Dustin Lynch decided to title his upcoming album Where It's At because, well, it's a pretty accurate snapshot of what his life looks like right now.
"It's where I am, as a person and an artist," he tells Rolling Stone Country in his smooth Tennessee drawl. "All the songs on the record are moments I've captured and put down. They were inspired by my excitement for life. So Where It's At sounds pretty perfect."
Also the name of his yep-yepping new single, Where It's At, when it's released on September 9th, will show a Dustin Lynch who's prepared to play with country's evolving genre lines but also pay due reverence to its past — and he gave Rolling Stone Country an exclusive first listen. Like the title track, which he describes as "a hodgepodge, with country guitar licks, a little hip-hop and a Motown guitar line," the new LP boasts a pretty broad sonic palate, with 15 songs that span the gamut from the mid-tempo "Halo" that melds his throaty twang with some synth-pop percussion, to the thrashing, moody "Hell of a Night," to the spiraling love song "Sing It to Me" that makes use of both programmed drums and steel guitar. Lynch refers to that one as "sexual chocolate" for its sultry groove — more music, less calories.
"I wanted it to have a little more energy than my first album," he says of 2012's Dustin Lynch, which contained the platinum single "Cowboys and Angels" but limited barn-burners. "There are a lot of moments where we really go for it energy-wise, with the live show in mind. I learned that from watching Keith Urban every night."
Indeed, Lynch has been on the road non-stop, touring behind the likes of Urban and Little Big Town. Writing was done along the way — sometimes alone, sometimes in Music Row workrooms, sometimes by jotting ideas down in his "hook book." But something happened that he hadn't anticipated: the first songs he presented to his label, Broken Bow, didn't go over as planned.
"I'd come in with the first batch and they really weren't over the moon about them," he says. "That hit me pretty hard, because I'd been writing really heavily and thought we had a good start. I gathered my thoughts, started slinging my bat and came back with this song. And the whole label was on fire. They just fell in love with it."
The song in question is "Daddy's Boots," a sweet ode to the moment a groom watches his new wife dancing with her father, realizing he has tough shoes to fill — it's a flip-perspective take on Heartland's "I Loved Her First," recorded acoustically, with one of Lynch's most artful vocal presentations yet. "I cannot wait for people to hear it," he says. "It's my favorite song I've ever written."
Another one, "She Wants a Cowboy," is designed to pay homage to his hero, George Strait, through an Eighties-esque string arrangement and retro finishes. "He's one of the guys that really made me fall in love with country music," he says. "We purposely did a throwback sound that we're really proud of. It's special to tip my hat to the guy who paved the way for all of us."
But on Where It's At, produced with Brett Beavers, Luke Wooten and Mickey Jack Cones, Lynch tips his trademark Resistol to references from across the musical spectrum. He loves Top 40 radio, works out to hip-hip and has albums from the 1975, Mutemath and the Neighbourhood all on frequent rotation — and whose sounds mingle with classic country touches on the new LP.
"Country music has changed so much since I recorded the first album," he says. "I love what we're trying to do in Nashville right now." Take "Middle of Nowhere," previewed below in an exclusive acoustic session for Rolling Stone Country, which brings a strong keyboard line to the pop-country ballad. It details life in the "friend zone," based on one cheeky night in Dallas.
"We were on the dance floor two-stepping," he says, "and this girl, I don't know who she was, kept flirting with me and taking my hat. I could not figure out what her intentions were. It reminded me of being in the friend zone, and I've been there before — not knowing what someone's intentions are."
So what happened with the girl? "I don’t know. I'm still in the middle of nowhere, looking for her!"
Dustin Lynch, Where It's At track listing:
"Hell of a Night" (Zach Crowell, Adam Sanders, Jaron Boyer)
"To the Sky" (Dustin Lynch, Ashley Gorley, Zach Crowell)
"Halo" (Ashley Gorley, Matt Jenkins, Jimmy Robbins)
"After Party" (Steve Bogard, Jonathan Edwards, Jason Sever)
"Where It’s At" (Cary Barlowe, Zach Crowell, Matt Jenkins)
"Mind Reader" (Rhett Akins, Ben Hayslip)
"Right Where We Want It" (Marv Green, Rhett Akins)
"She Wants a Cowboy" (Dustin Lynch, Tim Nichols, Josh Leo)
"World to Me" (Matt Rogers, Ash Bowers, Adam Craig)
"Sing It to Me (Dustin Lynch, Jimmy Robbins, Josh Osborne)
"All Night" (Matt Ramsey, Matt Jenkins, Trevor Rosen)
"Middle of Nowhere" (Dustin Lynch, Zach Crowell, Ashley Gorley)
"What You Wanna Hear" (Ben Hayslip, Rhett Akins, Ashley Gorley)
"Your Daddy’s Boots" (Dustin Lynch, Josh Leo, Tim Nichols)
"American Prayer" (Wendell Mobley, Marv Green, Jim Collins)