"I've been a long-distance, met you at a show, introduced by a friend or slid into the DMs type of dater," the country star tells PEOPLE
Dustin Lynch is at a crossroads.
As he prepares to release his sixth studio album Killed the Cowboy on Friday, the country star, 38, is at a high point of his career. "Six albums is a lot on Wikipedia," quips Lynch, who, over his past 12 years in Nashville, has steadily cemented himself as a staple on country radio with hits like "Small Town Boy," "Thinkin 'Bout You" and "Stars Like Confetti."
But, the eligible bachelor and Tennessee native recognizes the parts of his life outside of his career that have fallen by the wayside.
"I'm single right now," Lynch says over a margarita in West Hollywood in mid-September. "What I've learned is I've got to continue to have a personal life and embrace what's missing in my life, which is a relationship."
These days there's a few ever-persistent questions on Lynch's mind: "Do I lean in and try [to date] more? Or do I just go about loving where I'm at and maybe that person finds me?"
"It's a back and forth, like, is there another level to unlock?" he says. "I think that's something that I want to continue to keep in the forefront, like, 'OK. What's me happy five, 10, 20, 30 years from now if I'm blessed to have that many? Is that with one person? Is that with kids?' I don't know the answer yet."
Lynch further explores those questions on Killed the Cowboy. On the introspective "If I Stop Drinkin," for example, he ruminates on a love lost. "Leaning on the Bourbon is the only thing that's working / Without it I'd be missing you, wishing that you'd change your mind," he croons in the chorus.
"We're going to sum that song up in one word: overthinking," he says. "For me, at least, it's not like, 'Oh, I'm drinking to drown this girl away.' I get super granular and analytic whenever I do a sober October. When I have my sober months or longevity of soberness, I become hyperactive and think a lot. I relate so well to that song because there's something about having friends around and the rhythm of life of going out and having fun and meeting people. When I'm drinking it's always social, and if that stops, I get a little obsessive."
After pausing for a brief period of self-reflection, he says with a laugh, "That sounds creepy! Sorry, delete!"
For the past two years, Lynch has done sober October, since it's a time when his touring typically slows down (plus the added bonus of looking his best for awards season never hurts). But Lynch says he's opting out this year.
"I missed football, and you forget about the Halloween parties," he says. "Going to the Halloween party last year at Kane Brown's and not drinking was devastating. I'm thinking about haunted houses and cuffing season! I'm not ready to give that up this year."
Why not dry January? "Dry January is not ever going to happen for me because we do Luke Bryan's Crash My Playa in Mexico, and I'm the mayor of that festival," he says with a smile.
As he circles back to his tendency to overthink, Lynch makes an honest admission about his dating life: "I think what scares me off a lot is I don't want to miss the right one because I went on a date with the wrong one, even if it's one date."
"I have a very strong defensive coordinator on the shoulder right here that comes up with excuses and nos and why nots," he says. "Then I look back at this past year, and I'm like, 'Damn, I didn't really take any trips with anybody, and that sucks.' I need to be a little bit more open to spending quality time with somebody."
"As we promote this album coming out, I've been saying it's kind of therapeutic to discover what's wrong with me," he continues. "I think the conclusion is I just need to stop being a worrywart. Maybe I need to take advantage of the album cycle, if you will, and go and get my heart broken again."
Thus far, Lynch has been hesitant to open himself up to dating in Nashville specifically (he lives on a farm north of the city).
"I want to say strategically, I've been scared of the gossip circle in Nashville affecting my career," he says. "I’ve been more of a long-distance, met you at a show, introduced by a friend or slid into the DMs type of dater."
To add to that, "I very much cherish getting to be alone and really recharge and chill when I'm home," he says. "There's a balance that I'm trying to figure out."
On the business and music sides of his life, Lynch feels a bit more confident in knowing who to let in to his inner circle.
"I'm more comfortable finding the right people on my team now," he says. "Finding trust as a young artist is a big deal because you're thrown into madness — or, at least, I was."
Born in Tullahoma, Tennessee, Lynch got his start playing guitar as a kid. In 2011, he signed his record deal, and a year later, he released his debut single "Cowboys and Angels." The song went to the No. 2 spot on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.
"For whatever reason, 'Cowboys and Angels' is having a resurgence," he says. "It's popped back up to the top after 11 years. I don't know why."
Recently, Lynch says the high school in his hometown even did a "Cowboys and Angels" theme for their spirit week.
"'Cowboys and Angels' is still a song that people love to make a part of their life and their days,'" he says. "I had no idea of the power of music until I started playing that song, and people would come to shows and post about it. It continues to baffle me."
In 2017, Lynch had another major breakthrough moment with the release of his Current Mood single "Small Town Boy," which hit No. 1 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart. The momentum continued well into 2021, when he released his MacKenzie Porter duet "Thinking 'Bout You."
"The ride of 'Thinking 'Bout You' was not expected at all," he says. "The second year it was out was bigger than the first year. I can tell how many people are coming to the show just for that moment. It's kind of bittersweet when it comes in our set list. It's like, 'Here it is,' and then it's like, '...And there it went.' I always wondered if we could top 'Small Town Boy.' We snuck up, and we did it."
Since then, Lynch has seen similar success with his single "Stars Like Confetti," off his 2022 album Blue in the Sky.
"'Stars Like Confetti' was a song that really started the Blue in the Sky process," he says. "It was a silver lining of not getting to tour in 2021. All of us were back home, and I was just writing songs and on my boat. Thomas Rhett, my producer Zach Crowell and Josh Thompson had me in mind when they wrote the song, and literally later that day popped it over to me."
"My core group of friends get to hear everything first, and when we're doing a lake day and catching a buzz and surfing and having a good time, we play a lot of songs," he continues. "I said, 'Let me play you this demo,' and I play 'Stars,' and then we move on and we listen to 40 other songs, and then we're coming back from dinner and somebody goes, 'Dude, play that new song "Stars Like Confetti" again,' and it's like, Boom. Out of 200 songs we heard today, you remember the title and you want to hear it again? Let me pay attention to that."
Though he currently has his hands full with Killed the Cowboy (which he'll kick off a tour for next April with special guest Skeez), Lynch already has his sights set on future music.
"Creatively, I have to think in two years from now, 'What do I want to say?'" he says.
As he figures that out, Lynch relishes in any down time he gets to spend doing what he loves: hanging with friends and family, flying, going outdoors and tending to his farm.
"I had a really cool day recently," he says. "I have my pilot's license, so I did a flight lesson early in the morning. Then I had to go take care of some stuff on the farm on my tractor. Later, my buddy was like, 'Man, the fish are biting.' I got to fly, I got to farm, and then I got to jump on my boat and go catch a fish. That's touching all the bases for me."
Looking ahead to what's shaping up to be a busy 2024, Lynch says he feels an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
"I'm just happy to continue to keep it going," he says. "We've got tours lined up and more to announce, and it's going to be a fun year to make music. It's been a hell of a ride so far."
And no matter how big his career gets, Lynch says he can always count on his family to bring him back down to earth.
"I'm still Mom and Dad's son and my sister's little brother," he says, "and she's always been better than me, so I'm still a low man on the totem pole."
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