Q & A: Luke Dick’s Creative Edge In Country Music

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• October 11, 2017

Since landing in Nashville about four years ago, Luke Dick has had a hand in some of the most clever songs to come out of Music City in recent memory. Often working in his East Nashville garage-turned-studio, his credits include Eric Church’s “Kill A Word” and “Round Here Buzz,” and Miranda Lambert’s “Highway Vagabonds” and “Pink Sunglasses.”

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You wrote “Round Here Buzz” and “Kill A Word” with Eric Church. How did those songs come about?

We wrote “Kill A Word” and “Round Here Buzz” on the same day, and that was the first time I ever met Eric. It was probably one of the luckiest days of my life.

A few weeks before, I was writing with Jeff Hyde. I had a verse and a refrain of “Kill A Word,” and played it for him on the guitar. He liked it, so I turned around to produce it and start getting the guitar sound. When I turned around again, he had the whole next verse written.

Then Eric heard a little bit of what Jeff and I had worked up. He loved it and showed up with the bridge-chorus ready to go: “give me sticks, give me stones”—which makes that song. We tackled the third verse together. It was great, then we were done in an hour.

And he had the idea and chorus for “Round Here Buzz” and we launched off into a verse. It’s not that far of a stretch to imagine a love lost who moves off somewhere, and there you are back at home. A majority of that song is Eric being creative because he’s such a great songwriter. That’s one thing that really struck me, is how creatively frenetic he is and creatively driven by his own impulse.

I remember trying to find images from my childhood, and it took me back to Minco, Oklahoma, and the gravel parking lot behind the bleachers and the field house. Scotty’s, the bar in the song, was a mini-stop in Minco. Eric had that great line, “Scotty’s ain’t got no vibe, got no gas in his neon light, but he’s got 2 for 1 til 2 tonight.” Using real things makes the song more real.

When I lived in Oklahoma, the first time I came to Nashville was the first time I had been east of Memphis. So that’s where the line “I’ve never been east of Dallas,” came from, because you’ve had this colloquial existence your entire life.

Growing up in Oklahoma, what were your influences? How does country fit in the mix?

Only in books was I able to get outside my little Oklahoma world. I became a big reader in college and I started liking literature in high school. It was a window into different kinds of existences, and a way to learn about words, how they are put together, and also about other people’s stories and how to get inside the head of other characters beside yourself. If I just wrote about myself all the time it would be boring, so you try to get in other people’s worlds.

My parents had a stack of records and my dad listened to a lot of Hank Jr. and Marshall Tucker Band. That was the country selection. Old traditional country, wasn’t part of my upbringing. My mom was a songwriter fan. She liked Harry Nielsen, James Taylor, Bruce Hornsby, Dire Straits. These records were a big part of my youth.

Walkmans came out about the time I started actively selecting music, like Michael Jackson and The Cars, on tape. When Guns N’ Roses came out, I flipped out over that stuff.

Country fell off my radar until the 5th or 6th grade when Garth Brooks came out. I always considered myself a rock kid, so I acted like I didn’t like it but I really did. I actually graduated from the same high school as Garth.

When I came to Nashville for the first time I liked old traditional country music, Hank Williams, Hank Snow and Keith Whitley, but that wasn’t en vogue in ‘05 -06. On the way into town, I heard three or four songs that I really liked: Alan Jackson’s “Talkin’ Song Repair Blues” and Brad Paisley’s “Alcohol.”

Dennis Lindy wrote “Talkin’ Song Repair Blues.” It’s voices like his, and Shel Silverstein and Kris Kristofferson who give weirdos hope, that you can have a place in the world. I always thought that if that song can work, maybe I can work.

Even at my weirdest, country’s influence to me means having a lyrical, narrative or thematic focus. No matter the subject. You can be more abstract or less abstract, but have an idea of what you’re writing, about because you want to communicate.

Your publisher Arturo Buenahora has been a big part of your career. How has he embraced your talent?

Because he works with big artists like Dierks Bentley and Eric Church, his faith in me allowed me to keep being myself and know it would all work out. It’s not like I have a million hits, but I feel like I’m doing my best work so far. I feel comfortable and creatively energized. A lot of it has to do having a publisher who loosens the reigns on me rather than trying to tighten them. He has been patient with me having a new wave punk band, Republican Hair, without batting an eye—because it’s hard when your writer comes in and you hope they have country hits, but they spend days crafting a record that you don’t know where it’s going to fit in the universe, because it’s not anywhere close to Music Row. But he knows I’m passionate about it and I’m turning out good music. Having an open-minded publisher who has faith in my creative impulse allows me to get up every day and be excited and want to keep writing.

What did you discover early on about Nashville’s songwriting circles?

It’s tricky writing with somebody new, because people already have their circles that they are working with, and you can’t force your way into a new circle just because you want to be in it, or you think they are talented. They might be further along in their career, so their schedule is more booked and they are in demand. As a younger writer, or someone with no proven edges in the market, it becomes harder for writers higher up the ladder to say “yes” to writing with somebody new.

One of the best things that happened to me was meeting Natalie Hemby, because we hit it off creatively right off the bat. And to have somebody who has written so many great songs embrace you is validating to your creativity and in the community. You can’t make that happen by picking up a phone, it has to happen naturally. You have to be patient. You have to be yourself and have this weird creative faith in what you do, even if it hasn’t been recognized yet as a radio single or a big hit.

Miranda Lambert recorded two songs you wrote with Natalie Hemby, “Highway Vagabonds” and “Pink Sunglasses.” What is the story behind those?

“Highway Vagabonds” was mine and Natalie’s first collaboration together, along with Shane McAnally. He’s such a lighting rod, he brings such a freedom into the room. It’s like having four gallons of Mountain Dew on hand. And it’s not fabricated, he is genuinely excited and it’s his true gift that he can maintain that kind of energy and excitement, on top of his creative sensibilities. Writing rooms are about creative energy and talent. And you want somebody who can contribute to all of it.

Natalie is always digging for something that moves her, that may be off the beaten path thematically. “Pink Sunglasses” was inspired by her Instagram post of her daughter. We wrote that with Rodney Clawson.

You have a song on the new Kip Moore album, and it is one of the first times he has recorded an outside song.

“The Bull” is a song I’m really excited about. That was my first collaboration with Jon Randall. Kip latched on to it. He was over here writing and I played it because I was so proud of it. He wanted to cut it immediately. He came over and sang on my production of it, so I was excited in a couple of capacities. It reinforced faith in my own creative abilities to have an artist that I respect want to sing an outside song. Also he did such a good job and nailed the vocal. It’s believable and perfect for his voice. Also to have the production and the sounds that you dream up be a part of his record is really validating.

I knew it was special when I made it, and so did Jon. The song just came out, so I love that now people are hearing it and it means something to them.

In this business there are two or three years from when the song comes to life in your studio, to when it even has the potential of coming out and being part of the world. I find it exciting because you are on the front end of music culture, knowing that song could potentially connect with a lot of different people on different levels.

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Sarah Skates has worked in the music business for more than a decade and is a longtime contributor to MusicRow.

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