Welcome to the Writers Round, a monthly column where Sounds Like Nashville sits down with Nashville-based songwriters and learns about each writer’s journey to Music City. This month, Luke Dick sheds some light into his life as a songwriter as well as shares the stories behind some of his many hits including Eric Church’s “Kill A Word” and Miranda Lambert’s “Pink Sunglasses.”
Luke Dick’s passion for music began at a young age. He vividly remembers hearing music wafting through his house in Oklahoma from his family’s record player and by the time he was in the fifth grade he picked up the drums for the school band. He worked all summer so he could buy a drum kit of his own and when his mother refused to let him bring it into the house, he created a makeshift studio in a chicken coop they had outside. He laughs as he recalls setting up his boom box and the speakers he bought at a garage sale so he could play along to his favorite bands on the radio.
Years later, after honing his craft, he’d find himself playing in various rock and alt-country bands and touring throughout the country. During his travels, Dick met a publisher based in Nashville and after visiting he decided to move there for the first time in 2006. However, he admits that his first stay was a little rocky.
“I didn’t really understand the lay of the land or how the business worked or anything,” Dick tells Sounds Like Nashville over the phone. “I was just playing my own music and luckily one of the musicians, Kenny Greenberg, took me under his wing and I started making records with him and a lot of his friends. We made a good record and tried to get a record deal, and nobody was really interested in what I was doing and I decided I didn’t fit. Whatever I was doing was not what people wanted.”
After five years of little success in Nashville he decided to get his Master’s in Philosophy and began teaching. Dick says he figured he could eventually get a PhD and become a professor and play music on the side. So, he moved to New York where he planned to get a PhD and became an adjunct professor. Along the way he met fellow creative-types who spent their days as copywriters for advertisers and through their help he began making music for commercials and various advertisements like Hilton Hotels and Sweet ‘N Low.
While Dick explains that the work wasn’t the most glamorous thing for an artistically minded person, it was the first time he ever made money with music. He also set aside time to make documentaries, record his own solo project and play music while living in New York.
“When I was making a silly little ditty for Sweet ‘N Low I had fun and I wanted to make it as great as I could. I wanted to make it exciting in some way, so I didn’t find it to be any kind of a sellout whereas maybe five years ago I would have,” he admits.
Soon after, he was signed to a publishing deal with BMG. Eventually, he began traveling to Nashville but this time around things were different. About to have a child, he convinced his wife to try Music City one more time because he didn’t want to be traveling back and forth with a new baby. Nothing happened in his first year in town but when he signed another deal with Arturo Buenahora Jr., who he met years prior while pitching his previous solo work, things slowly began to pick up. Buenahora and Eric Church’s publishing company, Little Louder Music, signed Dick and early into his stay he’d see a cut on Kip Moore’s 2015 release Wild Ones with “Magic” and soon after with Church on “Kill A Word” and Miranda Lambert’s “Pink Sunglasses” and “Highway Vagabond.”
“It all started snowballing a couple years ago. More people wanted to write with me and I was able to find people that I write well with and not just have my calendar filled up with people I didn’t know or didn’t understand creatively or didn’t jive with creatively,” he explains. “That experience of getting a few cuts and then moving up the chain, writer-wise, opens up your relationships. You inevitably find people who are working at a really high level [and] it becomes this exciting thing.”
Now living in Nashville for the second time since 2014, Dick admits that he still feels new to town and remains eager about the next song he’s about to write. One of the songs that continues to increase in meaning for him is on Moore’s forthcoming project, Slowheart. A song called “The Bull,” Dick wrote it his first time in the room with Jon Randall and says Moore’s take on the song is a powerful one.
“Kip was the first one to take a chance on my songs. He said, ‘Man, you got anything weird or outside? Show it to me.’ So, he cut this song called ‘The Bull’ that I just love. That one, it was a fun write. When Jon Randall and I write, we’re sort of meandering around. It’s a weird spiral,” he explains. “It’s not exactly a set out path. I came in there one day and I was like, ‘Man, I had this dream. This dream was, I said to myself, ‘Thanks to the bulls that bucked me off.'”
Dick says he suggested to Randall that they call the song “The Bull” and he thought the chorus should be a speech and his co-writer loved the idea. He says the song is his story and he hopes it feels like other people’s stories too when they listen to the track.
“The song is about a guy who plays music but it doesn’t have to be about that. You can be thankful for being a great carpenter and doing what you set out to do. It’s a perseverance song but it’s not an up-with-the-people cheesy perseverance song,” he shares. “It’s kind of tongue and cheek. I’ve not stopped loving that song. I feel like my love for it has grown over the past couple years.”
While country fans will have to wait until Sept. 8 to hear the song featured on Moore’s album, another song he wrote can be currently heard on the radio. Church’s “Kill A Word” is Dick’s first radio single and first-ever ACM nomination for Song of the Year. As he explains, he had the idea for “Kill A Word” when Church’s guitarist, Jeff Hyde, came over to write. He says it was a concept he played for Hyde that had a distinct Nick Drake guitar feel.
While the song itself was slightly outside the box for the country genre, the two songwriters continued to work on the track. Dick had the first verse, which ended with, “If I could only kill a word,” and by the time he finished playing it Hyde had written the second verse. The two sent it to Dick’s publisher, Buenahora, who then played it for Church.
“We just had time to write half of it that day and we sent it to Eric and he loved it and said, ‘I want to finish that.’ Eric came in with the chorus for the little bridge, ‘give me sticks, give me stones’ completely intact too and then we carved away at the third verse together,” Dick recalls. “I thought that was a really interesting and fun way to write a song where people are bringing a whole bit to the table and contributing these chunks rather than pouring over every line, which is usually what happens in a writing session.”
Dick says everybody got excited about “Kill A Word” but it sounded like nothing that was on the radio. While Church was an artist he loved and someone he hoped to have his songs recorded by, he never thought the song would actually make the final cut.
“Then to make the record and actually be a single, too. It’s a surprise. It’s an exciting surprise,” he marvels.
Dick had two additional surprises when Lambert recorded a couple songs he wrote for her double album, The Weight of These Wings. He penned both “Highway Vagabond” and “Pink Sunglasses” with longtime friend and collaborator Natalie Hemby and says the latter was actually inspired by one of Hemby’s Instagram photos.
“She had a picture of her kids there looking all sassy with these pink sunglasses and I wrote down the title. Her and Rodney [Clawson] came in and I said this is kind of like ‘Rose Colored Glasses’ [but] instead, this smartass version where this is your filter,” he explains. “If you walk out into the world one day and you don’t want to deal with people, you just put the sunglasses on and you don’t have to look anybody in the eye that day. I feel like people can identify with that.”
In addition to writing country music with Hemby, Dick has enlisted his creative friend to assist on his side project, Republican Hair, which blends funk and R&B and is unlike anything you’ll hear on country radio. While Dick admits the band is very different lyrically and he never thought anyone would care much about it, the moment he played some of the music for Hemby she was all in.
“Generally, a Republican Hair song is not going to be something you can pitch to artists in country music so part of me didn’t think that other country writers would be interested in it. But Natalie, she loves music and she was like, ‘No, totally I want to do that!’ and I said ‘All right, but we might not ever make money.'”
One of the ideas he brought to Hemby was a song called “Miss Prince.” Both lovers of the late rock icon, Dick said he had the line: “I don’t miss you like I miss Prince.” Dick, Hemby and Trent Dabbs finished the song and he remembers it as being a fun day of writing.
“We go many directions when we sit down to write songs and I really love that about her,” he adds.
Dick admits that writing country music all the time can leave a songwriter anxious. Meanwhile, working on projects like Republican Hair is often refreshing for a creative person as there are no rules when he sits down to write.
“There would never be a country song that goes ‘work work work work work,'” he explains, singing Rihanna’s past hit “Work” featuring Drake. “So, if you want to use the same words in the song or if you want to repeat the same verb in the song, nobody’s going to care about that. It’s all about the vibe and the unique perspective you’re bringing. That’s the only rule: do you love it and do you want to keep writing? Are you bored with writing the first verse? Then go to another song until you get something you’re excited about. With Republican Hair, you can let your hair down so to speak and unleash a certain creative side that’s in there and clearly wants to get out.”
Music lovers hoping to learn more about Luke Dick’s side project, Republican Hair, can hear his new music The Prince & The Duke when the EP drops on Sept. 8. For more on the singer, visit his website, lukedick.org.