Before becoming “The Sing-Off” season four champions, Home Free performed together for crowds in state and county fairs, on college campuses and in theaters all across the country. The group’s ongoing success is the result of more than a decade of hard work and dedication to a vocal craft which continues to grow in popularity.
The State Theatre will host the vocal group’s tour, which is hot off the heels of the group’s first album release.
Home Free’s five founding members —brothers Chris and Adam Rupp, Matt Atwood, Darren Scruggs and Dan Lemke — started the group more as a hobby for the singers, but over time they gained in experience and popularity. Members have come and gone since then, as the group added another tenor Rob Lundquist in 2008. In 2012, bass Tim Foust joined Home Free, which left one piece of the puzzle to complete the perfect vocal combination they had been looking for — Austin Brown.
Brown grew up traveling throughout the southeast with his father, a music minister and leader of a gospel quartet, and studied music at Oklahoma City University. Music has always been a big part of Brown’s life, so it only seemed fitting that he would become a singer.
“I’ve always been in front of an audience, and harmony was just a part of my natural upbringing,” he said. “I was always into a cappella, and that was always my favorite part of every show. So I grew up with southern gospel music.”
Brown later went into the cruise ship industry, working for Royal Caribbean as a featured vocalist.It was on a ship where Brown found the greatest fortune of his career. In the spring of 2012, Home Free joined the cruise as guest entertainers, while Brown was a featured vocalist. When they met, Brown told Home Free that he would be interested in joining the group if they ever had an opening.
“They loved my voice and my show and I loved their show — and I’m an a cappella nerd at heart,” he said. “I asked them if they needed anybody else. One of their founding members wanted to retire and be home with his wife and kids. So it just worked out kind of magically and serendipitously. We just kind of met at the right place at the right time.”
The group auditioned for every season of “The Sing-Off” and had made it through every level of call backs until the actual decision was made to sign contracts to get on the show. By the fourth season, Brown and Foust, the two new additions to the group at the time, seemed to make the difference. Home Free had always performed in a number of musical styles in their shows, but unlike most a cappella groups, they did country music as well. The judges absolutely loved it.
“We had always done country music, but now it’s part of our definition,” Brown said. “It’s just such a blessing to be able to craft something that is unique and original — to be the first to do something. That’s a really hard thing to do these days, especially in the music world. It’s a really cool experience going day-to-day and just growing and learning about it as we go.”
Although the switch to country music has given Home Free the exposure they needed and the success that has come with it, Brown said it was not really a conscious decision that was made by the group members, but more of a natural transition.
“We had been doing country music, which was about 25 percent of the show,” he said. “Oddly enough, it got the greatest crowd reaction. It really just made more sense; and the show helped us learn how to craft that sound a little better. What I heard on the radio more than anything growing up was country music. It was a part of my upbringing. So whenever I came into the group, it was just a natural transition. And one step at a time it just made more and more sense.”
Since winning “The Sing-Off,” Home Free now sees a big difference in their show audiences, crowds that the group quite often had to work hard to win over before.
“Now, we go on stage and people know who we are and they’re screaming,” Brown said. “We don’t have to win them over anymore. It’s a brand new feeling to play for an audience that knows who you are and wants to be there. That is probably the most surreal experience — that every time we go on stage now, people know what they’re about to see and they’re so excited about it.”
Home Free’s debut album, “Crazy Life,” includes 11 tracks, six of which are cover songs, along with five original compositions. For the album, the group outsourced some of the best country music songwriters in Nashville, Tenn. Foust, who used to write songs for a production company in Los Angeles, co-wrote three of the songs on the album.
“We like to have a nice balance — a format that we are going to try and use going forward for a while,” Brown said. “We want to always have original music in the hopes that maybe someone will pick it up and be interested and maybe get us on the radio.”
For now, Home Free’s most important immediate goal is to be on the radio within the next two years. Brown said he’s confident they group can accomplish that goal.
“We’re slowly making some waves in the country music world, and people are starting to take notice of us,” he said. “The Country Music Association has been kind to us, and they are interested in watching how our fan base is growing, and more importantly how supportive our fan base is.”