Just as country music has evolved, so has Lonestar. They scored a huge hit in 1996 with the dance floor-friendly "No News," but as country music drifted toward a pop sound a few years later, the band followed with sweeping ballads such as "Amazed" and "I'm Already There." Here, the four guys in Lonestar -- Richie McDonald, Dean Sams, Michael Britt and Keech Rainwater -- answer fans' questions about singing too many slow songs, the success of Big & Rich and why karaoke is the ultimate compliment.
Photo Credit: Russ Harrington
1. You guys were recently on Days of Our Lives. Any plans to do more acting?
Britt: Me? Acting? No. I don't even think what we did on Days of Our Lives would be considered acting unless you count what we do onstage every night as acting. I know Dean has been pursuing roles, but as far as I know, that's about it as far as actors in the band.
Sams: I have been actively making trips to L.A. and reading for various roles. It is something I am very interested in and hope to do more of. I finished my first independent film, Drone Virus, where I had a minor role as a boat salesman. Stay tuned for more!
2. When you pick the songs for your albums, does everybody have to like the song, or do you vote on it?
Britt: Lonestar is a very democratic entity. It's always best when everyone agrees on a song, and that is usually the case. There have been cases where one or more of us hasn't agreed fully, but we have respect for the other members and our producers and the record label, and if someone really feels strongly about a song, we have to consider that. We don't actually "vote" on the song, but we each express our opinions and, in rare instances when we don't all agree, there is some compromise involved, but I think that sort of give-and-take within a band is healthy.
Rainwater: Usually we talk about certain songs and listen to songs along with our producer Dann Huff and a few record company people. We are fairly unanimous on most of the songs we like.
3. How do you guys feel about karaoke? I love it and sing a LOT of Lonestar songs.
McDonald: I think karaoke is the ultimate compliment. It's so cool to be somewhere and hear your music being sung by someone who thinks enough of you and the song to be singing it.
Sams: I feel like karaoke is a great way to express yourself through music. I have actually heard some really great singers doing karaoke that should be on the radio today. Of course, there are more of the other singers -- ones that shouldn't be doing it. Either way, it's a good thing.
4. When I saw the video, "I'm Already There (Message From Home)," it made me cry because, at that point, my sister had just married a Marine. Why did you guys choose to remake that video?
Rainwater: That special version was produced for a few TV shows we were on as background while we were singing. It seemed natural to do a re-edit featuring that very touching footage
Sams: "I'm Already There" took on a whole different meaning after the war started. We wanted to do that to show our support to our troops and their families. It's tough to be away from home, as we are a lot these days. We watch these military families having to be separated for months on end, facing uncertainty and danger with every passing day. The video was our way to say thanks.
5. Here's a question for Dean: How long have you been playing piano? Did you teach yourself, or did you take lessons?
Sams: I started playing piano my senior year in high school. My favorite song was "Stranger in My House" by Ronnie Milsap. I could somehow sit and play that song with no lessons. I sometimes wish I had taken lessons. I feel like I would be a much better player today. But, hey, as we say all the time, "If it ain't broke, don't break it!"
6. John Rich from Big & Rich used to be in Lonestar. What do you guys think of his success now?
Rainwater: We are proud of John and very glad to see he has found his niche in the industry. Big & Rich seem to be setting the world on fire, and there's no stopping them.
Sams: This is a tough business, and John has seen it from a lot of different perspectives. John is an extremely talented guy that is constantly pushing the boundaries for his success. More power to him and Big Kenny. They deserve the success they are seeing.
7. On your earlier CDs, you played some really fun and upbeat music ("No News," "You Walked In," etc.), but with the last couple CDs, you've turned into more of a ballad band. We were wondering why -- and if you are going to start doing the fun stuff again.
Britt: I think that's a popular misconception, and it's one we have to fight. We've had ballads and up-tempo songs on every CD we've made. I don't think we've "become" a ballad band. It's just that we've had some ballads that have been huge hits. "What About Now" and "Front Porch Lookin' In" from the last two CDs were big hits, but people will remember the ballads "Amazed" and "I'm Already There." If you buy our CDs and listen, there's still been fun stuff on every one, and there are even some ballads on the first two CDs. I think our new CD, Let's Be Us Again, has a great mixture of fun songs ("TGIF," "Summertime," "County Fair") as well as some strong ballads ("What I Miss," "Let Them Be Little," "Let's Be Us Again"). If the problem is having more success with huge ballad hits, I don't know how to remedy that, because we want to have huge hits.
McDonald: As far as our albums go, I think we've always been really good about mixing it up. I think some of our biggest most successful songs have been ballads, therefore we get stereotyped as a ballad band, but lets not forget the tempo hits such as "No News," "What About Now," "My Front Porch Looking In," "With Me," "You Walked In" and "Walking in Memphis."
8. Do you feel that by focusing so much on "family" songs, you've alienated some of your fans? Those that don't worry about diapers, sippy cups and such?
McDonald: Well, we never intended to alienate any of our fans. I guess when you find something that really works for you, and you really feel like your making a connection and a difference with the music, it's hard to let go of that. As a writer, that's just where my heart is at, but I do think we need to shake it up a little bit. But I hope that there will always be room for songs about what matters most to me -- and that is family.
Sams: This is a constant topic of discussion with us and our record label. I think we have spent a lot of time talking about what we know and love the most -- our kids and families. I do worry about the rest of the country music fans and what they would like to hear from us. Let's just say in the future be looking for other topics that are more across the board for the fans.
9. What do your wives thing of all the romantic songs that you've been singing lately?
Britt: Hopefully, they think we're romantic guys. They probably do think that, or they wouldn't have married us, I guess. I think they know that they are a big part of our lives, and I hope they know we appreciate them and the sacrifices they make while we're out on the road.
McDonald: I know Lorie loves it. I've always been a romantic at heart. Seventeen years ago, I made a tape for her that had nothing but love songs on it. I was trying to impress her. She's still my "Lady."
10. Richie, we all know you grew up in Texas and how important family and kids are to you. Can you tell us a little bit about your childhood and things you did or liked when you were growing up?
McDonald: Yes, I grew up in Lubbock, Texas. I had a pretty normal upbringing there. One of four children, my mom was a secretary and my dad a truck driver. I lived for Friday and Saturday nights, so I could go skating with all my friends. Played football in high school and sang in the choir. I loved old cars and drag racing. It was a great time in my life that left a lot of cherished memories.
11. When you guys are on tour, where is your favorite place to stop and eat for a quick bite, and what do you like to order?
Rainwater: We love Quizno's Subs, Chili's, Whataburger in Texas, but we have to watch our figures now. Arby's and Subway, to mention a few.
Sams: Lately on tour, my quick bite favorite has been Arby's. They have these great new salads and my personal favorite is the Asian chicken salad. This tastes great and helps me stay in better shape.
12. If you had the opportunity to collaborate with one of country's female artists, who would it be and why?
McDonald: I have always been a huge fan of Alison Krauss. I think she has an amazing voice. I was devastated when Brad Paisley beat me to the punch.
Rainwater: We have done a song with Kellie Coffey. She is a sweetheart. I think maybe Sara Evans would be fun to work with.
13. What do your buses look like on the inside?
Sams: We have three buses out on tour. All three are nice, but I have to say we put a little extra into the one the four of us travel on. It has a slide-out [section], so when we get to the gigs we basically have a living room-size bus. It has brown leather couches, a booth to eat at. A 48-inch plasma TV in the front lounge and a 36-inch plasma TV in the rear lounge. Plush carpet and granite floors. We have "condo bunks," which give each one of us a lot of room to sit up and read and just move around. Each bunk has a 15-inch pull-down TV and satellite, plus a DVD player. We put in a mini studio in the rear lounge, also, so we can record songs we write on the road and also radio liners for all the radio stations. The doors that divide the lounges are air doors. You hit a button, and they open and close just like that. Hope you enjoyed the look inside our little world.
14. Who's in charge of keeping the bus clean?
Rainwater: Dean is a self-appointed cleaner.
Sams: Our driver is in charge of cleaning the bus inside and out once a day. The rest of the time, I make a point to keep things put away. I hate a mess!
15. I've heard you guys are really close, like brothers. Are your families close, as well? Do you have a lot of family get-togethers?
Britt: I think we're all pretty close. It's gotten a little harder since our families have gotten larger and we've spread out a little further from each other, but we still get together from time to time. We have a Christmas party every year for our families and our crew, and we often have a summer get-together out at the lake for a few days, and we also do things together at our homes, as well.
Sams: We have spent over 12 years together as a band. We have watched each other get married, have kids and grow as people. Yes, we are close. We usually have one big get-together with all the families and our road crew out on the lake.
16. What is a Lonestar songwriting session like?
Britt: The interesting thing about Lonestar is that when we write, we each usually have a few different combinations of writers we like to write with. When you start co-writing, you look for other writers that you mesh with in some unspoken way, and it's really kind of a feel thing. Usually, we'll try to get ideas for songs, usually from everyday life, and then we'll make appointments with other writers, and then when we get together just throw out ideas until someone in the room gets inspired. Once the song starts, it just rolls from there. Sometimes songs come out quickly, other times it takes a couple of sessions to finish the idea.
Rainwater: We've only written once together on a Coca-Cola radio commercial. It was about two or three hours of just kicking ideas and words around. Crazy fun.
17. How do you guys choose fashion and grooming gurus to style your record covers?
Britt: I think it's a matter of finding someone who has a vision for the band and for us as individuals, and that's sometimes not an easy task. For the last couple of years, we've used a stylist named Trish Townsend, and she's been really helpful, especially coming up with ideas for photo shoots and TV appearances. In a way, it's like playing dress up, and she always finds clothes that we would never find.
Sams: There are a lot of people involved in making our CD covers. There are multiple people at our record label, plus our management company, that help us have just the right cover.
18. What do you guys have to have in your dressing room at a show?
Britt: We usually don't see the dressing rooms at the venue. We get dressed on our bus, and we usually just hang out on the bus until our meet-and-greet, and then back to the bus for a few minutes to relax just before the show. Richie and Keech usually have some coffee, and Dean grabs a bowl of cereal.
Richie: We're not very complicated. Maybe some chips and hot sauces.
19. When picking your favorite vacation spot, where would it be?
Britt: I love to travel, which is a good thing because of my job, and my wife and I like to travel when we have time off, as well. We've been a lot of cool places. Our latest favorite was San Diego, and we took a cruise in Hawaii a couple of years ago that was a lot of fun. Our favorite so far might have to be Jamaica. We have pretty fond memories of it there because that's where we were married, and this past Christmas we took our son, Ethan, there for a very warm holiday season. Ethan loves the water and the banana smoothies there.
McDonald: We just got back from playing the Big Valley Jamboree in Camrose, Alberta, near Edmonton, which has one of the biggest malls in the world, the West Edmonton Mall. It is amazing, with an indoor water park, Fantasyland hotel, roller coasters and shopping. I'm taking Lorie and the kids back in September.
20. What has been your most memorable concert experience ever -- funny, sentimental or just plain weird?
Britt: I think one of the more memorable concert experiences for me was when we played in Washington D.C., for the national Christmas tree lighting ceremony last year. It was just a bit surreal because when I started playing country music, I was playing in dance halls and bars around Texas, and I never thought it would lead to Washington D.C. with the president sitting to our right and the Coast Guard Band playing our music while being broadcast live on national TV.
Sams: The most memorable show to me was on 9/11. The day America was attacked. We were in Utah for a show and thought it would be canceled because of the tragedy going on. We got word that we had to do the show. We walked out on stage to a sold-out crowd, and instead of "What About Now," which was our opener, we just walked out on stage and sang "America the Beautiful." I have never felt such pride and unity in one place than that night in that moment.