BY: JIM VILLANUEVA
News flash: current country music doesn’t sound (or look) like the classic country that fans “of a certain age” grew up listening to. The unavoidable evolution of music – regardless of genre – is as prevalent today as it was in years gone by, and is no different than, say, when four fresh-faced good looking lads from Liverpool, England rocked the world, leaving aging ex teen idols like Pat Boone, Paul Anka and Bobbie Vee, just to name a few, in their wake.
Meet 2 Steps Back, four fresh-faced good looking lads from Lenapah, OK who are hoping to move the world of country music in just one direction: forward. Now make no mistake, nobody is suggesting – at least now – that brothers Kyle (lead vocals), Jake (lead guitar) and Wes Lowrey (bass), along with 2SB’s “Ringo,” Dave Koscelny (drums), will revolutionize country music in the same way the Fab Four reshaped rock. But then again, no one ever know for sure, do they? One thing is certain: not unlike the lads from Liverpool, the fellas from Lenapah have figured out early on that the key to unlocking success lies in learning how to steal the collective hearts of the most loyal of fan bases – the ladies! Jake Lowrey shared that secret to success and much more of the band’s backstory during our recent conversation surrounding the release of 2 Steps Back’s self-titled four song EP.
Well I’m 24, from an itty bitty town called Lenapah, OK which is just a speck on the map, if that even. The band consists of my two older brothers, Wes and Kyle and my brother from another mother is Dave Koscelny who is an old, old friend. We met in high school and we kind of all grew up together.
Let’s dig into your music. Your first single “Boombox” is centered on the radio, which makes me very, very happy since I’ve been in the radio business for some time now. What did you guys listen to on the radio growing up in Lenapaw?
Well at a younger age it was a lot of country music. Our dad was a bull rider so we spent a lot of hours in the backseat of a pickup truck going up and down the road from town to town and rodeo to rodeo. So obviously country music was really big in our early lives, hearing it on the radio because that was what my dad was playing. As we grew up and in our teen years, which is of course your more defiant years, I guess you’d say, what our parents listened to we tried to go away from because it wasn’t cool to listen to what your parents listened to. So Kyle got us started on Nirvana and all those 90s grunge bands, [but also] Metallica, Matchbox Twenty, Goo Goo Dolls and all this other, sort of more rock stuff. But then as the years went on, you know, in my older years, once we finally started writing our own music it was hard to put these obviously country lyrics over more of a rock song. So we kinda realized where our roots were really at and it was in country music. That showed when the writing came; it was just too natural to fight (laughs).
Jake, you mentioned Matchbox Twenty in your answer and I’m gonna bring them up again a little later in the conversation, but let me ask you this: with all that music that you heard and your folks’ influence, what made you finally flip the switch from music fan to musician? Looking back, was there a particular song that came on the radio, or an artist that you heard or a concert that you went to where now, looking back, you can say that was the moment where you said to yourself, I wanna do this, I wanna make music?
You know I really didn’t mention it [earlier], but as a younger kid I can really remember listening to a lot of Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC, which is kinda weird, you know, when the boyband era was really popular. I think that’s really when, for me, I kind of fell in love with the idea of becoming a part of [music]. From a really early age I can remember dancing and singing in our living room. So from an early age I can remember thinking that if I could make a career out of this, that’s what I wanna do. Once I got about in high school we were really like, you know, let’s get a band [together], let’s see if we can make some of our own music and play some shows for people and see what happens. It kinda just went from there.
I would bet that there’s some video somewhere of you bopping around to some of those early songs.
Yeah (laughs). Some of those embarrassing family videos (laughs).
Let’s talk a little more about the aforementioned first single “Boombox.” Let me quote a lyric: “Got one of those Panasonics/turn it up to whatever you want it.” As a radio guy you had me hooked from the get-go with the radio tuning at the top of the track. Tell us who wrote this song and what made you want to record it.
The writer on that is (Grammy Award-winning) Gordie Sampson, who is a gigantic songwriter in Nashville. He’s had cuts on Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban [albums] and just about anybody you can name, he’s had a cut on their album. When we were going through songs for this EP we went through everything we had and we chose “Country Girl Swag” and “Revolve.” We’d never cut anything from an outside writer and our producer, Fred Mollin (Kris Kristofferson, Jimmy Webb, Billy Ray Cyrus, Billy Joel), asked if we’d consider taking something from an outside writer. So we had about 150 songs we were looking through and we were all, okay we gotta find something. I think in the last batch of songs they sent over we found “Boombox” and I remember calling Kyle up and our manager Ryan and we were all like, we gotta do this song, we love this song. This is one of those songs that you hear on the radio and you say, man this is one I wish I would have done. It was one of those we just couldn’t pass up.
The throwback lyrics sort of standout in this age of Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music and all the streaming services. Nowadays, where do you discover new music? Do you use these services or are you still tuning into the radio?
Well I still listen to a ton of radio but I find myself on Spotify a little bit; I’ve discovered a few people off there. I’m online a lot so I’m always looking at who’s coming up, who’s out there and what are they doing. I spend a lot of hours on Facebook or looking at blogs [because] these days, in this business, you wanna know what everybody else is doing, kinda what’s happening, see what’s being successful for other people and what’s working. Radio is still a tough industry to get into. Nowadays it’s hard to get a programmer to put on a new song or video, but that’s still a huge tool to use.
Yes they sure do, I will say that. Country radio and country music is a very loyal family. It’s kinda like once you’re in there people take care of each other.
Absolutely. Now I know you guys wrote “Country Girl Swag,” track two on your self-titled, four-song EP. Help us out by giving us your definition of what country girl swag is.
It’s funny, me and Kyle worked at a grocery store a couple of years back and I kinda had that country girl swag – you know that little hook in there – come to me, so I ran back into the cooler and sang what I had into my phone and when I got home I started to work on it. But, country girl swag to me is the girl in the honky tonk who’s got the little shorts on and she’s rockin’ the cowboy boots and she’s the hottest girl there. It doesn’t matter what song is on, she’s dancing and she’s just a party girl (laughs).
Yeah, I get the visual. Now you guys recorded the EP in Nashville with the big-time producer Fred Mollin, who you mentioned earlier. He’s of course worked with some of the biggest names in the business. How did he get on your radar?
That was actually a connection through our manager, Ryan. To be honest with you, it really was just a luck of the draw. Fred’s name came up through a friend of his and Ryan sent him some of our older stuff, some of our demos, to give him an idea of what our vision for this EP was, and in what kind of direction we wanted to go. Fred bought into it and loved the idea and he really did us a huge favor. Stepping into a studio in Nashville was a completely different experience than anything we’d done locally; it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience the first time we stepped into the studio [with Fred]. It was a cool experience.
Speaking of big names in the business, you’ve played shows with several. What have you learned so far about stagecraft and performing live from, say a guy like Joe Nichols?
It’s just all about having fun. You know your fans really feed off you. The biggest thing for me when I step onstage is I wanna have fun and letting the crowd know that it’s okay to be silly and sing along and forget about everything else that’s happened in your day or whatever and just live in the moment. So that’s really cool to just get lost in the moment and not think about anything else.
Getting lost in the moment is a very cool way of putting it, and I think that’s exactly what you have to do. You have to stay focused on where you’re at and everyone else will be there with you.
Yeah, there’ll be times when I just drive around late at night to try and clear my head and there’s lots of songs that you can kinda get lost in, that are really cool, that will take you back to a cool memory. It’ll make you feel a certain way.
Another song off the EP is “Alone Tonight.” Let me quote another lyric here: “Got you cranked up to 11/hell I’m higher now than Heaven.” I warned you that I’d bring them back up in the conversation, but I certainly hear a hint of Matchbox Twenty running through this tune. Tell me more about “Alone Tonight.”
That’s a song written by Dan Smyers and other co-writers and it’s funny that you say that because to be it’s got that 90s rock vibe to it. That was a song that, we were like, you know this almost is something that we’ve never done before, but it was really, really fun to get in the studio and see it come together. It’s one of my favorites to play live because it’s one that you can’t help but wanna stomp and dance around to. It gets stuck in your head and you can’t help but wanna sing along to it.
So let me interject a personal note here, Jake. I’m a big Matchbox Twenty fan.
They are one of my all-time favorites. Rob Thomas is just an incredible singer. They’re awesome.
They have no shortage of hits, for sure. So, the EP wraps with “Revolve.” Again, quoting a lyric: “Making plans and they all revolve around you.” You guys wrote this one, so tell me who or what inspired you to write it.
This is a song that actually Kyle wrote alone. It’s one of those songs that reminds me of where we came from early on as a band and where we’re at now. Kyle’s such an incredible writer, in my personal opinion (laughs), and he never ceases to amaze me. When he came in with “Revolve” it was one of those songs that was so true to him as a writer and it shows how far he’d come in the years. It’s got such a fun little hook and we’ve had a really, really great response from that song so far from our fans that we’ve heard from and gotten feedback from. They’re really, really loving that song.
Now Jake, I’m no rocket scientist here, but it doesn’t take one to pick up on the fact that all four songs are either about, or in the case of three of them, sung directly to a girl. In other words, they all revolve around a girl. Clearly a favorite subject of you guys (laughs)?
Yeah it’s kinda hard to not write about the ladies. They take up a huge portion of a guy’s life, so you can’t help getting caught up in the ladies. It’s just one of those facts of life (laughs).
There are worse things to right about, that’s for sure.
So I guess it begs the question: do you have one in your life, currently?
Yes, yes. I’m actually engaged. I tell everybody I’m actually in what’s considered a long-term engagement. We’ve been engaged for about three years now and one of these days we’re gonna get married.
Just a couple more for you, Jake, and I’ll let you go. And again, I appreciate the time.
Hey we appreciate you talkin’ to us. I’ve had fun talkin’ to ya.
It’s been a pleasure. So, following up on the ladies subject here, is it fair to say that women are your target audience, or if not, at least the bulk of the folks you see out in the crowd?
You know we’ve always said that if you bring the ladies to the show, then they’re gonna bring the guys (laughs). I will say that our audience, primarily, is women, you know, younger girls, and if you got a crowd full of ladies, like I said, the guys are gonna show up there cuz they’re gonna wanna see all them women. And if the girls like us, the guys are gonna say they like us cuz those girls like us (laughs). It’s kinda just a chain reaction.
We’re actually writing, still, and we’ve been in the studio. We got back in the studio starting around last month and we’re working on some new material. We’re planning on getting a full-length album out to follow this up soon. That’s definitely in the future. We wanna keep the momentum going and that’s our plan as of right now to keep cranking it out from now on and keep the momentum rolling.
Finally, Jake, is there anything else that you’d like to cover here? Anything else that you’d like to talk about?
I’d just like to say that everybody can find us online at our website 2SBmusic.com. You can find everything you need to know about us there and basically anywhere social, we’re there. Come find us and we’d love to chat with ya.
Well speaking of chatting, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you.
We appreciate you taking time out of your day to speak with us and help us spread the word about what we’re doing, and we hope people enjoy it. We thank you a lot for taking the time. Have a great day.
**To hear more audio of my extensive conversation with Jake Lowrey of 2 Steps Back, please “LIKE” Facebook.com/CurrentClassics and look for a link to an upcoming episode of my weekly Current Classics podcast. Listen HERE.