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Florida Georgia Line on Taking Care of Business

 

With a potent brew of fist-pumping backwoods attitude and gutsy crossover ambition, Florida Georgia Line have been blitzing arenas and amphitheaters all summer on their second headlining tour, leaving a trail of good times and hangovers in their wake. Nearing the home stretch, Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley took a break from a mid-morning brainstorming session in Kelley’s treehouse studio — the one featured on Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters that Kelley calls “as vibey as possible” — to talk with Rolling Stone Country about their ‘Anything Goes’ tour, the business side of the music business and another year of trying to top themselves.

“We’ve been having a great year. The fans have blown our minds and really shown up to party every night,” says Hubbard. “It’s been a great learning experience on a lot of different levels, and I think we’ve become better artists and better writers in the past year. We look forward to continuing that.”

Indeed, taking what they learned as an opening act for Taylor Swift, Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean, the duo are now free to bring their concert vision of the “Anything Goes” ideal to life as headliners. That means unpredictable moments, deafening beats and tons of swagger.

Stretching from Tampa, Florida, to Bakersfield, California, the tour still has eight dates left but has already grossed over $20 million dollars and entertained over half a million fans. Full of the country themes, rock showmanship and hip-hop attitude that launched “Cruise” in 2012, the trek comes complete with all the world-class accents you would expect — huge video screens, pyrotechnics and catapults to shoot the stars onstage — but since it’s FGL, they’ve also found ways to stand out.

There’s a covers medley of hits by Meghan Trainor, Dr. Dre and Eminem, Wiz Khalifa, Bruno Mars and Garth Brooks, hover boards for getting around, a trampoline built into the floor and a truly one of a kind addition to any country concert — a professional magician named Justin Flom.

“Everybody’s got a DJ now,” says Kelley, referring to most concerts’ between-set entertainment. “But I could go out there and DJ, Tyler could go out there. This is all about doing something different and creating opportunities for fans to see something fresh that they’d never seen before. And he’s a hell of a magician, I literally don’t know how he does anything.”

Kelley and Hubbard say they’re careful to put their stamp of approval on every single piece of the production. They’re also on the road with Luke Bryan’s ‘Kick the Dust Up’ tour this summer, getting an up-close look at the industry’s elite level — which will help if they step up to a stadium tour of their own in the future.

“With every aspect of the touring business we are hands on, because if you don’t take control, somebody else’s hands will be on it,” Kelley insists. “It can control you, there’s a lot of numbers and money flying in different directions.”

That goes for everything from video content to lighting sequences to the artwork on their fleet of semis, not just creating a set list and a few region-specific one-liners.

“You can be in the dark in this business if you don’t learn it,” Kelley explains. “So we are hands-on, it has to be that way. Tyler and I just try to run it like a business, and we love what we do so it ain’t really work, it’s just taking care of your baby.”

Whether it felt like work to get here or not, FGL’s explosive popularity comes in part thanks to their undeniable vocal harmonies, and the ‘Anything Goes’ tour puts them on full display. The platinum-sellers are very rarely touted for their vocals, which are undoubtedly overshadowed by their boundary-pushing, polarizing songs and devil-may-care personas.) Often singing in unison from opposite ends of their arena-sized stage without looking at each other, the duo spend a lot of time getting their vocal blend just right, hoping to make every chart-topping hit — from “Round Here” to “Dirt” to “Sun Daze” — sound just like their records.

“BK’s got that warm-butter-on-bread voice,” Hubbard says with a laugh. “Just nice and smooth, like warm butter.”

“The first thing that grabbed me about Tyler’s voice was his tone,” Kelley replies. “I’d never heard anything like it. He’s just Tyler Hubbard, he doesn’t try to sound like anybody else and that’s the most attractive thing about his voice and him as an artist. But he’s got a shit ton of range, which not many people realize. He can go from really low to really high. He’s a great singer.”

“The key is our voices together, that’s what gets it done,” Hubbard insists. “We both have unique voices and they serve a purpose, but neither one of us are as strong by ourselves. Two other people can’t make that sound, so I think that’s why God put us together and gave us a path to take.”

As the tour season winds down and the awards-show season ramps up (FGL is up for Vocal Duo of the Year at the CMA Awards in November), that path is heading toward a whole new adventure.

Their current single — also called “Anything Goes” — is inside country radio’s Top 10 and looking poised to become their ninth consecutive Number One, but new music is already in the works. With a pile of possible hits waiting and the skeleton of one new track already recorded, producer Joey Moi will be back at the helm of their third album. Neither Kelley nor Hubbard will reveal much about it so far, but they will say they’re not anywhere near topping out.

“As creative people, as songwriters, as businessmen, we’re just getting rolling,” Hubbard says. “The wheels are spinning fast but we’re loving every second of it. I don’t think we’ll ever be at the top in terms of having nowhere else to go. . . ,We’re gonna try to continue to rise and see where we can take it.”

Adds Kelley, “We’re just as motivated as the day we wrote ‘Cruise.’”

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