They came from out of nowhere—or, more accurately, SiriusXM’s The Highway by way of Belmont University and Big Loud Shirt Music. But when “Cruise” started to react, sell, stream and YouTube, let alone be remixed with Nelly and land at #4 on the CHR chart, it was obvious Florida Georgia Line was a duo to be reckoned with. Working with Nickelback producer Joey Moi, the pair’s debut album Here’s to the Good Times (following two successful EPs) became the sixth-best-selling album of 2013 in all genres, as the categories-busting Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley blurred hip-hop, hard rock and mainstream country into a sound that launched a movement, which some derisively labeled “Bro Country.”

But FGL (on Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Label Group Records) is more than a fad or a movement; they’re a one-stop for music of all shapes and sizes. Their “Black Tears” was one of the heftiest tracks of Jason Aldean’s Night Train, while they took hard rockers Black Stone Cherry’s “Stay” to the top of the Country charts. They’ve collaborated with Tim McGraw, Ziggy Marley, Nelly, Dierks Bentley, the Cadillac Three, Sara Buxton and Luke Bryan on their albums, and the multiplatinum-selling, award-winning franchise is always looking to kick it up or blow out the jams.

On the heels of Dig Your Roots, their third album, FGL heads into the Academy of Country Music Awards with five nominations: Entertainer, Duo, Album, Event (“May We All” with Tim McGraw) and Single (“H.O.L.Y.”). Not bad for a couple guys who live to dream, rock and party—and bring an entire nation along for the ride.

If someone had told you when you were starting out, playing local clubs, that one day you’d have some of the biggest singles in country music and be heading to stadiums with the Backstreet Boys, would you have believed them?
TH: Absolutely not. BK and I had big dreams and thought there were big things in store. But this big? This fast? No. It’s been an amazing journey, and we’re so, so motivated to keep striving and pushing the boundaries. 

What did the dream look like back then? How big was it?
BK: Big was not only what we saw, but what we felt. We saw arenas, amphitheaters—and stadiums. We saw big parties. Our music was going to create an environment where people could come and forget about their troubles and worries, just hang out with the music and have a great night under the moonlight.
TH: Yeah, that’s what we saw. The first song Tyler and I wrote was acoustic, and it was definitely different than what we heard.

How so?
BK: Any time you write on acoustic with a worktape, it has a sound. The song was country rock, a little Southern rock kinda feel, but you can’t hear that. You know, what we hear in our heads and what’s there is not the same thing. Now we try to write with all these track guys. They open us up creatively in a lot of ways.

Is there a difference creatively in writing on acoustic instruments and working with guys who use tracks for you?
TH: It’s a totally different ballgame! The level of quality goes up to another level. There are so many different melodies and options, all these layers open up to you. You can take the songs to another place altogether. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

How quickly do you know if a song’s a hit?
TH: A verse and a chord. You can tell if it’s a hit or not. Then it’s just, don’t mess it up. Don’t write a shitty second verse.

What—to you guys—represents a better writer?
BK: I think a better writer is someone pushing themselves to write better songs. They’re pushing themselves to do something different.

You’ve worked with wicked ninjas like Craig Wiseman, who’s like a pinball machine lighting up, he’s so fast and creative. Do you ever work with slower, ruminative kind of writers?
BK: Every day, writing is a new song, a song vibe, a new story. Some days are a little pinball-fast, and some days are slower, like reeling in a fish.

Is there a song that you think really defines who you guys are?
TH: “H.O.L.Y.,” because it’s current, but it also takes us on a whole other journey. But more than taking us somewhere else, it takes our fans somewhere else. Seeing 15,000 people with their eyes closed, singing their hearts out—you don’t see that every day.

Was there a moment when you knew it was happening?
BK: Summer 2012. The Country Throwdown Tour. Every week, sales were going up. My parents were calling. Radio stations were playing “Cruise,” and we were starting to hear it. We were playing second in the day, but more and more fans were showing up. They were coming out early to see us. Then, signing a record deal and keeping the creative up, focusing on the songs that connect us with the fans.
TH: I think when we first could make music our business. Our life changed when we signed our publishing deal with Big Loud Shirt. We got $1,500 a month, and we didn’t have to wash cars or paint houses anymore. We could just concentrate on writing and playing.

You washed cars?
TH: I detailed cars for a living since I was 15. I had a business doing it. And sometimes I’d hire BK to help me. 

Did it teach you anything that helps you today?
TH: How to be real earthy—with a clean truck [laughs].

Okay, last time you had your truck washed?
TH: About three days ago.

BK: I washed mine a couple weeks ago.

You’ve had some of the biggest hits of the last ten years. “Cruise,” “Shine,” “This Is How We Roll” and “Stay” are massive. What songs most hit your wheelhouse?
BK: Anything that’s real and feels just right without trying. Less is more. Things that are real rootsy. Slow, fast, party song, heartbreak. Whatever it is, if it’s real.

If you were on a desert island, what records are you taking?
BK: The Elvis gospel record. Bruno Mars’ latest. A Florida Georgia Line record, ’cause we’re gonna party on that island.

TH: Definitely the Bruno Mars, ‘cause I wanna dance, and a Florida Georgia Line record, so I can remember what we sound like.

You guys like to party, but you’re also pretty strong Christians. And that’s in your music too.
TH: We are big on ballads and life. Everything in moderation. Faith is a huge part of our life. It definitely impacts our life. And our fans know we’re believers. But musically, it’s about celebrating life.

BK: To be on a platform and tell people why we’re here, to be able to inform lives about faith on a larger platform, is what we do.

People do come to party. But you make sure you’re giving them—more…
BK: Putting a generic label on it—and it’s not a bad label. But our roots are in a lot of levels. “Dirt,” “H.O.L.Y.,” taking people to church. That’s all part of it.

TH: What I’ve noticed with people who come to the shows, they may say that, but they also know that there’s a lot more to it. People that don’t know that, well, they’re not our people.

You guys have been tagged with more labels than a NASCAR. Do you think people use labels—from Bro Country to party band—to dismiss you?
TH: I don’t even think about it. We know who we are, and who we’re going home to. We’re making music we feel good about, and we dismiss those people. 

BK: We really don’t care. We put a label on the labels, so we can dismiss them.

Do you feel like outsiders?
TH: I think people like to root for the underdog. Whatever makes you root for someone, that’s what it’s all about.

There’s nothing outsider about pulling in some very big names to play stadiums. I mean, Backstreet Boys and Nelly? Does it get any bigger?
TH: We’re big-ass dreamers.
BK: With a whole lot of influences.

TH: We’re all about putting together something like that. It’s how we roll, and how our fans roll.

BK: Our fans are music lovers in general, and they’ll be able to get their fix on a lot of different kinds of stuff. And music lovers in general can come out, and get all that music—whatever they like—’cause it’s a bunch of hits, a bunch of really big hits. And we’re all a bunch of buddies, playing a bunch of songs, so it’ll have a really good vibe.

Is it crazy playing stadiums?
TH: I dreamed of playing baseball at a stadium, but that didn’t work out. So yeah, it blows my mind to think I’m playing that stadium. But it’s music.

Or is it crazier going out there with the Backstreet Boys?
BK: We’ve done enough with Backstreet to know they’re awesome guys who’re passionate about their music and what they do. You know, they attract all different age groups and ethnicities—and it all meshes together under one roof: life. We’re all driven. We’re all about music. We’re all about the fans.

So you’re looking forward to this multi-genre, multigenerational tour.
TH: There’s always a cool camaraderie among artists. We all lead the same kind of life, know the same stories and have the same kind of experiences, so there’s always the potential friendship. But with these guys, the friendships have been building over the last few years. So we’re going out with friends.

And what do you have in common musically?
BK: I think we’ve all been part of a lot of big hits across different genres. That’s what all of us—us, Nelly, Backstreet—do. And it’s hard to put a label on the music, because it stretches across so many kinds of music. But whatever you call it, they’re some of our biggest hits from the last several years. 

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