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Lady Antebellum: The Golden Age

Originally published in the May 13, 2013 issue of Country Weekly magazine featuring Lady Antebellum on the cover.

Not to make huge assumptions, but it seems people often start playing music purely because it’s fun. Like Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood, whose earliest practices before worldwide fame and awards were more like a garage band jam ming for the thrill of it. The group’s fourth album, Golden, due out May 7, aims to recapture some of that simple joy of making music. Following the huge success of Need You Now and the big production of Own the Night’s singles, Golden dials back the drama for a lighter collection that includes sassy No. 1 single “Downtown.” CW recently got to sit down with Hillary, Charles and Dave at their publicist’s brand-new, still-under-construction office and discussed recording Golden, writing songs that spoke to them and touring the world. 

Golden is finally here. Are you happy with the final product?

CHARLES KELLEY: We are. We let the music speak for itself a little more this time around. We didn’t stack 30 electric guitars like we’ve done in the past or add big string sections. We wanted to go with more of an organic late-’70s feel and vibe, just that really airy feel.

DAVE HAYWOOD: We tracked it with really just the basic core of the musicians. It’s a real straightforward, basic, more of a band approach to this record for us. We wanted to get back to that.

You’ve mentioned how you wanted to make a “windows down” record. What does that mean to you?

HILLARY SCOTT: It’s not just tempo. It’s about feel. You want this . . .

CK: Warmth.

HS: Yeah, that’s a great word. It’s not so much about it all being energetic, happy songs. It exudes a feeling and a time and a place. Just wanting to take people on that journey, and not beat them over the head with heavy—we even needed a breath of fresh air from that. There was a time and a place for that, but we . . .

CK: We chased down that road, at least for now, as much as we want. 

There’s definitely a lighter touch on songs like “Downtown” and “Generation Away.” You can almost dance to them.

 CK: That came from being on the road all year last year, having that live show— 

[He’s interrupted by the buzz of jackhammering and sawing outside the building.]

HS: We’re gonna talk really loud now, don’t worry!

CK: “Generation Away” was one we wrote with The Warren Brothers [Brett and Brad Warren]. We were thinking, what can we say to the fans, especially in a live environment that they all come together? It’s a lighter way of saying, “Let’s leave a mark, let everybody know we were here.” Also, to [buzzing outside starts again]. Also, to [buzz]. It’s got that [buzz] singability to it [buzz].

HS: [Laughing] We go into that really fun singalong part at the very end—that childhood song you grow up learning, “You got the whole world . . .” That’s universal.

[Finally the buzzing becomes humorously constant and too loud for conversation, so we are relocated to a different part of the office.]

CK: Being out on the road, we wrote a lot of the record out there. [“Generation Away”] in particular was one, even as we were writing it, we were getting excited about. We could already envision our fans singing along. Once you get on the road doing arenas, that’s how you write.

How does writing on the road differ?

DH: Half the time [the soundcheck] turns into a jam and we’ll get our sound guy to record it and take it backstage and start working on it. “All for Love” is one of those. Also backstage we’ve got a little party room called our Club La Bellum room. We’ve got a bunch of instruments around—amps, guitars, everything, percussion. It’s our jam room to fire up. It’s a really open environment for us to write with whoever wants to jump in. For us it’s all about getting the best song, and even if we end up using all of our band guys, it’s fun for us.

Were you worried about how the upbeat “Downtown” would be received?

HS: Before we even went in to record it, I was like, “I don’t know if I can pull this off.” Even after we got in and recorded it I was like, “Man, my vocal sounds so much different.” But I heard it on the radio and I was like, “This isn’t that much of a departure for me, really.” I love showing that side of me now.

The video, in which Hillary gets arrested, looks like it was fun to make.

DH: It was hysterical. Hillary did all of her own stunts. She broke a windshield on the first try on that one. It’s fun just to show some of those fun sides of us. We’re always backstage on the road goofing off, having a good time. I hope they hear that on that song.

What’s the story behind the title track, “Golden”?

CK: It was the last song we wrote, but it reminded us of the first time we wrote. A lot of this record is getting back to how we started. We just sat around and Dave and [songwriter] Eric Paslay just started fiddling on the guitar. It just came out of thin air, which is the best kind of songs, usually. We laughed a lot and we weren’t trying to write a hit song, honestly. We were just trying to write a song that spoke to us. That’s when we find that we write the best songs, is when we don’t have any pressure. We pretty much had all the songs picked out, so we were just writing with Eric for fun. Sure enough, we loved [“Golden”] so much we played it the next day for Paul [Worley, our producer] and the next day we were recording it.

HS: The response we’ve gotten from people about the song has solidified its importance to us. Because sometimes [with] songs, that happens. “Need You Now” was one—that was the last song we played in our song meeting with the label—that when we recorded it, we knew it was special. But sometimes you’re just too close to it. 

CK: It was a “stop overthinking this” thing and try to make great music. You just gotta get out of your own way.

HS: We played it for Stevie Nicks when we did our CMT Crossroads with her [see sidebar] and that’s her favorite song that she’s heard. That was a huge stamp of approval and pat on the back of, like, we got us a good one.

You toured extensively last year, including Europe and Australia. What was that like?

HS: It was so much fun. The U.K. was an awesome experience for us. The second highlight to me was in this mountain town in Norway, Seljord—this huge festival. It was one of the most “redneck” festivals we’ve ever played in our entire life, in the mountains in Norway!

DH: It felt like you were in Alabama or something.

HS: There were campers everywhere, people were wearing spurs and chaps.

CK: Rebel flags.

Really? That’s pretty wild.

CK: Oh yeah, totally.

HS: They were so fascinated by American country culture, probably not having a clue what it stands for [laughs] or where it came from.

Did you do any sightseeing?

DH: [In] Australia we went to the zoo. 

HS: Europe, I went to the Guinness factory in Dublin.

CK: I was jealous of you for that. I played golf that day. 

HS: My husband [drummer Chris Tyrrell] and I ended up staying later after we finished the tour and went to Rome for a couple days, so that was really fun.

CK: Oh, I did the Tower of London, I do remember that!

DH: Oh yeah, good for you!

CK: That was unlike me. I stretched myself.

Speaking of touring, you’re taking some time off this summer for a new arrival. Hillary, how are you doing?

HS: Really good. I’m way more than halfway now, closer to the end than the beginning. She’s a really precious little girl and she’ll be here in July. [We’re] getting the nursery ready, trying to do as much nesting now before we leave to go promote the record. 

CK: Hillary rocked our last show. It was one of our first shows back, a full hour and a half.

HS: I’m so thankful to have had a really easy pregnancy so far. My labor and delivery might be miserable. I don’t want to jinx myself.

CK: I don’t want to be there for that.

HS: You can just show up when she’s here. That was my one request with the boys. Like, “Look, the last four weeks I’m going to be a miserable, cranky individual, so I would just love to be at home when that happens.” Just because everything I’ve heard is you just hit that point where you’re like, “Get out!” That’s why we’re ending in the middle of June and I’ll have the next few weeks to get ready.

CK: Whenever she feels ready for it, we’ll be back promoting the heck out of this record doing shows. We’re dying to get back out on the road.

Golden Dust Woman

Charles, Dave and Hillary recently got the opportunity to collaborate with one of their idols—the great Stevie Nicks—for an upcoming episode of CMT Crossroads. Coming from a band like Fleetwood Mac with multiple strong personalities, Stevie was able to offer her wisdom to the members of Lady A.

“We soaked up every second,” says Hillary of their time with Stevie. “She was just so forthcoming with her stories and things she’s experienced in her life and what the band dynamic was for her. She was just so open and vulnerable.”

Charles was surprised at how much work Stevie had done to get to know their music. “She was already familiar with the bigger songs, but then she went back and dug in,” he says. “Some of her favorite songs were, like, ‘Cold as Stone’ on the last record, which was just an album track.” And new song “Golden” quickly became one of Stevie’s favorites. “[She] said, ‘This is my favorite song I’ve ever heard y’all do. I think this could be your “Landslide.”’ To hear stuff like that from Stevie Nicks,” Charles adds, “is like, ‘Say that again?’ It was one of those holy experiences for us.”

Stevie also praised the group for getting along so well, explaining how internal drama had derailed Fleetwood Mac. “She was encouraging, just said, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing, keep making honest music,’” says Charles. “We were like grinning little fans the whole time.”

The group says you can expect to hear collaborations on “Rhiannon,” “Landslide,” “Need You Now” and more when the episode of Crossroads airs later in 2013.

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