That Time Tyler Hubbard Got Grounded for Making Out in Public? He Put It in ‘Park’

It’s arguably easier to figure a pitcher’s earned run average than to determine a car’s horsepower, and it’s a good bet that the majority of drivers don’t know how much horsepower their engine generates.

But nearly everyone realizes that a larger number equals more speed. So when Tyler Hubbard brags that he has “700 horses under the hood” in the chorus of his new single, “Park,” it’s easy to get what he’s saying. Especially since he, like most of us, understands it more as a comparative number than one he needs to calculate.

“I had a friend in college who had a super-fast car that was like a muscle car basically,” Hubbard recalls. “There was 800 horsepower. It was like a race car, and I can even go to the drag strip with it and compete. So I knew like 800 horsepower is a ton of horsepower for a car. So 700 is a souped-up car for sure.”

It’s a detail that fits an automotive-themed T-Hub song.

“He’s always loved to go fast,” says co-writer Canaan Smith (“Famous,” “Runaway”). “Back in the day, when we first met at Belmont College, he was riding his motorcycle up and down the interstate doing wheelies at 80 miles an hour.”

“Park” emerged near the end of a songwriters retreat at the Gulf Coast home of Jesse Frasure (“Halfway To Hell,” “Young Love & Saturday Nights”). A couple different teams were working simultaneously on material for Hubbard, who ricocheted from room to room as the songs developed. They’d already built several by the time of the “Park” session, so Frasure, Smith and Ashley Gorley (“I Had Some Help,” “I Am Not Okay”) were in a position to take a few more creative risks.

“There’s a little bit of a freedom when you’ve got a couple in the can on a writing retreat,” Frasure says. “It’s very relaxing, and you’re like, ‘Okay, cool.’ So you pull up some more aggressive tracks.”

Frasure purposely introduced an instrumental track he’d created with a danceable tempo and a bright feel. “I want to put things in the artist’s pile that are fun, energetic, that you could see pyro going off on stage,” Frasure says. “The more I do this, the more that’s what I get excited about, because I just feel like that’s the soundtrack to people’s lives. People love a well-written tune, and we’ll give awards to those, but I want the one that’s gonna be on someone’s playlist on the boat.”

The track resonated in the room – Frasure’s wife, Rhythm House vp Stevie Frasure, and Hubbard’s wife, Hayley, were both grooving along with it – and the writers started sifting through ideas that would fit. Tyler was in the other writer room as they considered titles, and Gorley brought up the word “Park,” from his list. The contrast between the dance tempo and the word “Park” was worth exploring.

“To me, there’s a really interesting, cool flip in the storyline here,” Smith says. “Yes, he likes to go fast, but there’s nothing he’d rather do than just put it in park.”

When Tyler returned, he gave them a green light on the song, which was already in process, and they got the wheels turning on the chorus, launching into it with a line custom-made for Hubbard: “I can drive you from this holler to Hollywood.” The chorus explored the driving theme – the horsepower, speed and screaming tires – but made the thematic flip by the end of the chorus as the singer considers the girl riding shotgun: “All I wanna do is park.”

“It was just sort of a picture of young, innocent, and it’s fun and a little bit risky and wild,” Hubbard says. “We’ve all been there at some point in our life, and I like to think occasionally, it’s fun to just go back to that mindset.”

The two verses added some detail to the storyline: a couple kids racing through dirt roads around midnight, flirting with the thrill of driving for hours in the anonymous darkness, but flirting even more intensely with each other. As the writers cruised through the lyrics, Hubbard reconnected with one of his own experiences, making out at age 15 in his girlfriend’s car  in the church parking lot, only to have a cop interrupt, then take Hubbard home and rat him out to his parents. Hubbard was grounded for the next month.

“It was a learning lesson, for sure,” he says. “It was only a mile from the house. My dad was like, ‘Why didn’t you just come sit in the driveway?’”

Between the programmed track and the guitars in the room, the song was propelled by stacks of rhythm, and they decided to create room for a guitar solo that ultimately shifted into a short bridge. Those sections use the same four chords as the rest of the song, though they’re arranged in a different order, making that mid-song departure feel easy and natural.

“Bridges usually are for troubled waters,” Smith quips, “but we didn’t feel like this was any trouble. We wanted it to carry along and keep people immersed in what was happening, and sometimes you can do that musically with just a little reset.”

Frasure produced a brisk, almost-skipping demo that gave Hubbard and his co-producer, Jordan M. Schmidt (Mitchell Tenpenny, The Band Camino), a strong foundation. Tony Lucido’s start-and-stop bass hook, layers of guitars and Nir Z’s 700 horses of dramatic drum fills intensified the groove during a tracking session at Nashville’s Sound Stage.

“Certain songs just require certain things,” Smith reasons, “and this one definitely needed the Nir Z treatment.”

Schmidt and Jonny Fung completed the guitar-layering in overdubs, and Hubbard had a relatively easy go of it when he sang final vocals. The “All I wanna do is park” hook was likely the most difficult part of the process, since an “r” consonant can sound harsh at the end of a phrase (think Kevin Cronin singing “remember,” “together” and “forever” in the second verse of REO Speedwagon’s “Keep On Loving You”).

“It does roll off the tongue a little differently,” Hubbard allows, “but it’s somehow always felt natural and always worked, even live. I do have to be a little bit more intentional about it.”

The entire chorus fit perfectly into Hubbard’s vocal sweet spot. “His voice has always, throughout his entire career, cut really well,” Frasure says. “It’s very noticeable, and there’s certain melodies and certain tones – and certain keys, actually – with Tyler’s voice that are just money.”

EMI Nashville released “Park” to country radio via PlayMPE on June 3 as the second single from Hubbard’s album Strong. Hubbard played “Park” second in the set during Kane Brown’s In the Air Tour, though the possibility exists that he could bunch it with “Dancing in the Country” in the future to create an extended party atmosphere.

“When I get a few more singles under my belt and have a little more to play with, we could definitely make a 10- or 12-minute moment,” Hubbard says. “They do live in the same family for sure.”

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