HomeEF CountryInterview: Brian Kelley on new music, C2C memories and 2024 plans

Interview: Brian Kelley on new music, C2C memories and 2024 plans

Brian Kelley may be best known to UK country fans as one half of Florida Georgia Line, the phenomenally successful duo who’ve racked up four number one albums, 18 Billboard top 5 hits and and a slew of award wins and nominations to boot.

However, now he’s carving his own musical path as a solo artist, releasing his debut album, ‘Sunshine State Of Mind’, back in 2021. He signed with Big Machine Records last year and is now working on a brand new project, including current US radio single ‘See You Next Summer’ (the acoustic version of which is out today) and ‘Dirt Cheap’ which he recently released to streaming platforms.

Whilst he was over in the UK this week to play at the Jags Country festival at Wembley Arena, I caught up with Brian to talk about his trip across the pond, his memories of playing at C2C back in 2015, his new music and what he’s got planned for next year.

Welcome back to the UK!

Thank you for having me. It’s really good to be back.

How have you found it so far? I know it’s a bit of a flying visit…

No, I love it. Brittney and I, my wife, we’ve had one of the best meals we’ve ever had last night. It was at Sparrow. Unbelievable, unbelievable. Yeah, we just love it here. The architecture, the people, just the energy of this place is special. It’s historic, and there’s pretty good shopping, you know? Hopefully going to add to my suitcase before we leave here.

But obviously the fans are great. When we circled through here in 2015 with FGL, it was just a great time, to see and hear and watch fans live our songs out with us. And I’m just excited to see the reaction to my solo stuff and to be here to represent myself and my family is extra special. I’m just so grateful to be included on such a special weekend, NFL here in the UK. I mean, that’s wild. It’s so big, such a big idea, a big moment. So I’m happy to be here.

You’ve mentioned coming over here for C2C back in 2015. Have you got any particular standout memories or highlights from that trip?

Yeah. I mean, you kind of hit five locations pretty quick. And here, London, we were here the longest, I wanna say two or three days. But it was awesome just to see people singing and shout back our songs, and just see new places, different landscapes, different cities, different types of people. It’s beautiful. It’s like… I want my eyeballs to see as much as I can, and it’s just really fun.

So I remember we went to Nobu, me and Brittney on a little date night. That was a blast [laughs]. That was a dang good time. But no, the people make the place. That’s what it’s all about. And so you just never forget the way that people look at you and the way that people talk to you and how they sound when they’re singing. Those feelings are forever.

You’ve been over in the UK this week to play at the Jags Country festival. For people who haven’t seen you live before, what is a typical Brian Kelley show like – if there is such a thing?

You know it’s honestly ever evolving. And I think that’s due to the music and due to continuing to push myself with songs, songwriting, vocally. Trying to create moments with each new song that’s added to the set. I wanna say that I try to bring a lot of energy and a lot of fun. Depending on the songs – I’m not gonna sing ‘Boat Names’ and run around on stage. But I wanna be intentional with every song and create great moments with every song. So there’s gonna be high energy, and there’s gonna be great energy that I hope you feel. Maybe it’s a slower song, but I hope you feel it through my voice and my inflections, and the way I carry myself on stage.

We’ve worked really hard on where we’re at in my career, kind of starting over in a sense, to build a light show that’s maybe above where I’m at. So visually, sonically – the band kicks ass, I’m so proud of my guys, they’re all working really hard. And yeah, we’ve got some cryo, that smoke that comes up, we’ve got that on a couple of songs. Really fired up about that. So a little bit of everything. And looking forward to at some point when the show gets bigger to having some screens on there, some video, stuff like that. I’m not there yet. But really proud of my team and what we’ve built so far. I’m excited.

We’re trying out new songs in the set that are unreleased. I think that’s a big deal. That’s notable. I love my solo outlet. One reason is sometimes I like getting a little wild hair. And it’s the freedom of having written a song that day and then trying it out that night, is kind of like a drug in a sense. It’s a little wild, and I think fans love that. And I want fans to know when they come to a show it’s maybe never really gonna be the same exact show. And I think that’s what’s gonna keep the fans around, what’s gonna keep me interested in the show, and continue to challenge myself, push myself, and make myself a little uncomfortable. Whether that’s having to learn a new song immediately, and… dang I don’t know, but wanting to try. That’s a long winded answer but I’m excited about it [laughs].

Are there any songs you’re particularly enjoying playing live at the moment?

Yeah. There’s a song called ‘How We’re Livin” that’s just a good old fashioned banger of a song. It’s a party song, it’s a lifestyle anthem. Not comparing myself vocally or career wise to Hank [Williams] Junior, but something maybe Hank would’ve sang. So that’s kind of that song. I love that. That’s been really fun to play and it’s really fun to see people’s reaction to that one.

I wanted to ask you about ‘Dirt Cheap’ which you’ve just put out on streaming services. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Yeah, my label sent me that song, and I heard it, November last year. It was on a link of maybe 10 or 12 songs they’d put together. And they had asked, “hey, are you open to songs you didn’t write?” and I said, “yeah, absolutely”. ‘Sunshine State Of Mind’ I co-wrote every song on. That was a goal of mine and that was written in a time when life was shut down. Covid was running wild and it was just a weird time, and music was my medicine. It was therapy for me to make that record. I’m so proud of it. But fast forward to current day, couple of years later, so many things have changed since I made that record.

And so I wanted to approach what I believe I’m making as my true debut record with a different mindset. You know, just free myself from having to be so controlled of “I have to write everything”. I did that. That was a goal of mine, cool, done. Alright, now I’m gonna build a true solo career, let me get the best songwriters I can find, let me write the best songs I can. There’s a pile of those on there too.

But I love supporting the songwriting community in Nashville, and I love great songs. I’m a song hunter. Whether I wrote ’em or not, I love songs that you just can’t help but sing. And sometimes you’re the voice and the writer and sometimes you’re just the voice. And to me, kind of removing myself from having that to matter so much is a great feeling. And I’m kind of following a little bit of the business plan or the path of some of my idols, and I’m cool with that. It doesn’t matter. Take the ego out of that process, and I believe I’m gonna wind up with better songs.

And this was kind of asked earlier – I want my fans to know, whether I wrote it or not, I believe if you look at my album, the one that I’m making, it’s like, if you don’t look at the liner notes you’re gonna think I wrote everything. Because every song I’m singing, everything matters to me. And every song has me in it. I’m not just gonna record a song because I think it’s a hit. I’m just not gonna do that. I’m looking for hits but it’s gotta be Brian Kelley. Just on a deeper level, it’s gotta be a soul song. It’s gotta mean something to me, it’s gotta resonate. And in essence, I think that’s what leads to it resonating with a lot of people. That’s the goal.

The other song I wanted to ask about was ‘See You Next Summer’ which is your current radio single. Did you know that song was going to be special when you first cut it or has it surprised you how well it’s done?

That one, that was a little different. I knew I loved it when I heard it. I didn’t know if we were gonna record it in the first batch of two songs that we first cut. It wasn’t until we were at Luke Bryan’s little festival in Cancun, Mexico, Crash My Playa – we were having some margaritas by the pool, we were talking songs, me and my manager and Brittney and some of the bandmates. We were like, “‘Dirt Cheap’ is definitely getting cut”, and kind of wanted a little bit of apples and oranges in terms of those first two.

We knew we were gonna cut a ton more songs, but I just loved ‘See You Next Summer’ in a sense that I have lived that song. I am currently living that song. Me and Brittney are going on 10 years of marriage this December. And it’s a forever kind of love song, ‘See You Next Summer’. It’s not just a summer love song. I think humans, we’re all looking for love. And so that one, once we decided “that’s going in the first batch”, it was a no brainer. And then once we got in the studio, and really brought that to life, everybody was like, “this has to go first”, and I was like, “cool”.

We were waiting, and I was waiting and wanting, when we were ready to go to radio, I wanted the whole team – this was a goal of mine, I didn’t vocalise this but I was waiting for everybody to be like, “this is the song that’s going first”. I wanted everybody’s approval and everybody to be like, “this is the song, this can’t wait, this has gotta go first” and that ended up being ‘See You Next Summer’.

I just love, not only the storyline, but I loved the production. I love the drop chorus at the top of the chorus. First chorus it’s a vocal and piano, and then into that hook on the title – it blasts with mandolin, banjo, guitar, it’s got some steel in there, and then a massive guitar solo and that bridge. It’s got a lot of energy in that song and it’s also got a lot of dynamic. There’s that release of the payoff and the hook is powerful. I felt like it would be a great addition to a live set, and hopefully radio would love it and they do. It’s just been a blessing. I love that song.

Is that approach of having variety and mixing things up a bit something that’s quite important to you with this new album?

Yeah, not too different. You know, ‘See You Next Summer’ kind of has a double meaning. It’s like the song ‘See You Next Summer’ and then literally “see you next summer” ’cause that’s like the last beachy song I got coming for a second. Everything else is a little bit different. But not too sonically different. I think everything that I’m working on and making fits on the same project.

I also wanted to ask a little bit about the Tribe Kelley brand you and Brittney run together. Tell us a little about that and how it came about..

Yeah. Tribe Kelley was birthed on the bus, really our first year of marriage. We got a bus, our own bus, 2014 was our first year of marriage, and it started with her customising my clothes, her clothes on the road, our band’s clothes and everything like that. We launched our first collection on our one year anniversary, that December. And it’s a lifestyle brand. It’s based on travel, athleisure, outdoor. It’s based on chapters of our life, what we’re going through and what we’re living through and what we’re up to.

And so where this new collection kind of finds us, oddly enough, it goes hand in hand with a lot of my new music. And this collaboration with Mossy Oak, the famous camouflage company, it’s our favourite and she reached out to them – it’s kind of her brainchild. We were like, “hey, we’d love to use a print of yours in some of these fashion pieces and these Butter sweats that we’re getting really well known for”. Just kind of excited to push the needle and do something different and I couldn’t be more proud of Brittney and what she’s been able to create. I’m lucky to create alongside of her and kind of be along for the ride. She’s absolutely killing it.

And I love this collection. We just did a photo shoot about a week ago, and I really believe it might be our best collection yet.

Lastly – what do the next six months look like for you?

We’re really working on honing in on our tour schedule, getting a bunch of shows locked in, getting as much music as we can out, and just trying to shake as many hands of fans as I can and just keep hittin’ it. Trying to continue to write, even, as much as I can, and just music focused on building a career that can last. Just continuing to push myself.

Brain Kelley’s latest song, ‘Dirt Cheap’, is out now on Nashville South Records/Big Machine Label Group LLC.

Laura Cooney
Laura Cooney
Laura has been writing for Entertainment Focus since 2016, mainly covering music (particularly country and pop) and television, and is based in South West London.

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