Home Free’s unique style of country a cappella music has won them a legion of loyal fans.
The five boys from Minnesota – Austin Brown (high tenor), Tim Foust (bass), Rob Lundquist (tenor), Adam Rupp (vocal percussion/beat boxer) and Chris Rupp (baritone) – spent more than a decade enjoying moderate success performing at country fairs and college campuses across the US.
But that all changed in December 2014 when they won The Sing-Off (TSO), a singing contest for a cappella groups aired on NBC.
The exposure they received on the reality show introduced them to a whole new audience who quickly became fans of their Nashville standards meshed with pop hits. As a result, Home Free enjoyed a whirlwind 2015. They spent the year touring, recording and making numerous media appearances.
Home Free also actively promotes their work online by regularly releasing music videos on YouTube. The vocal quintet has amassed more than 40 million views on YouTube.
The band has just released their new album Country Evolution, which includes four original tracks and seven new renditions of hit songs. They will appear at the London A Cappella Festival later this month. Home Free’s Rob Lundquist spoke to iSing.
iSing: Can you tell us about how and why Home Free came about?
Home Free: The brothers Chris and Adam Rupp formed the group 15 years ago as a hobby. Chris loved a cappella and got some friends together to make music. Thankfully for the rest of us they stuck with it and snowballed into a career, picking us up along the way.
iSing: What convinced you to take part in the show The Sing-Off (TSO) in 2014?
HF: We had tried out the previous three seasons and never made it on TSO. There were discussions about whether or not we should even bother since we were doing pretty well in our careers, but Austin was very passionate about trying out.
Luckily we had a gig in NY the day after the auditions out there, so we thought “Why not arrive a day early and just try?” So, so, so glad we came to that decision.
iSing: How did it feel winning the show?
HF: It felt amazing. We honestly were just hoping to make it past the first episode. The talent on that show was mind boggling and to win the whole thing was truly surreal.
iSing: What changed for Home Free after winning the show?
HF: Everything! We had been gigging full time for a good four years before TSO, performing at fairs and festivals, corporate events and concert associations. We would drive to shows in our lemon of an RV and set up all the equipment, run our own sound and have to win over crowds that had no idea who we were. Since TSO we now have a crew of people that take care of everything for us, travel in super nice tour busses and people come to our shows excited that Home Free is performing. It’s really been amazing and none of us are taking it for granted.
iSing: What did you learn through your involvement with the show?
HF: The show really helped us learn how to work together efficiently. In the span of one week on TSO we would have to learn three songs, two of which we would have to arrange and learn choreography for all three songs. In any downtime we would have to do interviews and any “B” roll footage the producers wanted. It was 10 to 15 hours a day every day for two months, so we figured out how to work with each other in stressful situations.
iSing: Has anyone in the group ever contemplated quitting music and getting a “real” job? What stopped them?
HF: Not me. I was bartending at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis while Home Free was slowly but surely getting more and more successful. I was hopeful we would get big enough so I wouldn’t need a second job. Chris did quit for a brief time early on because he got a job with a video game company in Dallas. Thankfully he got homesick and missed performing, so he was only gone about a year.
iSing: You sing country music a cappella style, can you tell us more about that?
HF: We had been performing pop/mainstream songs for the group’s entire existence, and we were just one of a million groups doing that. Once we decided to stick to the country music genre, we had finally found an identity. We also found that we were the only group doing that. Country music has treated us well and we will stick with it.
iSing: You spent much of 2015 touring, what are the pros and cons of being on the road?
HF: It was great and it was tiring. We’ve realised that reality show fame fades quickly unless you constantly put yourself out there so people can’t forget about you. So we will continue to release two videos a month on YouTube and tour a bunch. It’s tough being away from our families for so long, but thankfully we have the best fans in the world and they make it well worth it.
iSing: What strategies have you learnt to help you cope with the demands of touring?
HF: We’re really all like brothers at this point and know each other so well. If any of us are a little grumpy or not having it, the rest of us know how to get away and give them space. When we have time off we do the best we can to really unplug and get away, since we are together so much. Luckily we get along really well, so it’s not too hard to stay pleasant with one another.
iSing: How do you guys prepare for a show and look after your voices when you are touring?
HF: We all kind of prepare differently. Chris, Adam and Austin go to the gym almost every day while on the road. I go about half the time and have found that a good cardio workout really helps my voice warm up on a show day. We also all (except Tim) do a rigorous vocal warm up before our sound check so we can get the best out of that rehearsal time. Tim is a freak with chords of steel and doesn’t have to warm up, it’s really annoying.
We all drink a tonne of water and get a bunch of sleep while we’re on the road to keep our voices in tip top shape. Not really living that “rock star” life, but we’ve been very vocally healthy with all the touring we’re doing.
iSing: What is the most unusual gig you have ever played?
HF: I don’t know about the most unusual, but I can tell you the most humbling gig we’ve ever played. We had just won TSO, but it hadn’t aired yet and wouldn’t for another couple months. We were set to play at the South Carolina State Fair for two weeks which we were excited about. Until we saw that we were playing in the tent where people would come to eat at the tables to the sides of the stage. We would sing for about 20 people until Adam would do a beatbox solo, then it was more like 50, and we would do that for 45 minutes, three times a day, for two weeks. We wanted to scream out “Hey, we’re going to win a TV show in a couple months, pay attention to us” but couldn’t do that unless we wanted to possibly get sued by NBC. It was a great way to not give us big heads.
iSing: Tell us about your latest album Country Evolution. What is the album’s inspiration?
HF: We had wanted to record some older, well known country songs and put our Home Free twist on them since Ring of Fire is by far our most successful song. We also wanted to include some originals and newer country covers, so that’s how we came up with the title. We were able to include collaborations with The Oak Ridge Boys and Charlie Daniels. Never in a million years would I think we’d be able to sing with those heavy hitters. But we did and it was a dream come true. We’re really proud of how the album turned out and have to give our producer, Darren Rust, a tonne of credit.
It’s our third album. Crazy Life was our first album, then we released a Christmas album called Full of Cheer.
iSing: You will be performing at the London A Cappella Festival, what can music fans expect from you?
HF: They can expect to see five goofy dudes on stage not taking themselves too seriously. They’ll hear songs from our albums, songs we perform on YouTube and we might even sing some stuff we sang on TSO. Should be a good time, we’re excited.
iSing: What advice would you have to aspiring vocalists?
HF: The biggest things that have helped Home Free are persistence and networking. The Rupp brothers stuck with it for years when it didn’t look like it was going to evolve into anything like it is today. But they were passionate about it and kept at it.
Every single one of us is in the group because of networking. Chris and Adam saw me in another a cappella group that broke up and contacted me when they needed a tenor. They had heard of Tim through the a cappella community and called him up just to see if he knew of any basses that would be interested in touring – and couldn’t believe he said yes. We met Austin on a cruise ship, he was one of the featured vocalists on the ship and he made the effort to meet us and explained how much he would love to be in our group someday.
It’s all about meeting people and getting your name out there. Also, drink lots of water and get lots of sleep.