It was Country 2 Country 2019 when I first saw Dustin Lynch live. From the back of the arena I could see his smile lighting up the room; he was buzzing to be up on stage, travelling the world, singing his songs. He captivated the audience like the true entertainer that he is. It might have had something to do with the amount of time he spent practicing as a kid, not just practicing the music but the performance, and he didn’t just impersonate any old country stars, he mimicked the greats!
“I think there’s photo evidence of, before I remember, just going back through my mum’s, one million pictures she still has of me stored away. I was four or five years old,” Lynch begins as he goes back to where it all began. “I had this little toy guitar, but it had real strings on it and my black felt cowboy hat on, and I was running around the house acting like I was Garth Brooks,” he laughs. Ever his biggest fan, his mum used to help him with his costumes, “Garth Brooks, George Strait, Alan Jackson, those guys really were, like superheroes to me. My mum loves to sew, so she would help me figure out what outfits to wear.” He smiles fondly as he reflects upon his childhood.
Lynch grew up in Tullahoma, Tennessee, a town about 80 miles outside of Nashville on the south edge of the state. Not only does he draw influence from these roots but he named his fourth album after the place he called home too. “We call them the Whiskey Hills because we’re in charge of making George Dickel whiskey. Right down the road is Jack Daniels’ distillery. So a lot of my town makes whiskey for a living and it’s a wonderful place to grow up.” Those who have been to the Jack Daniels’ distillery, a popular tourist attraction in Tennessee, will be familiar with the pure water sources around the Lynchburg and Tullahoma areas and the integral part it plays in the production of Whiskey. “We have three lakes right around the city limits,” Lynch clarifies as he sets the scene, painting the landscape. “It’s a very kind of watersports, fishing driven community and a very active outdoors community.”
Where his ‘Tullahoma’ album revisited his youth and his roots, ‘Blue In The Sky’ serves to celebrate the here and now, plus the good times that are right around the corner. Lynch remains an avid outdoorsman, taking trips on his boat, fishing and hunting and perhaps above all, running his own 500-acre farm. During lockdown, when the majority of this latest album was written, Lynch had the time to truly embrace that side of his personality and it influenced his writing further. “This album to me is embracing life outside of music because throughout the process of writing and recording this album, we were not allowed to tour. So I was at home on my boat a lot. I was out on my farm a lot. And I think those threads shine through.”
Lynch and his core group of writers took a different approach when it came to writing for this record. Instead of the 9 to 5 writers rooms, they took writing retreats in various locations around the US, soaking up the outdoors and letting the inspiration flow no matter what time of day or night it was. “Here in Nashville, it’s easy to kind of get into the everyday writing schedule where you’re having your breakfast, you show up, you write and then somebody’s got to leave to grab their kids from school,” Lynch explains. “When we’re on these retreats, whether it’s just here at the farm outside of Nashville, or if we’re at some exotic location very far away, a lot of our ideas come late at night, and it just comes from hanging out, smoking cigars, or drinking beer. There’s not as much pressure to finish a song during the day before kids get out of school or whatever, we can just really hone in and make sure if we have a good idea, we write it the best possible way. I’ve found some great success from those retreats at different hours of the day.”
One such song that came from these retreats was ‘Tennessee Trouble’ which Lynch co-wrote with Matt Dragstrem, Hunter Phelps and Jordan Minton. He tells the story of how it came about. “We were in Park City, Utah and we had run out of beer at the house,” he recalls, a smile starting to spread across his face. “So one of the guys was like, I feel like drinking more beer let’s head to the grocery store. So I took everybody to the grocery store. And we were picking up beer and somebody said Tennessee trouble or trouble in Tennessee, and all of our light bulbs went off in our heads and we’re going, that’s an interesting idea. Let’s go back to the house.”
As the friends began to hang out the ideas began to flow. “We’d already planned to smoke cigars that night. So we we headed downstairs, jumped in the hot tub, started smoking cigars, and I started trying to figure out how to sing that melodically. It’s the idea of a girl looking like Tennessee trouble. The concept is, she’s probably gonna leave you with a hangover, but you gotta go say hello, you got to give it a shot. We got the melody figured out in the hot tub went back upstairs and started writing the chorus and ended up finishing it the next day. So that’s one of those great examples of these retreats and why I think we found success is because we work late into the night and that idea never would have come about if we didn’t run out of beer.”
Five albums in and Lynch has honed in on his writing skills and what his fanbase wants to hear, allowing him to focus on a formula. “I’m mostly thinking about titles and the hook. The idea of a song at this point in my career is everything, just because, I can phrase and write a melody to pretty much anything you give me but the idea has got to be right, it’s got to be unique and special, that bull’s eye has gotten smaller and smaller. So we’ve really honed in on what I think our fan base wants to hear from us. We’ve become a lot more efficient.”
Thinking Bout You
Last year, Lynch released his most successful single to date; a duet originally featuring Lauren Alaina and which featured on ‘Tullahoma’ was re-recorded with Canadian singer Mackenzie Porter and shot up to the top of the country airplay charts. There it stayed for six weeks. “‘Thinking Bout You’ was born on the road. We were out on tour with Thomas Rhett at the time and it took us a couple of days.” Lynch reflects on it’s original inception. “It started out as a completely different feeling song, it was slower and then we found a little bit of magic in that repetitive phrasing and melody in the chorus and just lyrically fill it out with bits and pieces of past relationships.”
Lynch hadn’t done a duet before but was searching for one. “It hit us, we’ve been talking about needing to do a collaboration on an album, we’ve never done one, maybe this is the song. So we wrote the second verse, as the girl on the other end of the phone answering.” Then it was time for Lynch to put it out to the Nashville artist community to find his duet partner. “It was a bit of a blind audition,” he begins. “We had a couple handfuls of female artists send in their versions of the song. I had all the names removed before I got to look at the folder of who had submitted, just so I wasn’t persuaded on if I knew who they were and kept coming back to this one version over and over again, it ended up being MacKenzie’s version.” The song became a game changer for both Lynch and Porter as it became one of the songs of the summer last year.
However, it’s not the only collaboration on the record as Lynch teams up with a couple of good friends to deliver a number of tracks on ‘Blue In The Sky’. “For ‘Tequila on a Boat’, Chris Lane and I toured together and he always drank tequila sodas on the road. So it was my first thought, ‘Who do I know that I’ve toured with that would like to do this song?’ Chris is one of my good buddies, we love to get on the water together. So that made complete sense.” Lynch thought long and hard about the perfect collaborator for ‘Tequila on a Boat’ and ‘Huntin Land’ which sees him joined by Riley Green. “My team started throwing around ideas of who would do it and Riley is a very avid outdoorsman, he has a great presence in the outdoor industry – believe it or not, he’s got a huge following and we have a lot of mutual friends in that industry here in the States.”
With the trio recently on tour together they are able to bring these songs to life in a live setting as well. “I’m super happy that both Chris and Riley were up for the challenge because those two moments in our show are some of the most fun we have now.” Lynch has so much energy on stage and as he gears up to go back out on his headlining ‘Party Mode’ tour he talks me through his thought process on stage. “I am focused, we’re not a stiff show, it’s very loose. There’s no real marks that we have to hit other than don’t step in front of the CO2 cannons or whatever we’re shooting out at the crowd. My whole goal up there is making sure I’m connecting with who’s there to support us, and of course, your mind can run and you can become self conscious about it.” The main thing for Lynch though, is that he needs to feel himself, “I need to be very comfortable in the clothes I’m wearing. Mainly my boots, if I have a boot issue, it really bothers me the whole show. So most of the time I’m wearing boots that I’m very comfortable in and I know them well. So there’s rarely a brand new boot on stage. We’ve been acquainted before if I’m wearing them on stage.”
Lynch is very happy with where he is in his career now and very proud of this latest collection of songs. “I would say, trusting my gut is something that I’ve had to learn and really believe in myself and the art I want to make. I think my proudest moment is coming to a point where I’m confident enough to stand up for what I believe in, artistically.” So as he releases his fifth album and continues to forge his own path, he reflects on some of the moments and accolades that he’ll never forget. “We’ve had so many cool accolades, got to play all over the world and one of the most epic nights, was becoming a member of the Grand Ole Opry is on top of that list. Because it’s a small family. It’s a special family to be a part of and we do a lot of good at the Opry behind the scenes. So I’m very proud to be a part of that.”
But Lynch hasn’t rested on his laurels and has already begun planning for the next record. “I’m already starting to schedule those retreats again,” he says with a smile. “I am ready with my idea book, I’m always thinking about titles, and it’s starting to fill back up from me exhausting those these past two years. I’ve already texted my core group of songwriters about it and we’re starting to wrap our heads around what’s coming next.”