On Tuesday (Aug. 2) at Nashville’s Oz Art center, emcee Alecia Davis had several pressing questions for Florida Georgia Line about their upcoming third album Dig Your Roots.
“I’ve heard many adjectives describing you guys and your music,” she said moderating the Pandora press conference. “I’m curious how you describe yourself and your music.”
“We don’t really think about that too much,” Brian Kelley said.
But a few members of the media in the audience chuckled when Tyler Hubbard gave his answer.
“Bad ass,” he said playfully with his thick Georgia accent.
Others would agree with Hubbard. They are four-time CMA and six-time ACM winners who drew a record-breaking 25,000 fans to their show at Cheyenne Frontier Days on Saturday (July 30). Altogether, they have 12 No. 1s including Jason Aldean’s “Burnin’ It Down” and “Lights Come On.” Plus, their breakout anthem “Cruise” is the highest-selling digital country single of all time.
Additionally, Kelley and Hubbard are the top-spinning act on Pandora’s Today’s Country station with more than 3.7 million plays of their music this week. Just outside the building, hundreds of Pandora listeners had lined up for hours to be the first to get inside their show scheduled for later that the evening.
“There have been times where we’ve been like, ‘Dude, why are these people showing up to watch us play?’ Hubbard said. “We’re definitely not the best singers out there. There’s a lot that we can’t do compared to a lot of other artists, and I feel like we’ve been trying to figure it out.”
“I think it’s just being transparent and being real,” he added. “That’s who we are — almost to a fault. But our fans connect with that. And whether or not we put out the best music or the best written song, or maybe it’s not up to Nashville’s standards, the fans connect with real people. They connect with you being transparent.”
With deeply personal lyrics over the signature sound that put them on the map, Dig Your Roots is essentially Kelley and Hubbard to the core. As guys who grew up leading worship in church, their spirituality is a common thread in songs like the “While He’s Still Around,” “Music Is Healing” and their latest No. 1 “H.O.L.Y.”
“That is definitely part of the process of digging our roots,” Kelley said. “I think we’re more spiritual than ever. I think we’re growing up day by day, trying to be better people, better husbands, better friends and better businessmen. Tyler and I have spent a long time working on ourselves and getting into a place where we can really create good music for others to enjoy.”
Making Dig Your Roots was also an opportunity to get fans into the music the grew up loving, which was a happy mix of everything. At the beginning of the conference, Kelley revealed that his first concert was the Backstreet Boys and that Hubbard’s first CD was by the group.
During the 2016 CMA Music Festival, the duo actually became friends with singer Nick Carter and invited him on their tour bus for a listening session the new material. When they played “God, Your Mama and Me,” Carter loved what he heard and played it for the rest of the band.
The next thing Kelley and Hubbard know, their longtime producer Joey Moi is flying to Los Angeles to record guest vocals with the group and just like that — a rare Backstreet Boys country collaboration was born. According to Billboard, group previously sang with Shania Twain for a CBS special in 1999.
“Speaking of collaborations,” Kelley said, “when they happen, it’s all about the song and it’s all about timing. This one just fit, and that magic was there. They’re good guys.”
They wanted Ziggy Marley to sing on their new reggae song “Life Is a Honeymoon” but thought getting him to participate on the album was a shot in the dark.
“All of these collaborations were us just dreaming,” Hubbard explained. “We didn’t even know how to get in touch with Ziggy or anything. After a few days, we finally got ahold of his management, and Ziggy was all about it. He really brought that song to life and gave it a lot more meaning.”
Scheduling conflicts prevented Florida Georgia Line from working with Tim McGraw live in the studio when he tracked his vocals on “May We All.”
“But we did get to shoot a music video, which y’all haven’t seen,” Kelley revealed. Without giving too much away, they described the new video as a mini-movie and called McGraw a total pro.
“We’ve known each other for years and I think that’s why the song turned out that well,” Kelley said. “He’s just that type of guy. He shows up to work, gets it done and he puts out an amazing product. It’s art. It’s beautiful and we all are certain that when we hear Tim McGraw coming in on the second verse, everyone knows who it is.”
As far as their stand out favorites on the album, those change depending on the day. Track No. 14, “Grow Old,” holds extreme sentimental value to Hubbard because it was the soundtrack to his first dance with his bride Hayley after they tied the knot on July 1, 2015.
Kelley said God was in the room the day they wrote “Music Is Healing,” a title directly inspired by the “Music Is Healing” tattoo on his forearm.
“I think we can all attest to that,” he said of the message in the title. “That’s why we’re all lovers of music. It has so many forms of healing and it’s amazing.”
Kelley also takes the lead on some of tracks that are personal more to him.
“That’s kind of our motto, better is better,” Hubbard said. “On some of these songs it was definitely better to have BK singing lead. That was fun for us to do something different.”
“There’s a little bit of everything on this record like the last two records,” Hubbard continued. “It’s also a little more mature if you will. A lot’s changed for us over the last five years and we’ve grown up a lot. Our music evolves as quickly as our lives do. And I think that’s important to continue to be real and then try to record songs that have some depth to them.”
Dig Your Roots lands Aug. 26.