It seems like the party just keeps getting better for country singer/songwriter Luke Bryan. His third album, 2011's Tailgates And Tanlines, reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and surpassed platinum sales. "Nothing is more rewarding than to take a song, create it out of thin air and then watch it affect people," he says. In an exclusive interview with GRAMMY.com, Bryan discusses his series of Spring Break EPs, his music education and influences, important career milestones, and his advice for aspiring artists.
Born in the small town of Leesburg, Ga., Bryan was gifted his first guitar at age 14. He had previously tried his hand at piano, but it was the guitar and a heavy dose of radio that served as the tools for his music education.
"My musical education was really honest and raw," says Bryan. "I had piano lessons for about two months and that didn't seem to be working for me. … But mainly [it] was the radio for me and what my parents were listening to."
It turns out that Bryan received a crucial bit of advice from his high school drama teacher. "As far as someone mentoring me, I would say Robbie Davis, my drama teacher, was somebody that told me to get out of the little town and go aspire and go be all you can."
Bryan followed Davis' advice to the letter. After graduating from Georgia Southern University, in 2001 the singer/songwriter packed his belongings and moved to Nashville. He found good fortune almost immediately in Music City, signing a songwriting deal within months. In 2004 one of Bryan's songs, "Honky-Tonk History," served as the title track for GRAMMY winner Travis Tritt's My Honky Tonk History.
After inking a deal with Capitol Records, Bryan followed with his debut album, I'll Stay Me, in 2007. The album reached a respectable No. 24 on the Billboard 200. His sophomore set, 2009's Doin' My Thing, cracked the Top 10, peaking at No. 6. The album spawned a pair of Top 40 singles, "Do I" and "Rain Is A Good Thing."
Also in 2009, Bryan released the first of his four Spring Break EPs. His most recent installment, Spring Break 4…Suntan City, was released in March. With titles such as "Cold Beer Drinker," "In Love With The Girl," "Suntan City" and "Take My Drunk A** Home," the EP series has served as a light-hearted stopgap for fans in between studio albums.
"With Spring Break I had a bunch of rowdier songs that wouldn't necessarily be on one of my LPs," says Bryan. "[So we put] quirky songs together and songs that we felt would embody the spring break lifestyle and college life. We kind of did it as an experiment [and] threw it out there."
A member of the Sigma Chi fraternity while in college, it's fitting that Bryan has become a member of the fraternity of country music in Nashville. Bryan has rubbed shoulders with artists such as Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw and Kix Brooks, among others. Another career highlight came when Bryan met Lionel Richie, the GRAMMY-winning legend whose country-inspired album, Tuskegee, is one of the year's top-selling albums.
As an artist who has found success by following his own path, Bryan is a big believer in instinct and self-confidence. He encourages aspiring artists to also look inward to help make decisions affecting their careers.
"Just really, really believe in what you're trying to do," says Bryan. "Don't let people alter that. Let people advise you and lead you down paths to make smart business decisions. But trust your instinct and trust that overwhelming drive that made you put all your dreams and everything on the line."