Luke Bryan Gets a 'Fast' Reaction ?From Sixth 'Kill the Lights' Single

Luke Bryan
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Luke Bryan performs during the last night of the "Kill The Lights Tour" at Ford Field on Oct. 29, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. 

Ten years after his first release, theGeorgian is country's voice of experience.

As 2017 rolls in, plenty of folks are scratching their heads, wondering how 2016 came and went so quickly.

Luke Bryan knows the feeling. In December, he celebrated 10 years of marriage to the former Caroline Boyer, and on Feb. 12 will likewise mark a decade since Capitol released his debut single, “All My Friends Say,” to radio stations. Since then, he has ascended to the top ranks of country’s hitmakers, sold out stadiums and racked up scads of frequent-flier miles doing publicity for his projects. That 10 years sometimes feels like a blip.

“Hey,” says Bryan, “it goes fast.”

Bryan isn’t promoting his current single with that statement, but he might as well be. “Fast,” shipped by Capitol Nashville to country radio through PlayMPE on Nov. 28, examines that odd phenomenon in which the clock seems to speed up as you age.

Appropriately, the song came together in a rush when he wrote it nearly a year ago, on Feb. 2, with Luke Laird (“Head Over Boots,” “Talladega”) and Rodney Clawson (“May We All,” “You Look Like I Need a Drink”) at Laird’s Creative Nation offices in Nashville.

“We wrote the song really fast,” says Bryan, “no pun intended.”

They needed to. Bryan had taken in his teenaged nephew, Tilden Cheshire, just two months prior after the boy’s father died suddenly, and Bryan was spending time with his new family member that afternoon. The writers started in on a different song idea at the outset of their appointment, though an hour into the session, it wasn’t really working.

“We all felt like it was OK, but it didn’t seem like any of us were real motivated to continue on,” recalls Laird. “Luke’s schedule is so crazy. When you get him in here, you hope to be able to get onto something great, and it was just a real struggle.”

Laird took a short break, and while he was out of the room, the word “fast” popped into his head. As he mulled it over, it morphed into a line — “Fast, that’s the kind of car you want to drive when you’re 16” — and when he got back in the room, he introduced that line and a melody. Accounts differ, but either Bryan or Clawson followed quickly with the next line: “Fast, that’s the kind of boys you want on your home team.”

Those lines were more provocative than the original idea, and they immediately turned their attention to what became “Fast.”

“It probably only took about an hour to write it — it went fast,” says Clawson with a laugh. “When you get on the right track with the right song on the right day, it doesn’t take long.”

It was Bryan who served up the opening lines of the chorus — “60 seconds now feels more like 30/Tick-tock won’t stop, and ’round it goes” — as “Fast” shifts perspective. The first verse finds a young man, about Cheshire’s age, in a rush to make his dreams happen. The second verse similarly has that same character in a hurry to get married. In both stanzas, the character is caught up in youthful exuberance, anxious to get to the future. By contrast, the chorus has that same guy — now a wisened adult — looking at his past, frustrated that he can’t slow down the passage of time. He changes perspective once more in the bridge, admiring his wife and savoring the current moment.

“If I could hit pause, I would somehow,” he concludes. “But it don’t work like that.”

With the character shifting among the past, the present and the future, the writers employed the same sort of device Charles Dickens used with the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future in A Christmas Carol, though Clawson attributes that to instinct rather than design.

“We don’t think about that stuff when we’re writing,” he says. “We just mess with it until it feels right.”

One thing that didn’t feel right was to inject a whole family into the storyline. The predictable approach would have been to create a final verse with the singer in the role of a father, lamenting how fast his children are growing up.

“I’m sure we talked about it,” says Laird, “and then I’m sure somebody said that that worked maybe in 1998, but not now.”

When Cheshire arrived, Bryan took off, leaving Clawson to sing a vocal to some tracks that Laird had started building. Bryan phoned producer Jeff Stevens sometime that day and sang a portion of “Fast.”

“When he’s got one, he’s kind of like a little boy,” says Stevens. “He calls up, he’s all excited, he’s singing part of it and forgetting part of it, but I knew that it was really good just from that.”

Laird created a mostly acoustic demo, even threading accordion into the mix, and when Bryan and Stevens attempted recording it at Nashville’s Ocean Way studio, restraint was the order of the day. Greg Morrow was miced in a way that picked up a lot of cymbal echo in the drum booth, Mike Rojas put an electric piano and organ on the track, and guitarist J.T. Corenflos created ambience with a series of glassy whole notes.

“He’s got a big Gretsch that he uses with a lot of airy echo in it,” says Stevens.

Co-producer Jody Stevens layered some programmed drum sounds over Morrow’s part, and Bryan and Jeff Stevens convened later at Starstruck Studios for the final vocals. Bryan started that session with a more energetic number, so when it came time to work on “Fast,” the trick was to bring Bryan’s energy down.

“Every song, he starts [out] over the top, kind of excited — even with ballads and darker songs,” says Stevens. “I always have to wait and let him kind of sing it out and give him a little time, with me saying, ‘You know, this is a ballad here, buddy.’ ”

“Jeff’s job as a producer is to calm me down,” says Bryan, “because I do get excited when I’m in that moment and feel like we’ve got a lot of magic happening.”

Bryan found the key to delivering “Fast” was to simply immerse himself in his current situation, recognizing how much the song embodies the whirlwind decade that has just whizzed past.

“My wife and I, the first 10 years, we’ve had so many wonderful things happen and certainly some tragedy happen,” he says. “It feels like we’ve lived a lifetime in 10 years. You just reflect on that, I reflect on the building of my artist career, I reflect on the building of my family, and that’s kind of what puts you in that moment.”

Bryan made one minor change to the lyrics, softening the chorus’ original last line from “Damn, it just goes too fast” to “Man, it just goes too fast.”

“It’s one thing to write [“damn”] in there,” says Bryan. “But then to think of the reality that kids are going to be hearing it, it’s better if you can find an alternative word where you don’t lose your punch, and I felt like ‘man’ certainly did that.”

“Fast” took its time getting to the marketplace, released as the sixth single from Kill the Lights, but it has made a speedy climb since then, already at No. 13 in its eighth week on the Country Airplay chart. It helps balance Bryan’s much-publicized party persona with a deeper side, but it also gives voice to just about every country fan who spies a January 2017 date on his or her phone and laments that 2016 came and went in a flash.

“It’s my job as a singer and a recording artist to put music out there that people really feel like is talking to them,” says Bryan. “Fast” is “real clear and to the point, and it touches on a special thought of just how truly fast life can fly by.”


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