Interview: Florida Georgia Line Stay Real With ‘Dig Your Roots’
Florida Georgia Line have never had trouble connecting with their fans: Since their debut single, "Cruise," in 2012, they've earned hit song after hit song and two platinum albums. Both country radio and its listeners -- a large number of them, anyway -- have embraced their non-traditional style and fusion of country, pop and hip-hop. They've always been themselves (unabashedly so), but on their third studio album, Dig Your Roots, Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley says they're the most "real" they've ever been.
"There’s been long van rides where we’ve sat around and been like, ‘Dude, why are these people showing up to watch us play?’ We’re definitely not the best singers. 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," Hubbard recently told The Boot and other reporters. "One of the things I think we did nail, from back in the day, is just being transparent and being real. I think that’s who we are, almost to a fault, I guess, but our fans connect with that."
FGL have been writing songs for Dig Your Roots since even before the release of their sophomore album, 2014's Anything Goes; Hubbard estimates that they began with "about 75" songs. Having two-plus years of tunes to select from for the project made the process an arduous task.
"They kind of start to weed themselves out. I think once we get it down to about 20 songs, it really becomes difficult ... We just tried to narrow down the best songs that fit the record at this point, and the strongest songs that we feel like are in our power to choose, and that’s kind of what we do," he explains. "After we make the decision, we move forward and forget about the rest, and don’t let it eat us up."
Hubbard and Kelley wrote several of Dig Your Roots' 15 tracks, including its title track -- but they were unaware at the time that they were setting the tone for this disc.
"As we recorded this record, that song set itself apart, really encompassed the whole record into one song, if that’s even possible," Hubbard shares. "We just felt like it, from the beginning, stood out, as the title track. As we were searching for a tour name, it did the same thing ... There wasn’t a ton of thought that went into it, other than the fact that it was obvious for us as we were recording the record."
One of the things I think we did nail, from back in the day, is just being transparent and being real. I think that’s who we are, almost to a fault, I guess, but our fans connect with that.
Dig Your Roots includes collaborations with Tim McGraw, the Backstreet Boys and Ziggy Marley, and although the guys relished the opportunity to work with three of their own influences, they admit that there are other tracks that stand out as favorites.
"I think "Grow Old With Me" is a song that will probably never even be a single, but it was Hayley and my first dance at our wedding, and so that song obviously has a lot of meaning and will always have a lot of meaning. Even if it’s irrelevant 10 years from now, for us, it’s special," Hubbard notes. ""While He’s Still Around" is a really special song that BK sings, [which we wrote] after my dad passed and after his dad almost passed.
"There’s just a lot of depth to this record, and a lot of these songs really do have a special meaning," Hubbard adds. "It’s hard to pick just one, because they all carry their own weight, in a way, and their own purpose and reason for being on the record."
One song that both Hubbard and Kelley agree is a favorite is "Music Is Healing." Inspired by Kelley's "Music Is Healing" tattoo, FGL penned the track with Jordan Schmidt and Craig Wiseman while sitting in a treehouse.
"We were all out of ideas," Kelley recalls. "We were sorting through our notes, looking for titles and all that. I was like, ‘Maybe we should write "Music Is Healing," and then we dug in deeper: How could we write that song? We just chased it, and I think God was in the room that day.
"Music is healing; I think we can all attest to that. That’s why we’re all lovers of music," he continues. "It has so many forms of healing; it’s amazing."
The first single from Dig Your Roots, "H.O.L.Y.," became yet another No. 1 hit for Florida Georgia Line -- and quickly. Although it's a song that neither Hubbard nor Kelley had a hand in writing, they knew that it was destined to land on the charts.
"Sometimes a song just comes in, and when you’re in the studio, you just know. I think I would have personally been really shocked if it didn’t have a pretty good response," Hubbard admits. "But I really don’t think we were prepared for the response that we were getting. Every single night, live, when people just hear that we’re about to play "H.O.L.Y.," the place just erupts. We didn’t even feel that with "Cruise."
"To come out with a song and be out for a couple of months and to have the reaction it has is absolutely mind-blowing," he adds. "I don’t think we really were expecting it to be quite so huge."
After two albums of Hubbard singing lead and Kelley adding harmonies, a few of the tracks on Dig Your Roots give Kelley the opportunity to take lead vocal duties. While the change was "fun" for FGL, they made that decision for the sake of the songs themselves.
"There are some songs that just lend themselves to BK singing them. Obviously, some of the songs were really personal, and only BK could sing [them], and then some others just needed to have BK’s voice on it, bottom line. He sounded better and really, it just fit; it was organic, and it was perfect," Hubbard acknowledges. "Usually we always say, 'better is better.' That’s kind of our motto: Better is better. On some of these songs, it was definitely better to have BK singing lead."
Music is healing; I think we can all attest to that. That’s why we’re all lovers of music.
Although Dig Your Roots finds Kelley and Hubbard branching out from their previous two projects, the guys insist that they will continue to deliver music that their fans will enjoy.
"I still think this record is similar in a lot of ways to our first and second album -- that being, I think there’s something for everybody," Hubbard says. "I think there’s an emotion that can be struck with every song ... There’s a little bit of everything on this record, just like the last two records. But also I think it’s a little bit more mature, if you will.
"A lot has changed for us over the last five years: We’ve grown up a lot in our music," he concludes. "We try to be really transparent in our music, and I think our music evolves as quickly as our life does, and I think it’s important to continue to do that and be real with our fans -- not just try to record songs and record songs, but make sure they have some depth to them, make sure they have a purpose, and each song can have its own life."
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