Originally published in the October 20, 2014 issue of Country Weekly magazine.
Alot of talent and timing have worked in Florida Georgia Line’s favor, but technology may have played the most important role in their success.
“We grew up the same way in the fact that you’re making these CDs,” Brian Kelley recalls. “With anything from Tim McGraw to Lil’ Wayne to Eminem to Hot Boys to Alabama. Anything you could put on there. That’s just what we did. It was such a new thing. Instead of just getting out your CDs—you’d want to listen to a couple songs here and you’d have to change. It’s like, well this is what I listen to. Why can’t I just put it all in one? I guess that’s just how we write. We’re country to the core, but we just want to do it our own way. We don’t want to sound like anyone else.”
Think about it: Tyler and Brian are still both in their 20s, the children of Napster and the iPod (and perhaps, to a lesser degree, MTV). The genre barriers have likely seemed more like artificial designations for them than commandments etched in stone. So FGL’s aggressively modern mash of styles may seem like an abomination to country fans who were forced long ago to declare their allegiance, but to Tyler and Brian, it’s just a natural extension of their teenage experiences listening to music.
In short, the old rules don’t apply here. Which maybe makes it totally appropriate that the duo’s sophomore album—one of fall’s most anticipated releases—is titled Anything Goes. And while the title track may be more of a party jam about losing one’s inhibitions, it’s emblematic of the musical free-for-all contained within.
The stakes are pretty high for Anything Goes, considering the immediate success FGL experienced with “Cruise,” “Get Your Shine On,” “Round Here” and “Stay” from their debut, Here’s to the Good Times, all rising to the top. Tyler and Brian have been trying not to think about that too much, just maintaining a steady rhythm of writing new material. “We just tried to stay in a creative zone, a creative space, if you will,” Brian Kelley says. He’s seated beside Tyler on a black leather couch in a nondescript Music Row audio facility, wearing a loose-fitting Garth Brooks tour T-shirt and camouflage pants. Tyler is sporting faded jeans, a black, short-sleeve button-up and a massive gold wristwatch that looks like it cost as much as a car. Also present is Tyler’s dog Harley, a friendly golden retriever that is happily greeting everyone.
“We were collecting songs and continuing to write as we released Here’s to the Good Times,” Brian continues. “That’s how we got ‘This Is How We Roll’ and [Jason Aldean’s] ‘Burnin’ It Down,’ [Cole Swindell’s] ‘Hope You Get Lonely Tonight.’ Sometimes if you lose creativity or get outside that and focus on other things, sometimes you lose your relevance. I think we really tried to stay in that zone of what we know and stay creative. All the success and the good times, where we’re at in our life—it’s just a perfect representation of who we are and how we’ve grown and matured and what we want to represent.”
“Our head’s always been, ‘Hey, let’s just do what we love and write the songs that we want to write, play the shows that we want to play,’” Tyler chimes in. “It seems to be working, you know. We’re just gonna stay true to who we are and try to keep stepping up our game and not overthink anything and just have fun with it.”
In the process of stepping up their game, FGL has notched a slew of consecutive No. 1 hits beginning with “Cruise,” which is now the best-selling digital country single of all time. That streak actually puts them on par with legendary duo Brooks & Dunn, hard as that may be for them to grasp.
“[It’s] a huge honor for us to even be mentioned in the same sentence as them because they are country music legends,” Brian says. “They basically wrote the book on being a duo. They did it for so long and did it so well, consistently. It’s crazy for us. A lot of people work years and years. I guess it’s all about timing and what’s come before and what’s worked and what’s not worked. ‘Cruise’ really put us on the map and really resonated with fans and really allowed us to introduce ourselves with our music in that way.” And like Brooks & Dunn once did at the CMA Awards, FGL will also try their hand at playing TV host for the American Country Countdown Awards in December (see sidebar).
Perhaps because they’ve been slapped with criticism over helping create the bro-country sound, FGL threw a curveball and reintroduced themselves with “Dirt,” the first single from Anything Goes. Rather than the familiar tales of dirt roads and trucks, “Dirt” examines the idea of returning to one’s geographical roots as well as the sad, but inevitable approach of death.
“It was important for us to go with our hearts and the first time we heard [‘Dirt’] we fell in love with it; knew it was gonna be a big one; knew it was one we wanted to cut,” Tyler says, pausing as he hears Harley whining outside the room and shakes his head, embarrassed. “So from that day on, taking it to the studio, watching that thing come to life, it was just unbelievable. We’re big on giving people what they don’t expect. Also, we get asked all the time, BK says it best, is this a . . .” “A departure,” Brian responds without missing a beat. “Yeah,” Tyler affirms. “Are we departing from what we’re doing, or going a different direction? It’s more of a return, if you listen to a lot of our old stuff that we used to write. Tons of ballads, tons of love songs. It’s fun to show the world that side of FGL.”
But fear not, party people: Anything Goes isn’t all sensitive balladry and has plenty of songs that will cause beers to be hoisted at your next house party, such as “Bumpin’ the Night,” “Every Night” and likely next single “Sun Daze.” It’s probably not too far from the sound of their real lives, either. Though Brian is now married to Brittney Cole and Tyler is newly engaged to Hayley Stommel, both of their significant others travel with the band and the good times continue on the road.
“Everybody keeps each other grounded,” says Brian, raving about the experience they’ve had on Jason Aldean’s Burn It Down Tour this year. “It’s a family on the road. We’ve got our dogs out there and we’ve got our girls.”
“We’re a traveling party, man,” Tyler adds. “We’ve got a huge team out there on the road that loves to have a good time. We’ll set up a little tent, have some music, have some drinks going. It’s a very inviting, fun atmosphere on the road. We definitely still like to throw parties and entertain even when we’re offstage.”
After the breakout success of Good Times, FGL began writing more with that party and the stage in mind. Producer Joey Moi’s maximalist approach makes every song from Anything Goes beg to be played loudly over the nearest set of speakers. “We’re producing as we’re writing,” Brian says. “We’re bringing our better versions to [Joey] and he’s making them even better. Two years ago, our stuff that we were bringing him wasn’t as good, so it’s progressed. Our songs, everything that we’re turning in, our demos, the ideas that we have for the songs are better just by doing it and knowing what works. I think there is a formula to a hit song, and at the same time there isn’t.”
What he means is there’s a way to write with radio airplay in mind, and their track record certainly suggests they’ve got a handle on it. But it’s also interesting to note that country radio now sounds like them and their buddy Jason Aldean. Country songs are trending bigger and heavier, and the more traditional or pop-oriented artists have been forced to try out FGL’s sound to keep up.
Hard to say if it will last, but they will happily ride the wave for now. Brian knocks on the coffee table to express his hope they can keep the momentum going. “For right now!” he says with gusto.
Tyler seconds that notion, saying it’s pretty mind-blowing to see how fans have reacted to them and used FGL (and technology, naturally) as a gateway drug to a whole new world of music. “We get guys and girls coming up to us and saying, ‘Hey, I’ve never been into country music until you guys and now I love all the music,’” he says, smiling. “‘Now I love every artist.’ It’s cool to hear where it’s going and how people are getting there, and just to see how fast this genre’s growing and how many people are coming out to these shows. It’s cool to be a part of where it’s at.” CW
SIDEBAR: THE BIG SHOW
It’s shaping up to be a very big fall for Florida Georgia Line, who were recently announced as hosts for the new American Country Countdown Awards, airing Dec. 15 at 8 p.m. ET on FOX. The honors will be based on the airplay from American Country Countdown With Kix Brooks and
a NASH Icon will be named on
For Brian, it was a matter of being open to new experiences. “We thought it would be cool to do one day, years down the road, if we ever got an opportunity,” he says. “This kind of came out of the blue and everybody on our team was just like, ‘Hey, let’s go for it.’ This is the first of this awards, so it’s important to kick it off with a bang.” Tyler notes that sharing the stage with his musical partner mitigates some of the anxiety over hosting. “We’ve got it made,” he says. “We get to do what we love with our best friend, so we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
As far as their nerves and being on live television, Brian says they’re just prepared to roll with the punches. “You mess up, stutter a little bit, that’ll be there forever,” he admits. “But we’ve always been transparent and real and that’s the fun part about live music and country music. It’ll make it more entertaining.”
While they plan to stay firmly Brian and Tyler for the gig, both say they admire how Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan conduct themselves on the Academy of Country Music Awards. “They’ve got the natural gift. They seem just real comfortable up there, just having a good time and they’re always fun and lighthearted,” Tyler says. “That’s our personalities and that’s who we’re gonna be. We’re excited about it and it’s gonna be fun to make it our own.”