"There's not a whole lot of church on here," says Dustin Lynch, sitting in a Nashville studio and flipping through his forthcoming third album, Current Mood, on a laptop. He's just finished playing a track called "Back on It" that he jokingly refers to as "the cocaine song" – where love is the drug he's hooked on, not lines of blow. And even though the lyric is "baby, I ain't never done cocaine" (emphasis on "never"), a few eyebrows in the room still rise when those words ring out, since it's now pretty clear: the cowboy-hatted singer who made his entrance with "Cowboys and Angels" in 2012 is intent on getting a little devilish these days.
"I think that song will piss off a lot of people, I really do," Lynch says, today sporting a baseball hat in place of his signature 10-gallon. "But the album is just real, and it's me. It makes me feel something and makes me want to feel something with someone else. And I didn't set out to make a record for a certain type of country music fan. I just set out to make the best possible album I could, and that's what every song reflects."
After experimenting with more pop and rock-forward sounds like programmed drums and heavy guitars on his second album, Where It's At, Lynch started slowly and deliberately compiling the material for Current Mood, eventually enlisting five producers to work on the 13 tracks in different studios and from different perspectives. Part of this was a necessity – touring nonstop, often supporting Luke Bryan, Lynch had to mold to a new recording lifestyle that didn't have him in one place at a time for luxuriously long stretches. And part of this was tapping into a sort of natural flow that kept things both centered and spontaneous.
"There wasn't really a moment where I went, 'OK, I want to do this type of record,'" Lynch says. "It came organically. Each song was a moment of passion between myself and whatever producer we recorded it with. Every song came together slowly and with purpose."
Those producers – Brent Anderson, Mickey Jack Cones, Ross Copperman, Zach Crowell and Will Weatherly – all worked separately on Current Mood's palette, which is mostly, as Lynch puts it, "party and sexy," with the exception of a few songs. Namely, "Love Me or Leave Me Alone," a gorgeous soulful country ballad that showcases Lynch's vocal range and skillful inflections: he played the track on the tour bus for Bryan and Little Big Town, and knew it hit the mark when they asked to hear it three or four times in a row, singing the chorus back to him. Little Big Town's Karen Fairchild eventually entered the studio to lend vocals to the track. Lynch says the album also has a "message song," about helping someone find their way out of an unhealthy relationship.
Beyond that, Current Mood is all about raising a glass or getting down between the sheets, mostly because that's where Lynch is in his life right now. He said it himself: he hasn't really been to church much lately, and he's been more inspired by cruising along the Pacific Ocean than just the prairies and fields of his home state of Tennessee. As he points out, he's one of the few single men on the country music charts. Many of his peers, like Thomas Rhett, are all married with kids – he refers to the children of his bandmates as "the best birth control there is." Lynch isn't singing about tying the knot or settling down – he's making music about lust, not just love.
"I wanted it to have this California, PCH [Pacific Coast Highway] vibe," he says. "I fell in love with that part of the world. A lot of these songs were inspired by trips up there, moments that happened there with a significant other."
Whatever happened with that person or any other lover wasn't exactly poetry, champagne and roses – Current Mood's romantic affairs are often more carnal than anything else, like the R&B-laced "Why We Call Each Other," which is basically about a late-night booty call. "State Lines," too, praises all-night embraces with a long-distance paramour, and "Seein' Red," the album's first single, details some backseat action with an even steamier music video. Musically, he's also no-strings-attached, flirting with genres: SoCal vamps, moody synths and a little Justin Bieber phrasing.
"This album sheds a light on relationships," Lynch says. "I try and be as open as I can be when it comes to my profession, but I like to keep a little bit of a private life off the road. This album peels back that privacy curtain a bit."
Current Mood boasts a wealth of party songs: "Here We Come" has "a game day, about to run on to the field vibe," courtesy of a massive Imagine Dragons-inspired chorus, that feels like it could indeed be the soundtrack to the NFL preseason. It's not exactly Lynch at his twangiest, but it shows he's willing to be playful, if not a little dangerous, when it comes to rewriting his own country script. And even though "Cowboys and Angels" gave some the impression that Lynch had traditionalist roots, his "favorite band ever" is actually Incubus: so he's also not scared to pull from that breed of California pop-punk, from the beats to the guitar solos that ring louder and crunchier than any banjo.
"I wanted it to really reflect where I have been the past three years," Lynch says of Current Mood. "Last album, there were songs that were just songs. Every single song on here, I lived through or felt over the course of those three years. The vision was be honest, be real and make sure all of these songs were something I really feel inside every time I sing them."
Lynch will be singing them on the road this fall as he launches his Ride or Die Tour, beginning in November in North Carolina. The headlining run, with Michael Ray, Lanco and Ryan Hurd, will allow him the chance to test the sultry material on his audience and hope they don't find it all too left-of-center. It's something he feels more confident about since playing the songs for – his parents. Apparently, Mom and Dad's current mood is in the mood.
"I was a little scared of these songs because I didn't know how many people could relate to them," he says. "But I played them for my parents and a friend who is married and they kind of lit up whenever certain lines would come around that I thought would be offensive to mom and dad. They were like, 'That's hot.'"
Current Mood is out September 8th via Broken Bow Records.
Here's Lynch's Ride or Die Tour dates:
November 3 - Fayetteville, NC @ Crown Coliseum *+
November 4 - Atlanta, GA @ Coca Cola Roxy Theatre *+
November 10- Oklahoma City, OK @ Diamond Ballroom +
November 11 - San Antonio, TX @ Cowboys Dancehall +
November 12 - Houston, TX @ House of Blues +
December 2 - New York, NY @ PlayStation Theater ^
December 3 - Philadelphia, PA @ The Fillmore ^
December 7 - Stockton, CA @ Bob Hope Theatre ^
December 8 - Los Angeles, CA @ The Novo ^
December 10 - Las Vegas, NV @ The Cosmopolitan ^
December 17 - Grand Rapids, MI @ 20 Monroe Live ^