By Scott T. Sterling
Ever since the term “bro-country” hit music vernacular, Nashville duo Florida Georgia Line have been considered one of its primary proponents. Scoring legions of fans through a steady diet of feel-good songs celebrating the simple life of big trucks, hot women and cold beer in the wide open spaces of rural America, the band would strike gold with 2012 single, “Cruise.”
The very definition of a feel-good party hit, “Cruise” gained even more traction thanks to a savvy remix featuring rapper Nelly, crossing the song and well as the band to an even wider mainstream audience, helping pave the way for country’s current impact on pop and even rock charts and playlists.
Instead of riding the bro-country wave of success into more party anthems, FGL threw country music fans a curve ball with “Dirt,” the first single from the band’s sophomore album, the aptly-titled Anything Goes. “Dirt” has now been nominated for Single of the Year at the 50th Academy of Country Music Awards.
Instead of more babes in bikinis and bad-boy antics, the surprisingly earnest song delivered a heartfelt look at life from the cradle to the grave, taking an existential view of dirt as a metaphor for the time spent in between the two: “You know you came from it (dirt)/And some day you’ll return to this….”
“‘Dirt’ is one of those songs…it’s such a great song. It’s that kind of song that from the time I moved to Nashville (was) to try to write that kind of song,” explains one-half of Florida Georgia Line, Brian Kelley during a recent interview with Radio.com. “We’re inspired by that kind of song. That’s why we moved with all our dreams, packed our stuff up and tried to make it writing songs.
“That [song] came across on tour,” Kelley continues. “Our manager was out with us, and he said, ‘hey guys, I’ve got to play this new song that [noted songwriters] Rodney [Clawson] and Chris [Tompkins] turned in called ‘Dirt.” We got to the end of the chorus, and chill-bump city is what we call it. Just an incredible written song from start to finish. There’s nothing that we would’ve changed about it. Just very blessed that we got to record it. It somehow ended up in our hands.”
The band stresses that the sentiment of the song is less of a change-up and more a genuine reflection of who they are as artists.
“People say, ‘Hey, is that a departure from y’all’s sound?’ And really no, we’re just kind of letting everybody in on really who we are and where we’ve come from,” Kelley adds. “It’s more a return, really, than anything. A lot of our early 2008-2010 demos and songs we were writing were kind of in that vein. It’s cool to let everybody in on who we are and where we come from. We’re country to the core, but we like to incorporate our influences and have a good time, keep it fresh. It’s that FGL sound. That’s who we are.”
Asked about the architecture of “that FGL sound” present on “Dirt,” the band is quick to credit their longtime producer, Joey Moi, who’s worked with the duo since their second EP, It’z Just What We Do.
“We call him ‘the Wizard.” I mean, he really brings songs to life,” raves Tyler Hubbard, the band’s other half. “We’re very blessed to work with him. He really does capture that sound that we’re going for and knows how to bring it together tastefully.”
Watch this year’s ACM Awards airing April 19 at 8 p.m. EST on CBS.
Interview by Annie Reuter