It’s been a long couple of years, that’s for sure. But if there’s anything Red Street Records duo Neon Union have learned, it’s this: People are meant to be together, and we’re not as different as we seem.
So, as Leo Brooks and Andrew Millsaps begin their country career, with big-time shows and big-time believers in their corner, these brothers from another mother intend to remind us. And maybe, use their simple truth as an excuse to invite us all to the party.
“We're like the same person, just from different places,” Leo says of the duo. “We look different, but our crowd is the non-judgmental crowd. Call ‘em the chill crowd, call ‘em the party crowd. It’s just about being yourself.”
“Neon Union’s all about ‘Show up. Show who you are. Let’s all hang out and have a good time, ”Andrew agrees. “It’s a party for anyone who wants to come, everywhere we go.”
And with the world in need of reasons to smile, Neon Union’s album debut is in the works. But to understand where they’re coming from, first you’ve got to understand who they are.
For Leo, that means a childhood spent in Miami fishing, loving music, and visiting the Honduran home
his grandfather left a generation earlier. That rural Central American nation loves country music, and Leo did, too, but after high school he took a different route. Earning a spot playing bass for hip-hop legend Lauryn Hill, Leo went on to spend years on tour with both Hill and then Pitbull, even winning a pair of Grammys with Pitbull (American and Latin), for Best Tropical Album and Best Urban Performance. He was just steps away from the spotlight each night, standing in front of tens of thousands. But even so, a secret craving for his own creative freedom went unfulfilled.
Andrew, meanwhile, started with songwriting as a teen in North Carolina, finding inspiration in the down-home people, places and stories around him – plus everything from Garth Brooks to AC/DC and The Avett Brothers. Eventually he started a band, selling out bars and clubs all over the region. And then, after winning the Chris Austin songwriting competition at MerleFest – a legendary bluegrass,
Americana and folk festival held each year near his hometown – things got serious. He moved to Nashville in 2019 with hopes of writing songs professionally, and for those first few months, everything went well. ... But you can probably see where this is going.
In a now familiar twist, COVID-19 derailed those journeys, with Leo being forced off the road and Andrew cut off from the industry he was just breaking into. But eventually, it also helped establish a Neon Union.
One day, Leo was in the studio with his Platinum-selling boss, Pitbull, when in walked country star Jimmie Allen. Leo and Allen hit it off, bonding over their mutual love of country music, and Allen had a proposition. He hoped to introduce Leo to a guy he’d recently met on a serendipitous elevator ride in Nashville – a burly, easy-going songwriter named Andrew, with a good-natured laugh, serious talent and a good-time mindset just like Leo’s. Leo was skeptical, so it was Pitbull who convinced his friend to go for it, telling Leo this could be the chance of a lifetime. Jump in. Enjoy the ride. “Just go,” he said.
Leo and Andrew met for the first time on a video call, and in between jokes, decided Jimmie and Pitbull were right. Now the pair spend almost every day together.
“Eleven hours in a car, multiple days a week,” Andrew says with a laugh. “Think of how much you would hang out with your best friend over five years. We've probably done that in a few months.”
Their kinship comes through in the music. Mixing all-natural North Carolina twang with some Miami swagger and a little laid-back Honduran heat, the duo celebrate how unique things combine in the making of greatness. Exponentially interesting. And always inclusive.
“There's a lot of music out there that just sounds just like you’ve already heard it,” Leo says. “And that's one thing we want to stay away from. We want it to sound new every time.”
Full of buzzy positivity, “Beer Up” has already set that mood, and elsewhere the duo put the message into practice. Their TikTok account has over 200,000 followers, as fans find a duo modeling true friendship and acceptance. Meanwhile, they’ve toured the country with Allen and made their debut on the historic Grand Ole Opry, building a story as they work toward their upcoming album.
All of it’s new to Leo and Andrew, but somehow, it just feels right – and maybe that’s what Neon Union is about. Leaning on each other’s experience – like Leo’s 20 years of stage time in front of massive crowds, and Andrew’s effortless way of holding an audience in the palm of his hand – they’re
creating something important, and they know it. But mostly, they’re still following Pitbull’s advice:“Just go.”
“We always have fun, and there's no stress that goes into a Neon Union show,” Andrew explains.“There's also no telling what you'll see. We just go.”
“We're gonna set the trail for the future guys and girls coming in, black and white and whatever,” Leo
adds. “But for now, let's all just come together. We're having a party.”