The importance of being yourself is something that a lot of artists talk about, but not everyone does a deep dive into exactly what that means and how to do it. Over the past few years, however, that’s exactly what Dustin Lynch has done. He’s worked hard to tap into who he is as an artist, and he has been open with fans about both the highs and the lows of that journey.
Back in March of 2018, for example, Lynch posted a video to Instagram showing his live reaction to that year’s ACM Awards nominations, as well as his response to not receiving a nod for his single, “Small Town Boy.” He was disappointed, and justifiably so: “Small Town Boy” was a personal career high, and according to Nielsen Music, it was the eighth best-selling digital country song of 2017.
“Well, we successfully didn’t get nominated again,” Lynch said at the time, in his video response. “Career-changing song. I don’t get it. What am I missing?”
With the upcoming January 17 release of his fourth studio album, Tullahoma, Lynch may have found the answer. In conversation with Country Now, the singer says it was his live show and the well-worn roads of tour life that helped him get perspective on his artistic identity.
“I think it was just figuring out who I’m not — and what I enjoy doing,” he reflects. “I started realizing what I enjoy the most at my shows, and the songs I look forward to singing the most. That all comes back to, ‘What have I lived,’ right? And, ‘What can I really relate to?’”
Ironically, the years of travel pointed Lynch towards a source of inspiration that had been in his backyard his whole life. His hometown, Tullahoma, Tenn., is the clear centerpiece of the album, starting with the brooding first verses of opening track “Momma’s House.” Though it’s a breakup song, the real star of the show is the town that’s colored in painful memories, drawn in evocative detail.
“I would start it where we started at the downtown party / Where you kissed my lips and stole my beer / The city park in the dark where we looked up at the stars / Watched them fireworks pop last year,” Lynch sings. In an instant, the song drops listeners into the small-town world that is home to all of Tullahoma’s stories.
“Momma’s House” was the third song Lynch dropped ahead of the album’s release, following “Good Girl” and “Ridin’ Roads.” He admits that putting out the song was a little nerve-wracking — “I’m always anxious to share new music,” he adds — but explains that the response he’s gotten from his peers and fellow country artists has reassured him that the instincts he followed to make the album were correct.
“I’ve heard a lot of expletives,” Lynch laughs. “[A lot of songwriters and artists] wishing that they had the song. [I’ve gotten comments] that it’s a special song, that they love the sound of it, and I think that’s a great indication, because of what the rest of the album’s gonna bring.”
“Momma’s House” sets the tone for Tullahoma, and it was actually the track that kicked off the album-making process. “We started with ‘Good Girl,’ and then ‘Ridin’ Roads’ happened, and then ‘Momma’s House’ came along. Then that was really the song that was like, ‘Oh, it’s time to build another album,’” the singer continues.
In tandem with the hometown motif, “Small Town Boy” also helped Lynch lay the groundwork for Tullahoma. The singer says that he and his producer, Zach Crowell, used the “Small Town Boy” character as a lens for selecting songs for the new project.
“[We were looking for] something that the ‘Small Town Boy,’ the character in the song, would like, would say, would do, would play for his girl,” Lynch explains. “We filtered everything through that. We checked all those boxes, threw it into a pile and started working from there. I think that’s why there’s that common thread of home and Tullahoma in all these songs.”
In the fall of 2018, another important milestone helped solidify Lynch’s country career. He was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, a distinction that he kept in mind as he continued to write and select songs for Tullahoma.
“It definitely has [had an impact on who I am as an artist]. Believe it or not, I think about that a lot,” Lynch comments. “Because there are songs we have had success with that feel a little bit awkward to play on the Opry stage. Which is fine! But it is something that I keep in mind, because it’s nice when you have that boundary. It keeps me centered, I think, when listening for songs.”
Adding the title of Opry member to his wheelhouse doesn’t change the kind of songs Lynch would write and cut, per se. He says he’s still planning to experiment stylistically, to “take liberties and float around and keep things fresh.” Elements of traditional country are a big part of Tullahoma’s infrastructure, though, especially in songs like “Thinking ‘Bout You,” a classic male-female duet with Lauren Alaina.
“‘Thinking ‘Bout You’ was a song that as we started writing and got the chorus finished, I realized it would be very easy to flip the lyric into a phone conversation if we had a female singer come in to sing the second verse,” Lynch recalls. “We wrote the second verse with that in mind. Luckily, Lauren loved the song when I sent it to her, and agreed to sing on it. And she absolutely knocked it out of the park, of course.”
Though Lynch is settling into an artistic lane on Tullahoma, he’s not settling into an artistic formula: The singer has plenty of room to grow within the foundation he has constructed. As he readies to put this album out into the world, he’s already seeing the record in the grand scheme of his career.
“I feel like as the process of this album continued to happen, we continued to circle in on the bullseye. And I think it’s a bullseye of where to go next,” he says. “As artists, who look forward to, ‘Where does this take the future of our career, and of our live show?’ I think it’s continued to allow us to hone in on what that is.”
For now, Lynch says he’s continuing the process by sharpening his skill set, little by little. “You know, what I love about my life and this process is trying to get better each and every day. It’s a day by day challenge,” he muses. “You look up in a year and go, ‘Wow, some cool stuff happened.’ I’ve gotten a lot better at enjoying the rewards of the blessings of doing this — being an artist, making music for a living, seeing how it affects people’s lives.”
In other words, he’s gotten better at staying in the moment: A trick that is perhaps even simpler sounding, but more difficult to do, than being yourself. So, what is it that Lynch learned how to do that helped him relish everyday victories?
“Not being scared of the future,” he comments. “I think at first I was scared to death of, ‘Am I getting lucky? Can I do this again?’ Then you realize that you’re pissing away the present moment, and good things that are happening in your life, because you’re worrying about the unknown.
“So, yeah. If I could tell my early-on artist self anything, it would be, ‘Man, enjoy the ride. Learn. Soak in the great moments, because it’s easy to let those great moments float by whenever you’re worried about something you can’t control,’” Lynch adds.
Fans can pre-order Tullahoma now HERE.