The degree to which taxonomy matters in country music takes center-stage when Florida Georgia Line release new music — or do pretty much anything. With Can't Say I Ain't Country, the duo of Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley pledge loyalty to the genre that birthed them while continuing to color outside the lines. Maybe you can't say they aren't country, but you can certainly say they — and this album especially — transcend country.

This singular quality is what has made them unlikely firebrands since they dropped the diamond-certified "Cruise" in 2012. Eccentric, but well-mannered and quiet, hard-working and proficient, the two Belmont University grads with a fluid sense of fashion and a keen ability to stay one step ahead of the Nashville curve have been as influential as any artist of the last 10 years in turning rural country music roads into multi-lane, transcontinental highways.

In 2019, two things couldn't be more clear: The first is that four albums in, FGL are as important to the fabric of modern country music as Garth Brooks was to '90s country music. The second is that Hubbard and Kelley spend as much time thinking about how we (media, fans, critics, etc ...) categorize them as they spend thinking about slowing down. Taxonomy matters to some, but not to them.

“When we're producing a song out, we're not really catering to a genre,” Hubbard tells Taste of Country during an exclusive interview this month. "I think at this point, we just want to make great music. You can call it whatever you want to at this point."

"Who wants a bunch of clones on the radio? I don’t think we do. I don't as a fan. I think that’s what’s made country always cool."

Can't Say I Ain't Country (Feb. 15, Big Machine Records) might be their "most country album" (Kelley), but Florida Georgia Line hope you'll believe the album title is not a statement, a provocation or even a declaration of where they're headed. It's just a song, mostly. As they talk, it's difficult to ignore a yearning for it to also be a rallying cry that liberates fans from this war in music country music.

Twitter was an interesting place to be when you announced the album title. Is Can’t Say I Ain’t Country as an album title intended to be a statement or a response to anything?
TH: (Long pause) BK?
Brian Kelley: Billy, what do you think?

I think it was, but I don't want to put words in your mouth.
BK: Until you hear the song, it does kind of sound like a bold statement, and we knew that. We knew that it sounded like a great album title. It sounded like a great tour title. But when you listen to the song, it couldn't be more me and Tyler. It could't be more light-hearted. In an age — and it's been going on for probably 30 years with people saying, 'That's not country. That’s not country' — There's all these country "judges" out there, so a lot of artists that are on country radio are getting a lot of heat, us included.

I think even fans, country boys, country girls, other artists that have heard that, I think they're all gonna get the meaning of the song and they’re all gonna take ownership in it and say, 'Hey, you can’t say that.' There's not one country judge out there that's got the law to say, 'That's not country.' Everybody is entitled to their own art, their own way of living, their own way of life. And that’s what makes it beautiful.

Who wants a bunch of clones on the radio? I don’t think we do. I don't as a fan. I think that's what has made country always cool, from Dwight Yoakam to Tim McGraw to Shania Twain, Brooks & Dunn. All the different sounds, all the different ways, all the different songs. For us, it's light-hearted. We weren't trying for any negativity or anything like that. That just breeds more of it, so what we did was put our head down and get to writing and get to recording, get to working and that really fuels this record.

You’ve always transcended country, and I think you’re right, when you hear the title track it does take the air of any sort of supposed "statement." Is it important to you to continue to transcend country, but also stay within the framework of country music? Can you have it both ways?

Big Machine Records

TH: I think we have a lot of loyalty to our country fans. I know we do. And I know we got a lot of loyalty to country radio, so we don't wanna burn any bridges there by any means. We definitely want to continue to service the format that got us where we're at and the format that we grew up on. But at the same time, we never wanted to put our stuff in a box. That being said, yeah, we just want to make good music. Nowadays I don't think genre is that important as it always has been with all the different platforms to get music out there and to get music heard. I just don't think format and genre is super critical. I just think people want good music.

Did you meet Jason Derulo doing the Monday Night Football theme song with Hank Williams Jr.?
TH: No, we've known Jason for awhile. Done a couple of songs with him and written with him quite a few times. He's become a good friend of ours. We wrote "Women" out in L.A. a couple years ago, the same weekend we wrote (the Bebe Rexha collaboration) "Meant to Be." We've just been kind of sitting on it waiting for the right time, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect than when we released it.

"Women" is a very interesting song on this album — and tell me if I'm overthinking this — but it's the kind of song that depending on when you would have released it, might have been received differently. You have the Grammys, which were a great celebration of women, but prior to that the #MeToo movement and the #TimesUp movement and the conversation about women in country music. Did any of those conversations factor into the writing or recording of this song?
TH: Not too much. I don't think it was too overthought. At the end of the day, regardless of what time period we're talking about, it's always appropriate to put women on a pedestal for everything they do for us. Especially in BK and I's life, with our wives and our moms and everybody, all the women. A lot of our team is women and we really just love and respect the women in our life. BK threw this title out there and we all just jumped on it. Derulo really related as well, he’s got a lot of great women in his life. I think it was appropriate when we were in the studio, we had a lot of fun writing it.

And yeah, I do think timing is everything. We weren't too strategic with when we released it, but we knew it was going to be on this album so we didn't want to release it too far before this album came out.

How did Jason Aldean end up on "Can't Hide Red"?
TH: That was a song we wrote a couple years ago and it just was a rocking party song. It just kind of felt like it was right down Aldean’s lane. We were thinking in the studio, how great it would be to do a collaboration with him. We've always wanted to. So when this song came up, we sent it right to him and said, "Hey what do you think about this?" And he was digging it. He was into it.

BK: Billy, I also think it's cool, man, just to let you inside of how we think and the details and stuff. We toyed around with, 'How do we put Aldean on this song?' and it’s like hey, something different, he's on our album but let's put him first verse. Let's start this thing off with him. We think we nailed it. The moment his voice comes in it gives me the chill bumps. I think it's the coolest thing. All the little details, everything matters when we’re building a song and doing a collaboration. Every song, every moment, every word … everything matters.

Finally, who is Brother Jervel. Is that his legal name?
BK: (laughs) No, that's a stage name. He's an old buddy of Tyler and I's from hanging out when Tyler and I met. Chris, that's his real name, but he also goes by Nugget. Along our journey, we've done a lot of travel these last couple years, but we never really lose touch. He would leave these crazy voicemails on Tyler's voicemail as Brother Jervel. We would listen to them over and over and Tyler would just call him and go, "Hey bro, I’m not gonna answer but call me back and leave me a voice message and just leave me another one."

Came time to put the album out and we were just thinking, let's add some character, let's show some personality some more and let him do his thing and intro the songs.

Is that his real accent, or is it a character?
TH: No, that's his alter ego. He's a very straight-laced, really good guy. Lives in Brentwood (Tennessee), got two kids and a wife. You would really never know if you met him you would really never put two and two together, but he can turn on that alter ego quick.

Tyler, do you really have a Tesla?
TH: Yes, I do.

The Secret History of Florida Georgia Line's "Cruise":

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