It’s just a small warehouse space, hidden by a nondescript exterior somewhere in Nashville. Inside you’ll see mismatched chairs and rugs scattered around the cement floor. Little lights string across the high, black ceiling. A giant Texas flag covers much of one wall. A pool table, a dartboard, a basketball arcade hoop …
This is The Band Cave, home away from home for all four members of Lonestar. For more than 20 years they’ve logged countless miles touring throughout the world, released several Platinum-selling albums and ten No. 1 singles, earned ACM and CMA awards and inspired rave reviews as far away as London, where The Guardian proclaimed them exemplars of “country’s greatest strength: picture-painting, story-based, tear-your-heart-out lyrics that are the most direct and lucid in popular music.”
Yet all roads lead back to The Band Cave, where lead singer/guitarist Richie McDonald, lead guitarist/singer Michael Britt, keyboardist/guitarist/singer Dean Sams and drummer Keech Rainwater wrote and rehearsed songs for their tenth album, Never Enders, each one crafted impeccably yet as raw and soulful as all four members’ Texas honky-tonk roots.
Lonestar has always set the bar high, but Never Enders exceeds expectations. “It’s always a challenge,” says Richie as they gather one quiet morning at The Band Cave. “But when we’re writing, we always try to stay true to how we’ve done it in the past sonically and lyrically, while still looking to take what we do to new levels.” The exhilarating affirmations of the title track “Never Enders,” the haunting reflection on time lost in “My Own Hometown,” the emotional honesty of “Us,” their playful, grin- teasing riff on modern love in “I Want a Love” and their tribute to all the gorgeous lady bartenders they’ve known on “Boomerang” — each song on Never Enders mixes artful craft and the poetry of plain speech, each melody rings clear and all of it reminds us of how emotionally powerful country music can be. “We come from an era of phenomenal songs,” says Michael. “When we got our first record deal, people like Gretchen Peters and Mike Reid were writing amazing stuf. I think we just want to aspire to that level of songwriting more than follow what’s on the radio these days.” Excellence in writing, strong lead and harmony vocals, exuberant instrumental tracks — all the Lonestar essentials resonate throughout Never Enders. But there are some new twists as well, which give this project a special significance.
It is, for example, their debut recording for the Shanachie Records. “We initially presented them with six songs because we were originally just going to put out an EP on our own 4 Star label,” Dean explains. They said, ‘This is great! You’ve got to do a full record!’ And they sent us back into the studio to finish out the album. I’m glad we did because we came up with some great songs that wouldn’t otherwise have seen the light of day.” “I’m glad we did the album instead of an EP because that’s what our fans expect from us,” adds Richie in the first of several affirmations that morning of how central their supporters are to all they do.
In another first, a member of the band — Dean Sams — produced the entire project. “I love to produce,” he says. “I’ve been doing it for years, producing young talent and helping them get record deals. It’s an important part of who I am and my future. I am thankful and appreciative the guys in the band believed in me and gave me this great opportunity to produce this record.” At the same time, Dean continues, “producing is a collaborative effort. Everybody in the band is really musical and has great ideas. I’ve learned from some of the best producers in Nashville to be open and listen to others ideas. It is the sum of our parts that makes us stronger over any one individual.”
Another milestone is the song “I Want A Love” — the first in Lonestar’s vast catalog to be written by all four members. “We were doing a sound check,” Dean recalls. As I walked on stage Michael was playing this cool guitar riff over and over. I immediately grabbed my phone and recorded what he was playing.” Michael takes it from there: “So Dean, Richie and me were writing one day and before we got started Dean said he had recorded something at a sound check that I was playing he thought was cool. After he played it for us Richie said, ‘You know what? Keech called me the other day with an idea I think could be really good: “I want a love that I can sink my teeth into.”’ But we changed it to ‘a love I could sink my heart into.” Keech jumps in: “I was a driving down the road and the idea just popped into my head: ‘I want a love that I can sink my teeth into.’ It sounded kind of creepy, but I still called Richie and asked if he’d ever heard a song with that hook in it. He said, ‘Not that I can remember. That’s a good idea.’” “So,” Dean concludes, “we ended up taking Michael’s guitar riff and Keech’s hook and turned into ‘I Want a Love.’” There are stories behind every song on Never Enders — the TV commercial that inspired the title and concept of “I’ve Been Wrong Before,” the last-minute scramble that perfectly filled a sudden gap in the album with the up-tempo rocker “Twice” and so on.
But the real story here is the band itself. More than 20 years after they began their journey, they inspire reviews that are somehow raves and warm congratulations at the same time. (Example: One recent performance motivated examiner.com to thank them for “a top-notch concert” and “a night of country music to remember.”) Most important, the Lonestar saga continues with a new generation inheriting the love for the group passed down from its original fans. Richie chuckles and shares a story with Dean, Michael and Keech. “A few weeks ago, this little boy, 8 years old, came up to me and asks, ‘Do you sing that song “Amazed”?’ I said, ‘I do.” He said, ‘Well, that’s why I’m here.’ I said, ‘Oh, you came to hear that song?’ He goes, ‘No, my mom and dad got married to that song and then they had me. That’s why I’m here.’”
The laughter confirms the key to Lonestar’s magic: In the love that binds them to their fans, in the music that makes them as fresh and vital as any other band in county music, they are and will always be true believers … truth seekers… story tellers … Never Enders.
Known for merging their country roots with strong melodies and rich vocals, Lonestar, comprised of Richie McDonald (lead vocals), Michael Britt (lead guitar & backing vocals), Keech Rainwater (drums), and Dean Sams (keyboards & backing vocals), has amassed RIAA-certified sales in excess of ten million album units since their national launch in 1995, and achieved ten #1 country hits including “No News,” “Come Crying To Me,” and their crossover smash “Amazed” (which was also #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, the first record since 1983’s “Islands in the Stream”, to top both charts). The band’s awards include a 1999 ACM Single of The Year for “Amazed” (the song also won the Song of the Year award), and the 2001 CMA Vocal Group of the Year. With over a 100 dates worldwide per year, they are celebrating over 20 years together.