On Wednesday, Florida Georgia Line—the crossover-prone country act with a hip-hop stomp—is playing Madison Square Garden for the first time to a sold out crowd. The significance of the moment is lost on neither Tyler Hubbard nor Brian Kelley. As the latter says, “This is monumental for us—you know, the games that have been played here, the songs that have been sung here, they’re still echoing through the hall. We were walking around, checking out just how big this place is. We never thought we’d be here.”
Hubbard and Kelley may be the only two people in country who had that thought—though the speed at which they got to this point is certainly surprising. The duo’s first hit, “Cruise,” became a phenomenon when the guys remixed it with Nelly, setting the record for most weeks at number one on Billboard’s Hot Country chart—24 total—as well as garnering the most digital downloads for a country track ever when it broke 6.3 million downloads last year.
In less than two years, FGL has had four number ones on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs charts—most recently off their October 2014 full-length, Anything Goes. They’ve also sold millions of albums and toured with the likes of Jake Owen, Taylor Swift, Luke Bryan, and Jason Aldean, all of whom have had an effect on the band. “You know, Luke and Taylor and Jason have given us tons of great advice, and we watched them, day in and day out, react and be business people, entertainers, artists, and songwriters, and continue to grind,” Kelley tells EW. “So I think we’re well prepared. You know, we don’t want success to define us—we want it to motivate us.”
EW sat down with the two before their show to chat nerves, new music, and throwing NYC a “little party.”
EW: A lot of artists would consider playing Madison Square Garden a benchmark in their career. How does it feel not only to be doing that, but to be doing it for a sold out crowd?
Brian Kelley: This is a complete bucket-list check-off—everybody’s played here. You hear so much about it, and you see documentaries about it. We’re very humbled to be here. With this set here tonight, [we’re going] to take our time with it. It always seems to go by too fast, so we’re just gonna try to soak it and make the most of it.
Tyler Hubbard: For us, it’s another night, another show—but we are trying to let it soak in, and using this as a day to kind of remember where we came from, and where we’re headed, and focus on the show and our fans. Trying not to get too worked up about it. We want to get the job done and have a little party. It’s gonna be awesome.
Can you remember your first big concert?
Kelley: Are you ready for this?
Hubbard: Actually—and this isn’t when I decided this is what I wanted to do—but my first concert was ‘NSYNC. I was probably 14 or 15 and went with a bunch of girls. Well, there was one other guy and then four girls—so it was fun.
Kelley: Ready for the kicker? Backstreet Boys. I was probably twelve. I went with my best friend; it was his sister’s birthday and I got invited to go with her family. They took a limo to the Orlando House of Blues and I’m like, “I’m definitely going!”
Anything Goes—the album that your first headlining tour is supporting—is enjoying a lot of success. For your second collection, was there any apprehension about trying to match the success of Here’s To The Good Times?
Kelley: I don’t know if it’s big nerves, but it’s a big responsibility. It’s a hot ticket, and people have been expecting big things with this tour. But I feel like the last couple years have really prepared us to take on this year. We’re already writing for album three and more focused then ever. We’re trying to live as healthy as we can, and still party for sure, and just have a good time, focusing on the music and fans. That’s still our number one priority.
You aren’t just trying to “break in” anymore. Instead, your sound is setting trends and setting the course for a lot of emerging artists. Does that change the goal when you start writing?
Hubbard: I think we stay in the same headspace. We’re just doing our thing—trying to stay out of the box and stay fresh, get creative and do different things and I think that’s continued to evolve but the mindset of, “Let’s write the best songs, record the best songs possible—stuff that’s not on the radio yet.”
So are you looking for gaps in the genre’s sound to fill?
Kelley: It’s a natural thing for Tyler and I to know where this thing’s headed, and know where it needs to go without trying to pinpoint it too hard. I think it doesn’t come from within, if it’s “we need this, or that…” You kind of just know. You start working with the right people and things fall into place. We found that’s when the best songs come out, when it’s organic.
Meanwhile everyone else is trying to pin it as “bro country”—does that label influence you in any way?
Hubbard: [Laughs] I read an article recently calling it “Bae Country”. It doesn’t really bother us. I think it’s kind of humorous. Call it what it is, I guess, but if that’s what’s getting country out, then good for country.
FGL is supported on tour by Thomas Rhett and Frankie Ballard. A full list of dates can be found here.