Luke Bryan is buzzing with a headlining tour and a new album called Spring Break … Here to Party. CMT Hot 20 Countdown ’s Tim Hardiman recently caught up with the easygoing Georgia native to talk about seeing his career climb slowly, sharing his stage equipment with his opening acts and singing karaoke with his bus drivers.
CMT: As soon as you walk on the stage, people go crazy. You’re a humble guy, so how do you adjust to that?
Bryan: I’ve been so blessed to have my career gradually get bigger and bigger, so I’ve been able to absorb stuff and take stuff gradually. I never went at this whole business by getting bigheaded about stuff. Do you change a little bit? Well, yeah, you change things. That’s just natural. But as far as requiring a bunch of people to tell me I’m great on a regular basis so I can go do a show? My thing is to get up there and have a good time and give the fans all you can and appreciate them spending their money and being in the stands — and just be appreciative of them cheering when you come onstage. It’s what you live for — or it’s what I live for, certainly, in this business.
Do you still marvel over your success?
Yeah, every day. … It was not long ago that we were playing places that were 300, 400, 500 people. I was checking with my road manager, and I was like, “How many people are out there?” And he was like, “Oh, It’s about half full, we’re good.” And we were like, “Oh, at least it’s half full. At least there’s 300 or 400 people.”
With the climb it’s been, it’s taken years, but I’ve never not enjoyed any of those years. … I enjoyed loading up in the 15-passenger van and traveling. I’ve enjoyed all aspects of it along the way.
Has there been any added pressure to you then?
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any little freak-out moments every now and then or lose a little sleep at night worrying about stuff. But the big pressure coming into your first headlining tour is, “Are you gonna sell tickets?” And we’re selling tickets, so now it’s up to me to relax and just enjoy everything that’s happening. For me to come in and be doing sold-out shows night in and night out, it’s truly hard to believe. It blows my mind.
And I’ve been really lucky with each year. Something has happened to make each year continually get better, and the start of this year has just been amazing. January was rough. I was having some vocal issues, just being sick and having colds and stuff in January, but I got through January, and now we’re having a good time out here. It’s crazy.
My thing is, when you put a bunch of rules on a tour, you have to hire three more people to enforce all the rules. So, with me, I want everyone to feel comfortable. It’s a lot of little moving parts out here, and little hiccups will come. At the end of the day, the show’s going to go on, and I want everybody to truly enjoy it. … I’m not going to try to erect new stages before I go out. I mean, the fans want to have the opportunity to get as close to Florida Georgia and Thompson Square as they can, so I think if I bottled them up on just one part of the stage, it would be a disservice to the fans that didn’t get a closer photograph.
Can you describe the appeal of a lifestyle out on the road? It’s not like you guys roll into a city and are able to go see a lot of tourist spots. You’re limited to the venue because of how your schedule is most of the time, right?
Oh, yeah. With the whole new world of headlining every night, when I get offstage, it’s 11:15, 11:20. By the time I shower and have a beer or two or have a drink or two, it’s 1 o’clock. I’m typically an early riser, so I’m trying to get better about sleeping in until 10:30 or something. I need the rest, and the band’s kind of the same way. So right when we wake up, we’re all at the gym. We’re at the gym by 11. We go to the gym for two hours. That’s 1. We get back, eat lunch, that’s 2. Soundcheck at 3. It’s a whole new world. Back when I was doing 20- or 40-minute sets, I’d ride off and go fishing all day. …
You try to give everybody that works for you a little time. I think they love that, and that makes people want to work around you and want to be around you more. I always want to have a personal relationship with everybody that works for me. They’re out here, and it’s grueling. Our crew guys, it’s amazing what they have to go through to make a show happen every night. So it’s the least I can do to make this as enjoyable as I can.
We had two nights in a row in Bloomington, Ill., and all the bus drivers and the truck drivers had the night off, so we did a little karaoke night. We rented a karaoke company to come in. Man, we had a blast. Some of the guys had a little too much fun, but that was what it was all about. If we get the opportunity to do something nice or have some fun or punk somebody, that breaks up the [routine] out here. You just have fun and try to change up the day, try to go catch a movie every now and then.
When you’re onstage, you look like you’re having more fun than anybody in the room? That’s not an act.
No, that moment is my time. I’m not checking emails, text messages. That’s my time. And that’s what all this is for, in my opinion. I moved to town with a mindset of “everything I do is for getting to a live show.” That’s my time. No matter how hard, no matter how many places you gotta travel or fly, when you get onstage, that’s when it all becomes worth it. And when you look into the eyes of your people out there that came to see you, that’s when it’s like, “Yep, this is what it’s all about.” This is why we don’t sleep, and this is why we write songs and try to be the best. This moment right here onstage.