Seven million streams don’t lie. And that’s exactly how many Spotify streams Luke Combs racked up on his first single, “Hurricane.”
The 26-year-old college dropout from Asheville, North Carolina is not your typical country singer, either. For starters, the humble Nashville transplant already reached one of the highest heights for many performers — a solo performance at Carnegie Hall.
Granted, he was in high school choir at the time. But hey, out of the four combined choirs and all the auditions, Combs was picked to sing the solo, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Since following his heart to Tennessee, Combs has steadily trekked through the country music landscape.
Combs is preparing to head out West for the first time in his life before releasing his debut album this fall. He sat down with us to chat about his big single, what he’s learned on the road and, well, homicide detectives.
How did you finally end up going for a country music career?
Dumb luck, I guess (laughs). I’ve been singing ever since I could talk. I was going to Appalachian State in Boone, North Carolina and I went back home to Asheville one summer to work. My mom told me one day, “You know Kenny Chesney didn’t start playing guitar until he was 21.” I was like, “Well I’m 21, and I got a guitar in the closet!”
The next summer I moved to Charlotte with my grandmother to play some open mics. I’d written a few terrible songs but I wanted to try playing in a bigger city. The response was small but cool, and my friends and family were really supportive.
Then I ended up back in Boone, going to school, working two jobs and playing acoustic gigs. Eventually I made enough playing shows to quit my jobs and I realized this is really what I want to do. I was going to school for criminal justice. I wanted to be a homicide detective! But when I decided on music, I just couldn’t justify two more semesters of college debt for a degree I wasn’t going to use.
If you’re going to be a broke musician, you might as well be broke without the debt.
[Laughs] Well I still have the debt, just not as much of it.
So how did you start songwriting after deciding to do music?
Honestly, it started out chasing the radio a bit. I was thinking I could write some drinking songs. But then I evolved and started diving into my emotions and knew I should write songs about what I’m going through. That’s what got me to this point. Especially with co-writing. Everything I’ve put out, I’ve co-written.
So co-writing is big for you?
Yeah, for sure. I was co-writing with a few people I met when I got here, and then their friends. And you, know people you meet at Lowe’s. Those people ended up being some of my best friends out here. A lot of the songs on this album are written by people like me, chasing the dream. It’s really cool that this album is an avenue to help get their name out there as well.
Nashville is a different scene from North Carolina, I’m sure.
Everybody is super into doing music here. In North Carolina it was just a bunch of buddies having a drink and seeing what came out. But I can come here and dive into the art of songwriting because people here are interested in that.
So you’ve let out two EPs, but this third one was a notable jump in quality.
I think that bigger leap is a testament to the talent level of people in town. I wrote for about 9 months before that EP came out, and have written a lot since we did the record too. I never had a producer before, and a friend of mine suggested his friend Scott Moffatt. It ended up being great.
When we got into the studio, it was costing more coin than I was anticipating. I was flying 100% solo at that point. Scott sent me the mix for “Hurricane” with the scratch vocal in it, but I was like, “This thing sounds done to me.” So yeah, “Hurricane” actually has the scratch vocal.
To me it sounds so good sonically. It’s kind of this upbeat sing-along, but it’s actually kind of dark. It’s about this guy who keeps getting sucked back into a bad relationship.
You’ve been opening for some great acts and are going out on the road opening for Corey Smith. What have you learned from them?
I’ve learned how many people really are involved in the process. I have such respect for them. Before, I’d watch TV and just say, “Man Blake Shelton just rolls up and plays.” But there’s a whole team helping you, so many people behind the scenes. It’s like, for my guitar to have strings and be plugged in takes two guys. People work real hard for the artist to be able to just show up and play. I really respect the people in the music business and industry.
I have surrounded myself with good folks. How hard they’re working on this album, this song, I think we’ve got a good head of steam and buzz going on. I think it could do big things. I’m not saying, “Yeah this going to be a big-time No. 1 song,” but I’d like to see it do great things and I think it speaks for itself.
And I’m living my dream right now man. I play music for a living and going out on the road and meeting new fans, seeing places I’ve never seen, playing venues my heroes played. I’d love to be Garth Brooks, but that’s something you can’t expect to happen. You can build yourself for success, but you can’t realistically guarantee it’s going to happen. I’m just going with the flow.
Any part you don’t like in the whole process?
I really wish there were 48 hours in a day. Like, after this interview I’d love to also be able to write, and to play a show, and to record. But you have to allot your time, on and off the road. If I could just not have to sleep and have somebody go to the gym for me, that’d be great [laughs].