In four years, Luke Combs has ascended from releasing the indie projects The Way She Rides and Can I Get An Outlaw, to watching as his River House Artists/Columbia Records major label debut, This One’s For You, earned an RIAA Platinum certification and deluxe version after its 2017 release. Earlier this year, Combs sold out two headlining shows at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, and when he announced his upcoming Beer Never Broke My Heart Tour, over 80 percent of shows sold out in the first weekend tickets went on sale.
Initially, Combs independently released what would become his breakthrough hit, “Hurricane,” penned with Thomas Archer and Taylor Phillips. The song’s visceral lyrics and angsty production caught the attention of streaming services and the ear of both Sony Music Nashville and River House Artists execs, catapulting him into the leagues of major label artists.
Since its release This One’s For You has earned earned more than 1 billion streams, and has produced three consecutive No. 1 singles, including the 3x Platinum “Hurricane,” 2x Platinum “When It Rains It Pours,” and the Platinum “One Number Away.” Another track, “Beautiful Crazy,” which was not released as a radio single, has also garnered gold status. His current single, “She Got The Best Of Me,” is in the Top 5 on the country song sales chart, with 207K to date.
Last month, Combs was among the final round nominees for the Country Music Awards’ New Artist of the Year (a category he was also nominated for in 2017) and the coveted Male Vocalist of the Year categories–adding two more additions to an already lengthy list of accolades. But for Combs, just the chance to attend the awards show has him in awe.
“I didn’t think I would ever get to go to something like that,” he tells MusicRow Magazine. “It’s just crazy to watch the show with my mom years ago and now to get my parents to go with me and see that is pretty cool.”
On record and onstage, Combs’ raspy voice delivers his self-constructed storylines with the same gut-punching intensity. That’s by design.
“I used to go to a lot of concerts when I was younger and sometimes I would feel a little bit let down by the translation from the album to the live show,” he says. “It really felt like things weren’t translating the way I wanted them to, as a fan. I wanted our experience to be different.”
As a kid, Combs absorbed late-’90s country music before leaning in to punk rock and grunge bands such as Nirvana. “Then I found Eric Church’s music, which bridged the gap for me, from that to getting back into country music,” he says.
Combs was a careful student of the way artists such as Church and rockers Dave Matthews Band have fought to place fans first. “They’ve always done things kind of different and did special things for fans. That resonated with me,” he continues.
Though Combs grew up singing and loving music, he didn’t officially pursue music as a career until after he picked up a guitar at age 21.
“My goal was just to not have to work for anybody else,” he says. “I was working two jobs that I didn’t enjoy and I was in college, and I just decided I didn’t want to work for anybody else. All of this other stuff is just a really nice cherry on top.”
Perhaps similar to his musical heroes, Combs considers the craft of songwriting and its influence on his artist career of equal importance.
“For me at least there was never any other option,” he says of his commitment to the craft of songwriting. “I always wanted to write my own stuff so I just lumped it together. In my eyes, being a successful artist is being a successful songwriter, for yourself.”
Along the way, Combs has given several aspiring songwriters their very first No. 1 songs, and he says fans can expect further collaborations with those writers on his follow-up album.
“There are people I started writing with recently that we just folded into the same circle of folks from the first album,” he says. “There are so many people that have proved themselves on this first album, so I wanted to keep writing with those guys. We did alright so I kept it the same.”
Though his debut album This One’s For You has been a runaway sales hit, Combs isn’t feeling pressure when it comes to its follow-up.
“I’ve written probably at least 50 songs already,” he estimates. “We have a lot of stuff already done that I’m confident in, so I don’t really feel the pressure because we have so much stuff locked and loaded.”
He brings that ‘no pressure’ mentality into the writing room. “I definitely want the song to be right, and I’m very meticulous about making sure it sounds the way we want it to,” he says, “but if we don’t write anything for five days, or if we write three songs in a day, that’s fine, too. The ‘no pressure’ environment is a cool way to write. And, I’m not like, ‘Man, we don’t have this type of song for the album’ or ‘We need this certain type of track.’ I’ve never really bought into that. If we just put out the best 12 or 14 songs we have, then I think we win either way.”
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