With a title that celebrates both their Oklahoma roots and their Nashville dreams, The Swon Brothers have crafted their most personal music yet on Nashlahoma. Zach and Colton Swon produced the album and wrote or co-wrote seven of the 11 songs. The duo also enlisted pals like Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley to contribute songs and recruited Vince Gill and Lewis Brice to lend their vocals on two standout tracks.
The brothers have served up a few new songs to their fan base over the past year, and are excited to finally deliver the entire album, which shot up to No. 8 on the Country iTunes chart in less than eight hours of releasing. “I can’t speak for my brother, but for me this kind of says a lot of things,” Zach Swon tells Sounds Like Nashville. “It showed us that we have grown up enough that we could produce a record for ourselves. We know what we want and we know what kind of songs we want to write and what kind of instruments we want on there. We really wanted every song to have an impact. We wanted everything to be on purpose, no fillers. I think we accomplished that.”
The Swon Brothers produced all the songs on the project over the last year and a half except for “This Town” and “Travelin’ On,” which they co-produced with Evan Hutchings. “Some of these songs we’ve had under our belt for six or seven years,” says Colton Swon. “For instance, ‘Somewhere San Diego’ was one of the first songs we had written when we moved to Nashville. For whatever reason, it never made it on any of albums. When you are independent artists, you get to make that call, so we put that on here. We’ve wanted to cut it for years and now it’s become a fan favorite.”
The Muskogee, Oklahoma natives earned a devoted fan base when they finished third on the fourth season of The Voice, becoming the first duo to make it from the Top 12 to the season finale. They signed with Arista Records and released their self-titled major label debut in 2014, scoring a hit with their debut single “Later On.”
“We waited six years to do a full length album and I can’t believe we did that,” Colton shares. “We’ve done some singles here and there, but it was time for a full length album and it’s so good to have fresh new music out.”
When asked why they kept fans waiting for a new album, Colton replies, “We got caught in the waiting game with labels and all that. Sometimes you can’t make your own decisions when you are signed to a major label, so we had to wait for a little bit.”
Zach says being busy on the road before the pandemic was also a factor. “We hopped on Carrie Underwood’s tour for 100 dates and that took up all of 2016. Time just got away from us,” he says. “I guess the silver lining with the pandemic has been the time that you have to put into a full project.”
Thus they created Nashlahoma. Colton says the unusual album title just came to him. “One morning I woke up and I don’t know if I dreamt it or what, but I called my brother and I just had that word on my mind,” he recalls. “We thought it was perfect for this record. This is the first record that we’ve done the majority of the producing and it just shows our roots of both being Okies and living in Nashville for seven years.”
They enlisted one of their Oklahoma heroes to join them on “Travelin’ On.” “We are Vince Gill fans to the core. He is an Okie. He’s got one of the sweetest voices in country music. He’s a guitar hero of ours and our favorite band is the Eagles, so it’s just icing on the cake that he’s in that role now,” Zach says of the Country Music Hall of Famer, who prior to the pandemic, had been performing with the Eagles. “Our relationship started when we were on The Voice. We got the Rising Star Award at the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame and he sent us a congratulations video. It was a total shock to us.”
They struck up a friendship through phone calls and texts and they finally met their hero when they went to see him perform with the Time Jumpers at Nashville hot spot 3rd and Lindsley. “I didn’t even know that he knew we were in the room, but he got us on stage to sing ‘Okie From Muskogee,’” Zach says. “He’s been so good to us, so we wrote ‘Travelin’ On’ with two of our really good friends and it has this kind of has an Eagle vibe. I called him and said, ‘I don’t know if you’d be interested, but we think that your singing and/or guitar playing or either of the two—anything that you want to do—would fit great on this song. Would you just listen to it?’ He said, ‘You know what? I don’t even need to listen to it, I’m in. Anything for an Okie.’ The rest is history. He did everything perfect. He’s a good guy and added so much to that song and to this record.”
The Swons wrote “Travelin’ On” with Jonathan Dean and Stephen Hunley, and it’s very personal to the brothers. “We were in the back of the tour bus after we’d played a couple shows and we were on our way back to Nashville,” Zach recalls. “Colton had kept trying to pitch us this idea to write this like waltzy song and nobody was feeling it. Then for some reason we were like, ‘Alright let’s take a look at it.’ It ended up being our favorite song. It’s kind of just our story about being brothers on the road. It’s about what touring does to you. I’ve always said we’d never been more than five minutes away from our mom and dad and then you take off doing this and you see them maybe a couple times a year. That’s the hard part about being on the road, but we’re doing what we love and the fact that we get to do it as brothers, you take a little family with you.”
The Swons recruited Lee Brice’s brother Lewis Brice to join them on the anthemic “Southern Draw,” a song he co-wrote with the Swons. “Lewis is up and coming. He’s catching fire and he’s got some great, great tunes,” Colton says. “Our relationship started out as golfing together, but then we were like, ‘Well we’ve got to write a song together!’ So it was just three brothers in a room and ‘Southern Draw’ was born. That lyric is just right down our alley and so true. It’s hard to find those up tempo songs for your album that aren’t corny or that still say what you want it to say and with him writing with us, we came out with something pretty special.”
Though they wrote or co-wrote seven songs on the album, the brothers also listen to outside material when choosing songs for an album. “We always like to expand our horizons and the biggest thing we’ve gained from moving to Nashville is learning from other songwriters and co-writing,” Zach says. “We’ve always said, ‘the best song wins,’ whatever hits us the right way, whether we wrote it or not, that’s the ones we want to do. Luckily we’ve got some good friends who are better songwriters than we are.”
Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard co-wrote three songs on the album, including “Best of the Best,” which was written with Corey Crowder and Little Big Town’s Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook; “Drink You Up,” written with Crowder, FGL’s Brian Kelley, Lady A’s Charles Kelley and Jordan Schmidt and “Good on Me,” written with Crowder, Rodney Clawson and Chris Tompkins.
“We’ve met those guys on the road quite a few times,” Zach says of FGL, “but when you’re doing shows, you don’t really have time to hang and talk, but we did an event at 3rd and Lindsley. That was the first time we got to really know Tyler. We exchanged numbers and when we decided to go into the studio, we texted him and said, ‘Hey man, we need a few songs for this record. Do you have any hits laying around?’ The first thing he did was set us up with his writers at Tree Vibez Music and all the people at Tree Vibez were very cool. They sent us a Dropbox with probably 25 songs in it. ‘Drink You Up’ happened to be one that Tyler texted us directly. He’s like, ‘Hey boys, listen to this tune. I think you all would kill it.’ Luckily, they let us do it and I hope we’re doing it justice. It’s a fun tune.”
“Best of the Best” is another song they feel lucky to have recorded. “We absolutely love that song,” Colton says. “When we hear something we both like, we know it and we were like, ‘This is it! We both love this!’ We definitely can hear LBT or FGL cutting this song, so it’s really cool that they trusted us because they’ve got more music to make. It’s really cool that they just gave us this song to put our own spin on it. It’s such a feel good song. It puts you in a good mood and my wife definitely likes the message of it.”
One of the most personal songs on the album is “Mommas,” which Zach and Colton wrote in honor of their mother. They were in the studio working on the album and their mom kept calling because there was a tornado in the Nashville area and she was worried about her sons. “We hung up the phone and we were like ‘Thank God for mommas,’ and it clicked,” Zach says. “It took about 20 minutes to write, but two hours to get through because we kept crying. It’s pretty special. I remember sending the first little demo that we did and I told my dad, ‘Hey I want to FaceTime you when mom listens to this.’ And it got the reaction we thought. They were both in tears.”
Though the brothers are enjoying the freedom that comes with producing and releasing an album on their own TSB Records, they haven’t ruled out signing again with a major label. “You take what the good Lord gives you and you run with it,” Colton says. “Right now, it’s us. Our team isn’t huge, but every person that works with us is super passionate, and it’s really hard to find people that care about your music as much as you do. We would love to sign a big ole record deal and have every song on the radio, but that’s not in the plan right now I guess. If one of these songs take off, we can definitely look at it and make sure it’s the right thing to do, but go with the doors that are opening. We’ve played music our whole lives before record deals and we’re going to play after record deals. It’s just what we do.”
Releasing an album in the middle of a pandemic has also led to the Swons exploring different ways of connecting with their fans. “This year has been challenging because we don’t get to get out and hug necks and tour our record like we’re supposed to,” Colton says, “but it has really re-energized our online presence. We’ve been doing the live streams and things like that. It’s easier now to connect than ever. Even six years ago when we released our first album, people weren’t as accessible. We’re really connecting with people on a whole new level and hopefully when the new year starts, we’ll get to get out on the road and do what we do, but I can promise you, we’re going to find a way to do it no matter what.
“We’ve been doing a tailgate tour where we go to peoples’ driveways and safely play and give them a personal experience right there in their driveway,” Colton continues. “We’ve done that a few times this year. We did that out of necessity as far as touring goes, but it turned out to be something really cool and we got to know people better. We got to play our songs in a different way. It’s really stripped down and we got to go places that we normally wouldn’t go.”
Though this year hasn’t been easy, the Swon Brothers are excited about where they are and the new music they are sharing. “We’re really proud of it and it just shows the evolution,” Zach says. “Even vocally I can listen to our first record and hear the difference in just the timbre of our voices. It’s changed a lot and I think it’s for the better.”
Colton adds. “I just hope people listen to this album and get a little more joy than they had before. That’s it. It’s really simple and I hope that music can do that for them.”