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Ormond Beach Observer Wednesday, Jul. 21, 2021 22 min ago

'These are my soul songs' Q+A with Florida Georgia Line's Brian Kelley on his solo debut

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The Ormond Beach native's first solo album, titled 'Sunshine State of Mind' was launched last month.
by: Jarleene Almenas Associate Editor

No matter how long Florida Georgia Line's Brian Kelley spends on the road, he never forgets where he came from.

One could even say he's always in a "Sunshine State of Mind." 

On June 25, the Ormond Beach native launched his first solo album featuring that very title, and all 17 songs capture aspects of Kelley's life, from his own love story to his deeply-rooted faith. 

"It was a blast to write, to create, to sing on, to put on my lead vocals on these songs," Kelley said. "It means the world to me and I’m just very, very grateful for the response so far as well... I just honestly tried to write about my life and I felt like if I did that, there’s a lot of people like me, and they would relate."

This fall, Kelley and his Florida Georgia Line bandmate Tyler Hubbard will kickoff their "I Love My Country" tour, but first, he chatted with the Ormond Beach Observer about the inspiration behind his album.

What inspired you to write a solo album?

This past year and a half, for pretty much everybody, has been really interesting. Everything shut down for a while and us as touring musicians, basically lost our job, and it was a weird year for sure. There ended up being a silver lining. Tyler and I turned in our fifth record last year in May and released it this February, and in between that, I took a couple months just to do some soul searching.

Brian Kelley's debut solo album launched on June 25. Courtesy photo

We were living back on a construction site in our house here in Florida, on a two-year reno, and ended up living there from May to November. I was doing everything under the sun but music. I just needed a little bit of a break to kind of cleanse my creative palate, if you will.

Once I got back into writing around mid-August, I just started writing some songs that I felt like were different, were really, truly me, and next thing I know I’ve got pretty much a record and a handful of songs that I love. What inspired it was my wonder of life and travel, my wife, the state of Florida, — the great state of Florida — and my relationship with God. I just really wanted to make an authentic record that was fully me. I’m super thankful for the timing, for the outlet. These are my soul songs. They really mean a lot to me, and I’m super grateful to all my co-writers, a small little camp but we all just lived these songs out. It never felt like we were really working when we were writing.

And I knew where I wanted to go with this record. I had a book full of titles and had a pretty clear vision of what I wanted to say, and what I didn’t want to say, and what I wanted this record to be.

What was the song writing process like? What kind of headspace where you in when you wrote these songs?

I just went with the mindset that every line has to be me. There’s no fictitious lines about anything in my songs, and anything that I’m doing. It’s all real. That was just the headspace. I felt like it was important just to be as authentic as I am and write about God, my wife, Florida, my travels, my spirituality, and that’s what this album is.

Your song “Boat Names” was inspired by your own love story with your wife. What was it like capturing that in a song form?

“Boat Names” was the first song I wrote for this project. I’m just super grateful for the opportunity. I had a random cowrite come up and it was over Zoom, and it was with two writers that are really great, and I’d never written with them together, so I was a little anxious number one, but two, it was over Zoom. But I got through that and showed up. I had a little bit of “Boat Names” started, a little intro lick and and a couple of the verses, and a couple lines of the chorus written down in my journal.

Once we finished that song, that was the anchor and the guiding light for the record. I just wrote it from a real place. It was nothing more than me writing a dreamer love song to my wife — about, “Hey, one of these days I’m going to make your name one of them boat names.” And that’s real to me. I’ve told her that basically since we met. I said your name is a beautiful boat name: Brittney Marie. It’s going to happen.

A critic stated that your album is a “love letter to the beach life.” What is it about living around the water that inspires you as a musician?

As you know, I grew up in Ormond Beach, Florida, and I was baptized in the Atlantic Ocean. From the moment I left to go to Nashville, I knew that at some point if I ever made it or had some extra money or whatever, the first thing I wanted to do was have a house, a piece of dirt in Florida. It’s super important to have some roots in Florida, and it just changes everything. I needed to get back to how I grew up.

I love Nashville, always will. I love working in Nashville creating in the studio. I love fishing in Nashville, but when it came to home, it was important to be connected to our community in Florida, and I love the weather here. It’s a part of my soul.

I really have to shoutout my cowriters, the musicians on this record and my coproducer Corey Crowder. I’m just blown away by the level of talent that I was able to have on my record. I’m super grateful for them putting their heart and souls into this with me.

How do you stay grounded?

The first thing is faith. That is everything to me. If I don’t have that, I’m lost. That’s the first immediate thing, and then my wife — my family. Brittney and I, we’re just trying to live a pretty easy, simple Florida life. We’re in the community, and we’re involved. I’m part of a state park board down here, and just kind of doing normal people things keeps you humble. We’ve got four big German Shepherds and I’m the pooper scooper in the family, so that will keep you humble pretty quick.

We’ve been very blessed with success and very, very grateful, but I think Tyler and I, we’re just normal dudes from Florida and Georgia, and we love our families and we love God and we love creating.

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