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Interview: Dustin Lynch talks inspirations & ideas behind new album ‘Killed the Cowboy’

We recently declared Dustin Lynch’s new album, ‘Killed the Cowboy’ to be his best one since 2014’s ‘Where It’s At’. You can read that review right here if you missed it the first time around. It’s an album full of big melodies, drama and all the things that Lynch has come to be known for since his breakout hit, ‘Cowboys and Angels’ in 2012. However, there’s a little more personal reflection going on behind the scenes in Lynch’s life right now, as, at the age of 38, he ponders some of the bigger things. “It’s a boxing match inside of me, between living in the moment and enjoying where I am, versus what’s the best version of me five, 10, or 20 years down the road,” he explains. “What do I want to be? What do I want life to look like? Who do I want to be around? ‘Killed The Cowboy’ is that back-and-forth. It’s me asking myself, ‘Am I okay? Or am I weird for not having found my person yet?”

We were thrilled to catch up with him recently and talk all about the album and more.

Lovely to speak to you again, Dustin, thank you for giving up your time today. Congratulations on ‘Killed the Cowboy’

Thank you very much for your kind words. I’m always looking to get better and better and it’s good to hear that we hit the mark for you.

Before we get into the album, let’s dig into a couple of things, if that’s ok? You had such a big hit with ‘Thinking ‘Bout You’ in 2022. Do you ever feel the pressure to achieve that again or do you celebrate it for the unicorn that it was?

I’m very grateful when hits like that happen and you certainly can’t plan for them. There is a pressure, for sure, and a feeling that the next single has to compete with. We’re still seeing, out on tour, a real excitement for that song and so I’m still enjoying the glow and success of it and all I can hope is that we get another one at some point.

You’re having a lot of top 10 success with ‘Stars Like Confetti’ right now. It’s quite unique promoting a song from an ‘old’ album just as you release your new one!

It is. We couldn’t ask for better timing in terms of the success of that song and us going out on the ‘Killed the Cowboy’ tour. It’s a blessing. When you put out music you never know what’s going to happen: certain songs take off right away and others take a little time and you’re waiting around some before it hits. ‘Stars….’ is a big moment in our live show so it’s great to see it take off on the radio too.

It allows us to bounce straight into this next chapter of music right on the heels of ‘Stars Like Confetti.’ I’m not sure what we will follow it with, that’s the beauty of having this little window of time in terms of allowing ‘Stars…’ to let us see which songs from ‘Killed the Cowboy’ are resonating with people the most.

I spoke to both Justin Moore and Chase Rice this year and artists like those guys are your contemporaries, the guys you came up with. They have both released great albums this year and Moore, like yourself, continues to have consistent number ones rather than being someone who exploded on the scene and then faded. Do you see yourself in that same way?

That consistency has, obviously, been a goal. I’ve always wanted to build on that early success and we’ve seen our crowds grow since day 1 for sure. The rooms continue to grow and we’ve toured with the genre’s best too so I’ve been able to take what I’ve learned from those artists and put it into our tours. With the ‘Party Mode’ tour this past year I think we’ve found our sweet spot – the right mix of songs, the show and making it very interactive for the crowds too.

Country music has lurched a little bit back toward towards what it sounded like when you released your early albums in terms the grittier, more guitar-focused sound under the guidance of artists like Stapleton, Luke Combs and Lainey Wilson. Does that suit you more as an artist?

I think the genre has moved back a little towards sounding like it did when I first started, yes. As far as the fan base goes, we’re as wide open as we’ve ever been. We have a lot of fans from different places and spaces who are exploring the genre and finding other artists that they love. We’ve integrated a little Rock music into our live shows and that seems to have brought in some new people which means we’ve had the best year of touring in a long, long time.

The initial press for the ‘Killed the Cowboy’ album found you in a very reflective and honest place with regards to your personal life. What goals did you have in setting out to make this album?

I’m just trying to figure out where I am in life right now and paying attention to the conversation that I am having with myself. This ongoing battle of wanting to be a better musician and wanting to be a better person too. It left me thinking that if I didn’t have it all figured out in my personal life, what’s wrong with me, right?

It’s been an open process and what I’ve found out is that there are a lot of people out there just like me! I’m happy with my career and I’m confirmable with writing songs and who I want to be as an artist and the success we’ve had in that side of things but there remains that question mark in my mind as to why I’m still single. Is it ok to still be single after this long? There’s pressure from friends, family and even the industry that play into those doubts and questions and this new album was just me realising those things and being willing to talk about it.

My favourite songs of yours are the ones that bring drama. So, songs like ‘Helluva Night,’ ‘To the Sky’ and ‘Seein’ Red.’ The title track has that classic ‘Dustin Lynch’ drama to it – is that what drew you to it when you first heard the song?

It definitely did. I loved the title. It was from a group of writers that I trust and I love to work with. They wrote the song with me in mind as I wasn’t it town and then they sent it my way. I knew that I wanted a big, passionate moment for the show that wasn’t so much ‘horns-up rocking’ but it would hit hard and heavy in the live set and ‘Killed the Cowboy’ captured that and is a great way to encompass the songs on this project and a way to tie everything together.

I can see the visuals for the tour – there is just so much we can do with this song and concept.

‘Blue Lights’ is another big, dramatic, classic Dustin Lynch song too. I think Jameson Rodgers might have made a mistake by giving you that song!

(laughing) I’ve made him aware of that! It’s one of my favourite songs that he has ever written. He and I write a lot together but that’s another one of those songs that came in early on in the process that I knew I wanted to record. It’s quite a unique song in both the take and and the phrasing of it. Jamo is one of the best writers in town and his singing on the demo of that song gave me a framework from which to launch off from.

Talking of collaborators. Hunter Phelps has six co-writes on this album. What is it about him and his writing that you identify with so much?

He and I are, essentially, the same guy! (laughing) We’re the same dude. We like the same things, we eat the same things and we drink the same things! He’s lucked out, found a girl and had a baby but other than that, we are the same person. He’s going to be a ‘Hall of Fame’ songwriter and I want to continue to work with him for as long as I can. I’ve been lucky that I became friends with him and worked with him before it really took off.

‘Honky Tonk Heartbreaker’ puts a massive smile on my face every time I hear it. It’s a slightly different sound for you, a little bit lighter, a little 90s around the edges. Has it made it into your live set yet because it must be a fun track to play?

You nailed it! I think the same. That was a song that emerged in a unique way. It was right in the middle of deer hunting season and Hunter and I were due to write. I called him and was, like, ‘Dude, why are we writing today?’ (laughing) It was the prettiest day and I just wanted to be out in nature, you know? But that there is the reason why we do what we do and we chase the songs! The day when we could have easily taken a pass and not put in the hard yards, ‘Honky Tonk Heartbreaker’ comes out of it and it’s ended up being one of my favourite songs on the album.

There’s a lower Broadway, Nashville feel to it and the early days of my playing the honky tonks down there. Hunter got started down there too. I was playing Legends Corner and he was up at Tootsie’s so we were on different teams at that point but that song reminds us both of what it was like when we first started.

We haven’t played it yet because I’ve been waiting for the album to come out but we have been playing it in soundcheck, so we are dialled in and ready to go with it right now and I can’t wait!

The other song that really intrigues me from this project is ‘Long Way Home’, which has another, slightly different sound, for you and you use it to close down the album too.

I wanted to finish the album in a strong way and on a very positive note. It’s quite a Country-leaning song, which I love. It came out of the first batch of songs that we recorded for the project and it kinda came down to a tie-break between some songs that I couldn’t decide which to move forward with so I sent them out to a bunch of people I trust and asked them for their feedback. ‘Long Way Home’ got the majority of the votes and I think it made sense to finish the album with it.

The first time I heard ‘Chevrolet’ I was blown away by just what a clever idea it was to rework the iconic chorus of ‘Drift Away’. Tell me about the first time you heard that song.

I was taken aback, just like you! Then my second reaction was ‘And how did this get clearance with the original writers of ‘Drift Away’?’ (laughing) Did everybody involved in the original version OK this because if they did…………it’s mine! The original writers and publishers had heard it and they were really excited by it too.

There’s great songs on every album and then there are great moments and I think ‘Chevrolet’ is both for me and my career. Then the whole thing was heightened by getting a ‘yes’ from Jelly Roll on him appearing on it as well. Jelly was rocking it at the time we were recording the song but his rocket ship hadn’t quite taken off yet in the way that it has now. So, it’s absolute great timing to have him on this song with me now. We’ve spent time with each other before and we’ve partied hard together and now ‘Chevrolet’ gives us another reason to hang out!

We last saw you over here in 2019 at the C2C festival and you rocked that arena! People are still talking about your set even four years later. Is there a chance we might see you over in Europe again in this next phase of your career?

Without a doubt! We had such a great time over there and I was blown away, top to bottom, by the fan support. I didn’t get to hang out with you guys as much as I would have liked last time so I’d love to come back and get some hang time and soak up some culture. I’d like to make a big, long trip out of it and see all the things there is to see.

We planned to come back but tours have to line up way in advance and then the pandemic hit which meant we had previous obligations and shows to fulfil that were cancelled or delayed over those two years. Coming back is on our list and is an active target and bullseye that we keep trying to aim for. The stars will align one day.

You got your pilots license fairly recently. I listen to the Bobby Bones show each day and it’s so sweet how worried he is about you being up in the air. Your Instagram is also full of golf videos again too. So, are you a better pilot or golfer?

(laughing) I couldn’t believe how worried he was either! I’m a better pilot right now, for sure, although I have been practising my golf recently. I enjoy both. One of my favourite goals to achieve is to fly a small, five seater plane down to Florida with my golf bags in the back and play a round of golf and then come back in time for dinner. What a great day that would be! Maybe I could throw my fly rod in the back too?

It’s these little one day adventures that I’d love to do more of. That’s a type of freedom I haven’t had in the past but I can achieve now that I have a pilot’s license.

Check out Dustin Lynch’s ‘Killed the Cowboy’ album – which is out right now.

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