The last time singer-songwriter Luke Bryan stepped onto the high school football field in his tiny hometown of Leesburg, Ga., he was preparing to perform a song he wrote for his graduating class. "Funny, that was three years ago," he grinned.
Photo Credit: Kristin Barlowe
Though he won't be crossing the stage for his diploma Tuesday (Oct. 6), the crowd-pleaser will once again be taking that same stage. "It's going to be fun," he said of performing new music from his just-released second album, Doin' My Thing, during his hometown album release party.
From the moment Bryan sat down to discuss his new music with CMT.com, his Southern chivalry ("Hey, doll," "Thanks for your time") seemed to roll off his tongue. And when you factor in his fun-spirited nature combined with that undeniable drawl, it should come as no surprise that the ladies seem to flock to this "Country Man."
Beginning his career two years ago with "All My Friends Say," a Top 5 hit from his debut album, I'll Stay Me, Bryan held firm at No. 2 behind Taylor Swift the week of his album's release. He continued to reach his audience with the catchy Top 10 single, "Country Man." Later, his exclusive iTunes singles "Take My Drunk Ass Home" and "Sorority Girls" charmed the college demographic.
Though Doin' My Thing does boast lighthearted tunes like the title track and "Drinkin' Beer and Wastin' Bullets," Bryan takes the extra steps to expose another side of himself, too, one that's softer and perhaps more serious. His current single, "Do I," a song he wrote with Lady Antebellum's Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley, leaves Bryan questioning his partner's affection and sincerity.
"Everybody's always scared of ballads," he said of his new song that highlights the inquiring lyrics, "Do I turn you on at all when I kiss you baby/Does the sight of me wanting you drive you crazy/Do I have your love/Am I still enough?"
But his risk seems to have paid off as the single has already inched its way into the Top 20. Plus, he's received an overwhelming response from fans who have informed him the song resonates within their own relationships.
"I've had so many women come up to me and say, 'Me and my husband were listening to that song, and it made us start talking things out,'" he said "It's always special when you hear stuff like that."
On the same note, songs like "Someone Else Calling You Baby" and "Everytime I See You" follow this serious momentum. In doing so, Bryan credits his new album as being a bit smarter than his last, learning from his past three years in the business and on the road.
"We really crafted the album and crafted what we felt like we've learned the past couple of years from my fans and put out an album to really gear toward that -- and gear toward capturing a broader fan base, too," he said. "I was a little smarter with this album and had a little more knowledge up under my belt -- or up under my hat."
One such song that may catch listeners by surprise is "Apologize," a rock hit for One Republic in 2007. The idea to cover the song came about one night while Bryan was playing a show in Athens, Ga.
"I just took a shot in the dark," he explained. "We would be in the country-est bar in America and we would do it and everybody knew that song. And there were certainly venues where there were younger crowds that really loved the song. Definitely when it came down to record the album, I was like, 'Let's try it.'"
Despite venturing into other genres, Doin' My Thing does stick with his most natural theme -- country.
"Growing up doing country things -- outdoor stuff, farming, riding in your trucks and stuff like that -- that's what I grew up doing," he explained. "Any time I've tried to write a song that sounded like I was anything but that, you could tell I wasn't being true. So I said heck with it, and I'm just going to sing about what I know."
"Rain Is a Good Thing" shows his country devotion as he gives thanks to the sky for making the corn grow that in turn creates the whiskey and, of course, will ultimately render his woman frisky. He defines country in "What Country Is" with such scenarios as a house fly swimming in his sweet tea and teenagers stealing a Boone's Farm kiss.
Even "Welcome to the Farm" is a nod to the countryside as he escapes the city life to roll down his windows and breathe in the rustic air. He continues his rural ride with "Chuggin' Along" and finally has to call his buddies to help him free his truck from the mud in "I Did it Again."
"I think when a great songwriter has been a country fan forever, it's kind of in their soul, and whatever they say kind of comes out country however they write their song," Bryan said. "That's my inspiration -- trying to speak to a people. I want people to hear my songs and be like, 'Yeah, that guy is just like me.'"
Aside from the excitement of releasing his new album, Bryan will also be embarking on his first headlining tour at the end of this month. He's already spent the last three years learning, observing and opening shows for country heavy-hitters like Kenny Chesney, Brooks & Dunn, Dierks Bentley and, most recently, Trace Adkins. But now, he's ready to take the plunge by himself.
"There's probably a lot of people moving to Nashville right now that would give anything in the world to be where I'm at now," he said. "But now that I'm here, I want to be somewhere else.
"I've been blessed and lucky and so many great things have happened to me. But would I want it to end, or would I want to say this is enough? Nah, I want to keep going and make it each year -- get bigger and bigger and achieve all the dreams that I had envisioned when I moved to town."