Q&A: Luke Combs on Touring, Breakout Success

Photo courtesy of the artist

Country artist Luke Combs’s breakout success is one of the genre’s most compelling stories this year. In an increasingly divided format, the Asheville-bred songwriter is one of only a handful of artists getting mainstream radio airplay (single “Hurricane” hit number one) while still appealing to fans of left-of-center acts like Eric Church and Sturgill Simpson. His debut album This One’s For You landed at number one on Billboard‘s Top Country Albums chart its first week, and has earned critical acclaim from outlets like NPR and Rolling Stone.

In the wake of the success of This One’s For You, Combs recently announced a new string of headlining dates, the Don’t Tempt Me with a Good Time Tour. American Songwriter caught up with Combs about the tour, the success of his debut album, and how he approaches the craft of songwriting.

What are you most looking forward to about your upcoming headlining tour?

I’m most looking forward to getting back out and going out west. We haven’t really played out west as a band in quite some time. So I’m looking froward to doing that. Getting to make our own set and get some production out on the road with us, it’s kind of our first time doing that so I’m looking forward to that too.

Since you guys have a little more freedom, do you have plans to do anything special with any of the songs?

We’ve added a couple guys to the crew, so that gives us the opportunity to expand creatively what we’re doing on stage. We’re definitely going to try to change things up and do a little bit of a different set every night and keep people guessing.

You get to do an arena show in your hometown of Asheville. What does that mean to you?

Obviously you want your hometown to accept you and love you. We’ve played Asheville a bunch of times and I’m excited to finally get together and see what we can do in the arena and see friends from high school and family and stuff like that. I’m looking forward to that one a lot.

You’ve found a really loyal fan base out on the road. What do you think it is about your live shows that draws people in in that way?

I think it’s ‘what you see is what you get.’ Second of all, I’d always been to concerts when I was little and I’d hear something and I’d go, ‘Man, that didn’t really sound like the record.’ Obviously I was a rookie and a newbie but I always wanted it to sound like the record. Not exactly the same, but I wanted it to be close. I try to go out and make it sound as close to what people are used to hearing as they are. So we go out there and play the stuff that’s on the record and it sounds like the record and the singing’s good and the playing’s good and it’s just an honest show. There’s no bells and whistles or anything special about what we’re doing, the way we dress, or anything. It’s just a bunch of regular guys up there playing music and I think people are really drawn to that because they feel like it could be them up there.

You’ve had some major live experiences over the last year, like getting to tour with Brantley Gilbert and playing at CMA Fest. What did you learn from those experiences? 

Being out with Brantley has been awesome. He’s such a nice guy. You learn a lot from those guys, you know, how to interact with the crowd, how to service your fans in the right way and make sure they’re happy, and how to manage the schedule. I’ve learned a lot from BG especially. Playing for those bigger crowds has helped us a lot with our show, learning how to move around on stage and communicating with the fans. You don’t have necessarily as much time to talk to them because you have a 30-minute set or something like that. We’ve learned a lot in the past seven or eight months for sure.

“Hurricane” has been a huge breakout success for you. What’s the story behind that song?

The three of us got in a room and we started having coffee and talking. That’s kind of how all my writes go. We show up, have some coffee, catch up. I’d had that title “Hurricane” in my phone. I really don’t know why, but I’d kept it in there for a while. Taylor started talking about a friend of his who had broken up with his girlfriend or something and he didn’t want to go out because he didn’t feel like running into her at the bar. We decided to match that title up with that idea and that’s how we got started.

Do you have a songwriting process you typically follow?

I jot my titles down in my phone. When I have an idea, I try to jot it down as a title and then I’ll take that into the co-write and say, ‘Hey man, what do you think about this? This is what I was thinking for it.’ It’s a little bit different every time. We don’t always use my ideas, obviously. You just try to write what people know and what they can relate to.

Do you write when you’re out on the road?

I write in bursts. The road is so busy and the schedule is so crazy. Even when I get home, I have stuff to do. It comes in bursts for me and I’m looking forward to getting out on this headlining tour. We’re going to have a second bus so we’re hoping to have some writers out to write out here. It’s kind of hard to do because we’re all on the same bus now, and there are about 10 of us on here. There isn’t any room to be on your own, so to speak.

Since you’ve had such success with your single and your album, has it at all changed how you think you’ll approach writing in the future?

Luckily I have a lot of stuff I wrote from March of 2016, when I finished this album, to now. I have a lot of great songs that I’m sitting on for the second album. I’m not necessarily too concerned about that. I haven’t written much since it came out, so I don’t really know, to be honest with you, how much it will affect it. I hope it won’t affect it at all.

Don’t Tempt Me with a Good Time Tour Dates:

October 3 Los Angeles, Cali. The Roxy*
October 4 Bakersfield, Cali. Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace*
October 12 Milwaukee, Wis. The Rave*
October 13 Des Moines, Iowa Wooly’s*
October 14 Wichita, Kan. The Cotillion*
October 19 Tulsa, Okla. Cain’s Ballroom*
October 20 Columbia, Mo. The Blue Note*
October 21 Springfield, Ill. Boondocks*
October 26 Fayetteville, Ark. George’s Majestic Lounge*
October 27 Kansas City, Mo. The Truman*
October 28 Denver, Colo. Grizzly Rose*
November 2 Baton Rouge, La. Texas Club*
November 3 Houston, Texas House Of Blues*
November 4 Fort Worth, Texas Billy Bob’s Texas*
November 9 Oxford, Ohio Brick Street Bar+
November 10 Columbus, Ohio Newport Music Hall+
November 16 Boston, Mass. House of Blues+
November 17 Baltimore, Md. Rams Head Live+
November 18 Asbury Park, N.J. The Stone Pony+
December 1 Atlanta, Ga. The Tabernacle+
December 7 Columbia, S.C. Township Auditorium+
December 8 Charlotte, N.C. Coyote Joe’s+
December 14 Orlando, Fla. House of Blues+
December 15 Jacksonville, Fla. Florida Theatre+
December 16 Asheville, N.C. ­­ US Cellular Center+