Cole Swindell is an unabashed fan of the Atlanta Falcons and Braves, but he reserves his deepest devotion to the football squad of his alma mater, Georgia Southern, the same university that graduated Swindell’s mentor, Luke Bryan.
The country hitmaker, 35, grew up in Bronwood (population 377 in a 2017 census), which he still calls home even though he relocated to Nashville in 2007.
Having written dozens of hits for country VIPs – and fellow Georgianatives – such as Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and Thomas Rhett, Swindell branched into the performance side of the business in 2013 with his independently released single, “Chillin’ It.”
A chain of country radio hits followed – “Ain’t Worth the Whiskey,” “You Should Be Here” and “Middle of a Memory” among them – and Swindell is now among the regarded crop of twang-rockers filling major venues with high-energy performances and low-key sex appeal.
“Reason to Drink…Another,” the extended leg of Swindell’s inaugural headlining arena tour that launched in February, pulls into Infinite Energy Arena on Thursday with Dustin Lynch and Mitchell Tenpenny sharing the bill (fellow Georgian Lauren Alaina was originally slated for the entire run, but due to a scheduling conflict will now join the tour Friday in Mississippi).
On a recent call from Nashville, the gregarious musician raved about his love for Georgia and respect for its musical history and chatted about his current album, “All of It.”
Q: The first time we ever talked was on the red carpet at the CMA Awards a few years ago and you were wearing a Georgia Southern cap. I take it you’re a lifelong supporter?
A: I am! Being from Georgia, my whole family went there so I grew up going to those games. I was on tour with Luke (Bryan) and threw on the baseball cap and got a lot of online comments, like, look at this guy. A lot of people ask if I’m a (Georgia) Dawgs fan and I’m like… not
exactly. But a lot of my friends and family are Dawgs fans. I’m gonna pull for any Georgia school over anything, but I represent where I went to school. That’s where I started playing my first shows. I love college towns, no matter where it is. I was a huge music fan growing up, but I didn’t grow up singing on stage -I was just bugging my mom singing Alan Jackson around the house.
Q: Another Georgia guy.
A: I didn’t know how far Newnan (Jackson’s hometown) was. But no matter if it was Alan or (Jason) Aldean, having people succeed from where you grow up makes it seem more attainable. People ask me what’s in the water from Georgia. You can’t tell me it’s not because they saw somebody just like them from an hour away. A lot of people have those dreams, but they might not chase them until they see somebody else has done it. (The influences came) from all different points in my life as a kid, seeing Alan, Tricia (Yearwood, from Monticello), Aldean, meeting Luke and hearing his songs. It was a combination of a lot of people from around where I was from.
Q: What was it like when you first made the jump from opening act to headliner?
A: We were a little nervous for every tour. I never forgot that Blake (Shelton) told Luke before they hosted the ACMs, if you weren’t nervous it wouldn’t mean anything. I know when I do get nervous, I just care. Headlining, the pressure is on you. It’s 90 minutes on stage, but all day there’s catering, there’s crew. I have an amazing team, but it all falls on your shoulders. But that’s a good thing - it’s what you’ve always wanted. I learned a lot from that first leg of the tour. I think this one is going to be even bigger.
Q: You spent a lot of time with Luke in the early part of your career. What have you learned from him as a performer?
A: When I saw Luke play the first time, he had already moved to Nashville. He played at Legends with his old college band and I remember thinking, he was mostly playing covers and I could tell he loved what he did, and that’s contagious as a music fan. He wasn’t just sitting on a bar stool like I was doing! From 11 years of living here, that is why I wanted to do it, because I wanted to make other people feel like I did (watching live music). I have to be able to make people have that kind of fun. I certainly looked up to him at that aspect, but you have to put your spin on it.
Q: Your third studio album, “All of It,” recently came out. What is the meaning behind the title?
A: “All of It” was the last song I recorded. But I HAD to have this song. We went in and recorded it and we were picking titles, which is a hard thing. I wanted this to reflect all of the whole album, and now I find myself saying “all of it,” not even talking about the album.
Q: Is it hard for you as a songwriter to be open to writing with other songwriters or using their songs?
A: You would think it would be a little harder. I’m a songwriter first, but I did move to be an artist, so to do both is amazing. I just always said - I remember way before I had a record or publishing deal - if I ever get to make an album, I’m going to have the best songs on there, whether I write them or not. That’s pretty much what I did on the first album. This one has the most outside songs I’ve recorded, but I love them all. I can’t record a song if I haven’t lived it. You can’t make it believable if you haven’t been there. I came out of the gate with a lot of fun stuff. Everyone who knew me knew I was more than that, but I’ve gotten to show myself through the first two albums and now this third one. Having this album come out,
it’s motivated me to want to write most of (the fourth) when it comes out. I was a fan first. I was that kid out there who said to Luke, “I want to write songs - what should I do?” and he wrote back one word, “Live.” It almost offended me, but he couldn’t have written back anything better, and that was 15 years ago. That advice goes for anything.
Cole Swindell and Dustin Lynch
With Mitchell Tenpenny. 7:30 p.m. Thursday. $33.75-$59. Infinite Energy Arena, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth.1-888-929-7849, www.infiniteenergycenter.com.