FLORIDA GEORGIA LINE
As Interviewed By Will Estell
In our current fast paced and ever-changing world of songs, bands, and rhythmic marketing genius it’s pretty simple to be unaware of just who a particular artist or group may be. After all, we’re residing in a time where major hits are derived from songs that don’t even have a full album surrounding them, and new artists seem to pop up out of almost thin air to become the next big award show recipient or name on their genre’s Billboard chart. This, however, isn’t the case with one of country music’s hottest hit making and hardest working groups, Florida Georgia Line. Whatever your personal taste in music is and whether you consider yourself a fan of country, rock, pop, blues, or even speed metal, it’s safe to say you’ve heard more than a few of this country duo’s amped up goodtime anthems.
The twosome made up of Florida native, Brian Kelley, and Georgia boy, Tyler Hubbard began playing together professionally in 2009 and hit the country music scene, nationally in 2012 when their now universally recognized debut single “Cruise” took the airways and backroads by storm, breaking major sales records and becoming the very first country song to receive Diamond certification, having been downloaded over ten million times. Yes, you read that right… 10 million! Probably at least a few times by you or someone you know too, so don’t act like it’s never been on your playlist. We’ve seen you rocking out in your car, and those ten million copies didn’t download themselves. Trust me, it’s ok, because upbeat, catchy, feel-good music is supposed to do that to you!
The truth is, whether you’re one of the country fans who do or don’t particularly like your country with a little rock, pop, and rap doesn’t really concern me –or probably them either- but what does is that a single song with that massive impact –in any genre- can make such an impact on music as a whole by practically creating and launching a whole new sound. That deserves a lot of credit, whatever your personal musical tastes may be.
Jump forward seven years and this dynamic team aren’t showing any signs of slowing down or letting up, as the recipients of Billboard’s first-ever Trailblazer Award continue to grow upon their wave of success in both music and other endeavors. Since 2012, Brian (affectionately known as BK by fans) and Tyler have earned numerous AMA, ACM, CMA, CMT and Billboard awards, all while continuing to be instrumental in writing and bringing to fruition several country songs for other well-known artists.
FGL’s 3X Platinum Certified “Meant to Be”, with Bebe Rexha, spent the most weeks at number one in the history of Billboard’s Hot Country charts, where incidentally, the duo also hold three of the other all-time top five records since Billboard first originated in 1958, as well as holding the record for any country artist’s total weeks spent in the number one position on this chart (over 100 across all songs FGL have charted at number one). Not bad, for a group that some say “ain’t country” right?
With the release of their newest, and fourth studio album, “Can’t Say I Ain’t Country” FGL have embarked on a massive headlining tour with openers Dan + Shay, Morgan Wallen, Canaan Smith, and Hardy. I recently caught up with BK and Tyler to gain a little more insight into this wild ride of success they seem to be navigating so well, their journey along the way, their philosophy beyond the music, and just what Florida Georgia Line is really all about.
Like many country artists, you both grew up in small town America, with many of those small town values surrounding you and your families. Tell me a little about that and the journey that led you to becoming Florida Georgia Line.
BK. Growing up, baseball and bass fishing was life for me. I grew up in Ormand Beach, Florida. It was a small, tight knit community. I grew up on a river, catching crawdads and tubing down the river with manatees sharing the waters with us, and gators on the side. Baseball carried me through high-school and college. I bounced around a little. I ended up at Florida State, transferred to Daytona State, and that completely transformed my life and my mind set, because of the coach I had there, and that warrior like focus he instilled. I thought I was about done after three years of college baseball, but I felt like God was calling me to Nashville. I had been playing guitar and performing in church since I was 16. Country was my first love, but really I played mostly Christian music back then.I just took a chance and called up the coach at Belmont, and just asked him if they would consider bringing me on the team so I could move to Nashville. And they took me. I knew Nashville was the place I needed to be if I wanted to be a songwriter and do anything in music, at that time.
TH: I grew up in Monroe Georgia with my parents and two siblings. I was real big into dirt bikes and riding motocross. Like BK, I started playing guitar at about 15 also. I went to a private Christian school, and became very involved in church, where I became a worship leader in my teens, before deciding to go to Belmont to study music and hopefully become a songwriter. We’re a lot alike, but we’re also different. We both grew up similarly and have the same morals, but we really balance each other and keep each other in check too. A mutual friend of mine who had a class with BK introduced us, and thought we should meet because of our similar interests in music. We became friends fast, started playing and writing, and moved in together in the fall of 2009. Shortly after we started playing writer’s rounds in Nashville at Hotel Indigo. It just grew, and more and more people were coming to see us every time we’d do it.
BK: I’d sing on his songs, and he’d sing on my songs, and as we wrote songs together. More and more people were showing up and we were creating quite a ruckus for this little hotel bar. We were performing as artists, but our first goal was to be songwriters and get a publishing deal. We both believed in being open to chasing this crazy dream, and we just made a commitment one day and said, ‘hey, let’s just chase this dream down’. We built this from the ground up, with no record label, and you know, we both truly believe God brought us together and has blessed us to put in the work. And that’s what we are most proud of. I mean we are humbled by the awards, but we are most proud of putting in the work. No matter whether you’re a farmer, or you’re running a mom and pop bagel shop. Work is where the blessing is, and everything else follows. We believe in giving back to the fans. You give them a bad ass show and keep them happy and everything else will come together.
Did you ever think when it started, back in 2012 or 2013, once you guys had tasted some success and had a big hit with “Cruise” that Florida Georgia Line would become what it is today?
BK: [laughing] Yeah. To be honest with you, yeah, we did. I think every little level or benchmark you reach, you want to do and try more. Our main focus became getting outside the box, and showing our talents, and what God’s blessed us with, and sharing it with others.
TH: Yeah, I mean everything that’s happened, God has definitely blown our minds! It’s been way bigger, way faster, and a crazier ride than we could ever dreamed it would be. There were just little hints from the Universe, and from God, that we were on the right path. We believe in positivity. Every little piece of our puzzle just fit, and we owe a lot of that to our great team, our management, our record label, our PR company and everyone who’s behind us.
BK: Those are the great people who help us keep our heads on straight, and keep us from going two million miles an hour… just a million miles an hour [laughing]. I do want to say though, as a dreamer or a creative, whether a businessman or an artist, I think you have to dream big. I think you have to believe in yourself in those moments. You have to be prepared to conquer those moments. We spend a lot of time visualizing and strategizing. Even back when we were playing Hotel Indigo, before Joey Moi brought us to life [the producer who discovered the duo] we had an idea and a vision of what Florida Georgia Line was going to be someday.
I’ve been very impressed by the things you do guys both do to help others and make a difference. Brian, I know you were very involved in the relief efforts here in the Florida Panhandle, after Hurricane Michael so tragically altered the lives of many in these communities. Tell me a little about your inspiration for that and what that means to you to get in a help in such a grassroots way.
BK: You know, it’s the way I was raised, and especially with Florida being our home [Brian and his wife, Brittney live in Grayton Beach, along 30A] since 2016. You know, being raised in Florida it’s moments like that when a hurricane hits and you feel attached, led to do your part, and to get involved with something bigger than you to help those people. That’s one reason we do work so hard, at the end of the day, Tyler and I both want to leave a legacy and make a difference to others. As for being involved in the efforts of The Sonder Project, I just wanted to step up and help inspire people and make a positive difference. So many people you and I both know were doing so much and taking their time to be there and give a helping hand. I believe it’s good to step up and get your hands dirty, put your body to use, and do something to help. It’s called a community for a reason, and it takes everybody.
Speaking of the beach, Brian, tell me a little about your philosophy on beach life and why you choose to live along the shores of world-famous 30A, where so many of your Nashville cohorts simply vacation.
BK: You, know, it’s just the way I like to live. It fits me to be outside as much as possible, and to fish and go to the beach. I like the slower pace lifestyle that goes along with it. I like to be in a place where you can take the time to visit with your neighbors. There’s something about congregating at the beach with folks, or at Chiringo [a local hotspot in Grayton Beach] or at Red Bar when it reopens [currently being rebuilt after a fire] and rocking again. I can’t wait to hang out with people there. We live by the weather, if it’s sunny we’re outside. For Brittney and I the people make the place, and we’re just thankful for great people around us. Grayton Beach is a funky little community and the people are friendly. Plus, you know, it’s just hard to complain or be in a bad mood when you’re living at the beach [laughing].
Collectively you guys are involved in so many entrepreneurial ventures, beyond the music. You’ve got Tree Vibez Music, Old Camp Whiskey, your FGL House restaurant and bar in Nashville, and Meet + Greet all as partners, and then, Brian, your ties with Oyster City Brewing and your Tribe Kelley brand along with your wife, Brittney. Where did that come from, that desire and drive to do so many things?
BK: I probably get it from my dad. My dad had some rental properties, and he played with the stock market here and there. And even though what he did was on a smaller scale compared to some of the businesses we’ve now been able to become involved in, I watched him and learned from him. He was really a great influence. I love figuring out what’s going to be hot. What’s going to be next? What can be fresh and new and how we can take an idea and make it into something that answers a need and people benefit from. Tyler and I love coming up with things, brainstorming ideas, and making things happen like our FGL House and Old Camp, and we’ve got more things working! With the Surf Post [Tribe Kelley Surf Post is the couple’s retail store in Grayton Beach] Brittney and I found this old building and it just fit our vision for the Tribe Kelley apparel brand. Plus we just wanted to do something that would be cool, and would be good for the community too. She and I design all the clothes we sell under our Tribe Kelley brand and they’re all made in the USA.
Since we’re talking dads and family ventures, Tyler, I think congratulations are in order to you and your wife, Hayley, on the expansion of your family.
TH: Thank you! Yeah, we’ve got a little dude now; baby number two came in August. We’re really stoked about it. I just love being a dad, man!
You guys have been enjoying some great songwriting success, not only through your own writing efforts, but also with the impressive writers and artists you have on your Tree Vibez roster. Tell me about that and what the inspiration was for Tree Vibez Music.
TH: We started that in 2015, because we really wanted to be songwriters, and we just wanted to create a place and atmosphere that inspires writers, and offers studio space and writers rooms. We also have a studio bus that travels on our tour. We wanted to give back to writers, but also learn from them. Our studios have lots of windows, cool space, and a vibed out feel; a little different feel than some of the more traditional studios around.
BK: We’ve now had four number ones on Tree Vibez and we’ve got lots of others that have climbed into the top 30. We’re just super proud of our writer’s and what they’re doing and the work they are putting in to make it all happen. They make us all better.
From a personal standpoint what are your individual strong points as songwriters?
TH: I’d say that BK and I are both similar writers, but also kind of unique to each other at the same time. We’re both open to ideas, open to inspiration and open to great songs we didn’t write. Hearing strong, memorable lyrical content and hit songs from other writers, whether our Tree Vibez team or someone else, makes us work even harder at our craft to go write that one the next time ourselves.
BK: Team work makes the dream work!
Tell me about your Old Camp brand of whiskey and how that came to be. I’ve tried Old Camp, and coming from a guy who’s not a big whisky drinker I’m pretty impressed with how smooth it goes down and how that peach pecan flavor just seems to work.
BK: Well, thank you! That started back in 2015. We love whiskey and just saw an opportunity to do our homework and get our own taste and brand out there. We are super excited to attach ourselves to great whiskey and good times. We’ve got the peach pecan flavor, it’s not too sweet, and we’ve got an American whiskey that’s more for the whiskey connoisseur.
You’ve both said that your current album “Can’t Say I Ain’t Country” is your most country album ever, and I have to agree. The sound, while maintaining that FGL vibe, just seems more real, less overproduced, and more sincere. And with almost 54 minutes of material it’s a lot of music in today’s world of six song EPs. What led to that deeper country feel, and the album name?
BK: We really just chose “Can’t Say I Ain’t Country” as the album name in a lighthearted way. I mean this record definitely is our most country one to date. Especially the way it’s cut with a full band and less produced vibe with a real Nashville sound. It’s still an FGL record and we think it has something for everyone, but it is country. We’re super excited to get new music out and to be embarking on this tour. We’ve got Dan + Shay, Morgan Wallen, Canaan Smith, and our boy Hardy with us. We just love connecting with the fans and just throwing the biggest party we can every single night.
TH: We’re four albums in and really wanted to be true to our roots. We’re always evolving and pushing ourselves in our music. Our lives have really changed since we released our previous albums. We’re both married, I’m a dad. Just lots of things have changed in our lives that are reflected in our music. I think our tastes even changed over that time, you know. Our writing changed, and probably about halfway through the album we were drawn more to the really country songs.
What are your thoughts on the criticism that artists face and the kind of proliferation of everyone with an opinion wanting to be an armchair quarterback? Does it bother you, or does it simply drive you?
BK: You know, we just keep doing what we do best; learning, growing, creating and giving our fans, old ones and new ones, what they want. As long as the songs keep being downloaded and played and the venues keep packing out that’s about all we can worry about. It’s about the fans, and we’ve got a lot more to show them!
TH: It’s still hard for people to get a real idea of who we really are after just four records. We’ve still got a lot more to bring and surprise people with. I think nowadays so many people are critics and anyone with a phone and a social media account can just voice their opinion without really knowing who you are and what you’re really about as artists and as real people, but that’s ok, we’ll just continue to put out music and play for our fans.
Listening to the new album there’s a lot I like about it, but I was especially intrigued by the short comedy breaks between song tracks. Who thought of these Brother Jervel skits with his humorous take on various subjects?
BK: Brother Jervel’s been our friend for years, and he would just leave these little funny messages on Tyler’s phone, so we decided to have in in the studio and just spent an hour and a half or so recording him. We just wanted to add something unique and fun to the album that you don’t hear much on most.
TH: [laughing] The skits are really just Brother Jervel being himself. The guy is hilarious! We just knew this had to be a part of the album. And he loves it, and it’s really starting to take off for him also.
You’ve got collaborations with Jason Aldean and Morgan Wallen, as well as writing with a smorgasbord of great country writers like Jordan Schmidt, James McNair, Earnest K. Smith, and Hardy, but I really want to know what it was like working with Jason Derulo on the track “Women”?
TH: It’s been a minute since we’ve been in the studio with our buddy Jason, so getting back to it was really magical. We’re really taking it to church and capturing the spirit of the beautiful, powerful women in our own lives, and getting to do this song with Jason was just fire for us!
BK: We wanted to capture something real and celebrate our ladies. “Women” is a special one for Brian, Jason, and myself, and we think the fans, all of ours, will really appreciate it too. That’s what it’s about!
From Nelly to Bebe Rexha you guys have been able to do a lot of really cool, cross genre collaborations with an impressive roster of artists over the past seven years. Thinking outside the proverbial box here, who is someone you’d both really like to do a project with in the future?
BK: And, I’m just going to put it out there… JT! [Justin Timberlake]
TH: We’ve both got a lot of respect for Bruno Mars. That’d be straight fire!
If you weren’t playing music, or songwriting what do you think you’d be doing?
BK: I’d be living at the beach either way. I’d probably be involved in real estate or some small business. Maybe not living right on the beach, but as close as I could be. Maybe on a little farm in the woods near the beach.
TH: If I weren’t making music for a living I think I would be playing music and performing anyway. I think we both would be to some degree. At least playing music in church or something. To me it’s just who I am, and we’re just happy to be given this gift and the ability to use it and impact people positively.
Any parting words of wisdom you’d like to leave with our readers? Maybe something based on your own experiences and outcomes along the journey from small town dreamers to where you are now. What’s the special sauce in the equation?
BK: Whatever you do for a living, if there’s something you want to do that you’re not yet, if you’re getting visions and little signs from the universe, whether it’s an idea for a restaurant or a song title or a movie concept, that stuff’s not crazy. Don’t let your friends and family tell you that. Those are blessings and that’s inspiration. More times than not those things are real signs. That’s why Tyler and I are here. Anything is possible! So to those that are big dreamers and entrepreneurs, or aspire to be, just keep believing it, and work toward it.
Check out FloridaGeorgiaLine.com for a tour date near you, and look for BK and Tyler as they kick off their FGL Fest with a concert during the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s annual NASCAR weekend, before taking Vegas by storm, this winter, with their limited residency, Florida Georgia Line Live From Las Vegas at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino.
About the Author:
Will Estell is multi-published writer turned editor with over 250 published magazine articles to his name. Originally from the backwoods of North Mississippi, he now calls the beautiful beaches of Destin and 30A home. Estell regularly writes about everything from travel and lifestyle to music, automobiles and entrepreneurship, with celebrity cover interview features being one of his specialties in recent years. Additionally he’s the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Beaches, Resorts & Parks magazine, as well as serving as the editor for nine other magazines over the past twenty years. His more recent creative ventures include unscripted television concepts and song writing. When he’s not working you can often find him on the beach or in a bar listening to live music… sometimes at the same time.