Luke Bryan released his latest studio album over a year ago, but "Tailgates & Tanlines" is still paying considerable dividends: This week "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye" -- the platinum-selling set's fourth single -- tops Billboard's Country Airplay chart. (Hear the song below.)
Bryan has been pulling some serious red-carpet duty, as well, with several nominations at the recent Country Music Assn. Awards and a nod as favorite male country artist at the American Music Awards, to be handed out Sunday night at L.A.'s Nokia Theatre. Next month he'll perform alongside Taylor Swift and Maroon 5 at the live Grammy nominations event in Nashville.
That's where Pop & Hiss reached Bryan by phone on Thursday, shortly after he wrapped a studio session for his next album. "We're just getting it going," he said of the upcoming project, adding that he'd cut five new songs in one day. "My head's kind of fried from all that. It's like I just took the ACT for 12 hours straight. But I'm more excited about this one than about anything I've ever been a part of."
At the AMAs you're up against Jason Aldean and Eric Church, with whom you do a song on Jason's new album. And earlier this month the three of you performed together at the CMAs. Are you guys forming a little club?
We're certainly buddies. The year before last Eric toured with Jason, and this year I toured with him. We've been around each other a lot; our fans are very similar. So we're as good of friends as you can be when each of us is as busy as we all are.
Friends you keep competing against.
We pull for each other. But, yeah, there's definitely a little smirk when we get nominated for something in the same category.
What does your and Eric's and Jason's success say about the state of Nashville right now?
I'm excited to be part of a movement that's progressing country music. There's always gonna be people saying, "It ain't country anymore," but I don't get into that whole deal. I know when I roll into town -- and when Jason and Eric do -- that there's jacked-up pickup trucks and country folks out there. We're performing what they want to hear.
Increasingly, you're also performing what non-country folks want to hear: This summer "Drunk on You" went to No. 16 on the Hot 100.
I'm glad to be in that spot. I try to be a good representative for country music. But as a country artist it's important to move the needle and make a difference beyond your core audience. But you can't ever strategically try to accomplish that; then things get weird. I just cut songs I love and that represent what I want to say. And if it crosses over, that's very flattering. It's cool to know that with people listening to rock and rap, I'm sitting on their iPods along with that stuff.
Does your iPod look like that, too?
I'm all over the board listening to stuff; there's no telling what'll turn up. If I hear something fresh that catches my ear, I'll dive into it no matter what kind of music it is.
You've co-written most of the songs on your three albums. Are you writing for this upcoming one?
When you're fortunate enough to get to a certain level, you start getting great songs sent to you by the best writers in town. And I've got some great outside songs I'm cutting. But, yeah, I've got a good batch, too. I just walked out of [the studio after doing] a song I'm writing that I'm super fired-up over.
A lot of young country stars are writing -- maybe more than in the past. Is that a positive development?
There's always gonna be guys who are just wonderful singers and probably shouldn't be writing songs. Then there's always gonna be guys who move up the ranks writing. I don't know what's healthier or what's the best thing -- probably whatever yields the best songs. George Strait, he's never really written, but he certainly changed the face of country music for many decades; he defined a generation. But then Toby Keith, he's written nearly every song he's ever taken part in. It's about the artist. Jason Aldean is a masterful guy at finding great songs and making great recordings; he's the most successful guy in our format right now. And he [doesn't write]. It's about recognizing what you enjoy -- and what you're good at -- and capitalizing on that.
In January you're setting out on a two-month headlining tour. Have you started preparing?
We're building our set and getting our stage lined up. It's growing from two tractor-trailers to eight or nine; we're going from two buses to seven or eight. We're gonna work hard to make it a great experience.
Will it be a big production?
It'll be big but with some intimate moments, too. I feel like I'm taking everything I've learned and putting it all in there.