The last place a young Damien Horne expected to end up was a country band. But his willingness to explore new ideas, new vocations and new places to live has had a profound effect on his quality of life. And that openness is also a major asset for The Farm.
Horne was raised in the projects in Hickory, North Carolina, one of 12 kids in a blended family where he rarely saw his dad and his mother was constantly working just to keep food on the table. Two of his brothers died – one in a drug-related killing, the other from a car accident – and two other brothers ended up in prison.
Trouble “was just all I kept seeing,” he says. “I tried to figure out something else to do.”
Music, Horne figured, was the answer. So he got a summer job and socked away $500 before moving to Los Angeles, where he hoped to emulate such influences as Bill Withers, Sam Cooke and Stevie Wonder. Horne vastly understimated the costs. He spent the better part of two years homeless, scraping together just enough money to eventually move back to North Carolina, where he went to a community college in Greensboro.
A songwriting class at that institution inspired him, and a neighbor then enlisted him to become a member of Stellar Tree, an alternative-rock band patterned after such acts as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Counting Crows. The sound was foreign to him, but he embraced it. And it became an important musical step, opening Horne up to music that was not part of his original community experience.
The band moved in 2002 to Nashville, and Stellar Tree set up on a downtown sidewalk to play for tips. They eventually broke up, but Horne kept on playing for strangers on the sidewalk. Among the passers-by one night was a group of people that included John Rich and producer Paul Worley. They encouraged Horne to join the Muzik Mafia, a group of musical comrades who included the likes of Big & Rich, Gretchen Wilson and James Otto. It was the start of Horne’s next musical evolution.
“I’m a songwriter at heart,” he explains. “I love great lyrics, I love great melodies and I don’t think anybody embodies that better than country music. But really my first experience with country music was moving to Nashville.”
Horne took to it quickly, and he joined the Muzik Mafia on the road with Hank Williams Jr. one summer, though he soon realized that a larger calling was gnawing at his psyche. He left mid-tour to enroll in a religious school and became an ordained minister, a vocation in which he has performed marriages for the likes of Big Kenny, Warner Music Nashville chief John Esposito and The Farm’s Krista Marie.
Horne of course returned to music, and he hit the road as an opening act for John Legend. But he also found a way to mix his musical and philosophical aspirations when he visited Africa with Big Kenny to help establish a school for girls in a war-torn region of Sudan. The trip was captured in the documentary Bearing Light: A Journey To Sudan. And it underscores Horne’s larger intent to use The Farm to make a difference even beyond music.
“Music is definitely a priority to me,” he says, “but it’s not my main priority. My main priority is people I can affect in life, and music is my tool. Music is great, and I know from all that stuff that happened to me, if you use it right it can really change somebody’s life.”