NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Singer-songwriter Tyler Hubbard was fully prepared to hang up his boots so to speak when his duo partner in Florida Georgia Line, Brian Kelley, said he wanted to go solo.
The pair had been together more than a decade, and whether you were a fan of their bro country sound or not, their music ("Cruise," “Meant To Be,” “Round Here") set the tone for a generation of country fans. Hubbard, who had notched more than a dozen hits as a songwriter for FGL and other artists like Jason Aldean, thought he'd focus on just writing for other artists.
“That’s a really big transition in one’s career, 10 years or 12 years, and to say we’re going to pivot right now," Hubbard said. "I didn’t expect it to come then. And it took me a minute, you know, it really did. But we were also in the middle of a pandemic. And so I didn’t have a choice anyway.”
But the COVID-19 pandemic made him realize that his need to perform and record was as strong as ever. Now a year after launching his solo career, Hubbard has reintroduced himself to fans with two No. 1 songs and a debut record.
“I’m thankful that (Brian) had the courage to step into this new space and to make that decision that ultimately kind of pushed me to make the same decision and lead me to where I’m at now," said Hubbard.
Both Kelley and Hubbard have said there's no bad blood between them and that FGL isn't breaking up, but rather “taking a break.” Now the two seem set on exploring music that they couldn't make together. Kelley, the Florida-born singer, has been exploring his coastal country music, while Hubbard's self-titled solo debut record released in January gave him an opportunity to reflect on his personal life, being a father and a husband and his faith.
But Hubbard acknowledges that there's always skepticism when an artist goes solo after unprecedented success in a group or band. The Georgia-born singer took that as a challenge.
“I had quite a few people tell me that it couldn’t be done and that I should definitely continue with FGL," Hubbard said. “And it sort of lit a spark in me, a fire.”
Hubbard's two singles, the platinum-certified “5 Foot 9,” about his wife and “Dancin' in the Country,” which was co-written with Keith Urban, show that fans haven't forgotten Hubbard, or possibly that he's changing minds of people who never considered themselves FGL fans.
Producer and songwriter Jordan Schmidt was the first person signed to Hubbard and Kelley’s publishing company Tree Vibez, and he recalls that they instilled in him a strong work ethic. The duo would bring their writers out on a bus with them as they toured and spend time before or after shows just writing and creating songs.
So Schmidt was a natural fit as a co-producer and co-writer for Hubbard's solo album.
“Naturally it's going to be different, he’s calling all the shots,” said Schmidt. “But in the grand scheme, it’s the same mentality and work ethic he had with FGL in terms of ‘I want to write songs that move the needle.’ He’s still putting out songs that do sound unique and different, just like ‘Cruise’ back in the day."
And he's putting in his dues just like any newer act. Hubbard opened for Urban on his tour last fall and is hitting the festivals and fairs this summer, a somewhat different vibe from the high-energy, big pyro arena shows of Florida Georgia Line.
“I’ve really enjoyed being able to strip it back and play these smaller shows and really have little to no production," said Hubbard.
And just as Hubbard's grown up, so have his fans.
“I hope they can evolve with me, because I feel like it was a season," said Hubbard. "It was a chapter of my life, probably a chapter of a lot of the fans' lives, probably a soundtrack to a lot of memories.”
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Kristin M. Hall, The Associated Press