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Lady Antebellum wrapped up 2009 with a five-week No. 1 hit, “Need You Now,” an emotionally vulnerable ballad about on-again/off-again relationships. But before the single ever shipped to country radio, the ensemble wasn’t sure if it was actually the right choice to introduce a new album.
They thought the first single should be an up-tempo song, but executives at their label, Capitol Nashville, were convinced that “Need You Now” was the perfect choice.
“Everyone heard that song and just flipped out,” says Charles Kelley, who co-founded the band with childhood friend Dave Haywood and Nashville native Hillary Scott. “We were thinking from a live show perspective because we were like, ‘Well, we had “Run to You,” which is kind of a mid-tempo, so we need something fun!’ They said, ‘Guys, I’m telling you, this is the one.’ We put our trust in them and, sure enough, they were right.”
With their second album, Need You Now, set for release on Tuesday (Jan. 26), the energetic trio visited with CMT Insider‘s Allison DeMarcus about living up to high expectations, building their fan base gradually and writing hits in the middle of the night.
DeMarcus: “Need You Now” was a No. 1 hit for five weeks, and that’s how you guys are kicking off this new album. How excited are you about that?
Kelley: It’s huge, honestly. We keep saying it was very unexpected and just a huge confirmation that this record is hopefully going to be a kind of life-changer for us. Doing the second album is a lot of pressure, and having the first single do so well hopefully takes a little bit of the pressure off. But on the flipside, it’s a double-edged sword because now the rest of the record has to live up to the first single. (laughs)
Scott: Hopefully, it will.
Kelley: But it’s exciting. It definitely is.
Do you have expectations — now that your single has done so well — for your first-week sales? Does that make you a little uneasy?
Haywood: Well, we try not to think about numbers. We’ve been waiting for this record to come out for months now, and we’ve been writing for it for two years, so we’re just ready to get the music out there. Hopefully first-week sales will be good. I mean, we won’t lie — we want it to be great.
Kelley: I’d rather see it [build over time] like our first record has done. … People are just now starting to get to know who we are and hearing our music. It’s funny how it takes sometimes three singles to do that.
Scott: We had some of our biggest sales weeks over Christmas. Our record had been out for 80-something weeks, so you never know. We have to realize that sometimes it takes a lot of impressions for people to really start noticing your music and your faces.
Kelley: We’d rather it sell over a long period of time. … We wouldn’t want it to have a great first week and then go, “Eeeeeh.” (laughs)
Scott: And then sell like two the next week.
Kelley: Because then that means the word of mouth is really bad. (laughs) “Don’t waste your money, everybody!”
You are co-producers of this. Was that kind of hard? Did you kind of have to fight for that position?
Haywood: It’s not. No, we love it. We do all of our demos and stuff in the studio, as well, and we love being in there and taking these songs we write and hopefully getting them close to what we envisioned them as, or maybe better … .
Scott: Most of the songs are songs we have written, so they’re our babies and we have them in our heads how we want to hear them. I know I personally don’t have the language to be able to express that, but that’s where Dave comes in because he can do that very well. We’re very vocal about what we want to hear, and sometimes it’s literally like, “I just want to hear ‘purple.'” There’s no way to describe it but Paul [Worley, their co-producer] is great. He’s the captain of the ship, and he’ll explore our ideas. Most of the time, we’ll end up going back to his, but at least he listens to us.
Kelley: It’s a lot of fun. That’s a different side of the brain going into the studio, as opposed to doing a live show, obviously. For us, it doesn’t feel like work. It’s like taking a break from traveling and everything. We get be artistic and … .
And actually sleep in your own bed.
All: Yes! (laughter) Exactly!
Scott: Unless you’re Charles, and you don’t sleep.
Kelley: I was going to say, I’m constantly thinking of it, and I’ll be sending e-mails at like 2 or 3 in the morning.
Haywood: Oh, we get the e-mails. Don’t worry.
Scott: Our phone buzzes on our bedside table.
Kelley: “All right, this is why we shouldn’t do the piano intro because … .” Yeah, it stresses me out, in a good way. I just get very anxious about it and excited.
How do you turn it off then?
Kelley: I don’t. It drives Cassie [his wife] nuts. Literally, I’ll wake up in the middle of the night. … I’ve heard a lot of artists do this. It’s really funny. T.M.I. [Too Much Information] coming up: I have a really weak bladder, and so I’m always getting up and going to the restroom, and every now and then … I’ll be humming, and I’ll be like, “Oh, man. I have a good song idea.” And she’ll be dead asleep, and I’ll get my little phone with the recorder. … And she’s like, “What’s going on?”
Scott: “What are you doing?!”
Haywood: “Hold on. I’m just singing at 1 a.m.!” (all laugh)
Kelley: And I’ll be like, “Shh! Shh! Hit song idea! Go to bed. Go to bed.” (laughs) So, that’s part of our life.
What have you learned over the past year that’s really helped you make this record and make it what you wanted it to be?
Kelley: Probably to be ourselves. Again, I think with the success of the first record and the response, everyone was like, “Hey, we like what you’re doing. Keep doing what you’re doing.” Obviously, we can’t come out with the same record. We’ve gotta flip it up a little. I think the way we did that was to just approach it a little bit more in-depth and get a little bit more creativity with the production elements and lyrically take some chances. I mean, “Need You Now” — “I’m a little drunk, and I need you now.” As a new artist, we might be afraid of saying that on the first record. Now we’re like, “Hey, man, this is country music. What happened to country music? What happened to Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash songs and singing those kind of lyrics?” It was fine and then for some reason over the past few years I think it’s become … .
Haywood: It’s honest.
Scott: Yeah. We really bared it all in a lot a ways. There’s a song called “When You Got a Good Thing” on the record that we wrote with Rivers Rutherford. It’s pretty much Charles’ song to his wife because he just got married over the summer. There’s a line that goes: “Barefoot beauty with eyes that blue/Sunshine sure looks good on you.” He was thinking about their wedding day because he had the picture up on his screensaver on his computer as we were writing it. … And then we have a song like “Ready to Love Again” that is really, really special to me. It’s the one that I relate to the most. It’s very personal, so we really allowed ourselves to go there and be vulnerable and show the fans that we feel and we hurt and we love just like anybody else does. I hope they feel that when they hear it.