Last summer Lady Antebellum was forced into taking a break from the road for the most welcome of reasons – the impending birth of a daughter to singer Hillary Scott.
For a group that loves nothing more than making music, the other two band members – Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood – did what came naturally. They hit the studio. The summer break came only a couple of months after the release of the group’s fourth album, “Golden.”
Initially Lady Antebellum planned to return to touring behind the album last fall. But when the summer break produced a batch of new songs, it created a dilemma.
“We’re such studio rats — we love being in the studio,” Haywood said in a recent phone interview. “And we went in there and really felt like, man, this feels like a whole fresh kind of sound of Lady Antebellum.”
The trio, though, wasn’t ready to leave behind “Golden” and move on to a new album. The time off, though, put a pause on momentum behind the original “Golden” album, which had produced a No. 1 country single, “Downtown,” but had seen the follow-up single, “Goodbye Town” stall out at No. 11 on “Billboard” magazine’s Hot Country Songs chart.
The solution was to postpone the fall tour, add three newly recorded songs to “Golden” and re-launch the album as a deluxe edition. One of the new songs, “Compass,” went to radio ahead of the November release of the deluxe edition. That song currently sits at No. 7 on “Billboard’s” Hot Country Songs chart. Now Lady Antebellum, who plays Wichita’s Intrust Bank Arena on Friday, is starting the tour that was to begin in the fall, giving “Golden” a new push.
And the new songs, Haywood said, actually enhanced an album the band already felt was a strong effort.” From our personal standpoint, we felt it (“Golden”) was our best work,” Haywood said. “We thought how can we add to this thing? What is that other big, fun, live song that we want to have for the (live) show to kind of complete the record? So yeah, I think there was maybe one or two of those moments missing in the end for the album as a whole, so that’s the excitement and reason we wanted to add a couple of more songs to it.”
“Compass” should add a lively moment in the current live show. It’s a frisky and rootsy uptempo tune that is arguably the most bluegrass/country sounding tune on “Golden.” The other new songs are band co-writes. “And The Radio Played” is a mid-tempo song with an acoustic edge that pays homage to classic country radio. “Life As We Know It,” meanwhile, is the kind of pop-country ballad that the group has always featured on its albums.
The new tracks add to an album that already was breezier and more uptempo than earlier Lady Antebellum albums — thanks to tunes like the expansive and slightly edgy “Get To Me,” the rocking “Better Off Now (That You’re Gone)” and the soul-tinged “Downtown” — but also hewed closely to the pop country sound that has been the group’s signature. Unlike the latter two new tunes, “Compass” was written by six — count ‘em — writers that collaborated on the tune.
“Our manager had really come across it through some of his relationships in L.A., and found it and said ‘You guys ought to check this out. This is pretty great,’” Heywood said. “We write so many of our songs that for us to cut an outside song, it’s really got to be a special one that feels really Lady Antebellum, and we heard ‘Compass’ and said oh my gosh, it’s like that’s the one I wanted to try to write. I wanted to try to write something like that. So we took that in the studio with a brand new producer, Nathan Chapman, and tried to just make it high energy. We love bluegrass and Americana style music and tried to really add that flair to it with banjo, fiddle and mandolin and tried to make it kind of a hoe down.”
Of course, Lady Antebellum’s earlier work should provide many other high points in the live show as well. The three earlier albums each produced hits.
The group’s 2008 self-titled debut album sold more than a million copies, topped the country album chart and gave the group its first No. 1 country single, “I Run To You.”
The title song from the second album, “Need You Now” — a song that the group didn’t initially envision as a single — took Lady Antebellum’s career to a new level. A huge crossover hit, it topped both the country and adult contemporary charts and hit No. 2 on the all-genre “Billboard” Hot 100 chart. It went on to win the 2011 Grammy for Song of the Year and Record of the Year.
The third album, “Own The Night,” followed in fall 2011, and with the album producing two more No. 1 country singles,“Just a Kiss” and the title song, Lady Antebellum was ready to step up to being an arena headlining act.
The experience of its first arena headlining tour in 2011 and 2012 has paid off, Haywood said, in making for a more seamless, energetic and professional show for the current tour.
“It was really apparent during our rehearsals,” he said. “During those rehearsals, there were so many moments where it was like ‘You know what, I don’t think we should all walk over here or do this one moment where we sing right here or do this song after that song.’ I feel like we’ve really learned the pacing of a show and the journey you want to take fans through.
“We don’t have everything figured out by any means, but we definitely have learned just from experience … things that work and things that don’t,” Haywood said. “So there’s definitely a category of things that, while we we’re rehearsing, was a much smoother process. I mean, we were all laughing about it. We were like ‘Man, it doesn’t feel like it did that first tour when we were all stressed and nervous and going crazy trying to make sure these moments were right.’”
The trio returns to the road feeling especially good about where things stand within the group. Through the many ups, a few downs and a lot of change that has happened in their lives — Scott, Kelly and Haywood have all married since they got together in Lady Antebellum — Haywood feels they have become even tighter as friends and musical collaborators. He knows that’s often not the case as groups move further into their careers.
“I know there are a lot of stories of bands that start to slowly pull farther and farther apart from each other and start to separate in all kinds of ways and never see each other until they’re on stage and don’t like to talk and don’t like to do all of these things,” Haywood said.
“We’re kind of the opposite. We’ve really grown as a super tight family, I mean a super fight brother and sister style relationship. We’re there all the time together for a lot of these moments. We’ve grown through a lot of these things together. I think it inspires us to want to keep doing this.”