That’s the basic tenet of “Long Live Tonight,” a song that celebrates being present here and now, knowing that today’s developments forge the memories that shape tomorrow.
“My favorite line of the song is, ‘One day when we’re old/We’ll look back and know/That we kept our dreams alive/Loved and laughed until we cried,’ ” says lead singer Brandon Lancaster. “The reason that it’s important to acknowledge who’s around you right now and really love this moment that you’re living in is because you’re not always going to have it. It’s going to be gone one day.”
LANco’s development to date is all about seizing the moment. The group — which also includes bass player Chandler Baldwin, keyboard player Jared Hampton, drummer Tripp Howell and lead guitarist Eric Steedly — had been hard at work writing songs and touring when possible in a Winnebago, building an audience and honing their craft. Lancaster was manning concessions at a Keith Urban concert at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Feb. 1, 2014, when he spotted producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Little Big Town) in the crowd. Lancaster shut down the hot dog stand and introduced himself.
“We kind of had a mutual acquaintance, so I listened,” says Joyce. “I just invited him over to play a little bit [at the studio], and really liked him as a person, thought he had his shit together.”
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That assessment extended to the whole band. Joyce signed Lancaster to his publishing company, started producing LANco and got it signed to Sony at a showcase in summer 2015. Two weeks later, in August 2015, Lancaster drove out west of Nashville, not far from the Loveless Cafe, for a songwriting appointment that Warner/Chappell Nashville executive vp Ben Vaughn had engineered for him at the home of singer-songwriter Jason Reeves, who co-wrote Colbie Caillat’s pop hits “Bubbly” and “Realize.”
Reeves — one-half of the pop duo High Dive Heart that features former JaneDear Girls member Danelle Leverette — has a second-floor studio in a secluded, wooded area, and the big glass windows in the room made it conducive to writing a sunny, upbeat sort of song. Perfect, since Lancaster wanted to add another uptempo track to the album LANco had been recording.
Lancaster already had the right kind of title for that. On a memorable summer night, he had jotted down the words “long live,” and for the writing session, they turned that into “Long Live Tonight.”
“I started just strumming these two chords and freestyling,” says Lancaster. “[Reeves is] out in the middle of nowhere, it feels like, and we were kind of talking about how in life there’s so many distractions with technology and with cellphones. Even when you’re hanging out with your friends, it’s like, ‘Man, we might be having a way better night if everyone would get off their phones for just a few minutes and just enjoy the night right now.’ I started freestyling and saying, ‘Put your phone away,’ kind of playing around with that melody and line, and it ended up being the first line of the song.”
It wasn’t a magic, 20-minute speed race, but the song came out rather effortlessly that day.
“Usually, maybe like when the second verse rolls around, it’s a slight struggle to come up with interesting lyrics to expand upon the first verse, but I don’t even remember that being the case with this,” says Reeves.
The two writers sewed it up quickly, recorded a simple version with two guitars and a drumbeat, then called it a day.
“That was the first time we ever met,” says Reeves. “We got together, wrote one song, and I haven’t even seen him since.”
LANco immediately worked up a version of it built on dichotomy. Baldwin’s skipping bass, Hampton’s gurgling keys and Steedly’s chunking guitar chords provide a sense of urgent movement. Against that busyness, Howell lays down a simple-but-commanding drum track and Lancaster delivers the message about focusing on the moment without adding much vocal adornment. It is, says Joyce, “almost a Talking Heads vibe.”
“Everything in music has to complement each other,” says Lancaster. “You’re in a relationship, you’ve got to complement each other and move with each other. It’s a musical conversation, and everyone can’t be talking at the same time.”
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“Long Live Tonight” was one of the two final tracks LANco recorded for what will become the first Arista album at Joyce’s St. Charles Studio in East Nashville. Joyce went instrument by instrument and suggested small alterations to each part, leading each of them to feel just slightly on the edge, living in the moment as they built the final version.
They also developed a gang-vocal section that worked in tandem with an anthemic Steedly guitar solo that takes on a Scottish tone — similar in sound to Big Country’s 1983 new wave single “In a Big Country” — and moves the music to another plateau.
“We just decided to take the solo somewhere new,” notes Joyce. “Like in classic rock, the guitar solo was the song. Man, I could sing the solo to ‘Hotel California’ or ‘Stairway to Heaven.’”
The end result is a song that’s admittedly left of center, even in today’s freewheeling country climate. LANco itself wasn’t sure of its genre when it started working, but the audiences it has played for have repeatedly pegged it as country, and the band — consisting of Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky natives — embraced that designation.
Between now and May 21, the revamped Arista promo team will be working with a longer lead time to help broadcasters get a sense of LANco’s exuberant concert persona and get comfortable with the progressive brand of country it’s introducing with “Long Live Tonight.” It’s here, now, laying the groundwork for its not-too-distant future.
“It paints the picture of who we are,” says Lancaster. “It’s a good introduction to the world.”