Little Big Town has left the independent Equity Music Group label to sign a multi-album deal with Capitol Nashville. Wednesday’s (April 23) announcement followed several months of industry speculation that the platinum-selling quartet was looking for another label home after releasing two albums for Nashville-based Equity.
In a press release issued Wednesday morning, Equity general manager and interim president Derek Simon confirmed that the label and Little Big Town “reached an agreement to part ways.”
Less than 90 minutes later, Capitol announced its new signing and also revealed the acquisition of the group’s two Equity albums — 2005’s The Road to Here and 2007’s A Place to Land . Capitol is taking over the marketing and promotion of A Place to Land and will be releasing a new single to country radio immediately.
Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Roads, Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook have endured a bumpy path since forming in 1998. First signed to Mercury Records, the deal fell apart before they released an album. They subsequently signed with Monument Records, a Sony label that was home to the Dixie Chicks. Their self-titled debut album was released in 2002, but Sony dropped Little Big Town from its roster after the release of two singles, “Don’t Waste My Time” (which peaked at No. 33 on Billboard’s country chart) and “Everything Changes” (which peaked at No. 42).
In addition to their career turmoil, in the days after losing their record deal, Sweet and Fairchild both went through divorces, and Roads’ husband died of a heart attack. With no immediate prospects of another recording contract, Fairchild, Sweet and Westbrook assumed day jobs to support themselves.
They later gained encouragement from Wayne Kirkpatrick, a singer-songwriter who had previously teamed with the four members to write “Pontiac,” a track featured on their Sony album. Kirkpatrick had already enjoyed success in contemporary Christian music and as a co-writer of Eric Clapton’s Grammy-winning hit, “Change the World.”
With Little Big Town still without a label, Kirkpatrick offered to provide studio time to produce the tracks that became The Road to Here. It was released by Equity, a company co-founded by Clint Black to allow artists greater artistic control over their music and ownership of their recordings.
Having lacked a distinctive identity at Sony, The Road to Here caught many in Nashville off guard. Within the span of three years, the band had undergone a dramatic transformation in sound and image.
The Road to Here went on to sell 1.3 million copies and provided a series of Top 20 singles including “Bring It On Home,” “Boondocks,” “Good as Gone” and “A Little More You.” The band helped market the album through relentless touring, opening shows for George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, Martina McBride, John Mellencamp and others. They also taped an episode of CMT Crossroads with one of their primary influences, Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac, and provided background vocals on Mellencamp’s Freedom Road album.
Little Big Town’s third album, A Place to Land, has sold approximately 150,000 copies since its release in November. Around the time the CD hit stores, Equity president Mike Kraski exited the position, and the label aligned itself with two investment groups based in California and Washington, D.C.
In announcing the decision between Equity and Little Big Town to part company, Simon said, “The last two and a-half years are a testimony to what a band, their management and record label can achieve when they share total commitment, passion and artistic vision. … This is a special band and, as friends and fans, we want to see them continue a long career filled with artistic achievement and commercial success.”
Capitol Nashville president and CEO Mike Dungan said he and the label’s staff have long admired Little Big Town’s vocal harmonies and songwriting.
“With their great live shows and warm, approachable personalities, these four people have become engrained into the hearts and minds of country music fans everywhere,” he said. “They are poised to explode, and we are ecstatic about the possibilities and humbled and honored to have been chosen to represent them and their music.”
The Capitol Nashville roster currently includes Keith Urban, Trace Adkins, Dierks Bentley, Chris Cagle, Eric Church, Jedd Hughes, Ashley Ray, Kenny Rogers, Darius Rucker, Cyndi Thomson and Emily West. One of the label’s new acts, Lady Antebellum, debuted at No. 1 on this week’s Billboard country albums chart with their self-titled debut project.
“We’ve been so impressed with the whole team at Capitol and the leadership of Mike Dungan that we felt like this was the right home for the band and our music,” Sweet said.