Bandmates and longtime friends Austin Gee and Brooks Hoffman are the first to admit that they’re probably better at writing songs than they are at reading a map.
“If you know anything about us, you know that we’re directionally challenged,” they joke, making small talk about the different towns in their home state of Kentucky.
Still, there’s at least one road in Kentucky that the duo will never get lost riding. Like in Miranda Lambert’s iconic 2009 hit, the pair have a tangible place that made them who they are today — but in this case, it’s not a house, but a highway, that built them. SixForty1 takes its name from U.S. Route 641, a highway that means a lot to Gee and Hoffman’s early days together.
“We met at Murray State University, in western Kentucky, and the main highway that cuts through the campus is Highway 641. That’s where me and Brooks met,” Gee explains. “That’s where a lot of the bars are, so that’s where we played going through college. So what better way, you know, than to make this duo about where we came from and what keeps us going?”
In addition to honing their chops as a live act, Hoffman and Brooks’ partnership helped both artists develop their songwriting skill set. “Co-writing has been intuitive to us because it motivated both of us, in college, to write — it’s hard to write by yourself, but when you’ve got another person throwing out ideas, you can come up with some pretty cool stuff,” Hoffman recounts.
In fact, at the beginning, the pair were so attached to songwriting that they weren’t initially sure they’d ever perform their own songs and embark on a career as artists. That piece of the puzzle didn’t fall into place until they moved to Nashville and got to know the musicians that would become their backing band.
As they developed their career as a performing duo, SixForty1 still wanted to keep their connection to songwriting at the front and center of their musical identity. Finding their stride as co-writers was just as integral to the duo’s career as was coming of age along U.S. Route 641, and they wanted to release songs that told an in-depth, personal story.
To that end, they dropped a dynamic pair of singles in 2019, making sure that each reflected a different aspect of their artistic identity. One, “I Get That,” is catchy and anthemic, and “super fun to play live,” according to the duo. Meanwhile, “Show You Around” is reflective and personal, inviting a new love interest — and new listeners, too — into the bandmates’ hometowns, name-checking the people, places and experiences that shaped them into who they are today.
Sixforty1’s commitment to songwriting and the years they spent honing their live show are paying off these days: The duo has joined genre heavyweights like Michael Ray and Brantley Gilbert on tour. Joining such seasoned entertainers onstage has fast-tracked their learning process, the duo note.
“There’s something to be said about the connection they have, just being in it a hundred percent of the time. They’re true professionals. We’re definitely taking notes anytime we get to be on the road with somebody like that,” Hoffman says.
SixForty1 also stand to learn a lot from their fellow duos, Gee points out. “We’ve been out on the road a lot with Muscadine Bloodline this past year, and they’re completely an independent duo, to this day, who are making their mark,” he adds. “We learn a lot from seeing how they do their business, independently, as a duo. And they gave us a lot of pointers, just to keep at it and do what your gut says.”
No matter how big a country act gets, though, their artistic foundation can always be boiled down to who they are and where they come from. In SixForty1’s case, that’s a highway that cuts through a college town in western Kentucky.
“We were in Iowa playing a show with Walker Hayes, and I was at a booth afterwards and someone came up to me,” remembers Gee. “They said they knew Highway 641, that they drive through it to get somewhere south. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty cool.’
“It kinda connects people, no matter where you’re at in the country,” he reflects. “If they’ve heard of the highway, you can at least start a conversation.”