Lonestar: Looking Back… and Looking Forward

We're catching up with Lonestar, as lead singer Richie McDonald reflects on the group's long career in the spotlight.

Lonestar: Looking Back… and Looking Forward
Photo courtesy C2 Media Relations

One would think that after releasing music together since 1995, that Lonestar might look at a new album release as just another day at the office. However, a conversation with lead singer Richie McDonald will prove that notion wrong. In discussing the band’s tenth studio album, Never Enders, he approaches the subject with the zeal of a newcomer.

“It’s always an exciting time when we have new music out,” he tells Sounds Like Nashville. “It’s been almost two years, so you don’t want to keep the people waiting too long. The fans are the reason that we do what we do, and they always look forward to new music. It was self-produced by (member) Dean Sams, and collectively – between writing the songs and playing on it, I think it’s probably more ‘us’ than it’s ever been.”

Having Sams sit behind the glass on the project felt like a hand in a glove, said McDonald. “I think that because we’ve been together for so long, and we get along so well, it’s really not an issue. I think that early on, it could have been. When we first came to town, I think we really needed that outside input. But, I don’t think that’s something that we need now. I think we’ve learned so much over the years, and we’ve been able to apply it this album. It’s a really good environment where we all can give our input. It’s kind of a democracy, and in the end, the best ideas win.”

He did admit that wasn’t always the case. He reasons that one comes to town thinking they have all the answers, only to find out quickly otherwise. “You come to Nashville, and you get thrown into the frying pan. You quickly realize that you’ve got a lot to learn. When I came here as a songwriter, I thought I knew it all. I found out the opposite really fast. That goes for producing, playing guitar, piano, and drums as well as writing songs. I think we’ve paid our dues, and I think we’ve became really good listeners in the past twenty-four years.”

Since the band got together in the early 1990s, there have been many changes in the industry. McDonald admits that they have seen their share, but have tried to remain constant. “I think that the biggest is that everything has gone to digital, as well as social media. I think that social media levels the playing field for a lot of artists to have access to get their music out there to the people. When we were coming up through the ranks, everything was handled by the label. Social media was just coming onto the scene. We sold over ten million records over the past twenty years, but unless you’re a major superstar, you’re not going to do that anymore. People can pick and choose what they want – which isn’t a bad thing. But, I think that there are still some people who love to listen to that CD from beginning to end. But, I think we all learn to adjust and survive. That’s why we’re still here.”

Of course, the song that has helped the band to sell quite a bit of those records was their 1999 ballad “Amazed.” The song spent eight weeks atop the Billboard Country Singles chart, as well as the Hot 100. He recalls that while the band had no idea of the impact the single would have, they knew it wasn’t just your everyday song. “When we heard the song in a pitch meeting, we thought it was a very emotional song and that it would touch a lot of people’s hearts. But, when it came out and topped the charts for nine weeks, and then crossed over – it was just crazy. As an artist, you only dream of a song like that coming along. We were lucky enough to have ten number one records, and many other top tens, but that was the top of the mountain for us.”

Over the years, the band has had some ups and downs – just like any act, says McDonald, but they have kept their closeness over the years. “We did all meet in Nashville, but we all came from Texas. Maybe that’s what kept us together for so long, and was the key to our success. When we first met, I knew we were like brothers. We had the same interests and goals. We’re all really good friends. Sometimes, we might disagree or see eye to eye, but I think the older we’ve gotten, we have learned to deal with all the issues. We love getting on the bus and going up and down the road, talking and laughing, but we also know when somebody needs their space.”

In discussing the new album, McDonald was particularly excited about the title cut. “Dean and I wrote that one with Marv Green. It was one of those typical songwriter days in Nashville where you sit in a room and stare at one another until someone throws out an idea. Marv was actually the one who threw the idea out, and it was intriguing to me and Dean.”

The two Lonestar members penned “My Own Hometown” with Marty Dodson. It’s a track that he is particularly proud of. “I think a lot of people can relate to that song. It’s about a relationship that didn’t work out, and the guy goes back to his hometown and was wishing that things were the way they used to be. But, she’s not there anymore. He wishes there was somebody there that missed him. He goes to the high school that they went to, the Church they met, and comes to the conclusion that he’s a stranger in his hometown.”

McDonald admitted that the tune took on a different direction when the band went into the studio. “When we started writing, it was actually closer to a ballad. It’s funny what happens when you get into the studio and how things take a turn. You find a different groove, and it turned into more of a mid-tempo. I think it’s a perfect country song that tells the story of heartache and someone going back to their hometown and reminiscing.”

As usual, the band has a full slate of concert dates for the summer and fall – with many fairs on that itinerary. Of course, part of the allure of a fair is the midway – which offers many culinary treats that are hard to resist. What is one of McDonald’s favorite temptations? “Funnel Cakes,” he says quickly. “It’s got the dough, and the powdered sugar. Nowadays, you can do all kinds of things to them – like put chocolate syrup on them.”

The singer says he loves the vibe he gets at a fair. “Personally, I love the atmosphere. You get out on stage, and look out at the grandstands, and there’s fans of all ages. Then, on top of that, there’s this smell in the air – that fried everything kind of air that just waffles by you. Sometimes, it might be another smell from the pig lots of the feed lots, but I just love it.”