Digital Cover Story: Tyler Hubbard Builds a Solid Foundation with Debut Album 

Tyler Hubbard is letting the music be the driving force of his identity as a solo artist.

Videos by American Songwriter

After spending 12 years as part of the groundbreaking country duo, Florida Georgia Line, with bandmate Brian Kelly, the duo disbanded in 2022. It set the stage for both singers to embark on solo careers, Hubbard was intentional about using the lyrics of his 18 well-crafted songs on his self-titled debut solo album to tell his story.

“Something I always say [is] that I’m influenced by life the people and the things around me for song ideas. I think that’s where the music comes from,” Hubbard expresses to American Songwriter for the digital cover story. “We’ve always put a lot of value and importance on the song.”

Hubbard admits he never imagined being a solo artist, but the reality sunk in when Kelly came to him in 2020 sharing that he felt called to pursue a solo career, Hubbard offering his full support. Deciding to take a step back from music, Hubbard went into stay-at-home dad mode taking care of he and his wife Hayley’s three children—five-year-old Olivia, three-year-old Lucca, and Atlas, 2. After consistent urging from his wife and friends to get back into music, Hubbard had a change of heart and began to understand Kelley’s perspective of wanting to find his own identity through music.

“I really felt there was a missing piece. I feel the same calling BK’s feeling and I really want to tell my story and have my individuality through my music and be able to connect with the fans on a more personal level,” he recalls of his mentality about being a solo artist. “I’ve always had a partner, a friend, somebody to bounce stuff off of, so I’d say if there were any fears, it was stepping into the unknown. It took a little courage, but once I did it, I knew I did the right thing.” 

From there, Hubbard began crafting his own narrative with the help of friends who happen to be some of the best songwriters in Nashville, including Keith Urban, Thomas Rhett, Russell Dickerson, The Cadillac Three’s Jaren Johnston, Corey Crowder, and many others.

“I think as a songwriter, it’s sometimes easier to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and write from a different perspective and not have to be as real and vulnerable from your own,” he explains. “The majority of this album is fairly direct and very authentic and it’s real.”

On an album full of single-worthy songs, Hubbard admits it wasn’t easy to choose his first solo single. But he knows “5 Foot 9,” inspired by his wife, was the one he wanted to set the tone for this pivotal next phase. “I had a peace about picking that one and I felt like it was a good foundation for the rest of the project,” he describes of the song he calls a “launchpad.” “I felt like it was a good representation of where I was currently and what I wanted to put out with my name on it.”

Co-written with Johnston and fellow hit songwriter Chase McGill, “5 Foot 9” draws from sentimental details Hubbard has observed in his wife, like her brown eyes and love for Tim McGraw and “small town accents,” with visions of her running out to greet him with a kiss when he pulls into their gravel driveway. The song became Hubbard’s first No. 1 as a solo artist when it topped the Billboard Country Airplay chart in 2022, the monumental moment calling to mind when FGL achieved their first No. 1 hit with their smash debut single, “Cruise,” that’s become the best-selling country song of all-time in the U.S. and was the first country song to be certified Diamond by the RIAA for sales of more than 10 million copies.

The weight of the accomplishment is not lost on Hubbard, who feels as much gratitude for his solo single as he did as part of the wildly successful duo. “To have another first number one is really cool. I think the second time around it’s even cooler because I have a different perspective, a different gratitude,” Hubbard proclaims, saying he feels “accepted” and “supported” by the country community. “To have that first one behind me really inspires me, motivates me. There’s nothing more rewarding as a songwriter to know that the songs are connecting with the fans.” 

Throughout the album process, Hubbard had many people in his corner, including Johnston. The two have been longtime friends, Johnston harkening back to the early days of their careers when FGL and The Cadillac Three used to share a bill, traveling the country together in Hubbard’s van when he used to run an automobile detailing company. Johnston took those memories into the writing room, knowing the gravity his friend was up against in starting over on his own.

“It was important because we knew what the scenario was,” Johnston shares with American Songwriter of wanting to help Hubbard, who he calls a “good, kind soul,” find success as a solo artist. “We know how hard that is to restart. Florida Georgia Line wasn’t just a band, it was a brand, so how do we get Tyler back up to that thing by himself without ‘Cruise’? It was really important to us to present a different shade of him to show the world. For Tyler specifically, it was like ‘we want to see you win.’”

Though Hubbard was surrounded by a community during much of the album process, there was one song he had to write on his own. The tear-jerking “Miss My Daddy” came out when Hubbard was in complete solitude, sequestered from his family on his tour bus parked in the driveway when he had COVID-19 in November 2020. With nothing but the thoughts in his head and his guitar to keep him company, the lyrics came pouring out of him. Hubbard’s friend’s father had passed away the week before, the weight of her loss bringing to mind memories of his own father, Roy, who passed away in 2007 in a helicopter crash when his son was 20 years old. The lyrics paint a picture of father-and-son road trips from their native Georgia to Alabama and a father teaching his son how to drive a clutch. The second verse conveys all the milestones his father never got to witness, like the day Hubbard graduated from college and married his wife, to the nights when his children were born. I just miss my daddy/Miss the way I had it back when he was ‘round/Might have took it all for granted then/But I sure wouldn’t now, he sings in the emotional chorus.

“That’s about as personal and real and raw and vulnerable as it gets for me,” Hubbard professes of writing “Miss My Daddy.” “I was on a bus pouring my heart out on a guitar and being as real with myself as I could and it turned into a song. I was trying to channel that real emotion that I was having at that moment.”

Hubbard cites how his grandkids talk about the man they never knew as one of his favorite lines in the deeply personal song that captures the impact his father left behind. “I feel like I have the same spirit he does. He lived life to the fullest. He loved my mom really well, he loved God and he worked really hard. Those things are the big attributes that I take from him,” Hubbard reflects. “That’s one of the hardest parts, the thought of the things that he’ll miss and the things the kids will miss about not having him around. But I love talking about him and he’s a big part of who I am and why I am the way I am. It’s just fun as I watch them grow up and teach them things, paying tribute to the man that taught me.” 

Tyler Hubbard builds a strong foundation for the multi-faceted songwriter and artist Hubbard is, a foundation that wouldn’t exist without the songs that are a result of the songwriting prowess he learned from his FGL days and blending that with the vulnerability he could only achieve by telling his own story.

“I learned a lot from strategy, the importance of having a great team around you, the importance of building a strong foundation. That’s why I was really patient with the process of this first album because I really understood and valued the song first,” Hubbard professes of the lessons he’s learned in his career thus far that he’s taking with him into this new journey, the album allowing him to “reintroduce myself on a deeper level.”

“I hope this music brings people hope and joy and encouragement,” he adds. “Everybody’s been through something difficult and I want this music to really encourage people in a positive way.”

Tyler Hubbard is available now.

Cover photo by John Russo / UMG Nashville

Leave a Reply

The 20 Best Shel Silverstein Quotes