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Florida Georgia Line: The Cover Story

Written by Dan Hyman
Florida Georgia Line: The Cover Story
Florida Georgia Line; Photo credit: Robby Klein

When you’ve been as wildly successful as Florida Georgia Line, and have multi-platinum singles, chart-topping albums, sold-out arena tours and a name-brand bar-restaurant just off Nashville’s famed Broadway to your name, you start to learn to take the chatter surrounding your band for what it’s worth. “Because people are either gonna say good stuff or bad stuff, but regardless, they’re gonna be talking,” FGL’s Tyler Hubbard says with a laugh of the constant opinions that have long swirled around him and bandmate Brian Kelley.

Yes, now seven years into a monumentally successful career, Florida Georgia Line have realized the best recipe for self-satisfaction is to tune out the noise and create their own. “We really just want to continue to push the envelope for ourselves and elevate what we do,” Hubbard says of their never-ending desire for musical reinvention. “We want it to be fun for us because if it’s not fun for us it’s not going to be fun for the fans. We don’t want to get bored. That’s why I think we always try to continue and push and take chances and do things a little bit differently.”

For FGL, doing things differently has long been their lifeblood, and while they insist it’s almost subconscious at this point, their need to evolve has been a life force in becoming one of the most commercially successful country acts of their generation. Still, to hear them tell it, the two musicians insist it simply stems from their stubborn insistence on never getting too comfortable.

“We just really don’t want to create the same album twice,” Hubbard says matter-of-factly speaking not only to their latest effort, the 19-track LP Can’t Say I Ain’t Country — a roller coaster of a tour through a diversifying modern-day South— but also to their discography at large. “I think it just comes natural for us to evolve running our business the way we do and making the music the way that we make it.”

Florida Georgia Line; Photo courtesy of BMLG Records

Since they first arrived on the scene circa 2012 with their debut LP, Here’s to the Good Times, two brawny tank-top donning buddies delivering a dose of party-time flair with the omnipresent hit single “Cruise,” FGL have never played it safe. Specifically, it was their stubborn refusal to follow traditional country conventions, and instead collaborate with musicians across the musical spectrum, from Nelly (“Cruise” (Remix)) to Backstreet Boys (“God, Your Mama and Me”) that drew the most ire.

They insist, however, it was never calculated but rather the natural result of them having varied musical tastes. When it’s brought up that country and pop music have steadily coalesced together in today’s more diversified Nashville, and many of the collaborations that once yielded FGL flack are now regularly dominating the charts, Kelley says he’s hardly surprised. “Because music’s music and great music’s great music,” he says. “It’s nothing to be forced. We wouldn’t do it just to cross it off our bucket list. But if it’s a dream collab situation and the song’s there and everything checks off, hell yeah, we’ll run down that road for sure. Whatever that might be. But there’s no hurry to do that if it doesn’t hit your gut right.”

The beauty though of FGL is that despite their mega-watt success they continue to refine their craft. Case in point: while Can’t Say I Ain’t Country follows the gargantuan success of last year’s Grammy-nominated “Meant To Be,” been certified four-times platinum and having led the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart for a record 50 straights weeks, it’s without question the most straight-ahead country effort they’ve released to date.

“It does feel a lot more country than some of our other stuff,” Hubbard admits. “And we kind of did that intentionally.” And yet, in typically eclectic FGL fashion, just when slow-burning traditional country charmers like “Told You” and “Simple” lead you to believe you have the album pinned down, they blend in elements of R&B and hip-hop in nuanced and subtle ways on standout tracks such as “Talk You Out of It” and “Small Town.”

Credit: Florida Georgia Line; Photo credit: Robby Klein

As for the album’s bold title? While some might believe it’s FGL clapping back at those who’ve thrown flack at them over the years for supposedly bringing country music away from its traditionalist core, Hubbard says it’s more so a silly riff derived from the title track. “It does come across kind of as a bold statement. Especially before you hear the song,” Hubbard admits. “But when we wrote that song it was sort of a lighthearted fun approach on the way we grew up and the way a lot of our friends grew up and a lot of times how we still live our life. But we also knew that it would make people talk. We knew it would make people want to hear that song and this album.”

It’s hardly the only instance in recent times when FGL have acted boldly. This past December, Hubbard made headlines when he called out 34 fellow country artists to join him in supporting Toms’ “End Gun Violence Together” campaign in favor of universal background checks. In an interview shortly thereafter with Rolling Stone Country, Hubbard explained his position. “Whether it’s at a country bar or a country concert, every artist in our genre has been affected by gun violence directly or indirectly, and it’s something that really hits close to home and something that everybody wants to talk about, but doesn’t really know how to,” he said. “But there’s no better time than now.”

Hubbard now admits he received mixed negative feedback from fans as a result of his speaking out against gun violence. “I got a lot of support and a lot of encouragement and a lot of people were really thankful, but I also got a lot of backlash and a lot fear from a lot of people,” he says. “And it doesn’t really add up to me or make any sense, but that’s OK. I think the important part is that I’m speaking what I’m passionate about and I’m speaking my truth and, hopefully, in the world I’m making some sort of an impact.”

Ultimately says he’s confident that him speaking out, as well as how FGL carry themselves as musicians and people of the world, will show people, regardless of their political affiliation or stance on issues of gun-law reform, that they are genuine people.

“I think being vulnerable and being honest and being real and being transparent with everything we do translates,” he offers. “If something’s on our heart you’re probably going to hear about it. If we’re passionate about something you’re gonna know about it. I think that’s important and pretty vital when it comes to keeping a strong connection with our fans regardless of where we are or what we’re doing.”

For now, they’re preparing to connect with their fans in person when they head out for their Can’t Say I Ain’t Country Tour. Kicking off on June 13, the tour features an A-list crew of support acts including Dan + Shay, Morgan Wallen, Canaan Smith, and Hardy.

“The live show is huge for us,” Kelley says of their steely-eyed focused on delivering the sort of high-octane, spectacle of a live show of which they’ve become famous for. “That’s where we connect with our fans. That’s where we live out these songs with everybody. So it’s important that it’s authentic, it’s real, it looks good, it feels good. So it’s important, man. There’s a lot of people coming to these shows and they’ve got video cameras going; the world now has access to these shows. So we want to bring our A-plus game every damn time. That’s what the fans want and that’s what they deserve.”