Women in Music 2016

Florida Georgia Line on Working With Backstreet Boys & What's on Their Date Night Playlists

J. Kempin/Getty Images
Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley of Florida Georgia Line perform during the Dig Your Roots 2016 Tour at PNC Bank Arts Center on Aug. 4, 2016 in Holmdel, New Jersey.  

Though Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley -- the hitmaking duo best known as Florida Georgia Line -- created the best-selling country single of all time (and that was on their debut!), their careers are hardly on “Cruise” control. The pair just released their third album Dig Your Roots, which debuted at No. 1 on Top Country Albums and No. 2 on the Billboard 200, and are currently running the Hot Country Songs chart with two singles in the top 10 -- including the 18-week No. 1 “H.O.L.Y.” They took time to chat with Billboard about their continuing runaway success, working with Backstreet Boys, and what new artists they're digging. 

How does it feel having a second No. 1 album on the country charts?

BK: It feels amazing — I don’t know if there was any weight on our shoulders, but if there was I think it’s all gone. Tyler and I put everything that we had in this album, again, and it couldn’t be more us. It couldn’t be more real. To find that people are connecting with it is really humbling and really special. It’s motivating, too; I just want to get back on that bus and write.

Seeing you guys live recently, I noticed you do a medley of '90s and early aughts classics at the end of your set. What’s the inspiration for that?

BK: We’ve been doing that for a while — basically, our fans grew up listening to the same things that we did, which were kind of all over the map. All sorts of influences are in our music, so it’s fun to mix it up, do some different types of songs and continue to dig our roots, even live. Letting the fans know a little bit more of who we are and how we got to where we’re at.

You got to have Backstreet Boys on the album -- many a millennials’ fantasy. What was that like working with them?

BK: It was great. We actually didn’t get to work in the studio with them on the recording process, but overall the guys are amazing -- we look forward to doing a lot more stuff with them. My first concert was Backstreet Boys, one of my first CDs was Backstreet Boys. With the other collaborations on the record, we’ve obviously grown up being big fans of Tim McGraw, and listening to a lot of reggae music [Ziggy Marley is on Dig Your Roots]. It was very surreal to have those iconic artists on this record.

With the album as a whole, you’re mixing things up -- which is interesting given how much critical heat you’ve taken over the years. How do you respond, especially in the wake of all your success, to the people who’ve derided your music?

BK: I don’t think we say anything to them, we just keep smiling and keep working hard. To be honest with you, we let those things motivate us and try to just answer questions with our music. I think we know what’s real: how many people are showing up to our shows and how they’re connecting with us. You can’t let all that stuff get to you.

But we were very aware of it, to be honest with you. How could you not be? When we put out “Cruise” we were in that zone, in that moment -- and country music is just being relevant and transparent with where you’re at. We still love “Cruise” obviously, but you can’t put out the same albums, you’ve got to switch things up. As a true artist -- as a true man -- you want to grow and you have to grow. Fortunately for us, I think our fans are growing with us and learning with us, so it doesn’t really matter what anybody else says. The only thing to say to those people is that we want to be friends with everybody.

“H.O.L.Y.” has been getting pop radio play as well as country radio play. Is that a thing you think about when putting a song together – doing things that will appeal to a broader audience -- or is it just a nice side effect?

BK: We’re aware of it, but it’s something that can’t really be forced – like you said, it’s kind of a side effect or a cherry on top. Sometimes, when we’re writing or we get a song, we say, “Hey, that one might have a chance to break down some more barriers for us -- get us into some different markets and just kind of push ourselves in a different way.” That’s just being creative, being artistic.

What was it like the first time you heard the finished song?

TH: Every time we hear a song after Joey [Moi, their producer] does his thing we get really, really excited. B.K. and I will sit there in front of the speakers and blast them as loud as we can. Especially with a song like “H.O.L.Y.”, which feels so powerful, we just can’t wait for the world to hear it.

When you play the song live, you dedicate it to your wives. What was it like playing the song for them for the first time?

TH: They were a big part of why we even chose to record that song in the first place. They’re lovers of music as well – both of our wives – so it’s fun to have them help us out, and be beside us during the song-picking process. They keep us creative and inspired at the same time, it’s a beautiful thing.

What else, besides “H.O.L.Y.” of course, is on your date night playlist?

BK: Oh... I have “Island” on there, that’s a sexy one.

Any stuff by other artists?

BK: Yeah, there’s a song called “Ocean Eyes” by Billie Eilish -- that’s a cool song. I also like the Travis Scott remix of Miguel’s “Waves.” That version is my favorite.

Would you ever collaborate with Miguel?

BK: In a heartbeat, absolutely. Yeah we’d love to, that would be amazing.

Obviously you’ve talked about how the song has spiritual undertones; do you see it being played in church?

TH: I think “H.O.L.Y” could be played in church and have a huge impact. It can be interpreted however the listener wants to interpret it, whether as a love song strictly to your wife or a love song to God. For us it even has different meaning each time we sing it, depending on the night.

What is your favorite song off the album and why?

BK: I’d probably say “Island” would be mine, just because it’s different and kind of sexy. For both of us, we lived that song out. Tyler went on vacation with his wife in Africa halfway through the record, and me and Brittney went to the islands -- it felt like we both needed that break from the record. Once we got back, “Island” came in; I think it’s different. I got to sing lead on it, which is special. It’s got a good vibe on it.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Sept. 17 issue of Billboard.