SixForty1 Explores Nostalgia Through a Relationship Arc In EP “Started Right Here”
Pop Country Duo SixForty1, featuring Austin Gee and Brooks Hoffman, recently released their fourth EP Started Right Here. The singles and videos from the collection have been making an impact with fans for a while, particularly highlighting the value of time spent with friends like in “All Night,” and a determination to celebrate the meaningful in everyday life, like in “Never Gets Old.” But more reflective tracks also bring a lot of honesty to assessing the past, as in “Me and Your Memory” and “Started Right Here.” Recognizing that in 2020 and 2021, nostalgia has played a big role in most peoples’ lives, they’ve leaned into picking out the most valuable elements of past normality and bringing them into the future through the new EP. The bigger arrangement of the EP, however, actually tracks the rise and fall of a relationship and the emotional arc that entails.
We spoke with Austin Gee and Brooks Hoffman about their evolution as songwriters, why these songs particularly captured their emotions right now, and working through the difficulties of the pandemic to not only make music, but videos that celebrate the things that they care about the most.
Americana Highways: I notice that you have sometimes put up acoustic versions of the songs from this EP. Is that a conscious choice or is the difference between the song as you might have originally written it and the song as it was recorded?
Brooks Hoffman: That’s funny because we’ve been writing so much with our producer recently and we always get demos back. Sometimes we don’t even know what the chords are when we finish a song. Then we have to practice them. But we’ve been playing acoustic for so long, playing open mic nights, and even using the house guitar at these little bars in Kentucky. I’ve always played for family and friends in the back yard or on the deck and Austin has too. We’re just used to doing that.
Austin Gee: It doesn’t bother us that it doesn’t sound like the track and I think people understand that it’s not going to. We pride ourselves on our harmonies anyway. They are more exposed when you are playing acoustic.
AH: You all have been out playing for seven weekends in a row, I think? Is that kicking you in the rear a little bit after so much time away from playing?
Austin: Yes, it was super-fun and great to be out there, and great to see the new fans we’ve made during the pandemic while just playing online. We can put names to faces now. But it is kind like not going to the gym for a year and a half and then trying to go out there and max out every day. It’s a strain on our bodies and voices and we’ve had to learn to get back into the swing of things taking care of ourselves. Other than that, it’s been great.
AH: I know that this EP does have some reflections of the pandemic. I think some of your writing for this EP was impacted but also thematically.
Brooks: Yes, it was. We were living in the past for a lot of last year, thinking we should have looked at this situation differently. We definitely appreciated things a lot more. So last year we were writing a lot of nostalgic stuff and it’s still one of our favorite kinds of songs to write, something that makes you look back and reminisce. But basically this whole EP is about missing something and looking back and appreciating it.
AH: I did get that feel from the album, but that’s also a very universal feeling that doesn’t have to be about the pandemic experience. Were you able to write together during this period?
Brooks: Exactly. Well, we live together, so were able to work together, but we were definitely writing over Zoom with just about everybody last year. Thankfully, that has gone away and we’re writing in person whenever we can. You’re definitely letting the creative juices flow that way a little more when you’re in person because you’re able to feed off everyone else’s energy. But it’s also kind of nice waking up and being able to write a song just walking to your computer. That’s kind of fun too.
AH: Do you think songs turn out differently working in those different modes in terms of process or topics?
Austin: For sure, especially for first time writes, it’s different. You’re breaking the ice and you may not be as apt to say what you’re really thinking. Definitely in person, you feel the vibe, and if the vibe is right, you can crank out a song in an hour or two. Some take longer. We have songs on the EP that took multiple times to write and hours to write. It just depends.
AH: I’ve heard a lot of old school musicians talk about locking themselves in a house with their buddies for a weekend and forcing themselves to focus and write a bunch of songs.
Austin: We’re about to do that in a week or two. We have a writer’s retreat next week with two of the guys who wrote half of this EP with us. We’ll try to get some more songs for the next one.
AH: I’ve heard surprising things often happen in that set up.
Brooks: I’ve been looking forward to it for months. It’s great playing shows, too, but there’s something about that creative process when you’re chasing that hit song high, there’s nothing like that.
AH: I know that your songs have a big life digitally and have done well on streaming. When you’re writing songs, do you focus on a song-by-song development, so that they can stand alone, or are you thinking towards a collection?
Brooks: We kind of new that we were writing an EP, but we took is song by song. We didn’t write those songs intentionally for the final product, but it came together with a storyline for the EP that we really liked from the beginning to the end. It talks about the beginning of a relationship, to the break up, to the getting over it. It came together really nicely.
Austin: We definitely went in thinking about what subject we want to write about, since we knew we had an EP in mind. We had the dating songs, and that feel, and the break up songs. We were trying to get all of those different emotions, from a relationship standpoint, into each of those songs, so whoever might be listening to it, there’s a song for them.
AH: That’s a really good point since that will speak to where people are in their lives at that time. Did that impact what order you released singles and videos?
Brooks: I think we chose our singles based upon the time of the year. We wanted to hit the summer songs first, then the end-of-summer, fall songs. But the EP had to be put in the order that makes sense to us. We do want people to know, though, that we intentionally put songs in that order so they can experience what we’ve been through.
AH: “Never Gets Old” is a song that stands out to me since I think that this song is a lot about your ethos as a duo. Is it fair to say that this song says something about your viewpoint in life?
Brooks: Yes, I think that song, especially at the time, is what we wanted our brand to look like. It’s such a “windows-down, crank it up,” fun song. It’s definitely about a positive subject, a good relationship that you’re having with somebody that never gets old. You look forward to the same things every day and there’s nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to have all the money in the world, but the people in your life are what matters.
AH: It speaks to what people value in life, not in terms of ideas, but in terms of the reality of daily life. Sometimes what people seem to say, or think, is valuable is not how we actually feel the value of in daily life.
Austin: Absolutely, especially with social media nowadays. All you see is “perfection” online and it’s not all about that. Everybody is different and every relationship is different. As long as you tell people and reassure them that you are committed to a relationship, that’s the key to a happy relationship, we feel.
AH: The other really upbeat song on this album is “All Night.” I know you released that in the summer time on purpose, which worked well. It has some of these ideas that we’ve been talking about, but this one reminds me that in my life, I’ve often heard disparagement of spending time just “hanging out” with friends, as if that’s a waste of time. But this song values that, and rightly, I think, as does the video. I think a lot more people realize that’s valuable now, having missed it.
Brooks: Exactly, again, this is all about the people in my life. I’d much rather have a fire out on the deck and sit around that with a few buddies, or with our girlfriends, and have a great time, than go out to bars. It’s way more wholesome, kind of like medicine. Our main goal with that song was to get that message across. Also, it’s really hard to try to write a party song that doesn’t sound cheesy as hell. We wrote this one about being with friends, having a good time, and enjoying the moment.
AH: I like that the video brings home the kind of gatherings that you’re talking about. Though the red Solo cups made me laugh pretty hard. So classic.
Brooks: That was actually a branding issue since we weren’t allowed to use drink logos in the video. But that made us feel like we had “made it.” It made us feel important. [Laughs] We shot that video at my granddad’s farm in Springfield, Kentucky. I think it meant a lot to the family to be able to have an event like that out there. All of our friends turned up and helped us out as extras in the video. It was so hot, though, and we were wearing flannels!
AH: You were suffering for your art.
Brooks: It’s the price we pay.
AH: I want to ask about “Me and Your Memory,” which is a very poignant song and video. It’s very honest. Is there a point where you make a decision to talk about disturbing emotions as songwriters because it helps you, or maybe other people, to talk about it?
Brooks: For me, personally, I got tired of writing songs that didn’t have that much weight behind it. I needed to write songs that had some kind of meaning for someone in the room that day, and that one definitely felt real. We loved the song. We walked into the writing room that way, not really sure that we were going to do. Our producer started playing that little warbly track at the beginning, and our buddy Mason Thornley started singing, “And now it’s just me, me and your memory!” We thought, “Dang, that’s really good. Let’s write this about something we can relate to.”
Austin: We definitely did. We through in little landmarks from Murray, Kentucky, where we went to college, and the first place we ever played at, Mr. J’s. That’s in the first verse. That’s where we met the girls we were talking about in the song as well. It’s been really well received by fans, and I think that’s because it’s so real to us. I think that a lot people can relate to losing someone, or someone going their separate ways, and having that memory.
AH: It’s hard to process whether people are really gone from our lives or not, because in some part of our mind, they seem to still be there, like you talk about in the song.
Brooks: I guess that’s why we have to get stuff off of our chests through songwriting. It’s one of the best forms of therapy.
AH: Something that surprised me about the song is that late in the song you bring in the idea that sometimes you need to leave a place to kind of break that spell. Sometimes it’s too much to stay.
Austin: I think that’s the only way sometimes to get over something like that. Sometimes you have to change your circumstances and environment to keep your brain from connecting those memories with what you’re looking at. We definitely moved away from that town and the things that we talked about and it helped us tremendously, so we knew that we had to put something like that in this song to finish the cycle. Personally, that’s one of my favorite bridges that we’ve written.
AH: The video for this song is more scripted and has more special effects than the others.
Brooks: We’d done the performance videos, we’d done the party videos, we’d done the back of the truck thing, so we were wondering how to make this one different without making it too complicated. The day of, our friend Julia, the actress, came over, and we took some pictures of Austin and Julia and put them around the house, like you see in the videos. Our friend Anna, who did the videos, did the fade out perfectly. We just had to design those scenes with turning, Julia walking down the stairs, and creating a storyline to it. I think that one is the most well-rounded one we’ve done.
AH: It’s really haunting.
Austin: I had to put my acting skills to the test with this one! It was so hard looking at Julia and trying not to laugh or smile while trying to sing the saddest song we’ve ever written. I personally love the scenes with the red and blue lights around us while we’re singing into the camera. It symbolizes our memory, the times where we’re in our heads.
Find the music of SixForty1 and more here on their website: https://www.sixforty1.com
Discover other great interviews on our website too, for example here: Interview: Key to the Highway: Patterson Hood
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