Dustin Lynch grew up in Tullahoma, Tenn., but his thoughts have gravitated toward Nashville for nearly his whole life. Signed to Broken Bow Records, the determined newcomer is at No. 25 on this week’s Billboard country chart with his debut single, “Cowboys and Angels.”
“It’s a dream come true. I’ve been dreaming of this moment for over 20 years now,” says Lynch, who turns 27 on Monday (May 14). “I moved to Nashville in 2003 to be a songwriter. I’m actually out in the sticks writing songs right now as we as talk. Everything’s happening so fast, and I’m all over the country right now. I’m taking every minute I can to sit back and smell the roses as I’m flying by them.”
Lynch cites country music’s “Class of ’89″ as his musical heroes — artists like Clint Black, Alan Jackson and Garth Brooks, who broke through that year. Lynch’s rich baritone and traditional delivery on “Cowboys and Angels” underscore that admiration.
In this interview, Lynch chats about his first video, his songwriting inspiration and his reluctance to step inside the circle on the floor of the Grand Ole Opry stage.
CMT: What do you remember most about filming the video for “Cowboys and Angels”?
Lynch: It was actually my first day ever to hang in Texas. We’ve been through Texas on the go, on the bus. We drove into Austin, and we shot the video in Elgin, outside of Austin. It’s an awesome town. It had a Last Picture Show feel to it, which is why Peter Zavadil wanted to shoot the video there. A lot of films have been shot in Elgin — Friday Night Lights, Varsity Blues, stuff like that. It was cool to be where some magic had already happened.
What were you hoping to capture when you wrote the song?
When we wrote it, Tim [Nichols] and I brought the idea on the same morning. We both had the same idea, but we had never met each other. So it was kind of a freak event that the song was written a little over two years ago. Now it’s going to change my life. It was like a present from the sky.
I have my grandparents’ and my parents’ story to draw from, and Tim and [co-writer] Josh [Leo] had theirs. Our goal was to make it a universal story so everyone could take it and make it their own. I’ve seen postings all over the place about how it fits people’s story, and it’s awesome to see that.
What has inspired your songwriting lately?
Recently I’ve been on the road and getting to see parts of the country I never dreamed I’d get to see. On top of that, I’m living a dream doing it. I’ve noticed that ideas come to me in a flurry, especially on the road. It’s like, “Boom! Idea, idea, idea.” With my iPhone, I jot down notes and record melodies straight into my phone immediately if something hits me like that. It’s weird, I don’t know if it’s a circumstance that gets me in the mood, but it does happen in waves. And when a wave starts, I’ve learned, “Hey, let’s tune in and hit the record button and capture all this,” because it’s not every day they come to you.
What do you remember about your Grand Ole Opry debut?
I debuted at the Grand Ole Opry on March 2, and that is probably at the top of the list of dreams to come true — to stand in the circle. I’ve gotten to go to the Opry a couple of times and stand backstage and watch. But I made it a point not to take a tour or stand in the circle until music took me there. I told myself that was one place I’d never go unless music took me there. On March 2, I got to step in the circle.
Before the show, I went out and took a look at it, but I wouldn’t step in it. When John Conlee introduced me, I walked out and stepped in the circle and just about lost it. It was all I could do to sing. They’ve asked me to come back twice since then. And at the end of May, they’ve asked me to play the Ryman for Opry Country Classics. That’s pretty cool that I’m going to make my Ryman debut. I’ll have my family in for that, too.
What was a typical day for you when you moved here?
I started out cutting grass. So I’d cut grass all day, then go sing a four-hour shift on Broadway or Demonbreun. I learned real quick that eight hours of snorting grass in your nose — and mulch and all sorts of dust from weed-eating all day — is not ideal for a singer. So I ditched that job and got a day job testing sewage. I don’t know if that was an upward or downward career move. (laughs)
That was the job I had when I got a phone call out of nowhere. My now-manager had come across my stuff on MySpace back when people were using that. He said he liked what he heard, so he had me in, and the rest is history.
Were you 18 when you moved to Nashville?
I was, yeah. I moved up here, and I don’t know if my parents really approved of it. But I knew if I didn’t chase that dream, I’d always wonder “what if.” I didn’t want to do that. I was told no a lot when I first got to Nashville, but I’m pretty stubborn! That’s one of my faults and qualities.
How did you tell your parents you wanted to pursue a music career? How did they react?
Obviously, they knew. I would hole up in my bedroom growing up and teach myself guitar. Golly, they had to know I wanted to chase it because I was terrible when I was learning how to play and sing. They put up with that long enough, so they were probably happy when I decided to move out of the house and chase it so they wouldn’t have to listen to me anymore. (laughs)
I’ve heard you say that your parents are your greatest influence. Why is that?
Yeah, it’s the way they raised me. I’ve got a pretty good head on my shoulders. Work ethic is something they definitely always preached to me. Hard work always pays off, whatever you do. Especially in this business. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s fun work. I consider myself a lucky guy. I’ve been beating around town for so many years, wanting to get a shot, and I finally got a shot. I want to take advantage of it now.