Country Next: Neon Union
We take pride in introducing fans to country music’s brightest new stars through our Country Next series. Here, we chat with Neon Union.
Neon Union; Photo Provided
Neon Union may be new to some folks. But, all that is about to change because the Red Street country music duo consisting of Leo Brooks and Andrew Millsaps is bringing a fresh and energetic sound to the country genre that is unlike any other.
Introduced through Grammy-nominated and award-winning country star Jimmie Allen, the two artists had impressive solo careers before they decided to join up to become Neon Union. Brooks, who hails from Miami, previously worked with artists like Pitbull, Jennifer Lopez, Mary J. Blige, John Legend, and more. Meanwhile, Millsaps grew up in North Carolina and has been writing songs since he was a teenager.
Together, Neon Union is capturing the attention of people everywhere and drawing comparisons to Montgomery Gentry. Now they’re out with their recently-released single, “Bout Damn Time.” Dann Huff produced the fast and fun track written by Tyler Hubbard, Michael Hardy, Hunter Phelps, and Jordan Schmidt. “Bout Damn Time” finds Neon Union blending their distinctive vocals as they sing the lyrics meant to unify country fans far and wide.
“The catfish cookers / The farm tan crew / The hicks and the lip-spittin’ redman chew / If that sounds anything like you / Raise ’em up / Yeah, raise ’em up / Yeah the truck bed lookers / The cornfed hips / The ball cap boys with a six-inch lift / If that’s something you can identify with / Raise ’em up / Yeah raise ’em up,” Neon Union sings the anthemic lyrics to their uptempo single.
“Bout Damn Time” is the first taste of what fans can expect from Neon Union, and they promise plenty more music to come.
Neon Union caught up with Country Now to talk about their respective backstories, how they came together to form their powerhouse duo and their latest track.
Read on to learn more about Neon Union in this exclusive Q&A below.
I read that you two met through Jimmie Allen. Can you walk me through how you formed a country music duo?
Millsaps: The day Leo and I met was interesting because we had met on FaceTime. Then he came into town, and we met at Jimmie’s house. We had one of those Hey. What’s up, man? Nice to meet you in person, kind of, moments. We also knew right away that we were going to be buddies. We clicked. We actually went and had a couple of beers with each other after we talked with Jimmie. We were getting into the studio the next day. So the excitement for both of us getting to create music led to us being excited about being a duo together.
Tell me about your first sessions together. Was it an instant chemistry musically?
Brooks: To tell you the truth. It just happened instantly. We didn’t even try. It was like, ‘You’re about to sing lead here. I’m about to harmonize. Let’s go, boom.’ It was a weird thing. I was like, ‘I hope this guy can sing.’ When he opened his mouth, I was like, ‘Oh shoot! Wow!”
Millsaps: When we first got in there singing scratch vocals, everybody in the studio was like, ‘What is happening right now?’ The first time singing scratch vocals together into a microphone, it blended like magic. We were both highly impressed by each other’s ability right away.
You’re making history in country music as the first black/white duo. What is it like to be a trailblazer, opening doors for people who want to do the same?
Millsaps: That’s the cherry on top of making good music. It’s special to be able to set that example. At the same time, we don’t really put it at the forefront of our minds or thoughts. It’s just something that’s just part of it. People hear the music and see who we are, and it probably surprises them a little bit. We both had the opportunity of getting into a duo and looked at it as God calling us to give up half of what we were doing and share it with somebody else. We knew it could work. We’re both laid back and okay with sharing the spotlight and doing it with a friend.
Brooks: Yeah. We don’t really think about that, actually. But everything happens for a reason. It’s just been going so smoothly and seamlessly, like it was meant to be.
As a duo, who takes the lead when decision-making?
Brooks: It’s been a real mutual thing, like, it’s so weird. We both just know. There are no egos. We only argue over who takes the bigger half of the pizza.
Millsaps: Yeah. We know our strengths. Leo is a lot more musical. He’s been a musical director, and I have always been a frontman. So he’s teaching me how to sing harmonies, and I’m teaching him how to sing more lead. So we are both learning from each other every day.
Leo, you’ve previously worked with people like Mary J. Blige, Cee Lo Green, and John Legend. Do you ever foresee yourself, as a duo, stepping outside of country music and experimenting with other genres?
Brooks: We have a song that we experimented with a little bit. It’s with us, Jimmie and Pitbull. We have not released it yet.
Millsaps: Believe it or not, I was a rapper in high school, spitting beats. I was called ASAP because my name is Andrew Millsaps. That was before any other ASAPs rapped.
Do you ever find yourselves comparing your music to other duos like Dan + Shay or Brooks & Dunn?
Millsaps: We want to try and create our own lane. Many duos, historically speaking, have had one voice as the main voice. That was one of the first things we said, when we started this, was, like, ‘Let’s make sure both of us are singing with distinctive voices. Crazy enough, we’ve often been compared to Montgomery Gentry recently, which is an honor. Those guys were heroes of mine growing up, so just making sure that both of our identities are being heard in the song for both of us and that it blends.
Any advice you’ve received throughout your music careers that has stuck with you to this day?
Brooks: Short steps, long vision is one of them.
Millsaps: Another one with where we are at is to keep working hard. That’s been the main advice. I know it’s cliche to say, but it’s so true. You get the idea that you’ve made it because you’ve signed a record deal or a publishing deal or got on a tour, but it really never ends. You’ve got to make this like a lifelong career.
You recently released your debut single, “Bout Damn Time.” Can you tell me what drew you to that track?
Millsaps: I think it was just the upbeat energy. The words are like throwing a blanket over everybody that’s just like us. It’s the catfish cookers and the farm-tan crew. It’s just throwing that blanket over the kind of people that are our crowd who represent us. Then, showing that Neon Union is a good time. It’s a party when we come to town.
What is it like seeing the reception from the fans now that you released your debut single?
Millsaps: It’s our first song to radio, so, hopefully, it pushes people to listen more and then come out and sing along with us. We’re starting to see that. It is pretty exciting.
With this being an outside single, do you write together?
Millsaps: We write together all the time. We’re actually getting ready to get back into the studio to do. With the next 12-15 songs, over half of them will probably end up being originals. But, we write on the road. We’ve been out on a radio tour. So we write in hotel rooms, and everywhere by ourselves, just me and Leo. I’m very lyrical, and I concentrate on words all day long. Then, Leo knows how to flip things and switch around the structure of the song. Leo is also a track guy. He can do demos on the computer and all of that stuff. I don’t know how to do any of that. It’s honestly the weirdest thing. We call it a God thing that it came together. Each of us has our strengths, and we know how to combine them. So, it’s pretty crazy.
You released the music video for ‘Bout Damn Time’ which looks fun with you both behind the bar. What was it like shooting for that video?
Millsaps: It was a long day, but it was fun. We had a blast. We had some friends, fan members, and some of the folks from the label out there. Leo’s always good in the kitchen. I don’t know if anyone would trust me behind the bar, but we knew what we were doing in our respective roles. The Buick wagon we were driving with the Rolls Royce emblem on the front was my grandpa’s. I had it towed to town and then fixed it up a little. I got it running because I had it sitting for a while. We joke and say the Rolls Royce emblem on the front of that Buick is probably worth more than the car.
Brooks: We definitely drank a lot that day. It was filmed in Nashville, just outside of town at The Rusty Nail. They shut down the bar for us that day. The hot sauce you see in the video is my personal hot sauce.
What’s next for you?
Brooks: We’re about to do a little EP.
Millsaps: Yeah. We’re getting together with Dan Huff. We’re about to cut five songs, hopefully, in the next week or so. Then, we’ll be doing a full-length album that, hopefully, we’ll put out later this year. We don’t know exactly when, but lots of music is on the way! We’re ready to feed the people!
Fans can follow Neon Union on Instagram.
Melinda Lorge is a Nashville-based freelance writer who specializes in covering country music. Along with Country Now, her work has appeared in publications, including Rare Country, Rolling Stone Country, Nashville Lifestyles Magazine, Wide Open Country and more. After joining Rare Country in early 2016, Lorge was presented with the opportunity to lead coverage on late-night television programs, including “The Voice” and “American Idol,” which helped her to sharpen her writing skills even more. Lorge earned her degree at Middle Tennessee State University, following the completion of five internships within the country music industry. She has an undeniable love for music and entertainment. When she isn’t living and breathing country music, she can be found enjoying time outdoors with family and friends.