Dustin Lynch’s 2020 kicked off at the top of the charts: the country singer-songwriter garnered his seventh Country Airplay No. 1 song with “Ridin’ Roads” — his second as a writer — ahead of the release of a brand new album Tullahoma, out Jan. 17. The 11-track project contains six songs penned by Lynch, including previous chart topper “Good Girl,” which the singer tells Billboard helped to kickstart the LP as well as inspire his continued perseverance in the writing room.
“Good Girl” became Lynch’s first No. 1 song as a writer last year, yet the release was a bit unconventional. In the midst of promoting his third studio album, 2017’s Current Mood, Lynch wrote “Good Girl” and instantly knew it was a hit; he convinced his team at Broken Bow Records to send it to radio even though he had no EP or album ready for it to be featured on.
“I still don’t know why the hell we did it, honestly,” he tells Billboard as he settles into a chair in a conference room at the new BMG office in Nashville. “I’m glad we did. It’s our biggest reacting song right now in our show. It was a song that came out of nowhere and hit us right between the eyes and it felt like it needed to come out and needed to be heard that year. It definitely shaped this album because it got me in gear. Finding ‘Momma’s House’ was really the song that put those cornerstones in the ground and kind of steered that ship.”
“Momma’s House” finds Lynch singing of the aftermath of a breakup and the difficulties one goes through in a small town while seeing their ex-girlfriend everywhere they turn. Soaring electric guitar parts and a driving beat accentuate Lynch’s emotive vocals. “I’d burn this whole town down if it wasn’t for my Momma’s house,” Lynch croons on the chorus.
Penned by Dylan Schneider, Michael Lotten, Rodney Clawson and Justin Wilson, “Momma’s House” embodies the character first heard in Lynch’s 2017 hit “Small Town Boy.” In fact, it’s this character that Lynch had in mind throughout the song selection process of Tullahoma. Fittingly, the title of the album comes from Lynch’s own small hometown in Tennessee; Lynch says the filter for the songs on Tullahoma was whether the “Small Town Boy” character would like the song.
“Would the ‘Small Town Boy’ fictional character dig this song? Would he sing this? Would he play this song for his girl? Is this where he came from? Is this what he believes in?” Lynch says. “So with that in mind, going into co-writes, I was able to steer my co-writers and point them in a really specific direction. That’s how we ended up with this concept of Tullahoma, about my hometown, because it was filtered through that character which ends up being me.”
Lynch says the song that resonates the most with his town is “Dirt Road,” on which he sings, “I’m just out here chasing these stars/ Sometimes I swear I’m living on Mars.” While Lynch doesn’t live in Tullahoma anymore, he says there’s still a longing to get back home. “Now, there’s reasons to want to come back home, have a home base, have family and have people you want to see and do life with.”
The singer says the most honest song on the project is “Country Star,” a track he penned with Florida Georgia Line’s Brian Kelley, Corey Crowder and Jordan Schmidt. It was written specifically after an event that happened in his own life: buying a farm. Kelley came in with the title “Country Star,” and Lynch immediately knew where the song was headed.
“A lifelong dream of mine was to own property, have a farm. I was able to do that at the end of last year,” he says with a smile. “I had a co-write with BK from FGL… gosh, maybe a week or two after I got the farm, and I was out at the farm looking up the stars ’cause you don’t get to see many stars in Nashville. I was thinking how cool that was, and he brings in the title ‘Country Star.’
“It was just those two worlds colliding where it’s like, ‘Man, I just got this piece of property. What if we write it [about] me taking my girl out to the farm for the first time and just having a night out there together, what would we do in that amazing fantasy scenario?’ And that’s how we got there.”
One of the album’s highlights is “Thinking ’Bout You,” a stirring duet with Lauren Alaina. Lynch raves about working with his former tour mate, as the pair frequently sang together throughout 2018 while on tour with Cole Swindell. “It was there that I realized, ‘Wow, our voices really work well together. There’s a chemistry onstage.’ I had a lot of fun singing into her eyes every night. I like to think she did too,” he says. “There’s that chemistry on stage and I set out to do a legit duet at that moment. I wanted that moment in my career. She’s one of the best singers we have, and she was at the top of my list to do it with. She took that song to a whole new level and I can’t wait to perform it with her live.”
While Lynch will embark on his headlining Stay Country Tour 2020 on Jan. 30, it has also been announced that he’ll be joining Old Dominion on its upcoming U.S. leg of the We Are Old Dominion Tour kicking off in May. A fan of the band, Lynch cut “The World Ain’t Yours and Mine,” a song that Old Dominion frontman Matthew Ramsey penned with Luke Laird and Rodney Clawson and sent to Lynch.
“It’s a song he really wanted to do for the Old Dominion record, and thank God they didn’t agree to do it because it fit this album perfectly,” Lynch says, admitting the song hit him instantly upon hearing. “It sent me straight back to being on the outskirts of town [in high school], a little past curfew with my girlfriend and just feeling like you’re untouchable.
“There’s a lyric about passing a cigarette while the little town sleeps,” he continues. “It’s got this rugged kind of thing to it, and it’s very unique. It’s just a vibe that went well with everything else and a different kind of color and Matt was kind enough to come in and sing backgrounds with me on it. I’m such a huge fan of his and the bands — that’s cool points right there for me and having them part of the album is awesome.”
Lynch says 2020 is a big year for his band, as they’re “taking a giant step” into the headlining role at several country festivals this year. As a result, his 2020 resolution is to design his best show yet.
“With this new album, I think it’s going to be easy to do a lot of material there that I’ll want to play,” he says before getting reflective. “I guess my resolution is to really put on and perform every night at the top of my ability and try and continue that upward trajectory of our touring career, see that crowd grow. I think I’ve found my lane in country music right now and what that is: it’s fun, it’s young love and doing life outside of work. I think the direction has been found. Maybe we just got smarter and paid attention. I feel like we have a direction of what we want to do, and I feel like it’s kind of its own in a way. So, I want to continue to try and ride that horse, see how far we get on it.”