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Brian Kelley Florida Georgia Line interview

BK talks about the personal themes of Dig Your Roots and more.

Florida Georgia Line
Credit: Ryan Smith

Florida Georgia Line – Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley – are one of the biggest acts in modern Country music.

With 3 number one albums and a string of number one singles including recent release H.O.L.Y, the duo have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with. Florida Georgia Line recently released their third album Dig Your Roots and they’re currently on the road in the US on their epic tour of the same name.

I caught up with Brian from the band to find our more about Dig Your Roots, talk about him taking lead on more songs, and to find out if the tour is planning to visit the UK in 2017.

Dig Your Roots feels like a purposely-themed record. How did you come up with the concept for it?

This record took probably over a year to make and a couple of years to write. I think it’s a reflection as much as it’s a celebration. It’s a look back at who has gotten us here, how we got here and being thankful for the present and planning for the future. We wrote the song Dig Your Roots somewhere in that process, and it didn’t become the album title track until towards the end when it all started making sense.

The Backstreet Boys collaboration came in last minute and we knew we had Ziggy Marley and Tim McGraw, and all the while we are digging our roots thematically, sonically and especially when it comes to our influences. We’ve always loved reggae and Tim McGraw is one of our hugest inspirations, he’s a legend and someone we’ve always looked up to. Backstreet Boys were my first concert and they were Tyler’s first CD.

We just wanted to be real with everybody, not worry about labels and not worry about anything but putting out the best music we can. There’s a lot of themes we wanted to hit. We’ve grown up a lot, we’ve learned a lot, we’ve gained a lot of knowledge and we’re very thankful to be where we’re at. Songs like While He’s Still Around, Lifer, Grow Old and Music Is Healing are ones as men we just have to get out (laughs).

The album feels very personal and it’s deeper than your previous releases. Was it a conscious effort to do something more mature this time?

For sure. We don’t ever want to make the same record so I think it was definitely a conscious decision to do things different, for me to sing a little more lead and to do more collaborations. On some songs production wise less is more and I think that’s really cool. There are songs that sound a little different but they couldn’t be more Florida Georgia Line or more me and Tyler. We had a blast making this record, we really did. It took a lot out of us in a good way, I mean that. We really put everything we had into this album and I think it comes across.

The thing that struck me about Dig Your Roots is that the album is musically very varied and it pushes the boundaries of what some people would label ‘traditional country’. Were you keen to disregard what’s expected and just craft sounds that represent what you can bring to the table?

Absolutely. I think we’re more concerned with pleasing ourselves and pleasing our fans. In doing that, that’s just being real, being creative as we can be and playing on our influences. I think writing where you’re at, being transparent and just being real…we’re creators and we’re songwriters at heart, so we’re always thinking what next and what fits in with where we’re heading. We always want to push the limit and push the boundaries, and more importantly just find our road and our lane and just stay in it. We’re not trying to hop in anyone else’s lane; we don’t do that!

You mentioned earlier that you take more of a lead on this record. Your voice brings a different dimension to the Florida Georgia Line sound that’s a little more soulful and leaning towards R&B. Tell us more about the tracks you sing lead on.

I’ve got four of five songs that I sing lead on; Island, While He’s Still Around, Heatwave and a verse on Dig Your Roots. It just kind of came on a song-by-song basis. We knew we were looking for a couple of songs that I could do leads on but really it came down to what sounded the best, and the same for Tyler. That’s how we always worked, using our voices to our strengths. Some of these songs just felt like they were my voice and others were Tyler’s voice. We had a blast with Tyler singing harmonies and I think like you said, it gives us a fresh sound and it’s something different for our fans.

We want to continue to push this thing forward and hopefully it surprises some people and answers some questions. I had a blast singing lead and we really worked hard on this thing. Joey (Moi) our producer, myself and Tyler really pushed our voices as far as we could, singing all the different harmonies. That’s not the easiest thing. When it comes to singing lead I think it comes down to really learning the song, understanding it and digging the heart of it. I think it makes you a better singer when you get the heart and the issue of the song across. We’ve lived all of those songs so I think that’s what makes it easy to sing in terms of realness.

Florida Georgia Line

Credit: Big Machine

Dig Your Roots feels incredibly well sequenced and there isn’t a single track you want to skip. Was it hard to select only 15 songs to put on the final record?

Man, I wish we could have put 30 on there! (laughs) These 15 just really stood out. We wrote a ton of songs the past couple of years and has some other cuts from other artists, but these 15 really sounded like a complete work of art. I remember writing the sequencing out on a flight somewhere. I put the order down and said ‘hey guys, are you cool with this?’ everybody looked at it, listened to it mentally and said ‘yeah, that’s perfect.’ We did think about it (the sequencing) and wanted it to be an experience. We put all of those songs on there and in that order for a reason so it’s definitely an experience and not just something that passes by y’know? I think you can definitely get to the heart of the record by doing it in order.

Life is a Honeymoon is such a summer jam. How did the collaboration with Ziggy come about?

We wrote this song with our good buddy Jordan Schmidt and Cary Barlowe. We knew we were going to cut it the day we wrote it; it just felt like Florida Georgia Line and like record three. We were kinda done with the track and we decided to make it just full on reggae. Sometimes you can dance around it and just put little elements on it but there’s no fooling anyone – that’s a reggae track and that’s how we wanted to do it. We’ve always loved reggae and it’s influenced Sun Daze and other songs we’ve done, and we love the Marley family. For us we were just dreaming big and going for it. Our management just reached out to his managers and sent him the song and he loved it. Unfortunately we didn’t get to work together in the studio because we were so busy but he sent his parts back and his voice brings so much authenticity to the track. It really brings a stamp of approval. His words are magic, they’re powerful and they’re beautiful. It’s a surreal experience for Tyler and I to listen to that song and have a Marley voice and soul on it.

Dig Your Roots’ lead single H.O.L.Y. has been another huge number 1 hit for you. Are you still surprised by your success and the passion your fans have for your music?

Kinda. Our fans continue to keep blowing our minds. It’s absolutely crazy. Just when we think things can’t get any better, we release a song like H.O.L.Y. and it connects us to our fans on a very, very special level. It’s a really cool moment in our set when we’re all connected on the same frequency. You look out and you see people with their hands raised, you see people kissing,you see people crying, people connecting in their element and doing their thing in the present moment. That’s a very powerful thing for us. They’re screaming the words back to us and it’s a good feeling. It’s a good feeling of acceptance, it shows their loyalty and it’s something that keeps us on the road, keeps us coming back for more, keeps us writing, keeps us working harder and I think it makes us better.

It must have been hard to choose a lead single from this record because all of them are potential hits. Did you always know H.O.L.Y. would be the single to launch with?

H.O.L.Y. just felt like the one and it felt like a no brainer. We felt that we just had to get it out. I don’t think it would have been as powerful had we just released it on the record. I think it needed to be first and I think it made a bolder statement.

You’re in the midst of your extensive North American Dig Your Roots tour. How’s that experience been for you so far?

It’s been a blast! It’s been an amazing, amazing tour. I think our production has been the best it’s ever been. We’ve got more people showing up than ever and the party is getting more and more amazing every night. We’ve got Kane Brown, Cole Swindell and Cadillac Three touring with us. They’re doing an amazing job of getting everybody pumped up and ready. We’re getting a lot of sell-outs and we’re just thankful man. I really do feel like our fans have stepped it up this year and I don’t know how that’s possible. The intensity they’re bringing is making us step our game up and we feed off that so it’s a very special tour for us. I think it’s the best tour we’ve been on.

Will you be bringing the tour over to the UK in 2017?

Man we’re praying, absolutely that would be amazing. I think that’s definitely part of the plan. We’re trying to get back over as soon as we can. We love the UK and had a blast last time. It was short but sweet. We’re definitely looking forward to it, no doubt!

Florida Georgia Line’s latest album Dig Your Roots is available now. Watch the music video for May We All below:

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