An Interview with Country Music Singer-Songwriter Luke Mills

Travel and Explore WyoBraska

WyoBraska CommunityAn Interview with Country Music Singer-Songwriter Luke Mills

| WESTERN NEBRASKA |


Luke Mills: ‘We are all in the same boat, on the same planet, trying to figure out this crazy life…’


Luke Mills’ church-converted home is the ideal setting for a conversation about the people and places that built him. It is a welcoming space: On a late July afternoon, the sunlight spills across dark wood floors, and through stained glass windows paints prisms of colors on white walls. Speaking in his distinct voice, which is easily recognizable from popular songs such as “Boots” and “100 Dozen Roses,” Mills apologizes for not being able to meet with me sooner, explaining that he had lost track of time while finishing a home project. He adds, “I’ve decided to make a big water wheel feature a part of that wall as well. I think I’m crazy. I’d say I was bored, but we all know that’s not true.”

The historic stone building, which Mills and his family now call home, was once used as a place of worship, and when friends, family, and bandmates gather, filling its walls with echoes of laughter and music, the building is reminiscent of its earlier days. It is the perfect symbol for a music artist who understands the importance of having a solid foundation built on faith, humility, and unshakeable values.

Keyboardist and guitarist for Luke Mills and the Highway Drifters, Jimmy Weber shares a similar sentiment in regards to Mills, describing him as: “the most professional and dedicated artist I have ever worked with.” Luke Mills brings a compassionate approach to an industry that has a reputation for gatekeeping and selfish personalities, and this is what makes him stand out.

| CLOSER TO FAITH

The first thing I’d like to talk about is your background, and where you come from musically…

“I have been playing and performing since I was five years old. My mom always had music around the house and would have my younger siblings and me sing around a piano or keyboard. We did a number of tunes for special music features at churches, as my parents would travel and also do music performances for Sunday and Wednesday services. In second grade, I started playing the violin but eventually stopped because I wanted to learn how to play the fiddle like Charlie Daniels. Eventually, my dad gave me a 12-string Guild guitar and told me that if I could play that, then he would buy me my first electric guitar. He taught me a couple of chords, I bought a few books, and then I was off to try and write my own songs.”

It sounds like your parents were a huge inspiration for you. Who else inspired you to make music?

“I was inspired to play music and write songs by listening to the radio when I was growing up in Nebraska. Music was always there for me during good and difficult times. I always loved the idea that music could take you to a deeper place than words alone. Artists like Alan Jackson, George Strait, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones played a massive role in influencing my decision to chase music as a career. When I was 13, I would record the radio and play back my favorite tunes, and then I would try to write my own songs by changing the words.”

So, Nebraska is your home state. With Nebraska as the backdrop of your life, has living here impacted the overall sound of the Luke Mills and the Highway Drifters band?

“I think the Nebraska backdrop has been great for music, as it has been a place where I could make mistakes and explore ideas without being judged too harshly by the masses. It also has been a place that carries the Midwest spirit of pioneering, and the importance of holding to strong values and work ethic. Without this place, family, and friends, I have no idea where I would be now, or what I would be doing.”

Any past projects that we might recognize influences from?

My first live performance was with a band called KLAS (Kris Pfeil, Luke Mills, and Shane Moore). It was a show in Republican City, Nebraska, at an old school that was turned into a dinner theater. I’ll never forget that show. Being on that little stage is where I really caught the music performance bug. After The Order was my next project. It was a Christian band, and it was the vehicle that taught us how to write songs for the radio. We had a lot of success with many songs being played on regional radio in the early 2000s. By 2006, After the Order had pretty much run its course and the original lineup of friends had changed so much that eventually, it was time to put it on the shelf. I started getting into electronic rock, and with the help of Nathan Halouska (drummer/screamer), started my second project called Pilot For Kite. We ran with that show across the nation as well. Pilot for Kite ended after Nate passed away in 2011 in a motorcycle accident.”

I’m sorry to hear that. Does that explain the transition to country music? What was that shift like?

“Eventually I tried to write a solo rock record, with no band. That was when the transition to this current music path happened. I was raised in country music, but none of my friends wanted to play country. My producer felt that my voice and personality lent itself to the country genre, and thought we should give it a try. I’m a fan of great music. I’ve always been able to listen to almost any genre at any time. If it is good, then I dig it. And as it turns out, I am now able to be more creative with Luke Mills and The Highway Drifters than ever before. I’m only limited by my imagination. I’m also more relaxed now that I don’t feel like I have to keep up with any genre trends or specific vibes. The guys and I can do anything, and we have a lot of fun doing that.”

Luke Mills and the Highway Drifters © Hawk Buckman
Sam hammering a beat out in Torrington, WY in July 2022. Luke Mills and the Highway Drifters. © Hawk Buckman

Given your success in the country music world, it sounds like your producer gave you great advice. Any other words of wisdom you’ve received?

“The best piece of advice I have ever received was from Scotty O. from Kearney, Nebraska. I’ll never forget it. I was really trying to do everything to control my destiny, and I had been dropping the ball at the time. Without knowing the situation, he said: “You can do anything, but you cannot do everything.” Those words stuck with me and encouraged me to stick to my strengths and not be afraid to let other people in who are gifted in areas that I am not. I cannot play drums, play lead guitar, play bass, sing, design the lighting, mix the front of the house, and entertain all at the same time. You have to allow others who are strong where you are weak to use their talents. The best advice I have ever heard. Hands down. It also forced me to focus on what I desired most for my career path. I cannot possibly execute every single idea that crosses my mind or piques an interest. This advice has taught me to stay in my lane and become as professional as possible in that lane.”

You seem to have a lot of respect for the musicians you’ve worked with. What earns your respect in this industry?

The musicians I admire the most are the ones that use their music and platforms to do things that influence the world for the better. For me, it can’t just be about making songs that people like with good messages. I’ve got to be involved. I have always loved Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters, Paul McCartney, Bono from U2, Dierks Bentley, and many others that get involved in the fabric of our communities and put action to words. These guys aren’t takers. They help to build, reinforce, and replant goodness back into an industry that has a very selfish reputation. These guys have been my heroes.”

Which artists would you most like to collaborate with?

“If I could open a show for anyone it would be Def Leppard or Garth Brooks. I have seen Def Leppard play a couple of times, and they might be the best group of artists I’ve ever seen. Playing with them would force me to do my best to put on a show that could entertain an audience as well as they can. Garth Brooks for a lot of the same reason, but mostly because his songs take me back in time to when my dad was really investing in my musical career, and telling me that someday I’ll play with Garth. I don’t know if it will ever happen, but I’d love to look up to the sky someday, and smile and tell my late ol’ man that “we did it.” I would also love to collaborate with Dierks Bentley and producer Mutt Lang. I think we would end up creating one of the most iconic records ever. Mutt has worked with Def Leppard and Shania Twain, and I feel like there is untapped magic that the three of us could pull right out of the universe.”

| EXPANDING HORIZONS

What is it like to record in Nashville, the place that birthed many of these artists you admire?

“Recording in Nashville was special. There is a unique vibe that happens knowing that you are working in a place that has created some of music’s biggest artists, all while knowing that any of us could be recording a potential number one song. With that being said, I don’t believe Nashville is the only place that carries that magical feeling. It’s just neat that there are so many of the same kinds of creative people concentrated in a specific place, and I cannot deny, whether it’s psychological or physical, there is an electric feeling that pulses through my veins when I am creating there. That’s how I feel about Nashville”

For other artists, or anyone who might be wondering, what does your creative process like?

“My creative process is a mess. It really depends on the day. Sometimes songs start with lyrics, and other times I end up writing around a riff or a specific vibe that I’m feeling. I will say that I am always focused on having fun, or I’m learning something about myself that ends up in my writing in hopes that it will help someone else who may need someone to relate to. I also like to write in such a way that anyone listening can put themselves into the tune, and it can be their song as well. I always feel like music and art should be for everyone, no matter who it comes from. We are all in the same boat, on the same planet, trying to figure out this crazy life.”

| LUKE MILLS LIVE IN CONCERT

  • July 19: Dodge City, KS
  • July 30: Burwell, NE
  • August 1: Mitchell, NE
  • August 19: Kearney, NE
  • August 27: Sidney, IA
  • September 16: Nebraska City, NE
  • September 17: Nebraska City, NE

Listen to Luke Mills & The Highway Drifters on Spotify

| RESOURCES

Luke Mills & The Highway Drifters

Story by: Candice Dollar
Photography by: Hawk Buckman



Explore WyoBraska

WyoBraska Expeditions Partnerspot_img
Travel Nebraskaspot_img
Visit WyoBraskaspot_img
Visit Gering, NEVisit Gering Nebraska

Explore Western Nebraska

HomeWyoBraska CommunityAn Interview with Country Music Singer-Songwriter Luke Mills
error: © Long Draw Productions, LLC. All rights reserved.