News Column

Brothers 'Voice' unity on way to country stardom

November 22, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 22--The Swon Brothers isn't just the name of a band. It's a life-time commitment for Zach and Colton Swon.

"We're kinda blessed," said Colton, half of the country-music duo from Muskogee, Okla. "We get to do things with each other. I get to live and work with him. Yeah, we get on each other's nerves and have a few fights.

"It's really taught us how important it is to be close. We keep a connection. That's what matters. Brotherhood comes first. If it gets in the way, there'll be no more music."

So far, so brotherly. Colton, 25, and Zach, 28 -- with country-music hit-maker Blake Shelton coaching them -- sang their way to third on June 28 in the fourth season of "The Voice," a reality TV series on NBC. They were the first duo to accomplish that.

"We found out how big it was later, when we saw all the Twitter messages and people following us on Facebook," Colton said.

Their success helped secure a major-label contract this month. They began recording a new album in Nashville on Monday.

"We're in some good company," Zach said from Muskogee. "We get to do what we love and it doesn't really feel like work."

They'll be playing -- and singing -- tonight at the Grand Theatre in Tracy.

"It's cool for us," Zach said of the Swons' bare bones alignment (one supporting guitar player). "We kinda get together in a more personal way with the fans. We're basically inviting them into our living room."

The Swon Brothers, who've been performing most of their lives, spent four months being televised into millions of American homes between March and June.

"It was different for us," Colton said. "We'd just never been in front of that many people. A big show for us was three or four hundred. Now it was 17 million. If you mess up on that show, everybody sees it. The stress level is a whole different thing."

Shelton, 37, the hang-loose, 6-foot-6-inch tall country singer from Ada, Okla., helped calm them down.

"We said a few prayers and he kinda made us feel at home," Zach said. "He told us to 'just be ourselves. Don't go out and sing power ballads, if you like Merle Haggard and George Jones.' We've always been fans of classic country. A George Jones song never'd been done on the show."

The Swon Brothers fixed that, singing Jones' "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes" (1986), after the Saratoga, Texas-born Country Music Hall of Fame member's death, at 81, on April 26.

Though raised in a gospel-country environment, the Swons aren't musically doctrinaire.

On "The Voice," they roamed widely, performing songs by Tom Petty, Dobie Gray, Old Crow Medicine Show, Bob Seger, Loggins and Messina and, for their final tune, Brad Paisley's "Celebrity" (with Shelton).

Then, there are the Eagles. The Swons sang the Los Angeles band's "I Can't Tell You Why" (1979) in the finals and venerate the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers.

"Our favorite band always has been the Eagles," said Colton, whose duo also sang their "Seven Bridges Road" (1980) as a tribute to victims of the May 20 tornado in Oklahoma City. "We love their records. Love their songs. They're an awesome band to model a career after. They're still going after 40 years."

Zach and Colton started as kids in mom Tammy and dad Kelly's Southern gospel group Exodus. Zach began playing drums at 10.

They went to schools in Muskogee (Hilldale) and Oktaha while Zach attended Northeastern State University in Tahlequah and worked at Muskogee's Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.

The brothers gained experience on their parents' Westwood Music Show, broadcast from Wagoner, Okla., and appeared on other regional TV programs.

After failing to obtain a recording contract during an impromptu stop in Nashville -- at ages 9 and 11 -- they became a duo at 12 and 15, releasing two self-recorded CDs.

Colton reached the top 48 on "American Idol" (2008) before they released professionally recorded CDs on their own label ("Another Day" and "Set List").

"Southern gospel harmony really played a big role," said Colton, whose mom still sings in church. "When we started, we couldn't help but write love songs."

"It's a global process," Zach said. "There's really no formula. We get themes and inspiration from everywhere."

Especially home, where they performed at the Muskogee Civic Center on Nov. 14.

"It's really awesome," Zach said. "We haven't been back in quite awhile. It's good to see family. It's refreshing."

"They miss us like crazy," Colton said. "We get to come back, see family, have a good time and eat some good home-cooked meals."

"The Voice" was well-suited to their brotherhood.

"The heart of the show is they want you to succeed," Colton said. "The heart behind the show, you can't believe. Eventually we wanna be the guys who do ... go down as classic country and be inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. It'd be cool to be in that caliber."

Contact Tony Sauro at (209) 546-8267 or tsauro@recordnet.com.

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(c)2013 The Record (Stockton, Calif.)

Visit The Record (Stockton, Calif.) at www.recordnet.com

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