Many of the members of Home Free’s large, passionate fanbase first got to know the all-vocal band during their winning tenure on NBC televised singing competition The Sing-Off, where they made their mark covering country hits like Hunter Hayes’ “I Want Crazy.” It was the first time many listeners had heard an all-vocal group take on the country genre. Early fans responded enthusiastically to that treatment of songs they knew and loved — so enthusiastically, in fact, that Home Free continued to release albums that consisted primarily of covers long after winning their season of The Sing-Off.
Putting their own spin on some of country music’s best-loved tracks has always been important to Home Free, but they also knew that they would eventually want to release an album that dedicated more space to original music. Now, the group is doing just that with their fifth studio album Dive Bar Saints, due for release on September 6.
“We have such a passionate group of fans behind us that we knew it was the right time to take that leap of faith and really, really carve out our place in country music,” bass vocalist Tim Foust explains to Country Now.
“It came together pretty quick. We just said, ‘Well, what if we flipped the script, and instead of doing a bunch of covers and a couple originals, we do a bunch of originals and a couple covers?’ Pretty quickly, we all decided that was the way to go,” he recalls.
There were some logistical reasons behind that decision — after four albums, they’re beginning to run out of covers to choose from, Foust admits with a laugh — but once the band started kicking around the idea of an originals-heavy record, they realized that it made sense on larger scale, too. Expanding the amount of original material on their next record would give Home Free the chance to establish their own identity, and perhaps even dispel some preconceived notions listeners might have about them as a band.
“Whenever you’re a vocal group, you have this sort of wholesome image, somewhat unfairly, thrust upon you, whether you’re going for that or not,” Foust explains. “And while our shows are very family-friendly, it certainly wasn’t a focus of ours. We’re not out there trying to be a wholesome group.”
Not that Home Free have their sights set on becoming country music’s bad boys, of course. “But we’re not trying to be the Wiggles of a capella, either!” Foust interjects, cracking up. “We’re all a little bit rough around the edges — but, you know, in a fun, safe way.”
It was their goal of presenting that dichotomy between the rough-and-tumble and wholesome parts of their personalities that led Home Free to choose “Dive Bar Saints” as the title track of their new record. “We just liked the juxtaposition, the idea of dive bar saints,” Foust goes on to say. “It was written by a good friend of ours who’s written stuff on our previous albums, and it kind of sums us up pretty well.”
More room for original tracks on Dive Bar Saints meant the members of Home Free could stretch their songwriting legs. Both Foust and the group’s high tenor vocalist, Austin Brown, have co-writing credits on several of the album’s songs, and they worked with several of their friends and longtime collaborators on the project, too. Beyond that group of trusted songwriters, the group availed themselves of Nashville’s talented community of writers, many of whom, Foust adds, only recently began to notice Home Free.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to have some friends who are pretty successful writers, and so they’ve contributed to our albums in the past. But we didn’t get as many nibbles from the major publishers and the heavy-hitter writers,” he relates. “So this time around, for them to ask us, ‘Please cut our songs,’ that is very validating.”
Dive Bar Saints marks a major leap forward for Home Free, in several ways: Not only are they firming up their identity through original songs and furthering their connections in the songwriting industry, but the band is also releasing their next album on their own independent label, Home Free Records. Foust says their transition away from a major label is evidence of the way the music business is evolving.
“We had a label deal, and they were very good to us, but we actually asked politely for them to let us out of the deal and they did,” he recounts. “It’s a weird thing, you know, in 2019, to be able to do what we do at this level without a [major] label. We travel the world and sell out venues of all sizes, from medium size theaters all the way up to arenas in some places. When you’re doing that, you don’t necessarily need radio play or a record label.”
Home Free’s biggest career successes have never come through formats like country radio — they see much more of a response through social media, and through their music videos — but what they do have are enthusiastic, vocal fans. That’s why, even though it’s always nerve-wracking to make a major change like shifting from mostly covers to mostly original songs, Foust says it’s more than worth it to the group to take the risk.
“It really is a leap of faith, but it’s something that we believe in, and it’s time,” he points out. The group is already feeling support for the new project from their fanbase, he adds. “Over the last couple of years, when we do our shows, folks are singing along to the originals just as much as the covers. Particularly when we go overseas. The fans around the world — if they like you as an artist, they’re invested in whatever you’re doing. So that’s very encouraging.”