When the pieces fall into place, you know it. For the three guys known as Due West, that time is now.
You could start with songwriting skills that quickly earned all three publishing deals and help define their fresh, unique sound. You could start with producer Garth Fundis, whose credits include Keith Whitley, Don Williams, Trisha Yearwood and Sugarland. But anyone who's heard them sing will tell you that the place to start with Due West is with their vocals, collectively a three-lane road to magic.
It happened the first time they ever sang together when old friends Matt Lopez and Brad Hull met Tim Gates at a party. The three started harmonizing and the other attendees—Music Row stars, newcomers, and friends—kept asking how long they'd been a group. It’s been happening ever since as they've toured the country, visiting radio stations and playing for appreciative audiences along the way.
"We've been told that when we sing harmony, it's something special," says Brad, "and we've learned to believe it." "It just seems like anytime we play live," adds Tim, "we usually end up with some long-term fans."
That phenomenon is about to get much bigger as Due West puts the finishing touches on new material, releasing on Black River Entertainment in 2012, that is already garnering industry buzz.
"The energy is definitely there," says Matt. "We're at a new label with new music. This is all about new beginnings." They’re especially excited about the chance to work with legendary producer Garth Fundis and engineer Chuck Ainlay, whose own list of credits includes producing and engineering Miranda Lambert’s Four The Record, engineering all of Taylor Swift’s work, Lionel Richie’s Tuskegee and many others.
"At the end of the day," says Matt, "the guy with the most experience is the guy who knows how to do it best and Garth Fundis has made so many amazing records in this town. We were really happy that he bought into the way we approach making music. In fact, he came in and heard us sing and said, 'Well, there's your record. Your sound is just you three blending together.’ Then he set about capturing what we do."
"He's like Obi-Wan Kenobi," adds Tim with a laugh, "and we're training." Fundis is quick to return the compliment. “Due West made a huge impression on me at our first meeting,” he says. “Their appeal struck me instantly, both musically and personally. They just sounded so good and so right. They’re delivering top-notch songs and are as focused as any artist I’ve ever known.”
Drawing on the groove and energy the three bring to their live performances, Fundis had Matt play acoustic guitar on the new sessions and brought a fresh eye to their vocal blend. "Usually," says Matt, "Tim is the lead singer and Brad and I are kind of the background singers but the first thing Garth picked up on is, 'No, you three are a vocal trio.'" That observation alone added a new measure of richness to their already incredible blend.
"There are choruses where we all sing lead," says Brad, "and you can pick which voice you want to hear as the melody and hear the other two as harmony parts. It's pretty exciting how these songs are turning out." Though great harmony groups like Diamond Rio, Restless Heart, and Shenandoah influenced all of them, they continue to explore the possibilities inherent in their own sound.
"We're pushing the envelope a bit," says Brad, "with a bit of '70s guitar here, a touch of soul there." "But you still have that little whine of a steel guitar in the background," adds Tim.
"And anything Tim Gates sings," says Matt, "is going to have that country feel. But it's the three of us together that makes the magic. I've harmonized with people a lot my whole life, but there was something that happened when our three voices came together. Siblings often have that thing that make that blend happen and with us it was just kind of undeniable. We thought, 'Well, we have to do this.’"
Wyoming native Matt grew up in a musical household—his mother was in a band—and remembers being awed at his sister's ability to sing harmony. As a result, he learned to sing harmonies himself and had plenty of opportunity to practice since his parents "were always pulling guitars out at parties to sing for everybody." He came to Nashville by way of New York, where he honed his craft in subway stations, playing for each new group of commuters to pass through and learning what it took to get them to throw money in his guitar case. Brad, hailing from Arizona, could carry a tune before his mother could understand the words he was singing. He began studying classical guitar at 11 because that's what the only guitar teacher in town taught. He learned to love the music he heard around the house, whether it was Motown and the Beach Boys or George Strait and Kenny Rogers. After earning a degree from Belmont University, Brad got his start in Nashville working for BMI. Tim, a Utah native and the third of seven children, grew up on "stone cold country" and was a DJ on an AM station at 13. He picked up a guitar in middle school and learned Keith Whitley's "Don't Close Your Eyes" for a talent show. "I had sunglasses on and had my eyes closed, I was so nervous," he says. "When the crowd started cheering, I opened my eyes and I haven't looked back since." He played occasional weddings, other gigs and worked as a social worker before moving to Nashville.
"We've definitely seen our ups and downs," says Brad, "the highs and lows of the music business but we've stuck together through this thing and we've got each other to rely on. That's really what gets us through." "We're three completely different personalities," adds Matt, "but it comes together to make this thing that just seems to make an impression on people and we don't take that for granted. We've always been able to make some waves with our live music, whether it's the three of us or with a full band, and now we've got the record to lead the way and knock on people's doors to introduce us."
"We feel like we're still heading Due West," adds Tim, "just with a bigger machine. We're in a position to make some real noise." "It's our time," says Brad.
The last word belongs to producer Fundis, who is quick to point out the sheer enjoyment of working with the trio. “This is one of the most fun and creative musical experiences I’ve had in a recording studio,” he says. “And we’ve only just begun.”
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