A chance encounter changed the direction of the lives of Matt Lopez, Brad Hull, and Tim Gates who collectively make up the trio known as Due West. Matt remembers the night that fate brought them together. "We were all at a party," he recalls. "Dan Truman of Diamond Rio was having a house party at his sisters house, and he had invited a bunch of people that he knew were in the music business and people who were trying to break into it. So we all happened to be at that party that night. Everybody was just sitting around playing guitar, and we started doing some Restless Heart, Shenandoah, and Diamond Rio tunes. Brad and I jumped right in there on the harmonies."
What people heard that night made quite the impression according to Matt. "People came up to us, and said Man, you guys are great. Whats the name of your group? How long have you been together? Little did they know that we had just met a couple hours ago. It just clicked. It was instant. Weve been together ever since."
That unique style of harmony is a special ingredient of the Due West sound. As Brad explains, "Its a major part, because thats what were all about. We love the harmonies, and those harmony bands were really our heroes."
That sound is very evident in their Top 20 hit single from last year, the moving "I Get That All The Time," which was the highest-charting single from a self-released act on the Music Row Country BreakOut chart in 2009. The video for the song, which included the members families, also made a mark, hitting # 3 on the GAC Top 20 Countdown.
The sound of Due West has caused many in the industry to stand up and take notice, including some of Due Wests heroes. Brad explains, "Its kind of cool because weve become friends with some of those people who were in those bands, and one of the common things we are told by members of McBride & The Ride and Restless Heart, and this humbles us, is that we remind them of them. That, to us, means mission accomplished because thats what were going for."
The fans have also picked up on the distinctive sound of Due West, says Tim. "After a show, people are lined up saying they were blown away by it. Some have tears because of a certain song they have heard. Sometimes it blows my mind how much people love the music. It makes us feel good about what were doing. We know were on the right path when it comes to our music."
That collective path "Due West" was created out of three very different routes. For Wyoming native Matt Lopez, the path included a stint in the Big Apple, playing his music in the subway stations of New York City. This was a far cry from his high school years, where he graduated in a class of only thirty-nine. Once he made it to Nashville, it was his songwriting that helped him to establish a name in the business. During his career, he has played with artists as diverse as Lorrie Morgan, Tracy Lawrence, and Blackhawk. He also helped to pen "Loves Lookin Good On You," a song that was turned down by Reba McEntire but found a home on the debut album for an emerging trio on Capitol Records, Lady Antebellum. That project has since gone on to scan over one million in sales, which he says was a huge opportunity that gave a boost to his songwriting career. Matt explains, "Im blessed for it. Reaching even a half a million in sales was a pretty cool moment." He admits to sharing the moment with someone very special. "I got to send my Mom a gold record first. Its hanging on the wall in Wyoming."
Arizona-born Brad Hull started studying classical guitar at age eleven, and was giving guitar lessons while still in his teens. He gained a foothold in the industry working behind the scenes at BMI where he gained an understanding of the business. "I learned a lot about songs and how they make money. I worked in the song registration department for about two and a half years there, and got to meet a lot of people who are influential on the broadcasting side. I got to learn about the payment of songs and publishers. That really prepared me to know what Im looking for as a songwriter."
Tim Gates, who hails from Utah, worked as a social worker for people with disabilities before he made his move to Music City. He looks at his music as a way to continue to help people, with both the serious and light-hearted messages found in the lyrics. Tim penned (along with Marc Beeson and Billy Austin) Due Wests debut single release from their new label home at Black River Records. "The Bible and the Belt was inspired by a conversation with a friend of mine," he recalls. "He said You know, Tim, you live in the Bible Belt. My response was that Ive been living between the Bible and the belt my whole life. I realized at the time that I had just come up with a song idea."
"The Bible and the Belt" and "I Get That All The Time" can both be found on Due Wests debut Black River EP that will find its way into stores, and the hands of their ever-growing legion of fans, this fall. Matt says its going to be worth the waitfor Due West as well as their fans. "Weve made an attempt to get our music out to people over the last couple of years. Weve done everything we can think of to be inventive and creative as far as getting our music out---from an eight song demo CD that we would take with us and sell at shows to starting our own label and putting out an album with fifteen tracks. That was great for people to come out to our shows and buy. Whats really special about signing with Black River is that its a legitimate thing. These folks have noticed the hard work we have put in and are very excited to be building on that momentum." He adds that being able to show a physical piece of product to those that have been in their corner will be a huge moment. "Our families, friends, and fans are going to be able to walk into Walmart, Best Buy, or wherever and pick up our album. Thats going to be a neat moment for all of us."
And it is their families who provide so much love and support despite the bands active touring schedule. "Theres nothing like family," Tim says adamantly. "Were on the road all the time. Its fun to hang out with these guys, and go out and play on the road. Theres nothing I want more. But I tell my wife that I have a dream that has already come true, having a great wife and children. Theres nothing like coming home to them. Having them wrap their arms around you and say Welcome Home makes everything better. It takes all the stress away. We all feel the same way about that."
They also feel the same about another aspect of their careers --- giving back. During their concerts, the trio plays a song called "Tip Jar," and they have started a tradition of passing a tip jar around for various charities, and following their lead---the fans give back. One night their audience donated well over $500 for the American Cancer Society during the 3 and a half minute song, and the next night, they helped to raise funds for the family of a fallen police officer.
They also gave back this year by contributing a song to the soundtrack of the feature film "Letters To God." The song "Everything Is Beautiful" was written for teen cancer patient Tyson Busenbark by Due West producer Jason Deere. Due West had become friends with Tyson as he battled his illness and had performed impromptu concerts at Tysons high school and donated concert proceeds to help cover his medical expenses. One of Tysons last requests was to have a song written from him to his Mother. "Everything Is Beautiful" was that song. Sadly, Due West flew across the country to sing the song in August of 2008 at Tysons funeral. He was eighteen years old.
And that is the essence of Due West and their journey together. Whether its giving back financially or musically, Brad, Tim and Matt understand the significance of making a difference in the lives of their friends, family and fans.
So... where does the road Due West lead five years from now? Brad has an answer. "I would like to see us have a career where we can steadily get our music out there and be really established. I hope by then that we are a main staple in country music, and we wouldnt mind having three or four platinum records on the wall!"
With their infectious harmonies, their ability to pen music that moves fans on such a personal level, and their recent signing to Nashvilles Black River Music Group, its safe to say that Due West is headed in the right direction!