“Fast. Furious. Bold. Overwhelming,” says Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild as she describes the group’s latest project, appropriately titled Tornado.
“That’s how we felt when we were in the studio,” she details. “It felt like there was a good storm brewing.”
“Seriously. It happened — bam!” pipes her husband and bandmate Jimi Westbrook during a recent interview with CMT.com. “It impacted our life, and then it was gone.”
In fact, in one whirlwind week, the CMA-nominated vocal group of the year — made up of Fairchild, Westbrook, Kimberly Schlapman and Phillip Sweet — managed to lay down all 11-tracks, spending a frenzied four days rehearsing followed by three days recording. And for a group who’s admittedly quite scrupulous, this progression was a fast-paced reach.
“We can be super meticulous and stretch a recording out for a while,” Westbrook admits.
“Years!” Schlapman laughs.
For their fifth studio project, however, producer Jay Joyce pushed the quartet outside their familiar confines. Best known for his success with Eric Church, his vision was to capture the essence of Little Big Town’s live show, encapsulate that raw and natural chemistry onstage so many of their fans have come to adore.
“I think putting pressure on ourselves like that made us push ourselves even further,” Sweet says. “It just feels like that intangible kind of quality is the difference on this record. It has even more life and energy to it because we did it that way.”
And they’re already reaping the benefits. The album’s first single, “Pontoon,” not only secured the group their first No. 1 and platinum-selling song, but the summertime anthem also went on to nab a CMA nomination for single of the year.
Upon hearing the carefree tune for the first time, the band had a feeling the contagious lyrics had the potential to become a major success. The song, written by Natalie Henby, Luke Laird and Barry Dean, is now one of the most immediately-identifiable songs at Little Big Town’s concerts.
“We’re to the point these past few weeks when you start off with that lick at the top, people are on their feet and they know it,” Westbrook says with a smile. “It’s a cool feeling.”
In addition to their laid-back ode to boating, songs like “Pavement Ends,” “Front Porch Thing” and “On Fire Tonight” complement the project with their groove-laden sound. But it’s the song’s namesake, “Tornado” that summons the true grit and feverish passion within their music.
“It really I think expresses a lot of what Little Big Town is, but at the same time, it’s very different from anything we’ve ever done,” Sweet explains of the spirited song. “It has that bold quality that we all were drawn to.”
Still, the album’s outright sass is offset with a tender and sensitive quality, as well. From inebriating reverence in “Sober” to the dreamy and almost lullaby-reminiscent “Night Owl,” it’s the group’s woven harmonies in “Your Side of the Bed” and “Leaving in Your Eyes” that sketch the storylines of a delicate heart.
However, for Fairchild, her favorite message lies within the song, “Self-Made,” a tune she co-penned with Westbrook and fellow co-writers Hemby and Jedd Hughes.
“Taught yourself how to turn the tide/Walk a shore before the waters rise/Even when you’re down/You’re still comin’ through,” she recites.
“I love that,” she continues. “I love that lyric. I think about so many people out there that work so hard to get what little that they have and meet obstacles, but they are always there, pushing through.”
Much like Little Big Town.
Having pounded the pavement for the last 13 years, the song speaks volumes to the group’s unwavering perseverance and tireless devotion to honing their craft.
“I think there’s definitely the heart of the band in that song,” Westbrook adds. “There was a passion in singing that song in the studio, too, and I still feel it because we do it in the live show now, and it definitely comes from our soul. I think that’s the story of country fans and the places that we grew up. You had to work for what you got. I think that’s true on a lot of fronts in our lives.”
And for a group that’s continued to evolve and change over the past decade, it’s their open communication and respect for one another that continues to keep their relationships and music flourishing.
“I think we each are open enough to be teachable and to learn and to respect one another,” Sweet explains of their thriving dynamic. “And so that trust between us grows, and we trust one another and trust each other when someone has an idea or makes a decision or wants to do something. We all can get behind each other. There’s a great maturity in our relationship. I’m really proud of that.”