NEW YORK - Luke Bryan is easily the reigning prince of Country music: He's scored 10 No. 1 hits on Billboard's Hot Country songs chart; he's one of a few contemporary acts to sell out stadiums; and he's achieved back-to-back multiplatinum albums.
But Bryan, who has been on the music scene for a decade, has yet to earn a Grammy Award - or even a nomination.
"I guess a few years ago I kind of was thinking I'd get a Grammy nomination or two and didn't,'' said Bryan, who had one of the top albums of both 2013 and 2014 with "Crash My Party.''
"Yeah, you get a little frustrated by that,'' he added. "I think the Grammys, sometimes accepting a guy like me is a little outside their deal.''
Things could change with the release of his fifth album, "Kill the Lights,'' on Aug. 7.
"My focus is doing what I can musically for my fans first and foremost. ... Grammys stuff would be added, amazing stuff,'' he said. "I've won quite a few AMAs [American Music Awards], and it's so fun being out there and being recognized among all music as a country artist - that stuff's very flattering. And if the Grammys stuff ever happens, I'd be flattered by it.''
Bryan, who turns 40 next year, has connected with young Country fans thanks to his party anthems and songs about drinking and living life freely. Recent winners for Grammys for Country music include acts that have hit mainstream and topped the pop charts, from Carrie Underwood to Taylor Swift to Lady Antebellum, or traditional acts in the vein of Glen Campbell.
Others have been slow to give Bryan credit: He finally won his first Country Music Association Award less than a year ago when he was named entertainer of the year, the show's top prize.
"I don't feel pressure much anymore. ... Up until this point in my career, obviously there's been quite a bit of pressure, but it's fun to be in a situation where that stuff starts chilling out and you can just relax,'' said the married father of two boys. "My thing is I spent a lot of years trying to outdo each album ... and I feel like this album has outdone 'Crash My Party,' so now it's just about me enjoying it.''
On "Kill the Lights,'' Bryan is stretching outside his comfort zone. He said recording the song "Razor Blade'' was challenging.
"It's kind of a darker song for me - somewhere I haven't really been artistically. The main thing was me learning how to kind of capture that really, really kind of darker side of the song,'' he said by phone during a break from his Kick the Dust Up Tour. "It's new territory for me. ... I had to step out of the vocal booth a couple times and get my head in the right space.''
The album features the radio-ready "Home Alone Tonight,'' a duet with Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town; the slow-burner "Strip It Down''; "Huntin', Fishin' and Lovin' Every Day,'' an ode to Southern living; and "Kick the Dust Up,'' the upbeat first single that's currently No. 1 on the country charts.
Jeff Stevens, who has produced all of Bryan's albums, worked on "Kill the Lights'' with his son, Jody, to give the country star some new flavor.
Stevens said Bryan co-wrote more songs this time around, which "lends a different tone for the record.''
"He's had an emotional year while we were making this record, lots of things going on around him including - not only family stuff - but the fact that his career keeps growing,'' he said. "So there's a lot of changes going on in his life and this album reflects that.''
Bryan, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, said he's mostly grown from being a live performer to perfectly crafting songs in the studio. And overall in life, he's content.
"I've matured on so many levels,'' Bryan said. "I'm happier now than I've ever been because ... I'm just in a completely Zen moment now.''