Nashville feel-good rock band Republican Hair keeps it high and tight
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK
Luke Dick talks a lot about perspectives, and he’s lived enough lives to have a few. He’s been an adjunct philosophy professor, a forklift driver and a documentary producer: The forthcoming “Red Dog” chronicles his own childhood spent hanging out in a topless bar. Currently, the 39-year-old Oklahoma native fronts the shimmering, punky rock band Republican Hair while making his living penning country hits for artists like Dierks Bentley, Eric Church and Miranda Lambert.
For Dick, the road to the Country Music Awards was paved with Sweet’N Low. He broke into the professional (read: paid) songwriting world by writing a different kind of commercially successful music: music for actual commercials. From there, the leap to Nashville’s Music Row wasn’t as drastic as one might think.
“A lot of people at ad agencies who develop commercials are frustrated English majors, and I get along with frustrated English majors,” Dick said. “They’re artistic in the sense that they have creative aspirations for selling ketchup and Sweet’N Low, and I could indulge that and had fun with it.”
Having a goal for songwriting — not “banishing the muses,” per se, but being able to translate another person’s perspective into song — is something Dick said carried over from his agency work to writing for country artists.
“I’d written so much music for myself and thought I had a vision, but I honestly don’t even know what I was writing about or if it connected with anything,” Dick said. “Strangely, writing about ketchup was connected to the world somehow. When I write with other people, with the artist in the room, they have something that they want to say. To use all of my creative powers to help them be a character or create something, that became a skill, a perspective … one that I started learning musically and sometimes lyrically by selling ketchup.”
That skill has been key to the arc of Dick’s career, of late. Songwriting often has a mysticism projected onto it. People who don’t do it imagine that it’s more translating latent talent and inspiration into notes than it is a craft to be learned, nurtured and challenged. Dick’s songwriting perspective falls somewhere in between, at once supernatural and down-to-earth.
“It’s not like I don’t have some level of romanticism, but that radical perspective on songwriting … it makes me roll my eyes,” Dick said. “I take songs seriously, but ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ was pretty f—— good, you know. And most songwriters won’t get a ‘Good Golly Miss Molly.’ To imagine that a songwriter has an answer they can unlock if they connect to a muse or conduit seems pretty pretentious to me. Music makes you move, and it’s so magical, and that’s pretty great. Just focus on that versus some wild inspiration you’re privy to.”
Republican Hair focuses on that magic pretty intently. It’s easy to mistake this project as tongue-in-cheek, more so if you talk to Dick and hear the equal mix of deadpan punchlines and belly laughs he gives while discussing it. But if you let yourself listen without trying too hard, the Republican Hair discography possesses a signature brand of magic that doesn’t require too much analysis: It’s candid and absurd and has a refreshing lack of irony. Dick sings as a protagonist who’s, like, really glad you’re here, as long as you’re gonna be cool about it. The band is an exercise in proving that anything can be a song if you let it, and the formula has worked since the beginning.
“I sat down with another guy named Luke, and I could tell by the look on his hands that he couldn’t write country music, so I wasn’t going to force a country song,” Dick said. “I wanted to write a song that had two awesome guitar parts, went by in one and a half or two minutes, and that I was done recording it in six to eight hours. So that’s what I did. The first song that was ever a Republican Hair song before Republican Hair was even a thing is called ‘I Don’t Care,’ and it’s about the end of the world. I finished it and really liked it, and I liked the perspective, and it turns out there was this whole other side of my brain, my creativity, this sort of chaos, rat’s nest that I needed to explore more.”
“I would say country at its best, or maybe always, strives for some kind of lyrical narrative,” Dick said. “There’s a focus in this intellectual endeavor, songwriting — though I don’t consider Republican Hair an intellectual endeavor — and even at its most flippant, I can’t get away from thematic writing. That’s country.”
What sets these songs apart, then, is the result of slight modifications to Dick’s philosophy.
“I try to make decisions quickly with Republican Hair, and if something is not happening quickly, I’ll abandon it,” Dick said. “It’s all an outward expression. There’s not too much singer-songwriter-y, inside-the-head situation happening. The lyrics have gotten a little more nebulous to where I’m OK with just throwing similar colors from the palette at the wall rather than trying to make the story be so cohesive. You don’t have to understand it but should at least want to enjoy it in some capacity.”
This sentiment is driven home across Republican Hair’s whole aesthetic, from the band’s psychedelic, Technicolor music videos, directed by Nashville artist Casey Pierce, to the live-and-let-live mantra that echoes through so many of the band’s lyrics.
“Oh, don’t wanna hear about your problems,” Dick croaks on the appropriately titled “Don’t Be a Drag.” “Oh, can’t we just have a good time?”