Relationships tend to become strained over time in the entertainment business, but Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood seem to move together in lock step as they grow.
“I think we all truly love hanging out and look at the other person with a lot of respect and as a great friend,” says Haywood. “So I think when you have that as your foundation, when we do have a big decision, it’s easier to handle it.”
For their fourth studio album, Golden, the platinum-selling group had to decide if they should play it safe with their sound or try to shake things up. They chose the latter, and Golden features new songwriters, a return to a “band” feel and fresh vocal attitude from Scott.
The group dropped by the CMT offices to let fans know where Golden is coming from.
CMT: This seems like a very happy, exciting time in each of your lives. How did the song and idea of “Golden” come to you?
Kelley: That was actually the last song we wrote for the album. We’d been trying to get together to write with Eric Paslay because we just love his songwriting style. It just happened that it was really late in the process. So we sat around at my house, and it just came out of nowhere. Sometimes a really special song can come out of that, and “Golden” was back to the basics of us as a group — just us sitting in a room and laughing and having a great writing session, not having the distractions of being on the road. It was just a really soft, calm night.
Once we started thinking about a title for the record, I kept saying “Hopefully, this will be a good road trip record” — one where you’re just riding down the road and you can see the golden streaks of light coming through the trees. It kind of reminded me of records that I’ve had driving from my home in Augusta, Ga., to college … like a golden, vintage vibe to it.
Reinvention was also on your minds since this is the fourth album. You’ve never really been stuck on recording only your own material, but now there are a few more outside songs. How does it feel to get outside of your comfort zone?
Scott: I think it’s probably one of the best decisions we could have made at this point in our career. For one, we were pitched the best songs we’ve ever been pitched before. And two, we write a certain way, like what naturally comes to us, and this pulled us out of our shell. The subject matter is said in a way that we would never have said it, so it’s made us grow. And then there are melodies that we didn’t write to go along with the lyrics, so a song like “Get to Me” — which kicks off the record and was written by Hillary Lindsey and James Slater — I can truly say I’m a better singer now because of that song. It stretched my range higher than I’ve ever sung before, and it’s more powerful. It’s a different place for me.
Haywood: And even the lyrics like in “Downtown,” talking about jaywalking and smoking and all these fun lines that we might not have put into a song …
Scott: (sings) “Show a little uh huh/But you ain’t getting nuh uh”
Haywood: Yeah (laughs). So I think lyrically they push you along.
“Downtown” is one of the most distinctive songs on the record. What drew you to it?
Kelley: It just had a feel to it. This could be a weird reference, but it reminded me of Sheryl Crow’s first album — (sings) “All I wanna do, is have some fun.” It just had that kind of fun vibe, and it’s unique. Plus, it had a little edge. At first, Hillary was a little scared of doing it. She was like “I don’t know if I can pull that off.” Again, it was another song that showed a different side of her.
Scott: To myself.
Kelley: Yeah, and we needed to mix it up a little bit. I think when you go into your fourth record, fans are going to start to think they know what to expect. And I feel like the people that have heard it so far, you can just feel a different energy now from when we were doing the last record. Maybe that sound was a little more expected, and this one feels like people are refreshed a little.
Hillary, you mentioned taking a few chances with your voice. On “It Ain’t Pretty,” I heard some rawness to it. Is that a new direction for you?
Scott: Yeah, and it’s two-fold because the mic that I had been singing on since the beginning broke for this record.
Haywood: Passed away.
Scott: Yeah, we had to lay it to rest, which was really sad at first. But in the long run, I think it was time because I got to try new mics. It sounds weird, but it really does make a difference what mic you’re singing on. So between the mic choice and the song — and the way we tracked it and all of that — it can really dictate a performance. I mean, the emotion is the most important part, but those elements factor in, as well, so it pushed me outside of my comfort zone in another way.
For that song in particular, I wanted it to be “not pretty,” as much as you can. I wanted that to be felt through my vocal because what it’s talking about isn’t pretty. It’s this girl’s story of heartbreak and her fall from grace, in a way, and not making great decisions after a really bad heartbreak. And having been there myself at certain points in my life, when you really let yourself go there, you can give a performance that you didn’t even know you had in you.
Dave, you’ve said there are fewer instruments on this record. Does that change the connection that the listener might have?
Haywood: We always rehearse before we go into the studio to work the songs up. But when we were working these up, the arrangements just felt full the way they were. We didn’t feel like we needed to go in there and start stacking electric guitars and orchestras and stuff, which we love doing and have done on a lot of our songs. We just didn’t feel like these songs lent themselves to that.
Kelley: It lets the vocals shine through more when you don’t clutter it up.
Haywood: Yeah, and the harmonies all come through a little bit better when you don’t have tons of electronic instruments floating all the way through everything. There are no drum loops or any of that kind of crazy stuff for this record. So it’s much simpler. More like a band, as opposed to “We built a track and we added this and that.” We wanted to sound like a band again on this record.