Luke Bryan is celebrating. “I just had a shot of whiskey,” he tells Rolling Stone Country backstage at the CMT Awards, shortly after winning Male Video of the Year for “Play It Again” and delivering an unapologetically Luke-esque version of his new single, “Kick the Dust Up.”
“When I was in grade school, I won an award for most improved,” Bryan says. “I was the kid who started out the dumbest, and ended up most improved. I was excited about that, and I was excited about winning an award tonight. Except I don’t think I started dumb — I started clueless, because I didn’t think I would win.”
Maybe because Bryan is already in the headspace for his fifth studio album, Kill the Lights, out on August 7th, of which he jokes, “We spent a lot of money making, which will really make it no better or worse.”
But fans can expect more twang from the hip-shaker this go-around. “It’s country-er than Crash My Party,” he says. “‘Kick the Dust Up’ is a big ol’ fun stadium, uptempo [song], but after that we have some neat stuff, with a lot of depth. Are there songs that show more maturity? Certainly. Are there songs that don’t? Certainly.”
No one would expect, at this point, for Bryan to drop those party anthems he’s become known for, but he promises that some new songs will “resonate like ‘Drink a Beer,'” and show growth in one specific area: his voice.
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“I’ve never made an album when I haven’t done 100, 120 shows a year,” he explains, “so I would come in from this album, and my voice would be completely where I wanted it to be vocally. Every time I was in the studio, I was in the best voice I have ever been in the studio. So I am excited for people to hopefully hear growth vocally.”
One thing, however, that will be missing on Kill the Lights — any songs from “Drink a Beer” co-writer Chris Stapleton, who is currently focused on his dynamite new LP, Traveller.
“If I could hijack Stapleton’s world for two weeks and write 10 songs with him, I would,” Bryan says, “but Stapleton is out where I want him to be, doing what he needs to do to promote how wonderful he is. I’m a huge fan.”
Still, Bryan is happy to be the mainstream, radio-friendly star he is. “I’m a commercial country artist, and I want to be that,” says the singer, who headlines CMA Music Fest at LP Field tonight in Nashville.
Nor is he worried about the attacks lobbed his way about the genre-identity of country music, and whether or not it’s too pop, too bro or too anything.
“The scope of it has widened,” he says. “People want to go crazy and be mad. But let me tell you something: everywhere I go, people’s playlists — in 20 songs, there are 15 different genres. Whether they are tailgating, sitting out having a cigar on their patio, it’s just the deal. You can be mad about it, or not. Or you can go download an album, pick your favorite song and put it on your playlist. And let that be your story.”