There really must be something in the water in Oklahoma. The state has produced more country greats per capita than probably anywhere else on earth – Reba, Blake, Vince, Garth, and Toby all hail from the same state where The Swon Brothers spent their formative years. In fact, Muskogee, OK, natives Zach and Colton Swon grew up right down the street from American Idol champ-turned-country-superstar Carrie Underwood, and the three shared a stage many times throughout their childhood years.
Already naturals before they were even pre-teens, both Zach and Colton found that they were most at home on stage. Performing in their family’s gospel group since they were old enough to talk, Zach says, “We traveled with our parents every weekend playing churches. Ever since we were babies, we’ve been on the bus, hearing music and watching musicians. It’s definitely what got us turned on to music. I played instruments earlier than Colton; he was more the singer and stage performer. I started out on drums at age three, and by the time I was nine, I was playing drums for my parents’ band.
“I feel really blessed to be a musician because I’ve never taken a lesson on any instrument,” says Zach. “Drums, I just picked up naturally, and I got a chance to watch a lot of good players throughout the years with my parents, and they all showed me stuff.”
After leaving the road, their parents formed a family-style variety show in nearby Wagoner, OK, and soon Zach and Colton were charming crowds and cutting their musical teeth on everything from Elvis to Frank Sinatra. “That’s where I came out of my shell on stage and really began performing,” says Colton. “We had to learn everything from Sinatra to Michael Jackson in the show – but of course, country was our favorite! We both had solos in the show, and Zach loved Elvis, so he actually dressed up in a suit and wig and did an Elvis impersonation.”
The Swons’ show at the Civic Center was soon filling the building to capacity, and little did they know that those weekly performances would be great training for their break as contestants on NBC’s hit talent competition, The Voice. After trying out for the show in 2013, the siblings became instant fan favorites, not only musically, but also personally, as their fun-loving, often hilarious brotherly banter gave fans insight into a duo whose off-stage personalities are as engaging and down to earth as they are on stage.
Teamed with judge Blake Shelton on “Team Blake” on Season 4 of the series, Shelton guided the duo into the Top 3 and a near-win, and later became a close ally who helped them navigate the ins and outs of the music business when Nashville record labels came calling.
Life has a funny way of coming full circle, as the Swons discovered when they signed a deal with Arista Nashville, the same label as their old Oklahoma buddy, Carrie Underwood.
When Zach and Colton were selecting a producer, they found a kindred spirit in another Carrie connection: Mark Bright. “We met with multiple producers,” recalls Zach. “Mark was the last to come in, and we played him an acoustic demo of ‘Chasing You Around.’ He listened the whole time with his eyes closed, and at the end, he jumped up and said, ‘Please pick me! I want to do this; I want to make your record!’ And that’s the kind of enthusiasm we wanted. And we told him it was very important to us that we co-produce, because we want people to know that this is us, and we’re involved, and he said ‘Absolutely, let’s make it together.’ And that meant the world to us. We were comfortable from day one, and it felt like a perfect team.”
With an award-winning producer on board, the Swons sifted through a mountain of songs to craft a collection that highlights both their soulful family harmonies and unique vocal strengths.
Fans got their first taste of the resulting self-titled album when the Swons debuted their groove-filled opening single, “Later On,” during a triumphant return to The Voice, which propelled the song to the top of the iTunes country singles chart within 24 hours.
Spanning 11 songs in all, The Swon Brothers features fun-filled, energetic sing-alongs like “Later On” and “What I’m Thinking About,” but it also has its share of laid-back, dirt-road, classic country heart-wrenchers like “Chasing You Around” and “Same Old Highway.” The two Eagles-esque tunes flow through the speakers like old, familiar friends. At the other end of the spectrum from high-energy up-tempos like “95” – an ode to the fun side of weathering a heat wave – are songs like the contemplative yet non-judgmental “Pray for You” and the gorgeous narrative “This Side of Heaven,” both of which highlight the depth and breadth of the Swons’ talent and their innate ability to connect with a song.
“‘Pray for You’ is a song that we wanted to be powerful,” says Zach. “It’s more of an anthem than a ballad. We always talk about it in shows as a song of hope. Sometimes you just need something else when everything else isn’t working, no matter what you believe. So that’s a special one to us.”
Album-closer “This Side of Heaven” is definitely the chill-bump track of the collection, as Zach shares, “It’s rare that a song grabs me on first listen, but that one just stuck in my head immediately. It’s such a sad song, but it’s so uplifting, too. I think it’s one of the most well-written songs I’ve ever heard.”
Though they both write, they mined a wealth of rich outside material for their major-label debut, but for “Songs That Said It All,” the duo co-wrote the track as the result of a chance meeting at a concert by one of their biggest influences: the Eagles.
“My brother ran into [Lady Antebellum’s] Charles Kelley at an Eagles concert in Nashville, and he was kind enough to say, ‘Hey, let’s get together and write,’” recalls Colton. “And we exchanged numbers and wrote that song with him and Dave Haywood the next week. We’re really proud of it since it’s the song we co-wrote together on the album.”
Crisp, standout vocals, heartfelt music, and tight harmonies are a hallmark of this diverse and impressive out-of-the-gate album by the Swons, who as co-producers took pains in the studio to make sure that their distinctive vocal sound was the main focus throughout.
“We didn’t really have a formula,” Zach says, “but we picked songs that – while musically different – allow our harmonies to lay in perfectly. I think that’s what’s going to be the tie that binds everything together on this project.”
And in their choice of songs, the 2014 CMA Vocal Duo of the Year nominees also set out to make an album that they felt would endure. “We wanted to make a record that we would want to hear years from now,” Colton says, as Zach adds, “Ultimately, we made something that we are very proud to call ‘us.’”