Riding high on his latest No. 1, "Ridin' Roads," Dustin Lynch celebrates his new album and his newly public relationship with LA model Kelli Seymour
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Dustin Lynch‘s last album, 2017’s Current Mood, was chock-full of steamy love songs that he openly declared were part of his personal history, but the heartthrob refused to talk specifics.

Not this time around with new album Tullahoma. It, too, simmers with romance, and Lynch is happily drawing a connection to his girlfriend of just over a year, model Kelli Seymour.

So why was he private then and public now?

“It just seems natural,” says the 34-year-old Tennessean, who just notched his latest No. 1 with “Ridin' Roads.” “There’s something comfortable about us, and honestly, getting the thumbs up from my family is a big deal. And her family, too.”

Shouldn’t that tell him something about her? “Yeah, no doubt,” says Lynch, flashing his patented dimpled grin.

Dustin Lynch Tullahoma
Dustin Lynch

But PEOPLE was prepared to tell him something even more about the relationship. Back in a 2017 video interview with People Now’s Andrea Boehlke, Lynch was expansive about what qualities he wanted in his “dream girl.” Now, with Seymour in the picture, how does she match up?

Come on!” Lynch beckons, eager to hear what he said more than two years ago when he was unattached.

The list begins: someone who’s not “into herself.”

“Okay,” Lynch says, nodding as he considers his girlfriend.

Laid-back? “Much so.”

Confident? “Much so.”

Loves to laugh? “Big time.”

Spontaneous? “Absolutely.”

And finally: enjoys travel, wouldn’t even need to pack a bag to leave town?

“There we go,” Lynch says in the affirmative. “She checked all those boxes? That is awesome!”

If Lynch has indeed met his match, it all began when Seymour’s print modeling work caught his eye in 2018. After tracking down her Instagram account, he DMed her. Lynch admits it wasn’t the first time he’d DMed a stranger, “but not with that intention,” he adds. “I mean, DMs happen. How else do you meet somebody, right?”

After weeks of texting, the two finally met face to face on Nov. 2, 2018 – Lynch easily remembers the date – when he invited the Los Angeles-based model to his show in Bakersfield, California, about 100 miles away. They’ve been a long-distance couple ever since, and among other things, Seymour has proven a worthy muse.

In fact, Lynch reveals he co-wrote “Country Star,” one of the new album’s 11 tracks, with Seymour specifically in mind. The song came after he bought a farm outside Nashville, and he imagined “taking her out there for the first time and what we would do. It’s kind of this fantasy night. We still haven’t gotten a chance to do that in real life — dammit.” He flashes that grin. “It’s too cold now, but when it warms back up, we’ll get to go out and enjoy it.”

Yes, Seymour knows she has her own song, and she loves it. “Actually, before she even knew it, she gravitated toward that song,” Lynch says.

Though love songs abound on the album, it actually is planted most firmly — as the title suggests — where Lynch claims his roots: Tullahoma, Tennessee, his hometown (pop. 19,000) about 75 miles southeast of Nashville. He admits he resisted the name at first, worried that fans may not know how to pronounce it. (Quick lesson: tuh-lah-ho-mah.) But as he and his producer began choosing songs, he realized he was making an album for the semi-autobiographical “Small Town Boy” he’d sung about in his previous album, and he gave himself over to the theme.

Dustin Lynch Tullahoma
Dustin Lynch’s Tullahoma
| Credit: Broken Bow Records

His first pick: “Momma's House,” an emotion-packed rocker that puts Lynch in heartbreak mode over the loss of his hometown girlfriend. Though he didn’t write the song, it perfectly captures a previous chapter of his life, Lynch says.

“I’ve lived it,” he says. “My first heartbreak was extra-terrible because it was my high school sweetheart.”

Until the breakup, Lynch had figured he was following in his family’s footsteps: His grandparents, his parents, and his sister and her husband were all high school sweethearts. “And she screwed that all up,” he says.

Of course, Lynch now knows it was all for the best, pushing him toward a trajectory to his platinum-selling career. He describes that journey and the inevitable nostalgic look back in the rearview mirror in “Dirt Road,” another album standout.

No matter the theme, all of the songs on the album radiate Lynch’s sunny, sexy vibe, giving the entire project a feel-good sound. Of course, fans are already intimately familiar with singles “Ridin’ Roads” and “Good Girl,” his sixth and seventh No. 1s, both of which he co-wrote. Other potential singles wait in the wings, including the earwormly “The World Ain't Yours and Mine,” which Old Dominion frontman Matthew Ramsey co-wrote and provides background harmonies for.

Lauren Alaina gets featured billing on “Thinking 'Bout You,” a catchy duet that Lynch co-wrote. The two singers connected in 2018 on tour with Cole Swindell, and they duetted each night on Lynch’s torcher “Love Me or Leave Me Alone.”

“I realized our voices worked well together,” he says. “There’s chemistry there, and so I kind of put that in the back of my mind.”

Alaina recorded her track separately in Los Angeles, during her recent Dancing with the Stars stint, and once Lynch finally heard it, he says, “I flipped. She hit some notes that I never fathomed she would go for, singing the octave above me in the chorus.”

With the album’s release on Friday, Lynch is now primed for his headlining “Stay Country” tour (with special guest Travis Denning) that launches Jan. 30 in Detroit and runs through March 28. Both the album and the tour cap a 2019 that Lynch declares “awesome.”

“Finding confidence is what I’ve done in the past year,” he says. “And this album is my first step in that direction — of going, man, this is who I am. This is who I want to be. This next year is just going to be a fun ride because I’m confident with what we’ve made.”

Dustin Lynch at Madison Square Garden
Dustin Lynch
| Credit: Daniel Vorlet

Of course, one big reason he’s anticipating the fun is Seymour’s presence in his life. “I’m just getting better, I think, at balancing a personal life with the professional,” he says.

And now, when he’s singing his love songs, does he think about that certain someone?

“She gets thought about a lot on stage these days,” Lynch confirms.

Even “Good Girl” and its “can’t imagine life without you” lyrics?

“‘Good Girl,’ for sure,” Lynch says, and here comes that dimpled grin again.