When Andrew Millsaps moved to Nashville from Pilot Mountain, North Carolina, he never dreamed that a chance encounter with Jimmie Allen in an elevator would lead to forming a duo with Pitbull’s former bass guitarist and musical director Leo Brooks. The pair is ready to party with their debut single on Red Street Records, “Bout Damn Time,” a fusion of their country and rock influences that brings people from all backgrounds together to have a good time.
Neon Union talked to Music Mayhem and other media about the story behind their name, the advice they’ve received from artists including Pitbull, Jimmie Allen, and Jay DeMarcus, why they chose “Bout Damn Time” as their debut single and more.
Brooks’ family is from Roatán, a Caribbean island off the coast of Honduras, where country music and reggae are the prominent genres of music. “I met Jimmie [Allen] in Miami,” recalls Brooks. “He was recording with Pitbull.”
How Did Neon Union Form?
After Pitbull told Allen about Brooks, they met in the studio. “We hit it off right away. I showed him a couple of my songs. He actually recorded a couple of them and put ’em on his [Bettie James] Gold [Edition] album.” Two weeks after that meeting, Allen called Brooks and asked if he wanted to be in a duo. “I’m like, I’ll try it,” Brooks told Allen. “I don’t know if it makes sense, I’ll try it.”
Millsaps had bounced around several colleges, including a one-year stint at Belmont University, before deciding he didn’t need a music business degree if all he wanted to do was write music and sing. He was back at NC State when he realized that he didn’t want to close the door on Nashville, so when the pandemic hit, he decided to make the move to Tennessee and write songs.
Jimmie Allen Helped Form And Launch The Duo
One day, Millsaps ran into Jimmie Allen on an elevator at the Cambria Hotel, which started the chain of events that led to Neon Union. “We just kind of connected a little bit and then I didn’t think anything of it, but six months later, I happened to be playing Whiskey Jam downtown, ran into Jimmie again,” recalls Millsaps. Allen remembered Millsaps and got his phone number, then called him two weeks later to pose the same question he’d asked Brooks.
“Jimmie called me up and I was like, why is Jimmie calling me?,” recalled Millsaps. “And within two seconds of me answering the phone, he’s like, ‘Hey man, you ever thought about being in a duo?’ And I honestly said, hell no, Jimmie, but what are you talking about? What’s up? And he’s like, well, I got to introduce you to this guy Leo.”
When Brooks and Millsaps met, it didn’t take long for them to realize they would be fast friends. Now, they’re at the point where they unintentionally match clothes and wear the same cologne.
“Today I wore a black shirt and blue jeans and Leo wore black jeans and a denim shirt, and we got in the car and just started laughing,” remarked Millsaps. “We do that stuff all the time. We got on the road the first time together playing a show with Jimmie, and we pulled out the same cologne and we were like, did we just become best friends?” he laughed. “It’s been a really funny thing to see how similar we are, even though we’re from two different places. We like to say Jimmie had no idea how good it could have turned out. We’ve literally become best friends.“
Where Did The Name Neon Union Originate?
When the pair started talking about possible names for their duo, they landed on Neon Union fairly quickly. “It really represents the bar crowd, the party crowd, the blue collar crowd, everybody all in one,” says Millsaps. “It’s like neon lights, there’s so many different colors and styles and whatever, and it’s like everybody’s welcome. Show up, show your true colors, be who you are. Let’s have some fun. That’s what it’s all about.”
Written by HARDY, Tyler Hubbard, Jordan Schmidt and Hunter Phelps, Neon Union’s debut single “Bout Damn Time” stood out to the duo as the perfect song for their introduction to the world. “When we heard the song the first time, we’re like, all right, this song is, the words in it represent us,” says Millsaps. “It’s a party, it’s fun and It’s got that upbeat feel.” Even though Brooks and Millsaps are songwriters themselves, they’re open to cutting songs written by other writers. “Best song wins every time,” says Brooks. “If we write it, if we don’t write it, the best song wins.”
“Bout Damn Time” Is Neon Union’s Debut Single
The pair was very intentional about releasing this song as their debut single. “We landed on that one because it said, hey, we’re here to have a good time. We’re here to party. We’re rock stars, we’re Neon Union,” says Millsaps. “This is our first statement, we’re coming out kicking the door down.”
The “Bout Damn Time” music video shows the duo working at a bar, with Brooks in the kitchen and Millsaps bartending. Brooks is seen sporting a “Mama Brooks” apron, a nod to his family’s hot sauce collection. Neon Union then shifts roles from being the bar staff to performing as the house band at the bar before they get a text message from Jimmie Allen saying that they’re making their Grand Ole Opry debut that night. “It kind of shows that transition from working hard and trying to make it and doing the bar scene to all of a sudden playing that huge stage and really enjoying it,” says Millsaps.
Who Are Neon Union’s Biggest Influences?
Neon Union is heavily influenced by classic country artists, especially from Brooks’ heritage. “I grew up on a lot of George Jones, Hank Williams, Sr. Keith Whitley Merle Haggard, all the classics.”
In Roatán, Brooks says they mix country with calypso in live performances, creating a unique sound. Millsaps was surprised by Brooks’ choice of classic country. “When Leo first was coming to Nashville, he was still living in Florida and he would come sleep on an air mattress at my place. He would come in the kitchen in the morning listening to George Jones and all kinds of old country. And I’m like, dang, Leo really does love some old country music.”
For Millsaps, his influences include artists like Jones and Haggard, as well as Alan Jackson, Jason Aldean, and The Avett Brothers. “That folk bluegrass stuff started picking up pretty heavy and that’s what really got me into songwriting were more of those songs.”
Neon Union Received Advice From Jimmie Allen, Pitbull, Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus & More
Brooks and Millsaps are grateful to get advice from artists like Jimmie Allen, Pitbull, and Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts as they launch their career as Neon Union. “It’s clearly a blessing for us because you have somebody who’s always there to mentor you,” says Millsaps.
From being on tour with Allen to working with DeMarcus, who is the CEO and owner of their record label Red Street Records, Neon Union has a strong foundation of knowledge to lean on. “It’s like we learn something new every day, and I’m the kind of person that even out on the radio tour and stuff, I’m constantly asking questions about stuff that doesn’t even really apply to me about how this stuff works. So it’s like we do have those people there that can explain it all to us,” says Millsaps.
Neon Union has already recorded a track with Allen, “Livin’ Man,” which appears on the album Bettie James: Gold Edition.
They have plans to collaborate with Allen again, this time along with another one of their mentors. “We have another song in the works that will come out at some point. We don’t know when, but it’s with Jimmie and Pitbull,” says Millsaps. “We’re super excited about that one.”
Now that Millsaps and Brooks also have a publishing deal with Warner Chappell Music, they’re starting to think about writing songs for other artists too. A dream cut for would be with Willie Nelson.
“We wrote a song called ‘Let ’em Be Cowboys’ and we would like to get Willie Nelson on it because he wrote ‘Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys. And we kind of did the flip of that, ‘Let ’em Be Cowboys’ and we would love to get Willie Nelson on that.”
Neon Union Are Currently Working On New Music With Dan Huff
Additionally, the guys are currently in the studio with producer Dan Huff working on more music, which they say will be a mixture of their signature country rock vibe and a couple of ballads. Working in a Nashville studio was a bit of a learning curve, but Huff made sure the duo felt at ease.
“Leo played bass on the record and Nashville has the number system,” explains Millsaps. “They just hand them a sheet, they read the number system and go. Dan comes in the room and he is talking to the guys and he is handing out the number system and he gets to Leo and Leo goes, ‘What is this?’ And Dan just grabbed it back. He goes, ‘You just get in there and play on the next one. He didn’t want to stop Leo, slow him down, confuse him or anything. He’s like, you just get in there and play.” Brooks says that Huff brings out the best in people. “He enhances you. He takes what you got, and some way just makes it pop out even more.”
What’s next for Neon Union? “We’re definitely building a catalog,” says Brooks, “putting that together and slowly putting it into little categories. But right now we’re just building and building, just working, writing as much as we can.”