The Swon Brothers are an American country music duo from Muskogee, Oklahoma, consisting of Zach Swon and Colton Swon. In 2013, they finished in third place on the fourth season of NBC's The Voice.
Zach and Colton Swon remember their first performance in Nashville like it was yesterday. It wasnt in a packed house during a writers night on a dimly-lit stage, or in the office of a publisher who was eager to hear their latest songs. It was actually a pit stop on the way to a family vacation in Florida. Of course, they were only 9 and 11 years old at the time, but to them, it was perfectly normal. After all, they'd practically grown up riding their parents tour bus and performing as part of their family's gospel group since they were old enough to talk. So stopping off in Nashville to pick up a record deal on their way to summer vacation just seemed logical to young Zach and his little brother Colton. And… their parents weren't about to dampen the spirits of their talented and determined young sons.
The guys didn't land a record deal the day they sheepishly walked into the lobby of a certain major record label and asked the receptionist if they could please sing for someone, but they did make such an impression on the president of the label that the three struck up a professional relationship. That single-mindedness of purpose and laser-focused determination to make their music the best it can possibly be has never wavered for either of these hardworking Oklahoma boys, who are poised and ready to share their own unique brand of heartfelt country music with the world.
There really must be something in the water in certain parts of Oklahoma. The state has produced more country greats per capita than probably anywhere else on earth -- Reba, Blake, Vince, Garth, Toby, Carrie - all hail from the same state where the Swon Brothers spent their formative years growing up. In fact, Zach and Colton grew up right down the street from American Idol- champ-turned-country-superstar Carrie Underwood, and the three shared a stage many times together throughout their childhood years. Traveling with their parents southern gospel group Exodus, the boys were singing and writing songs practically as soon as they could walk. And it was a way of life they quickly grew to love.
We traveled with our parents every weekend playing churches. Our parents were offered record deals here and there, recalls Zach. But the most important thing to them was keeping the family and the band together. So ever since we were babies weve been on the bus, hearing music and watching live musicians. Its definitely what got us turned on to music. I played instruments earlier on than Colton, he was more the singer and stage performer. I started out on drums at age three, and by the time I was 9 or 10 I was playing drums for my parents band.
Already a natural before he was even a pre-teen, Zach found the place he was most at home was onstage in front of a crowd, and he picked up plenty of skills learning from the musicians that constantly surrounded him. Ive always said Im more comfortable onstage than I am in a group meeting new people out in a social environment I guess, admits Zach. I just like being onstage. I just feel more myself I think. One of my best memories during those years was playing with Kenny Hinson. Hes kind of the Garth of gospel music, and hes probably my favorite singer of all time. Unfortunately he passed away from cancer…I think he would have been amazing, but one of the coolest things that ever happened to me was we were doing a show with the Hinsons. It was one of the biggest crowds Id ever played for, and the coolest thing was when he came out and sang with my parents on a song. I was 10 or 11, and it was so great!
After leaving the road, their parents formed a family-style variety show back in Oklahoma in a nearby town, Wagoner, OK and soon Zach and Colton were charming crowds each week and cutting their musical teeth on everything from Elvis to Frank Sinatra.
That was a little different setting, but thats where I came out of my shell onstage and really began performing, says Colton. We had to learn everything from Sinatra to Michael Jackson in the show… even a Grease song, but of course, Country was our favorite music! We both had solo spots in the show where was sang. Zach loved Elvis, so he actually dressed up in a suit and wig and did an Elvis impersonation during the show.
And Colton came out with the top hat and sang a Frank Sinatra song, adds Zach. I enjoyed singing back then but I was more into playing. I feel really blessed to be a musician because Ive never taken a lesson on any instrument. Drums, I just picked up naturally, and I got a chance to watch a lot of good players throughout the years with my parents, and they all showed me stuff. It was at the show in Waggoner where I picked up piano and guitar at the same time.
The Swons show at the Civic Center in Wagoner became very popular and soon they were filling the building to capacity as fans packed in week after week to watch them entertain. After building quite a following, Zach and Colton decided to begin playing as a duo and focused even more on their songwriting. Both have been writing since they were very young and now they return to Nashville on a regular basis to co-write. They actually have their first trip to Music City documented on tape -- not that they could ever forget that fateful day when they first became hopelessly enchanted with Nashville and its country music scene.
Our parents drove us around to every label in town that day, recalls Zach. They knew it wasnt gonna happen, but they filmed it and watched us walk in and walk right back out, and theyre actually laughing at us on camera -- you can see the camera start shaking because theyre laughing so hard at us walking out with our guitars, you know. And were seriously disappointed because we thought thats how you do it… you just walk in, sing good and a get a record deal, laughs Zach.
We finally made our last stop. We had gotten kicked out of so many labels and it was so disappointing. Its hard for me to take no for an answer, adds Colton, so of course that final label said no and we got back in the car. That was our last stop before Florida so my dad said, If you really want to sing for somebody, just go in there and sing for the receptionist…I bet you wont. And that was the wrong thing to say to me! I took it as a challenge! So Zach stayed in the car and I went in, I couldnt even see over the counter, I was probably 8 or 9 years old, and I was a little guy anyway. I said to the receptionist, Look, were really tired of getting told no…could we please sing for you? So she said, Sure, it wont get you anywhere, but you can sing for me. So I went out and got my brother, who was hiding in the car. We both went back in and started singing an Everly Brothers song. While we were singing for the receptionist, the president of the label came down the staircase in the lobby from a meeting and stopped to listen to us. He told us to keep up the good work and then gave us a tour of the record label and some free CDs. Hes been a good friend ever since.
The Swon Brothers were recently finalists on NBCs The Voice on team Blake. Prior to their Voice experience however, The Swon Brothers spent years performing and recording music on their own label which have been well-received among their ever-growing fan base. Songs like the irresistibly catchy Oklahoma Lovin and the bluesy, soulful, This Close To Gone, not only show off their diverse vocal strengths, but also their ability to write gripping lyrics that resonate with audiences from young to old. Their strong brotherly bond is undeniable in their everyday life as well as their performances, as they good-naturedly rib and tease each other onstage and trade off on tunes. Their sheer talent shines through as they launch into their tight-knit, seamless harmonies. Its evident when you watch them perform that music is not only in their blood, its in their hearts as well…
ZAC WILKERSON: Opening Act
Zac Wilkerson showed musical talent at a young age, prompting his father to teach him to read music before he could read words. He began singing in a small country church in Buffalo, Oklahoma at the age of 4. After picking up his fathers guitar in his pre-teen years, Zac was heavily influenced by the range of styles found in his mother and fathers record collection. His fathers Merle Haggard, Hank Williams Sr., Charlie Daniels Band, Steve Miller Band, and Eric Clapton records mixed fluidly with his mothers Ray Charles, Bill Withers, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, and Temptations recordings. These sounds eventually led him to explore the music of Jimi Hendrix, BB King, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, and Lightnin Hopkins. This eclectic mix of assorted sounds formed the foundation for his musical influence.
So what does Zac Wilkerson sound like? It's a sound that you'll have a hard time classifying into a single genre. Elements of Country, Gospel, Blues, Soul, Motown and Southern Rock mix fluidly even within the same song. Much discussion has taken place over exactly what genre Zac Wilkerson fits in best, and when asked directly Zac will shrug his shoulders and give you a definitive "I don't know."
"Growing up, I was exposed to so much different music because of my parents' influences that I never learned the difference between 'country' and 'Motown' until I was older," he explains. "Back then it was just 'music' and we would sing "Hey Good Lookin'" and then "Goin' Up The Country" was right behind it and "These Arms of Mine" was soon to follow. I didn't know those songs didn't all 'go together'."
When he began making original music this disregard for genre was evident. "I never had a focused goal as far as what I wanted to come out or be produced, I just did it. I know that sounds trite, but I never thought to myself 'One day I want to play country music...' or 'I want to play blues...' I just wrote and played what was in my head."
As his songwriting matured, the mixture of influences pops up often in his songwriting, from the main line country ballad "Hold On' to the Motown infused "Let Me Love You" to the alt-country, southern rock, Americana mixture of "Be My Juliet."
Zac approaches songwriting in very organic "non-genre specific" way, too. He explains, "As a songwriter I'm constantly observing what's happening around me. . . how people are treating each other. . . how love and fear and desires drive people. . . and all those little unspoken things that are happening right behind someone's eyes that you can see happening, but you don't have the full picture. I imagine these things as conversations and then I try to distill all that down, and then tie all that raw emotion on to the back of the melody. Usually, it's not until the song is completely finished that I step back and realize 'Oh, I've written a soul song.' "
When performing live, this eclectic mix of influences is down right profound. Zac's voice borrows just as heavily from Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin as it does from Hank Williams Sr. and Patsy Cline. It's the strength of those styles that sets Zac's voice apart.
"As a young kid singing was something we just always did. My dad is still a great singer and he's the one that got me started," Zac explains. "But from the beginning, he always challenged me in it. One of my earliest memories is hearing my dad say to me 'Sing with all you've got, or don't sing.' He knew I had a voice, and he wanted me to use it."
The Swon Brothers
- November 16th
- 7 p.m.
- Performing Arts Center
- $24 - $104
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