Singer-songwriter Dustin Lynch's star continues to rise. While opening shows on Luke Bryan's Kick Up the Dust Tour this past summer (Bryan has since asked him to re-up in 2016), Lynch's "Hell of a Night," from his latest album, "Where It's At," became his second No. 1 single.
With two albums under his belt, Lynch seems equally adept at singing party anthems and complex character studies (and also Beyonce songs) while working hard to please his fans. Lynch arrives at the Dome at Oakdale in Wallingford on Thursday, Dec. 10, with Chris Lane opening.
Q: When you moved to Nashville, you were only 18, but you spent nearly a decade trying to break through. What do you remember about those years?
A: I went to college, which took up four years, and then I really started trying to dial in on the songwriting and recording and trying to get a record deal. I ended up signing that in 2009. I was in town for six years, and then it took a few years to get "Cowboys and Angels" [his first single] out to radio and to get that first album out. So yeah, it was about 10 years from when I moved to town to when I got a record out.
Q: Before that, growing up in Tullahoma, Tenn., was it clear that a move to Nashville was in your future?
A: There was always a fire inside of me, something that wanted to sing country music. I don't know why it was put there, but it was. But it was hard to fathom doing that, to become somebody that I'd listen to on the radio and idolize, or watch on TV or in concert. How do you get there? There's no manual, no college, no class you can take. A lot of it was convincing myself: "Dude, you really want this, this is really your dream, go chase it." I decided to give it a shot, and I'm glad that I did.
Q: You were on a track to become a doctor in college. Was medicine something you felt you could try if music didn't work out?
A: There are so many things to do in the music industry, other than being an artist or a songwriter, that are fun and exciting jobs. Once I got into the industry and realized there was a whole village that exists, other than the guy on stage, I probably would have explored those avenues a little bit. But I wanted to get a degree and I loved the pre-med field and all the courses I took. I loved the challenge of it.
Q: If you weren't the guy on stage, could you see yourself taking another job in the industry and enjoying it?
A: Oh, definitely. I kind of do all of those jobs. Being the artist, I do all of the jobs at some sort of level. I guess I get a taste of all of that. I call all of the shots out here, and I have a team that executes all of the decisions that I make.
Q: Your debut album reached No. 1 on the country charts. What do you recall about that time?
A: I remember thinking, "Is this really happening? Are my dreams really coming true?" And then you're so busy. It's a whole new lifestyle. It flies by you. You don't really know how to soak it all in. That's what I love about having continued success: I've become really better at soaking these moments in and all the cool stuff that's going around me. I've become better at appreciating all of that. That's something I had to learn, and that's been fun. It's easier to take a breather and appreciate it all.
Q: From the beginning — on "She Cranks My Tractor," for example — you stood apart, were clearly more rock-oriented, and took in other influences, and so on. Were you musically eclectic growing up?
A: I think I still am. I listen to all sorts of music, and really that comes out in my writing. My first cover band I was ever in in high school: we covered Incubus, which is really out there for country singers. That's how I learned to play guitar: by playing along to Incubus records. I've never had a lesson. I learned from the music I was listening to, and my music is a little bit different because of that. It's not something I learned from a manual or a book. That's the great thing about songwriting: everybody has different musical backgrounds. Everyone hears different melodies and has different ideas musically.
Q: "Where It's At," your second album, solidified your success. It's also a comparatively long record: 50 minutes. You packed a lot on there.
A: It was actually tough to narrow it down to 15 songs. I love an album that is round, that addresses a lot of styles... I was writing for a couple of years before we recorded, and on top of writing, I was listening to outside songs that songwriters would pitch me. There's always a lot of great material, and it's just finding out what I want to say. What do I want the world to hear me say on album three? That's what I'm going through right now. I'm trying to figure out what that message is.
Songs will come along and try to direct you. You can't really direct them. It's an exciting creative process each time. You start with one phase and you just see what the album becomes. We've got a good song for the third album, but we haven't recorded anything. I've been writing a lot, and I'm excited for what we already have in the bag.
Q: Are you able to describe what you look for when you go through demos submitted by songwriters?
A: I think I'm getting better at figuring out what that is, but really it's a gut feeling. And Nashville is getting better at knowing me and identifying what I'm all about, what I want to say, what messages I will deliver and what I won't. As you have more success, too, better caliber songs start showing up in your inbox. I'm no longer the smallest fish in the lake, so I'm getting to hear songs, so I'm getting to hear songs a little faster than I used to... It has to be my brand, and then you have to live with it. Some songs I like instantly and then they kind of get old. You want ones that will stick around and not burn out, that will shine for a while before you get tired of them.
Q: You toured with Luke Bryan for most of 2015, and now you're returning to the road with him in 2016. What's special about the friendship/chemistry between you?
A: Luke is somebody I followed since before I had a hit song. In Nashville, I was actually living with his old bass player and his old drummer. We never met before this tour. I kind of got some insight... It's a pleasure to go out on tour with him, not once but twice. He's like a big brother. He puts on one of my favorite shows. He's an incredible entertainer... I see a lot of myself in him, and I tend to thing he sees a little of himself in me.
Q: Tell us what we can expect from your solo show and tour.
A: This is a show we've been devising for months and months, as far as the segue and the songs we play and the moments we create. This is a show where sitting down is pretty much not allowed. You'll be standing around, dancing, having a good time.
DUSTIN LYNCH performs at the Dome at Oakdale in Wallingford on Thursday, Dec. 10, at 8 p.m., with Chris Lane and Tyler Rich opening. Tickets are $25. Information: oakdale.com.