When brother duo The Kentucky Gentlemen combined the music of their childhood, ‘90s country, gospel and R&B, they found their own unique sound that is drawing fans to songs like their latest, “Alcohol.” An audio video premiers today on Sounds Like Nashville (March 24).
Brandon and Derek Campbell are 27-year-old twins who also share that sweet family harmony that gives them an extra boost to the sound they have been developing since they were singing in church in their hometown of Versailles, Kentucky when they weren’t yet in their teens. Derek offers a twanging baritone and Brandon harmonizes with his Southern soul tenor. Adding to that sound is the fact that they began writing songs around the same time, so they are sharing personal experiences which brings them even closer to their fans.
“Alcohol” was written with their producer Chris Sligh and songwriter Paul Wrock. Brandon says they went into the writing session knowing there were other songs about alcohol, “but we wanted to put our own spin and flavor on it.”
“We actually decided to hold a three-day writing retreat, setting aside time to have writers join us and play around with ideas and have a lot of fun,” Derek says. “When it was just us four, I told them about the idea for ‘Alcohol.’ I said, ‘My vision is not so basic for this song about alcohol, which is a really fun party song, yet there is something super sad in it as well.’ It should reflect drinking a little bit too much and acting like your heart isn’t so broke, so we combined that Motown feel with country ways so it would reflect that bounce back with all the different emotions. We wanted to reflect those emotions that bounce around when you deal with heart break.”
He went on to say that when they recorded the song, they spent an entire day in the studio, taking time singing each verse. “It was kind of like a sing off on our favorite part of the song,” he explained. “Like one of those old school battles and may the best man win. We were hitting the notes and being real Mariah Carey about it, real dramatic with it. Brandon ended up hitting that high note. And … in honor of the title we might have poured a couple drinks while we were recording it.”
Of their sound, Derek explains, “No matter the emotion, it’s like gospel and country and soul — the feeling is always the first thing. We hold out on single notes, we take our time and our own way, and it took a little time to find the right people (to work with) to understand what we are doing.”
Brandon adds, “No matter what we did, it always came out country. It is the stories and expressiveness of country music, more than any other genre, and you are expected to express yourself in country music.”
The team Brandon and Derek found were Chris Sligh, who works with Rascal Flatts, and Grammy-nominated producer Matt McClure, who works with Lee Brice and Dylan Scott. “We initially met Paul Wrock a few years ago at Christmas party,” Brandon says. “He introduced us to Chris and we had a writing session. Chris and Matt can really get down and polish this stuff up. Matt and Chris producing together is very magical. It is just how we imagined it would be. They appreciate that we don’t want to water us down and that is one of the things we like about them.”
The two also found support form Mickey Guyton, who wrote about them on her social media pages. “That (social media) was one of the first times we had interacted, and now we get to talk every now and then,” Derek says. “A few weeks ago we got to thank her for what she is doing. We had followed her career for years and to have her shout us out every now and then, it’s nice. And it’s something that tells us we are doing alright, we should keep going.”
When Derek and Brandon were taking piano when they were youngsters, they soon realized they were not so much into classical as they were other genres of music. “We were always at the piano but we weren’t always playing what we were supposed to be,” Brandon admits. “There were all these different things we wanted to say and write, and we wanted to learn our favorite songs, so we tried to work them in with the classical pieces. The teacher encouraged us to do what we wanted to do so we started focusing on vocal abilities, started playing guitar at 12, and it was good that we were able to do that.”
Their family was very supportive as well. While they were foregoing their classical piano practice time, they were performing to keyboard beats with their older brother Quentin or singing along to Disney Channel songs in their bedroom. It was their mother who gave them their name when she offhandedly referred to them as “my Kentucky gentlemen.” They instantly knew that should be their name.
“I remember we never had to practice sounding good together,” Derek recalls. “We just sang together, and it worked.” Still, it took the brothers some time apart to realize both that music, specifically, was what they were supposed to do with their lives, and that they were supposed to do it together.
After high school the two went their separate ways, picking different colleges to attend. Brandon went to Chicago and Derek to Bloomington, Indiana. Both agree that separation was one of the best things to happen to them.
“When we were in college, we didn’t talk to each other very much,” Derek says. “Subconsciously we knew we needed to build our individualism and then come back stronger and that is what happened. All of a sudden, we didn’t think just alike, talk just alike, and we didn’t try to sing like each other anymore, which was just what we needed.”
Brandon agrees. “We needed to come back and bring what we each had to the table, instead of bringing the same thing.”
Both made the decision to move back home, neither consulting the other. Once back in Kentucky they decided Nashville was where they wanted to be, so the duo moved there in 2013. Soon they had released singles including “Vibin’” and “Whatever You’re Up For” with successful videos on major outlets including CMT.
They also continued to develop their live show, which has a lot of energy in their performance. “We are pretty high energy on stage, we have a hard time holding back,” says Derek. “We definitely love to dance, we love when the crowd has that same high energy. It brings up our energy even more. On stage we have such a good time.”
The duo tours with the Black Opry Revue, with a conglomerate of various black artists including Rissi Palmer, Jett Holden, Tyler Bryant, Nicky Diamonds, Joy Clark and Nikki Morgan. It is a group of different black artists who play country music and Derek and Brandon say it is very special to be a part of it. The Black Opry is home to artists and fans of country, blues, folk and Americana music. They have dates booked across the U.S., including Berkeley, California, The Troubadour and City Winery. Different artists make appearances at clubs where the Opry is booked.