Lyft driver Aliyah correctly guessed Dustin Lynch’s eye color upon her first listen of songs from his fourth album, Tullahoma. Since she’s not much of a country fan, she had never had the opportunity to hear Lynch before the drive to Sounds Like Nashville’s interview with him at BMG’s local headquarters.
“He sounds like he has blue eyes,” she said as “Little Town Livin'” played. She had some opinions of his raps on the song. However, she raved about “Ridin’ Roads.” She didn’t know that yours truly was about to sit down and chat with him.
That’s what happens when someone relatively new to country music is introduced to Lynch’s songs. His signature, country gentleman sound leaves a lasting impression that’s abundant in accessible themes about home and heart with a timeless edge that embodies the best in pop’s evolution.
His voice has never sounded better than on Tullahoma. He sounds confident and more focused on leaving a legacy that his legendary predecessors would want to know.
Upon arrival, Lynch was seated at a conference room table with a couple of staffers from the publicity firm who represents him. His lunch, a healthy takeout salad, sat untouched due to a 16-hour day that included a stretch of nonstop interviews to promote Tullahoma. The best part of his day was having a Dickel Drop with CMT’s Cody Alan earlier in the afternoon. For those who are unaware of the concoction, a Dickel Drop is George Dickel Tennessee Whisky with Sun Drop, and he admits it’s the most Tullahoma thing about him. He chased down the experience with an Americano midway through this conversation.
At press, Lynch is seven No. 1s, eight Top 10s, three platinum-certified hits, three gold-selling singles and multiple tours completed into a career that pretty much started when he picked up his first guitar at 14 years old. A gift from his father, the instrument was a scaled-down version of his dad’s acoustic. However, Lynch mastered the instrument by playing his father’s guitar. No one in his family pursued music professionally before him. The first song he remembers performing with confidence was Randy Travis’ “Forever and Ever, Amen” for his parents.
“I don’t know why [my dad] didn’t keep it up,” Lynch said. “But I did, and here I am.”
Going into recording Tullahoma with producer Zach Crowell, Lynch didn’t necessarily set out to make an album about his hometown. Co-writing six of the collection’s 11 songs, he wanted to create music people can’t live without while keeping a fictional character of a small-town boy in mind. The result embraces the traditionalism established on his 2012, self-titled debut that featured his breakout hit, “Cowboys and Angels,” while pushing his sleek, modern country production into a new decade. Known for his irresistible love songs, Lynch doesn’t disappoint with the fun-loving “Good Girl,” “Red Dirt, Blue Eyes,” “Country Star,” “Workin’ on You,” “The World Ain’t Yours and Mine” and his latest No. 1 “Ridin’ Roads.” All wax lyrical about falling in love in the country and illustrate passion in pastoral settings. He kicks off the album with “Momma’s House,” an arena-ready, breakup anthem about fighting the urge to ignite his small town on fire in the wake of a relationship gone wrong. He glorifies finding solace in the dirt roads that raised him in “Dirt Road.” “Old Country Song,” an original by Josh Miller, Bryan Simpson and Josh Jenkins, has Lynch counting his blessings over a driving acoustic melody that provides a “Fishing in the Dark” satisfaction.
Additionally, Lynch has incredible taste in duet partners. For his second collaboration following Current Mood’s “Love Me or Leave Me Alone” with Karen Fairchild, Lauren Alaina lends her powerhouse vocals on Tullahoma’s “Thinkin’ ‘Bout You.” Right now, he’d be honored if the Alaina collaboration became a karaoke standard like Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock’s “Picture.” The two were tour mates in 2018 with Cole Swindell, and there was a moment when they sang together every night.
“It was just fun becoming a character with her onstage,” Lynch recalled. “It was that moment when I realized the texture of our voices really works well together. I set out to do a legit duet on this album if we found the song. And the way we did that with ‘Thinkin’ About You’ is we made it a fun conversation between two people after the chorus. It all came together perfectly, and Lauren was at the top of our list because of our history touring together. She absolutely knocked it out of the park. She really did. She could do anything. For her to hit the notes she’s hitting in that song is amazing.”
Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson, David Garcia, Ashley Gorley, Luke Laird, Corey Crowder, Florida Georgia Line’s Brian Kelley, Old Dominion’s Matt Ramsey and the late producer, busbee, are among the hit-makers who contributed work to Tullahoma.
“Every lyric and song idea we approached to write, or we were asking the town to write for us and send us, it was all about this small-town guy,” Lynch said. “Would he play it for his girl? Would she like it? I think that’s how we ended up with the concept of my hometown, Tullahoma. That’s never been the case in the past. Before this album, it’s been, ‘Let’s try to write great songs, find ones we like and record them.’ This was more dialed in from day one.”
Another goal for the album was to sing songs that are accessible and easy to sing along to live. “For me, it’s a lot more believable and a little more conversational when you’re not having to belt,” he said. “What I’ve learned about touring is people love to be part of the show, more so than watch a show. That’s all my crowds continue to do is be part of the songs. I think this album lends itself to some moments when they can forget we’re onstage.”
Tullahoma takes more of a deep dive into material that exalts life at home because his art is beginning to mimic a more settled life. Lynch has a girlfriend, Kelli Seymour. He is a new farm owner with his first acreage where he plans on restoring the land to its natural environment after its previous owner, a logging company, decimated the land. Longtime members of his road crew are starting families of their own, too.
“Love and home became some of my favorite subjects to sing about after I realized that’s what I was longing to get back to,” he said. “It’s what gets me through all the travels, the touring and tough times. I don’t know if that’s part of me growing up, or if my band and crew guys are growing up faster than me, as well. We started out as a group of single guys, and now we’ve got kids running around everywhere while we’re on tour. There’s a sense of urgency to get home now that wasn’t there when we first started. And for myself, I used to be cool with just being a nomad.
“I would always tell my friends, ‘Why would I come home? What am I going to do there when I could go explore somewhere new?’ Now, there’s a sense of wanting to get back to a bit of normalcy and concrete things. There are faces I look forward to seeing. As my niece and nephew get older, they’re becoming a lot cooler to hang out with, and it has a lot to do with that. And it’s also being able to have a place I’m proud to get home to, that place being my house and my farm.”
Lynch agreed after a lifetime of touring rural places like Tullahoma, he thinks Music Row often forgets that outside Davidson County lines, the world is made up of small towns. He always hopes that people from those places recognize themselves in his music. It’s his ultimate goal as someone who treats country music like an heirloom that’s meant to be passed down through the generations.
“I think really what solidified that was my induction into the Grand Ole Opry,” Lynch said of his 2018 induction. “Seeing your name on the wall with legit pioneers of this genre, it’s crazy to be included in that family. And I do. It’s something important now that I’ve been here long enough to have artists coming up to me in Nashville or at Whiskey Jam, saying they moved to town because of one of my songs. I was the same way. I’ve got my artists who inspired me to pick up a guitar, inspired me to move to Nashville and chase this crazy dream. It’s really fulfilling to hear that from others who are moving to town. I forget that I’ve had songs on the radio for seven or eight years.”
When asked whether he’s satisfied with his first decade in music, he said, “Absolutely. In the past decade of music, I’ve figured out who I am and the direction I want to go. I am very confident in that direction. This album is the first step in that direction.”
As for the folks he thinks about the most while on the road, they are his family, girlfriend and friends. “Mom, dad, niece, nephew, my sister, and brother-in-law, that’s probably the home base,” he said. “I miss my friends, too. I miss hanging out and doing life with them. I take the days we do have together for granted. It’s more often in the summertime because we can hang out during the day on the water. What I look forward to the most is seeing that close group of friends, and really, that group of friends is who I run all my music by anyways. This sounds weird in a way, but I miss my farm. I miss my animals.”
The new farm doesn’t have a name yet, but he’ll geek out on nature any chance he gets. An avid outdoorsman and active steward of the land, he earned his biology degree from Nashville’s Lipscomb University.
“Right now, we just planted oak trees, a lot of clover and soybeans,” he said. “I hope to have my own line of honey out there … I’m a plant and an animal nerd. I’m growing turkey and deer. What I love about the process is I’m trying to rejuvenate this piece of property from absolutely useless trash trees that are not native to Tennessee. They offer no nutritional value to the animals.
“I’m an outdoorsman, so I love to hunt, but I also spend most of my time figuring out a way to feed and grow my deer and turkey populations. It’s so nerdy. I’ve learned so much about the forest, plants, how to plant, farming, all the livestock around me and how they affect my farm. It’s been great.”
The only rule to hunt on Lynch’s property is he must go on the trip. No guests are allowed without his permission and presence.
“They’ve got to be with me for sure, and I don’t know if I have any more rules,” he said. “Right now, it’s got to be a mature deer, which is a five-year-old. And a fun fact about mature five-year-old deer: one out of 100 bucks makes it to five years old in the wild. That’s just how harsh the wilderness is on animals. It takes 100 deer to make one five year old buck. It’s crazy. Lots of things like to eat deer.”
Fresh off headlining a sold-out concert at Nashville’s Marathon Music Works on Tullahoma’s release date (Jan. 17), Lynch will launch the Stay Country 2020 Tour Jan. 30 in Detroit, Mich., with Travis Denning. Tickets are available now, and a portion of each sale will benefit Lynch’s The Cowboys and Angels Fund through The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee to support various philanthropic causes, including an intentional focus on children’s charities. For a complete list of dates and ticket information, please visit Lynch’s website.