Editor’s note: The interview with Lady Antebellum is featured in the new episode of CMT Insider airing Saturday (June 30) and Sunday (July 1) at 11 a.m. ET/PT.
Lady Antebellum reached for the stars on their Own the Night World Tour — and their ambition has paid off.
“For us, it’s honestly been our ‘a-ha!’ moment,” singer Charles Kelley told CMT Insider at a tour stop near Atlanta.
“With the exception of a handful, most of the shows have been sellouts, and we honestly had no idea how many people would be coming out to these shows,” he added. “You throw your mike out to them, and you’re going, ‘My gosh!’ My wife came and saw us in Toronto, and she said three times during the show, she started crying. She couldn’t believe it was happening.”
However, country fans have been eager to sing along with arena-ready No. 1 hits like “I Run to You,” “Need You Now” and “Just a Kiss.” In this backstage interview, the trio chat about sketching out their perfect setup, noodling on new songs and serving up their latest obsession.
CMT: How long in advance did you start preparing for this tour?
Hillary Scott: Well, we started rehearsals for this tour last September. I would say all of it was probably coming together in the summertime.
Kelley: It started on a plate. Hillary started sketching it out on a plate, which is funny.
Scott: On a paper plate.
Kelley: We knew we wanted a pit that we could perform around. We call it this little inner circle, the “Lady A Inner Circle,” and literally our stage encompasses it and surrounds this pit of about 200 fans. Everybody feeds off that energy. And there’s a thrust. We knew we wanted to have a thrust, too, to get out closer to the audience for some of the moments of the show. I remember when we first walked in [and saw the stage] … it was mind-blowing. I couldn’t believe that it was ours, you know? So much effort and time gets put into those things, and to see it actually tangible — it blew my mind.
You were very hands-on with everything, right?
Kelley: Yeah, obviously we worked with a set designer and a guy named Baz [Halpin] who is a production designer. He had all his amazing ideas, as well. And we knew we wanted to have three screens, too — one for each of us at certain times and especially for the opening of it. It’s really cool how they utilize it. I think when you have a trio, there are some great things you can do with three screens. So we had some basic thoughts but then to see what they did. … They took it to a whole new level.
Scott: That’s their art. We gave them the short list of what we knew we wanted, and then they took it and ran with it. It was such an amazing relationship to build with Baz, and we really clicked. He made this dream conversation turn into a reality.
In those moments before you take the stage, do you still get a little nervous?
Dave Haywood: Yeah, we get a little nervous. I think we get fired up more than anything. For us, it’s kind of like a game you’re getting amped up for. So we’ll be backstage playing ping-pong. We’ve got a ping-pong table, and that helps calm the nerves a little bit.
Kelley: It’s become an obsession. A really bad obsession.
Haywood: It’s so bad, we don’t let anybody else play now. I’m sorry.
Scott: I never play.
Kelley: I know Hillary gets mad. She says we’re ping-pong elitists.
Scott: And I’ve learned this tour that I have a nervous tic of yawning once before every show. Charles thought that I was exhausted. And I’m like, “No, I’m not tired. I’m ready!” I’m like, “I am ready for this show!”
Kelley: Maybe that’s a nervous yawn?
Scott: But it’s like my nervous yawn calms me.
Haywood: She gets calm, and Charles and I get amped up like we’re about to take a football field.
Kelley: It’s fun, man. We get ready pretty early because we make sure to do our meet-and-greet before the opener Thompson Square goes on because we want to make sure people get back in their seats. We were opening up for people for a long time. And, heck, we could be right there in that position down the road, too. So we want to always show the openers as much respect because we know what it’s like to walk out there and you want everybody to be in there. So we get ready pretty early and have our meet-and-greets around 6 or 6:30. Then the openers will go on, we’ll play some ping-pong, listen to some of their set, come back in, have a drink, play some ping-pong, sing a little bit.
Haywood: Play the show. Go play ping-pong.
Kelley: I always take a quick shower and I get in my tennis shoes. That’s when ping-pong gets serious. When you put your tennis shoes on.
Scott: Boots are too slick on the bottom.
Haywood: This is the nerdiest interview of all time we’ve had to date.
Scott: I have to put my makeup on and take my dog out. It’s not quite as fun. But that’s my pregame. Take Hobbs out to pee, put on my mascara.
Kelley: And then yawn.
Scott: And then yawn once. Just once.
Let me ask about your new single, “Wanted You More.” How did that song come about?
Kelley: Well, it was a process. Every time we do our sound check, the band’s always up there. I call it “noodling around.” They’re jamming, and every now and then, you’re walking up and you’ll be like, “Wow, that’s really cool.” I remember on that one, we started humming some melodies to it. We’d come back the next week, and they’d keep playing it and we’d start singing some more stuff on it. It was this cool little process over a couple of weeks. Finally, once we had the melody figured out, we went back into the back — and we have some video of it — and we wrote the lyrics to it that day. It was really cool to sit around and have that. What’s so cool about it for me is that the band has that personal ownership of it and can really put their stamp on it.
Scott: We joke with them and say that they play that song the best every day.
Kelley: They do! We’ve actually written some songs with them that will make the next record, as well. I mean, they’re with us all the time. We have instruments just sitting around. This year was the first time we’ve had an actual room set up with the instruments. With amps and bass and everything you need. All the guitars, all the instruments. We sit back there and just jam and write a lot of times during the day. In between ping-pong matches, of course. And it’s brought us really close with the band. It’s like a little traveling summer camp of writers and ping-pong players.