“Baby, you a song. You make me wanna roll my windows down.”
Country music fan or not, these opening lyrics lead many to break out singing “Cruise,” a summer anthem released in 2012 by Florida Georgia Line, skyrocketing the young country duo to international fame.
“It was life changing,” says singer Brian Kelley. “It was very cool and very humbling at the same time. It’s just been incredible.”
Kelley, along with Georgia native Tyler Hubbard, formed Florida Georgia Line when both were studying at Belmont College in Nashville, a school they chose for its proximity to the country music capital, he says. The singers/songwriters were introduced by mutual friend Jason O’Toole soon after Kelley moved to Nashville from his home state of Florida.
“Jason mentioned to me that Tyler was doing a lot of writing and suggested that we might be able to write together,” Kelley says. “We met, and we got along and started hanging out. We wrote our first song while drinking a beer together. And more and more we were writing and playing together in Nashville.”
The soon-to-be country superstars moved in together with “a couple of other buddies” and began focusing on the creative aspects of the music business, says Kelley. And while their creativity took off, Kelley and Hubbard found they still had to deal with the less sexy facets of trying to break into the business.
“We had bills and rent to pay,” Kelley says with a laugh. “We had to focus on our music but also how we were going to pay for things. It was pretty difficult for a while. Really, we were trying to not call mom and dad for money, but all we wanted to do was play music.”
The hard work paid off. The duo released its first EP, “Anything Like Me,” catching the attention of the Nashville music industry. A year later, Florida Georgia Line signed a production/management deal with Craig Wiseman, Kevin Zaruk and Joey Moi and released its second EP six months later.
It was this second album, “It’z Just What We Do,” that would shoot the group to country fame. Opening with “Cruise,” the album quickly got the attention of country and mainstream music fans alike. “Cruise” became the best selling country digital song of all time in the United States and was quickly noticed by artists outside of the country genre. The duo joined forces with rapper Nelly, remixing and re-releasing the song to make it the summer anthem of 2013.
“Playing ‘Cruise’ is always the highlight of any of our shows,” Kelley says. “The fans get really loud. Luckily, we have earpieces now. When we first started, we didn’t. We couldn’t even hear ourselves. But it was great.”
With their success, the Southern singers found a way to give back to their fans. The duo, which continues to support ACM Lifting Lives, Feeding America and the Wounded Warrior Project, recently became the face of the Out Number Hunger campaign. The initiative helps fight hunger in local communities and has secured more that 25 million meals, according to the campaign’s website.
“Nobody should have to face hunger in America,” says Kelley. “Working with these programs comes with who we are and what we want to do. Now we have a big voice. We can raise awareness for this issue. It’s important to give back, no matter what your career is.
“I was surprised at just how big the hunger issue is,” he continues. “It hits close to home. We’ve both volunteered to feed the homeless at a young age. We’ve never struggled with hunger personally, but volunteering early set an example for us. Volunteering is something that is easy to do, and it makes a difference.”
Florida Georgia Line will bring its charitable spirit and unique brand of country to Northwest Arkansas tonight as part of the “This Is How We Roll” summer concert series.
“We’re really blown away by the loyalty of our fans, so we’re really looking forward to playing this show,” says Kelley. “This has just been incredible. I just want to say ‘thank you’ to the fans and let them know that we are coming to play a show that is bigger and better and louder. If you have a big ol’ snare drum that sounds like a cannon, you’ve got to have pyro. It’s going to be big.
“We’re going to bring it.”
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