us through this pandemic, that has supported us and helped us continue to keep this business afloat while not being able to go on the road for over a year.
I’ve engaged with many a fan base over my years of doing this and I’ve never encountered one as passionate as the Home Fries. They really embrace everything you do and shout about it from the rooftops…
I love it, man. You’re not the first person that’s said that to me and it blows my mind every time because it feels normal. It gives me cause to take a moment and really be grateful whenever I hear things like we sell more hard tickets than a lot of people on the radio, or that we have a more rabid digital fanbase than a lot of those people that are in the audience at the Grammys. It blows my mind and it reminds me to not compare what we do to anybody else, because we are successful and living the dream in a way that allows us to just be musicians for a living. I think, knock on wood, it seems like as long as we continue to do what we’re doing, we can do this into the twilight of our of our days, which is all that I ever wanted as a kid.
Home Free’s album ‘Land of the Free’ is out now. Watch the video for the title track below: