Dustin Lynch once picked his college based on its proximity to a Nashville songwriters’ hangout. Now, the Tennessee-born country singer has a top 10 hit with his debut single, Cowboys and Angels.
Whiskey bent and Nashville bound: If you’re going to become a country singer, you could do worse than hailing from a whiskey-making town. Cowboys and Angels singer Lynch grew up in Normandy, Tenn., A mile from the George Dickel Distillery. “You could smell the mash,” says Lynch, who has sold 52,000 copies of his self-titled debut album in its five weeks of release. “I guess I was used to it, growing up there. Then, when I came back to visit after a few years in Nashville, I was like, ‘Man! It stinks here!’ It smells like a whiskey bottle on the street where I grew up.” When did Lynch have his first taste of the hometown export? “I started drinking late in life — probably not till I was almost out of high school,” says the singer, now 27.
Instrumental experience: As a 5-year-old, Lynch had to accompany his mother and sister to their weekly piano lessons. “They tried to get me to play, but I was more interested in mud and cows,” he says. When he was 8, he tried to play his father’s acoustic guitar, but pressing the strings hurt his fingers, so he left it alone until he was 15. After that, “I was a recluse in my room,” he says. “As soon as I could play and sing at the same time, I started writing, and that’s what I fell in love with doing.”.
His Bluebird of happiness: Lynch’s passion for songwriting became so obsessive that he picked his college, David Lipscomb University, based on its proximity to the Bluebird Café, a famed Nashville songwriters’ hangout. “The first night I got to Nashville, after my parents left, I got in the truck and went straight to the Bluebird,” he says. Lynch arrived late and had to watch the sold-out show through the club’s windows. “It was still a little bit untouchable, which was cool, looking back on it.” After a year in a Lipscomb dorm, Lynch rented an apartment across from the venue’s back parking lot. “I got to where I was coming through the back door,” he says. “I’d get weird looks, but it was so much easier. I also figured out that if you sat at the bar, you could avoid the $15 minimum food charge. That was a pretty large bill for a college kid.” Eventually, the club started booking him into its rising-songwriter slots.
Guardian ‘Angels’: Lynch and Tim Nichols both came into a songwriting session nearly three years ago with the idea of writing a song about “cowboys and angels.” Lynch just didn’t have the nerve to tell the guy who’d co-written Tim McGraw’s Live Like You Were Dying about his idea. “Tim was throwing out ideas, so I thought, ‘Shoot, I’ll ride his coattails and see what he’s got,’ ” recalls Lynch, who was meeting Nichols and the song’s other writer, Josh Leo, for the first time. “He suggested a couple of drinking songs, which isn’t my thing. Then he flipped his book open about halfway through and said, ‘Here’s this idea I’ve had for a while called Cowboys and Angels.’ I like to fell off the couch. I showed him my piece of paper, and he said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ ” The song is No. 3 on USA TODAY’s country airplay chart and has sold 638,000 downloads. “Here we are now with a song that has changed my life,” Lynch says. “What kind of divine intervention is that?”.
The best-pressed man in show business: Most singers have before-show routines, which may involve vocalizing, gargling or a quick exercise regimen to get warmed up. Lynch brushes his teeth. “I’ve got a bus now, so I can brush my teeth there, but when we were playing college bars, we’d pull up in a truck and trailer, and it was either me in a parking lot with a water bottle or in one of those grungy bar bathrooms before a show,” says Lynch, who prefers a Crest Whitening toothpaste with Scope. “Honestly, it’s calming, kind of like ironing a shirt.” So he irons shirts to calm down? “Well, yeah. Before each show when we’re traveling, I like to press a shirt.”.
Bringing back the hat act: Many young country singers have turned their backs on the previous generation’s Stetsons and Resistols in favor of ballcaps, but not Lynch. He sees his cowboy hat as a nod to heroes like Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson and Clint Black. “It allows me to sing some songs that other guys can’t sing,” he says. “I wouldn’t feel right singing Cowboys and Angels if I had on an Atlanta Braves ballcap on the Grand Ole Opry stage, you know what I mean?’.