Swedish DJ Avicii makes his introduction to Billboard's Country Airplay chart, as "Hey Brother" bows at No. 59.
Avicii … country? Certain country programmers say that despite Avicii's status as one of EDM's cornerstones, the bluegrass-tinged "Hey Brother" is hardly a stretch for their format.
With its club-ready beats, the song crowned last week's Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart (dated March 22). Its vocal from Union Station's Dan Tyminski, however, has helped spur its country inroads, most notably at Clear Channel-owned stations after the chain commissioned a new remix of it. "Brother" bows on Country Airplay with 97 plays (translating to an audience of 607,000), according to Nielsen BDS. The company's WSIX Nashville led with 21 plays for the song last week (March 10-16).
Tyminski has long been entrenched in country circles, having joined Union Station, Alison Krauss' band, in 1994. She and the group soared to No. 3 on Hot Country Songs the following year with its remake of Keith Whitley's 1988 No. 1 "When You Say Nothing at All."
Tyminski also joined the fictitious Soggy Bottom Boys for "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow," from the 2000 box office hit "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" The track reached No. 35 on Hot Country Songs, while the movie's soundtrack led Top Country Albums for a whopping 35 weeks in 2001-02. (Thus, Tyminski and the word "brother" have now twice combined for country success.)
In 2008, Tyminski crowned Billboard's Bluegrass Albums chart for three weeks with his solo set "W*H*E*E*L*S."
"'Hey Brother' is a country song at its core," says Clear Channel executive VP/GM of national programming platforms Clay Hunnicutt. "The moment I heard the song, it took me back to the ground-breaking sound of ['Sorrow'], but in a 2014 style.
"We talked to [Avicii's label] Island Def Jam about remixing the song to bring the instruments more upfront, for a little less thump, but without losing the overall feel, and they did a great job."
Hunnicutt says that it's also not as though Avicii exists in a separate universe unknown to country music consumers. "So many country fans are listening to Avicii along with Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Eric Church. It doesn't matter where Avicii is from. ['Brother'] is a great song and a great country song.
"I would say he's … Southern Swedish."
Gregg Swedberg, Clear Channel brand coordinator and VP of programming for the company's Minneapolis cluster, which includes country station KEEY, says that since he programs a pop and adult station in the market, the song began building internal buzz with fellow programmers overseeing multiple formats. "A few of us had been talking about the song and our thought was, 'That's a much better country song than a top 40 song!' But, the omnipresent dance beat and long instrumental breaks kept us away from it."
Hunnicutt's request for a remix stemmed from those conversations. "We sought opinions of all our country programmers, and they came back with the opinion that if we could hear it stripped-back, it was a great song and something we could try," Swedberg says. "It was very collaborative: Island did all the work [remixing] the track with no expectation that we would play it.
"Now, there are a handful of us playing it [including KEEY, which spun 'Brother' five times last week], and [nationally-syndicated country personality] Bobby Bones played it on his show. It completely works in the context of country.
"We're not concerned at all about it sounding 'dance-y'," Swedberg says. "There are quite a few songs we play that are country-only that have bigger dance beats than the new version of 'Hey Brother.'
"And, who doesn't love Dan Tyminski?"
Travis Moon, program director of Clear Channel's KAJA San Antonio, adds that "Brother," which the station played eight times last week, fits the format's openness to evolution, which, in recent years, has included a shift to country/rock, most notably. "I just thought that the song sounded very fresh for our playlist. Country music has been more accommodating to a variety of new sounds in production the last couple years, so this really doesn't sound out of place to me."
Hunnicutt additionally says that, in a rarity, country could grab a hit from other formats instead of, as is more typical, the other way around. "It's nice to see the flow of music go both ways. Often pop stations take big country songs [i.e., crossover hits from Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum and Florida Georgia Line, among others, of late]. This time, country is pulling in a big pop/dance song that makes complete sense in its remixed form.
"'Hey Brother' is a no-brainer for every country station to play."