'The Eagles Meets One Direction': How King Calaway Are Bringing the Boy Band to Country Music
At the top of 2018, then-BMG president Zach Katz called up CMA Awards producer Robert Deaton and asked, “What’s missing in music?” His answer? “A band that’s old school meets new school.”
Deaton then enlisted his friends Jason Halbert (Kelly Clarkson’s music director) and Jon Shoen (One Direction’s former music director) to keep their eyes and ears open for talent. The search only took a few months, with each scouting promising male musicians around the world, from Ohio to Gibraltar.
Just over a year later, their findings have become the six-piece country group called King Calaway, who are exactly what Deaton was looking for: he deems them “The Eagles meets One Direction.”
The group signed to BBR Music Group's Stoney Creek Records imprint in October, thanks in part to Deaton’s friendship with BBR Music Group’s EVP Jon Loba. Deaton’s son Chris made the cut for the sextet, but the father says his familial connection isn't the reason for his enthusiasm about the group. “I believe strongly in the quality of their musicianship as a group,” he says. “My track record speaks for itself -- I only work on high quality projects that I am passionate about.”
King Calaway certainly has the connections, but more importantly, it has the talent. All six members -- Chris Deaton (25), Simon Dumas (22), Chad Michael Jervis (24), Jordan Harvey (27), Austin Luther (25) and Caleb Miller (18) -- play instruments, and well. Dumas switches between keys and guitar, Deaton keeps time on drums, Luther plays bass, Miller handles lead guitar parts, and Jervis and Harvey play guitar as well. On top of that, each member can sing (Dumas, Jervis and Harvey split lead vocals), and the group incorporates six-part harmonies as much as possible. “What’s important for us is that we’re trying to put the ‘band’ back into boy band,” Jervis says.
5 Seconds of Summer may have already done that in the pop-rock sphere, but King Calaway introduces a rich sound that’s a fusion of Top 40-friendly melodies and folky instrumentation. And as boy bands keep popping up across genres (BTS in K-pop, CNCO in Latin) and generations (new groups like Why Don’t We and PRETTYMUCH are forming; while older groups like Backstreet Boys and the Jonas Brothers are experiencing resurgences) in the late '10s, King Calaway are ready introduce the classic pop mold to the Nashville market.
“We have nothing like them in country,” Loba says. “Every time I watch [King Calaway], and watch the reaction of the audience, my mind jumps to visions of them playing arenas.”
With their debut self-titled EP just arriving in January, the King Calaway guys know they have a ways to go before they’re arena rockers. But like Loba, they’re already setting their sights on big-time venues, and they just checked off the Grand Ole Opry on March 1, where they received a standing ovation. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive no matter the venue size, too: The day before their Opry debut, King Calaway played a showcase in Augusta, Georgia, where they had people in tears by the end of their performance.
Deaton saw this kind of potential himself last July, when the full group was together for the first time at his house in Tennessee. “Once all six were there, we were like, ‘Whoa, the dynamic has changed here. It’s like they’re stars,’” he recalls. They immediately found all the guitars around Deaton'’s house and began jamming, busting out a rendition of Rascal Flatts’ “Bless the Broken Road” practically within minutes. “That was the first time that I thought, ‘Okay, this really could be something,’” Deaton adds.
Though they hail from different corners of the world -- Chris Deaton was raised just outside of Nashville, Miller is from Ohio, Luther grew up in Minnesota, Jervis is a Delaware native, Harvey hails from Scotland, and Dumas from Gibraltar -- the guys could feel the instant chemistry themselves as well. Deaton put them in a studio together for two weeks uninterrupted to feel out their sound as a group and ultimately let them decide if they even wanted to pursue being a band together. Once they created a roaring arrangement of Stephen Stills’ 1970 classic rock hit “Love The One You’re With,” everyone was all in. “After we played that, we were all like, ‘Whoa, we can already see Wembley,’” Chris Deaton says.
Along with their big collective dreams, there was also an immediate personal connection between the guys. “I spent years in a band with my two older brothers, and you don’t really get closer than that,” Dumas says. “But I very much feel the same rapport with these guys -- the way we get along, and the way we can criticize each other as well. It’s quite brotherly, this whole thing.”
Like Dumas, each of his bandmates had previously been in at least one band. Some even achieved pretty impressive milestones: Dumas’s sibling band played for 10,000 people at his hometown’s festival; Harvey's former group, The OK Social Club, allowed him to tour all around the U.K. and Europe; Luther opened up for Ariana Grande while playing in Sabrina Carpenter’s band.
The guys’ past experiences might be the biggest reason why King Calaway work so well together: They know what it’s like to be involved in something that’s not working. In fact, Chris Deaton was just about to give up when his dad called with this opportunity. “I was in another group where we weren’t as friendly. Then I met these guys, and I was like, ‘Yes, I want to keep on going,’” Chris Deaton says, adding with a laugh, “I’m not trying to get all gooey, but I owe it to these guys that I’m even behind the kit right now.”
Even when they’re sitting in a room for a group interview, it’s easy to see that the bond between the six members is real and organic. They laugh hysterically at each other’s jokes, geek out over Elvis and Harry Potter, and gush over their bandmates’ talent. (Dumas even has a video on deck of Chris Deaton hitting a super-high harmony during a recent recording session, which sparks uproarious laughter from everyone.)
As descriptors, “boy band” and “country” can each be polarizing in their own ways, but King Calaway are looking to redefine both with their true instrumentation. The guys take pride in the fact that they not only play their own instruments, but also cut their music live in the studio -- so everything you hear on their songs is what you’ll hear in concert. Their raw talent has impressed industry powerhouses as well as those in the Twitterverse (Luther recalls a tweet that read, “King Calaway isn't the dumpster fire I was expecting,” which made the whole group burst out laughing), but perhaps the most meaningful responses are coming from within their own inner circles.
“My friend in LA [has] seen me perform, but our showcase at No Name was the first time he’s seen us play, and he was fanboying,” Dumas recalls. “He was like, ‘Dude, please can we get a photo?’ I was like, ‘Bro, you’re my best buddy… what?’...Something special is definitely happening when we’re playing. And the people closest to us are feeling like they’re a part of something special.”
As a band of young, charming boys, the King Calaway guys recognize that they’re going to strike parallels to One Direction. Though their group origins aren’t terribly different, King Calaway take comfort in their musical abilities when confronting the comparison -- but also have a little fun with it. “None of the six of us existed before this band. And we don’t have belly buttons," Dumas jokes. Humor aside, all six members agree that chart-topping superstars like One Direction aren’t such a bad group to mirror. “We embrace it,” Jervis says, with Chris Deaton adding, “They’re so good!”
King Calaway have been working on their debut set, expected to be released in September, work with some of Nashville's heavy hitters, including songwriers Ross Copperman (Kenny Chesney) and Justin Ebach (Brett Young), who have helped them establish their own songwriting chops, but also set a high bar for King Calaway’s future material. Currently, the group is on a radio promotional tour -- their first single, an acoustic love song titled “World For Two,” debuted on country radio on March 6 -- and hope to tour the U.S. next.
The guys are already plotting the tattoos they'll get upon landing their first No. 1 single: their logo, a sketched crown. But with or without that kind of success, being in King Calaway has given each of them the opportunity of a lifetime.
“We’re all a family together, we all work together, we all rely upon each other, and we all just help each other to be the best that we can be,” Harvey says. “This whole project has been absolutely incredible from day one.”