When you’ve got a No. 1 hit from an album that hasn’t even been released, you know life is good.
And, for Luke Bryan (whose “Country Girl” is at the top of the digital charts), it is.
His next CD – slated for release this summer – has plenty of similarly catchy songs that he says should help him move one more rung up the country ladder.
“The main thing is you want to grow as an artist,” Bryan says. “You get smarter about the songs, you record in a better manner and you hopefully get better.”
Now on the road with Tim McGraw, the 34-year-old Georgia native is watching all of the moves his friend makes. “When you open for big headliners, it’s always a learning experience. I’ve opened for quite a few and I take a lot of mental notes, hoping to apply it to my life when the time comes.”
Judging from those hits (and the awards that have come his way), Bryan could be racing down his own concert ramps very soon. While McGraw flies into concert towns, Bryan shuttles on his own bus.
“I have a Bronco on the road and I get out a little when I can. I’ve got a couple of fishing trips booked this week and, every once in a while, I can get away without people recognizing me.”
Recognition, however, “is always a good thing.” That, too, says he’s moving up the ladder.
Bryan’s wife Caroline and sons Bo, 3, and Tatum, almost 1, come out on the road every once in a while, as well.
“Bo is starting to realize what it is I do. He loves music but we’re going to let him develop into whatever he wants to do. As the boys get older, they’ll be able to spend more time on the road with me. For now, they like hanging at the house.”
And McGraw? “We see each other a couple of times a night. But he’s a busy man and we’re all doing our thing. It’s just an honor to be a part of all this.”
Music, Bryan says, is a tough business. “But it’s always been that way. You get in there and you just have to survive. You’ll have a time on top and a time when you’re not on top. It’s everything I thought it was going to be but it’s a lot more work.”
More business than artistry? “It’s all of that,” he says. “You’ve got to watch the business and get a handle on your artistry.”
Now, as the days of headliner status approach, Bryan has begun to craft a list of future things to do.
“Constantly sell more records. Grow toward being a headliner. Sell out huge venues. If I’m ever blessed, I can check them off my list.
“I wouldn’t mind having fun in other stuff, either,” he says.
Acting, like Tim? “Maybe.” He hesitates. “If the right thing ever presents itself, I’ll do it.”
Collaborating, with Tim? “If we can find the right song,” Bryan says. “I was a big follower of everything he did.”
Balancing home and work, like Tim? Most definitely. “He’s a role model.”
Bryan’s way: “I just want to take it slow, work hard, take things as they come and appreciate every little step along the way.”
Although he’s a fan of Carrie Underwood and her “business model,” Bryan doubts that he would have wanted instant stardom. He started singing at 14, got work in clubs and continued to perform when he went to Georgia Southern University. Although he landed a record deal two months after moving to Nashville, he didn’t hit like an “American Idol” contestant.
It took time to build a following. After charting a few songs, he was nominated for country music’s newcomer award from just about every industry organization. He won the prize from the Academy of Country Music and the CMT Music Awards, then started to see his fortunes change. In all, it took him nearly 10 years, but that’s just fine.
“The main thing is just working hard,” he says. “But everybody’s path is different.”