Lesser stars would have a publicist do it, but when the phone rings it’s Luke Bryan calling direct from his home in Nashville. The Academy of Country Music double winner and CMA New Artist of the Year nominee is enjoying a break from a winter tour with Rascal Flatts, which stops at the Verizon Center in Manchester on Sunday, Feb. 26. As he talks, the background noise sounds suspiciously like dishes being washed.
Bryan and his wife Carolyn welcomed their second child last August, and balancing the demand for his talents as a singer, guitarist and songwriter with family life remains a priority.
“It’s kind of hard sometimes, it’s like two separate lives,” he says, “but you just have to do what you can and make the most of it and keep everybody happy and make sure your boys know that they’ve got a dad.”
His second album, Doin’ My Thing, yielded multiple hits, including the number one “Do I,” co-written with members of Lady Antebellum. Buoyed by that success, Bryan did his first headlining tour last year; in many ways, he’s relieved to be sharing the stage this time around.
“On your own, the pressure to succeed is on you,” says Bryan. “In the end, you just want to get out there and make the most of it and show Nashville and the touring world that you’re able to headline, but the main thing is you’ve got to be up there night in and out and do an hour to an hour-and-a-half show.”
Touring with Rascal Flatts and opener Chris Young (“The Man I Want to Be”) is a bit more relaxing. “I’ve always been a huge fan of their music,” he says. “To be out on tour and watch their show night in and out is a blast.”
Bryan and his band went into the studio in November to work on a third album, targeted for August release. He’s met fan demand between long players with a series of EPs containing outtakes and live tracks. The latest, Spring Break 3 — It’s a Shore Thing, contains four unreleased songs and arrives next month.
“This day and age we have the opportunity to put as much music out as we can on iTunes and I think the fans enjoy that,” he says. “I write a lot of songs throughout the year and I just feel like it’s a pretty fun experience to be able to put a lot of music in their hands.”
After playing in bands in high school and college, Bryan found work in 2001 as a staff songwriter for the Murrah Music publishing house. “It taught me how to write a better song,” he says. “I worked hard every day, wrote with great songwriters and just learned the craft. It was just a tremendous learning experience to go in every day and work with my guitar … it was a great experience.”
Bryan’s first break came in 2004, when he wrote the title cut for Travis Tritt’s My Honky Tonk History. His success was the culmination of a meandering journey. After high school, he’d planned to move to Nashville to follow his musical dreams, but on the day he was due to leave his brother died in a car wreck.
In the tragedy’s aftermath, Bryan put his plans on hold and helped with the family farm. After a few unhappy years, though, his father delivered an ultimatum. Become a musician, he told Bryan, or stay and get fired.
This unconventional road to stardom, says Bryan, gave him “perspective that any given moment things could have happened that made me not arrive to where I’m at and be so fortunate to do this business. So I don’t take a single day for granted and I just try to make the most of every experience.”
The Georgia native owes a debt to crooners like Ronnie Millsap and Earl Thomas Conley, but as songs like “Rain is a Good Thing” and the Mellencamp-ish “Doin’ My Thing” show, Bryan can rock out when he wants to. “I’m just really trying to put music out that maintains a country integrity, but also is modern and hip and competes with music overall,” he says. “Some songs are pretty rockin’, but then when you look at “Do I,” it’s just a good old-fashioned love song ballad … I think the main thing is to just try to put the best song out that you can, and let everything else kind of take care of itself.”
That said, Bryan included a buoyant cover of One Republic’s “Apologize” on the last album, and his raucous version of Steve Miller’s “The Joker” is a concert staple. Fans can expect similar surprises in Manchester.
“We cover some Metallica at some point, which is always kind of interesting,” he says. “We do a little ‘Enter Sandman’ — I won’t tell you what part of the show, but it’s in there. We like to keep people guessing and having fun and never want anybody to get complacent, including ourselves.”