“This is my tip-of-the-hat to Beyoncé,” jokes Dustin Lynch to Rolling Stone Country about “Halo,” a track that appears on the ten-gallon Tennessean’s long-awaited sophomore album, Where It’s At, out today. While Lynch and the Queen Bee may not seem to share much beyond song titles, the reference is indicative of a new era for the singer, who pulls inspiration from George Strait as much as pop Top 40 in his new 15-song collection.
“I’ve experienced more in the past three years between albums than I have in my whole life,” says Lynch. “That’s a great thing for a writer.”
Indeed, Lynch has been crisscrossing the country (most recently on tour with Keith Urban) since the release of his 2012 self-titled debut LP, which saw a breakout hit with the heartstring-tugging “Cowboys and Angels.” When it came time to introduce a single from Where It’s At this past March, Lynch decided to skip the predictable ballad route and go with title track — with its subtle hip-hop beats laced together by classic country strums, the song’s a pretty accurate roadmap of the album as a whole. “‘Where It’s At’ is very unique for me,” he says. “It’s all a mash-up.”
Produced by Mickey Jack Cones, Brett Beavers and Luke Wooten, Where It’s At is a mash-up, too, all centered by Lynch’s diverse palate and his smooth, vintage-Nashville vocals. From the acid riffs of “To The Sky,” to the sweetly acoustic “Your Daddy’s Boots” to the twangy piano ballad of “Middle of Nowhere,” Lynch is as interested in preserving traditional country touches as he is flirting with cutting-edge production tricks or beats more commonplace on an adult contemporary rock radio.
Lynch owes this in part to an evolving country landscape that allows him to play in the studio and drop the rulebook. “The country format has evolved so quickly,” he says. “A couple songs on the first album were pretty progressive with our use of programmed drums, but they now sound pretty dated.” On Where It’s At, Lynch fires right out of the gate with the opening track, “Hell of a Night,” lest you wonder where he’s going: the first notes of the record are swirled in a near-metal thrash of the guitar, not a sweet pedal steel vamp. But lest you forget where he’s from, the album closes with an “amen” on the tender ballad “American Prayer.”
“We’re in a spot in country much where we can go out and grab new fans. With Taylor Swift and Florida Georgia Line introducing people to country music — maybe those people will come to a country festival and have the time of their life. We can grab people that are on the fence, dipping a toe into the water. We can bring them all the way in.”
As much as Lynch might play across genres, it’s clear where his roots lie — which is why he’ll never ditch that signature Resistol hat for something a little more modern.
“I rock the look I rock because when I got into country music, Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks and George Strait were my guys,” he says. “It’s why I stole my dad’s cowboy hat when I was five. I was dressing up to be like them. They were my heroes. People always ask me if I’m ever going to lose the hat and the answer is ‘no.’ If my hat falls of on stage, I feel so naked.”
He laughs, adding mischievously, “I’d much rather it be my shirt or my pants than my hat.”