Wondering who Nashville’s Next Big Thing is? I might have an answer for you – SixForty1’s Austin Gee and Brooks Hoffman have been infiltrating the country music playlists everywhere with their catchy songs, and have already made their way onto my monthly favourite playlists a time or two. The duo were kind enough to join me for an interview where we chatted band names that didn’t stick, touring with Brantley Gilbert, writing inspiration, and even the inside scoop on their upcoming EP – enjoy!
Ciara’s Country (CC): I have a super exciting interview for you today – I’m joined by Austin Gee and Brooks Hoffman, aka SixForty1. The band, of course, are no strangers to Ciara’s Country, and their songs have been played in not one, but two of my favourite songs of the month shows. It goes without saying that I am so excited to have them on today – Austin, Brooks, thank you so much for joining me!
Brooks Hoffman (BH): So happy to be here, thank you for having us!
CC: First things first, we absolutely have to talk about the band’s name. I’ve heard that SixForty1 has a super interesting origin story – can you share where the band name came from?
Austin Gee (AG): We met at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, and the main highway that cuts through campus is Highway 641. That’s where all the bars are, where all the loud music is happening; so when we started, we started playing in bars along 641. We didn’t have a name quite yet – we threw out a lot of bad names throughout the first couple of months, but Brooks texted his cousin one day and he was like, ‘man, we need a band name’.
His cousin was like, ‘what about what about The 641 Band? And we’re like, we’re on our way there, but not quite. So we’re like, ‘what about The 641? And we’re like, ‘no, we’re not a 2000s alt band, so let’s try something else.’ We just stripped it down a little bit more to SixForty1. It had a nice ring to it, and it pays homage to our college, where we came from, so we thought it was a perfect fit.
CC: Are you able to share any of those names that didn’t quite make the cut?
BH: Yeah, we’ll share a couple! We had Land Between The Lakes, which is a spot where everybody went to fish and went on their boats for parties and whatnot. We were like, ‘ what if we did something with that?’ Like The Land Between? Nah, that sounds like a dinosaur movie! The Land Before Time… Other than that, we had AG & B, but it wasn’t sticking. SixForty1 stuck pretty good.
CC: SixForty1 is also the name of your EP – were there any other ideas for EP titles, or you always knew that it was going to be self-titled?
BH: We planned on it being self-titled just because we were kind of putting the project together as we went. We knew we were just going to do singles the whole year but we stuck with the EP title. That’s going to be coming out in October, so we do have a title track for that one.
CC: Super exciting! I wanted to talk about the first song of yours that I played on my show – You Still Keep Me Up, featuring Morgan Johnston. I absolutely love a good duet, and I’m always curious to know how artists choose who to duet with. How did you that song with Morgan come about?
AG: That one was pretty easy – we wrote it with Morgan and a guy named Kyle Schlienger, probably two and a half years ago here in Nashville, and we were just trying to find the right time to release it. With a lot of songs, you’re just trying to plan it to where it could impact the most and can spread the widest. We thought last year was a perfect time to do that, and Morgan was getting traction herself, so we figured it was perfect for both of us to do that song together and keep it ‘home based’ – you know, she was a writer on it, and she has a great voice so it fit perfectly.
CC: Agreed! As well as that song, some others which helped put you guys on my, and many other people’s, radar, were Somebody’s Gonna and Forget Those Heels. What was it like to see your songs really start to get noticed?
BH: It was pretty cool! And it’s even happened more recently too with TikTok coming around. We’ve been getting on that a lot more, and we’ve seen Forget Those Heels get a resurgence of streams, views and purchases, and that’s great. I think everybody loves those kind of feel good, easy to listen, great melodies. To get those out there for people who love them just means the most to us so it’s great to see.
CC: Obviously your songs have been generating some traction on TikTok, are you TikTok watchers yourselves?
AG: Unfortunately, yeah, we get stuck on there – it’s hard not to! We have a lot of golf videos pop up on our For You page right now. But yeah, it’s just one of those things you’ve got to do right now if you’re an artist, especially independent, like we are, because that’s what labels look at. We looked at it this way – it’s always free promotion – even when you’re not on the app, your videos are still being scrolled on For You pages for people, so it’s a no brainer. It’s just getting used to the platform, getting in front of the camera and singing.
CC: Are there any other social media platforms that you’ve really tried to capitalise on?
BH: We’re trying to capitalise way more on YouTube now. That one’s a tough one, we’re not really sure how that algorithm works, but we’re trying to figure it out just by putting a lot of stuff on there! Hopefully one day something catches on and blows up a little bit.
CC: Definitely learn by doing process! I see you guys have also been following the trend of releasing singles instead of albums and the like, and that really seems to be working. Why do you think that is?
AG: Man, I think in this day and age, attention spans aren’t the same as they were back in the 90s, or 2000s. People want to hear a song, and they might get bored and go to the next one so releasing singles, especially for independent artists, is the best way to get on playlists with Spotify and Apple Music for people like you and everyone else to listen to. That’s been our saving grace. Throughout the years, we’ve still kept money in the bank account from releasing singles instead of EPs to give every song a chance to get the most spins.
BH: Yeah, it gives every song a chance to be in the spotlight. We are doing an EP this year though, where we’re going to drop three new unreleased singles at one time. I feel that’s sort of coming back and we’re excited to do that, because I miss the days when you could just listen to a whole album, brand new!
CC: Me too! But I am super excited for this new EP – can you give us an inside scoop onto what those songs will be like?
BH: Yeah, so our EP is pretty much a storyline from front to back. It’s going to be like reading a book – hopefully in your mind you can envision, you know, starting off a relationship and it’s going great, then it kind of goes through some troubles, and then at the end, you kind of wrap it up, and you’re like, ‘you know what, life’s too short to be down all the times, let’s have a good time and try to make the best of things’. So that’s kind of the storyline that we’re trying to take our listeners through with this new EP.
CC: Oh, cool. I love that linear element there. Are we allowed to know any song titles from the EP?
AG: Yeah, I guess we could drop all the song titles! We’ve already put out Started Right Here and All Night, so those are on it. We have a song called Never Gets Old coming out in a couple of weeks, that’s one of our favourites. Then in October, when the rest of the songs come out, it’ll be Me And Your Memory, Not Me Missing You, and Bad. A lot of diversity, a lot of more upbeat stuff. We’re super excited about it.
CC: It makes me so happy to hear that Started Right Here and All Night made the cut because I have been absolutely loving them. Those are two of your recent singles, but I’d love to know, how does releasing singles work? Do you have a bunch of songs that you’ve recorded and are ready to go and you’re like, ‘let’s release that one’? Or is it a case of ‘we’ve got one song, let’s put it out while we work on the next one’?
BH: We try to be as proactive as possible. Ideally, we’d like to have everything done, but we write so much! Sometimes we write a song and it beats something that we already have, so we just add it to the list and just start recording it right away. That takes time, so it’s an ongoing process. But we can officially say that everything’s done for this coming EP, all we had to do is turn it in so we’re not going to be switching out any songs!
CC: Ah, sweet! That sounds like a pretty good problem to have – always having too many songs to release rather than not enough!
BH: I mean, it is tough when you’re releasing so many singles every year! You’ve got to keep going, keep writing a whole bunch and make sure you’re getting good stuff. I think we’re pretty honest with ourselves with what’s good enough, what’s not, so it’s nice to be able to pick through some of the good stuff.
CC: With all this writing, where do you guys get your inspiration from?
AG: A little bit of everywhere! Life, relationships… We’ve been through a little spurt here recently just looking back, memories, and stuff like that. We don’t mean to do it on purpose in a writers room most of the time, but it’s kind of second nature! If you’re in the room and you’re trying to write a song about a certain topic, you channel something. Sometimes we’ll come into a room and talk about what we’ve been through recently and then we’ll write a song about it, but most of the time it’s more you’ve got a cool title or a melody and then you build on that with your personal experiences.
BH: Sometimes if I listen to a track and we both really like it, we’ll just start singing or humming something over it and whatever comes out, that’s what we write about that day!
CC: What I love about your music is that it’s not just focused on one type of song, but you’ve got a bit of everything – love songs, heartbreak songs, party songs, memory songs. Do you have a favourite type of song to write?
BH: I think my favourite is just the feel good type of song, and there’s nothing wrong with a good power ballad. I will say though, some of my favourites that we’ve written are those that people might be hearing soon… But I really like the ‘windows down, feel good’ stuff the most. I think we have a good balance of stuff where even with the sadder songs, you can still roll the window down to and have a good time with.
CC: After such a long time of not being able to tour, it must be nice to be back on the road and playing those songs for people – what’s that like?
AG: It’s amazing. We just played in St Louis, Memphis, and Birmingham, and it’s so good to have people in the crowd putting their hands up, waving them, and just swaying along our music. There’s nothing better. We don’t have the all the platforms like other artists to get that exposure, so to have people in the crowd in Birmingham, Alabama or Memphis, Tennessee, singing our songs means the world. It makes us know that what we’re doing is resonating, and we’ve just got to keep pushing and keep grounded.
CC: Which songs have you been saying have been going down really well?
BH: It’s always Somebody’s Gonna and Forget Those Heels. Those seem to go over really well every time just because they’re so catchy.
AG: Plane Crazy and Maybe I Might too. They’re oldies but goodies, so we have a few people every night enjoying those too.
CC: I love how you just said ‘oldies but goodies’, because in my head, I was thinking ‘they’re SixForty1 classics’. It’s amazing to think that even though you guys have only been around a few years, you already have ‘oldies but goodies’!
BH: Whenever we do an album, they might even make the cut. You never know.
CC: You’re giving me so much to look forward to right now! I’m already looking forward to the Greatest Hits album in like 20 years time.
BH: Trust me, we’re looking forward to the reunion tour and all that stuff when we’re eighty.
CC: I’ll be there! Speaking of touring, am I right in thinking that you guys are currently on the road with Lakeview?
BH: Yeah, we are. Have you heard of them?
CC: I absolutely have! I’m loving all of the duos that are coming up in country music lately – yourselves, Lakeview, Seaforth; so your Nashville Hits The Roof tour is one I so wish I could go to!
BH: Yeah, the Lakeview guys are super. They’re great dudes, they have great music and their live show is awesome. I think we feed off of that a lot and vice versa, so we’re excited to be on the road with them. It’s been dope.
CC: Was that a business decision where someone high up said, ‘you guys should tour together’, or did you have some pull in saying ‘ we’d like to go on the road with them’?
BH: I think it was just actually an email that was sent to us like ‘ I think y’all know each other, do y’all want to tour with these guys?’, and we were both like, ‘yeah, let’s do it’. It’s been a good time so far, and we’ve got a couple more weekends to go, it’s spread out throughout the fall. We love those guys.
CC: Very important question from me, then – when is that joint tour making its way to Europe?
BH: Gosh, that’d be awesome.
AG: Hopefully one of these days we’ll come overseas. I’ve always wanted to go to go to Europe in general.
CC: Let’s make it happen! As well as your tour with Lakeview, you’re also going to be touring with Brantley Gilbert – tell me more!
BH: We just have two dates with Brantley as part of ‘The Worst Country Tour Of All Time’ – we’re doing the West Virginia State Fair and then the Ozarks Amphitheatre with him and Michael Ray, so that’ll be a good time.
CC: How do you guys feel about joining a tour called ‘The Worst Country Tour Of All Time’?
AG: I don’t mind it! With all the other supporting acts on that tour, it’s a great exposure opportunity, and we’ve been on the road with Brantley before. It’ll be nice to go back out and hang with the guys a little bit more, and it’s a great resume builder too.
CC: I was looking at your ‘touring resume’, and you’ve toured with some pretty big names! As well as the ones we’ve mentioned, you’ve toured with Eli Young Band, Walker Hayes, Niko Moon, and Muscadine Bloodline.
BH: Yeah, we’ve been lucky, and we’ve got a few more things coming up with REO Speedwagon, and Dwight Yoakam, so those will be fun and interesting too.
CC: I was just listening to REO Speedwagon this morning! Obviously we’re on the same wavelength.
BH: They’re amazing. Hopefully we get meet them and pick their brains a little bit.
CC: Is there a dream artist who you would love to be on the same lineup as?
BH: I think it’s pretty obvious that we love Florida Georgia Line, so I’d love to tour with them. I’d love to be on the road with Sam Hunt, Dylan Scott, Dustin Lynch, I feel like those would be amazing fits for us.
CC: Oh, that would be perfect. Your sounds would fit so well together, I reckon it would be a proper party.
AG: For sure!
CC: So you’ve got some great suggestions for big name artists like yourselves, but I’m always on the lookout for underrepresented and up and coming artists too. One of the ways that I like to find out about them is by asking the artists I love what they’re listening to – do you have any underrated artists that you think everyone should be listening to?
AG: Our friends in general! Tyler Braden – he’s doing a great job right now. Sean Stemaly, he’s blowing up and he’s one of our good buddies. It’s great to see those guys taking off like they have. Those are my two choices.
BH: Yeah, I agree, those two guys are killing it. There’s a bunch of cool new acts in Nashville, and if you go to the bottom of our Spotify page, it also gives you similar artists, so I like to go to that section and discover new music there. It’s a great tool.
CC: Yeah, I’ve seen artists like Chase Wright, Josh Kerr, and Walker Montgomery in the same playlists as you – they’re great too! My last question for you today is what is one question that you’ve never been asked in an interview, but would love to be?
BH: How I make my coffee. Man, you’ve stumped me. Hmm, maybe if we weren’t doing country music, what genre would we be?
AG: Yeah, we’ve never been asked that!
CC: Got an answer for me?
BH: I would honestly say we love Justin Bieber, Lauv, The Band Camino type of pop music. I think we’d be doing stuff like that.
CC: And that works really well with country crossover too. Maybe you can give us a side album that’s more pop.
BH: I can see that happening in the future, us really branching out and doing a lot of pop stuff eventually.
AG: I think so too. I think that’s the way country music is going too – like you said, there’s so many crossovers. I think it’s more acceptable these days to branch out and try to do your own thing. I think that’s a great thing for the genre as a whole.
CC: I look forward to seeing your country and pop sides! And since you mentioned it, I have to know – how do you make your coffee?
BH: I do one Splenda, a little bit of half and a half, some honey, and that’s it. Stir it up, pretty simple.
AG: I just have straight black with a little bit of honey. This might be weird, but I take a little bit of frozen whipped cream, I dip it in there and I stir it.
BH: That’s not weird, I want to do that too!
CC: I’ll be keeping that in mind for when I finally see you guys on tour – I’ll make sure to bring you guys the perfect cup of coffee. Thank you so much for your time today, I really appreciate all we’ve chatted about and I’m so excited for what’s next for you two!
BH: We’re so excited too!
AG: Thanks for having us on!
Brooks and Austin were such a pleasure to chat to! You can find all of their released tracks wherever you get your music, or tune in to Ciara’s Country 5-8pm every Friday on www.ukcountryradio.com to hear them on air. Stay tuned on Twitter @CiarasCountry and @Think_Country for more interviews coming soo