It's a two-word throw-away phrase, dropped seven times into Dustin Lynch's new single, "Where It's At," and yet it's the crucial identifier for the song. Before he ever recorded it, Lynch played it for some of his trusted advisers to get their feedback, and no one ever seemed to call it by its real title.
"We just noticed that everybody that heard the song would always talk about the 'yep, yep,' even my band guys," says Lynch.
Thus, when Broken Bow made it a single, the PlayMPE email arrived in programmers' in-boxes on March 11 with a simple subject line: "YEP YEP!!! It's Here!"
It's almost impossible to talk about the song without making a "yep, yep" reference, and the song's three writers have certainly taken notice.
"That could be a T-shirt now," marvels Cary Barlowe ("American Honey"). "Even on Twitter now, there's #yepyep, and you click it and it's Dustin Lynch, ‘Where It's At.' To me, anytime you have constant hooks in a song — guitar licks, ‘yep, yeps,' ‘hey ho's,' melodies — the more the hooks, the better for a catchy song in my book."
The hook was, however, a late addition when Barlowe visited East Nashville on June 25, 2013, for a writing appointment with Zach Crowell and Matt Jenkins, two of the three writers on Keith Urban's "Cop Car." Barlowe was the last to arrive at Crowell's house, and he walked in to discover the creative process had already begun.
Crowell and Jenkins had been engaged in a conversation, and one of -Crowell's comments turned into the title for the day's session.
"I can't remember what I was talking about — maybe a pizza place, and I said, ‘Ooh, that pizza place, that's where it's at, right there,' " Crowell recounts. "I recall Matt going, ‘That's the title — ‘Where It's At.' Probably two seconds later Cary walked in the door."
They went through a handful of musical beds that Crowell — widely regarded as a "track guy" in Nashville songwriting circles — had already created. They found one that fit, and launched into a song that emphasizes how the right woman is a lot more important than the events, or the settings, in a well-lived life.
"We tried to make it light and fun," says Jenkins. "It's not rocket science, certainly. It's just feel-good, and you want to crank it up and jam it."
Barlowe came up with a syncopated acoustic guitar line for its instrumental hook, and they wrote it in less than three hours. As they came close to finishing, they had a phrase in the chorus — "Dressed up, hair down, in a ball cap/As long as I get that" — that had an empty pocket in the middle. And they felt that it needed to be filled. Crowell suggested the "yep, yep" part, with reservations.
"I probably thought it was bad," he says. "I probably pitched it in a very unconfident kind of way, but they thought it was good."
So good, in fact, that as they recorded the demo that day with Jenkins singing lead, they did the "yep, yep" as a three-person, hip-hop gang vocal. Crowell mixed it down later, and emailed it to his co-writers three days later with a message that included lots of "$$$."
Barlowe's publisher, Major Bob Music, definitely thought it had potential to bring in dollars, and vp/GM Mike Doyle pitched it around August to Broken Bow Records executive vp Jon Loba. BBR had it put on hold immediately, accompanied by an enthusiastic email from Loba about it being a likely first single from Lynch's sophomore album.
"We kind of didn't believe it, because it was so over the top," Crowell recalls.
In fact, in the ensuing months, the song disappeared from the radar. Producer Mickey Jack Cones oversaw Lynch's version of "That's the Way Love Goes" for the just-released Working Man's Poet: A Tribute to Merle Haggard, and BBR CEO/president Benny Brown asked him to produce six songs for Lynch's album. Cones set up a Dropbox account where everyone could collect and evaluate material, but at the BBR Christmas party, he discovered something was missing. Tina Crawford, the former director of creative services for the BBR Music Group, had left BBR to become Major Bob director of A&R. She asked Cones about "Where It's At," noting how positive Lynch and Loba had been about it.
"This particular song had never made it into the Dropbox," says Cones.
Once he heard it, though, Cones started pushing for it. Despite Loba and Lynch's interest, Brown hadn't heard it. And even after he did, the song still only made it to No. 7 on the list of six songs they were cutting in January. Cones asked for permission to squeeze that seventh song into the session, offering to pay the extra fees himself if they spilled into overtime. Even then, Cones couldn't get clearance until about an hour before they started recording, so he had little time to prepare, which put him in a tough position with that hip-hop-tinged demo. "I didn't want to be dubbed as the guy that took the country out of Dustin Lynch," he notes.
Lynch sang the "yep, yep" lines conversationally, removing the hip-hop element, though the first couple takes with the band were subpar. Cones suggested the musicians sprinkle a little Sugar Ray vibe, and that made the difference. Studio veteran B. James Lowry re-created the acoustic guitar hook, and electric guitarist Troy Lancaster added a rhythmic piece to that hook that Barlowe calls a "jangly, Motown, Maroon 5 kind of lick."
Cones played a slide solo on a ukulele and added a few effects, including one at 2:15 in the song, where he ran Lynch's voice through an AM radio filter and used the stereo panorama over the ensuing five seconds. "If you're listening in a car," says Lynch, "it starts hard left on the driver's seat and works all the way across to hard right, where she's sitting."
When it was completed, the BBR team had several potential first singles in mind and couldn't make a decision. Brown told Lynch it was up to him. Lynch sought out feedback, and — yep, yep — it kept coming back to "Where It's At." Lynch figures it's a perfect counter to current lyrical trends.
"The majority of the songs in Nashville, it seems like in the past few months, have been about looking at a girl in a bar or wanting to dance with a girl in the bar, but this song actually got a girl home and we're on the couch and in bed together," he says. Lynch adds, with a dose of sarcasm: "What a genius idea."
It debuted at No. 60 on Country Airplay; now in its third charted week, No. 43 is where it's at. Of course, a lot of people are still calling it "the yep, yep song," making an after-thought lyric an important part of the single's brand.
"I'm glad it's in there," says Barlowe. "It's just a little bouncy, catchy part that ends up being a lot more hook than we thought."