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From the Vault: Little Big Town

A web-exclusive classic interview from the files of Country Weekly.

Country Weekly first interviewed the members of Little Big Town on March 14, 2002, for a “Who’s New” profile that would run in the April 30 issue. At the time the group had high hopes for its debut single, “Don’t Waste My Time,” and the self-titled first album they’d release in May. Neither performed as well as hoped, and the group wound up waiting three years to make its breakthrough with hits like “Boondocks” and “Bring It On Home.” Here’s an edited transcript of our talk with Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman (then Roads), Philip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook at the beginning of their remarkable journey together.

You’re all listed as writers on most of the songs on the album. Do you all really sit down and write together as a group, even when you’re working with other co-writers?
Karen: We started off writing that way because we wanted to make sure we were on the same page musically with the other writers, and with each other, just knowing that we had this certain vision for what we wanted the music to sound like. We would just all hang and write.
Jimi: So it's like a big party.
Philip: And we all work as a unit, so it's not quite like you'd think it would be.
Kimberly: It's not mass chaos!
Karen: Most of [our co-writers] were surprised by how like-minded we are.

How was “Don’t Waste My Time” written?
Jimi: I think we wrote that song in about two or three hours. It was fun.
Philip: We were just talking about how we'd all been through a few relationships in our life and how we were just waiting for the kind of love that's strong enough. It was kind of a mature lyric: Don't waste my time, I'm not going to play any more games.
Jimi: Yeah, you know what you want at this point.
Karen: Every woman loves a good kiss-off song, so hopefully a lot of people are going to relate to this.

How did the four of you meet?
Kimberly: Karen and I went to college together in Birmingham and we sang together there. We both moved here. Karen's husband went to school with Jimi, so that's how we knew Jimi. We sang together with Jimi for a while, just the three of us.
Philip: I actually met the rest of these guys through a mutual writer friend, and we hooked up and exchanged music and started singing together in Kimberly's living room.
Karen: That was four years ago, and we've just been trucking along ever since.

When did you know the musical chemistry worked?
Kimberly: You know what? I think we knew...
Philip: ...right away.
Jimi: When we hit that first chord in the living room, it just felt right. The common thread we all have is that we all grew up singing harmony.
Karen: In our families. Most of us had family groups.
Philip: Actually, the first song we worked up together is on the record, a song called “Somewhere Far Away.”

It’s a very unique lineup, with two male and two female singers.
Kimberly: We've looked and looked, and we can't find another group like this in the history of country music at all. So we knew it was going to be different and original.
Philip: And we loved how our voices blended together. That was fun, and we kind of fed off each other's energy when we sang like that.
Kimberly: I think that's absolutely what makes us who we are.
Philip: We call the harmony the lead singer of the band. The harmony's what really stands out.
Karen: When we were thinking about adding a fourth person, before we met Philip, we would brainstorm like, “What if four singers were together, like a modern-day Mamas and the Papas, what would that be like?” It just made a lot of musical sense to add the fourth and be unique and add versatility in the music.

When did you first perform together live?
Kimberly: May 1999, on the Grand Ole Opry stage. Somebody canceled and [Creative Artists Agency] called us and said, “Would you like to fill a spot?” We said, “Are you kidding? Of course!”
Karen: That was the first public appearance. We had been doing many living room receptions and conference rooms before then.
Jimi: You know what? It happened so fast, and it was all put together so quick that we really didn't have a lot of time to think about it. So that was probably good.
Karen: It was a blur of a weekend. That night was so unbelievable, and we had so much family there. Jimi had 19 people from his family, my uncle brought up an RV full of people.
Philip: I think I had 11 members of my family.
Karen: Kimberly's whole family from Cornelia [Georgia]came up. So they started a little standing ovation, and everybody else followed. That Friday night we sang on the Opry and on Saturday CAA gave us an opportunity to sing the national anthem at an Oscar de la Hoya fight on HBO. It ended up not getting aired, but it was a whirlwind of a weekend.

How did you settle on the name?
Philip: I think we were just looking for something that described the music. It was just a melting pot of influences and different styles. And we all come from somewhat the same part of the country, so we threw around ideas like …
Kimberly: Small Town, Little Town …
Karen: Small Town Whatever, nothing fit.
Philip: Nothing sounded big enough. It sounded too small, and we all come from little big towns. And Nashville's a little big town! And we said, “That's it.”
Kimberly: We all hollered, “That's it, that's it! We've got to have it!”

Who would be your major influences?
Kimberly: I'd say Restless Heart is a big influence.
Jimi: Alabama. I grew up listening to Alabama and the Oak Ridge Boys.
Karen: Fleetwood Mac. Vocal bands like Restless Heart, the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and the Mamas and the Papas are probably the group's biggest influences.
Philip: You just don't hear bands like that anymore with those kinds of vocals.

How did you get signed?
Kimberly: We did the conference room tour, all over town.
Philip: We didn't actually record a demo or have anything on tape or even a picture, we just walked in with our manager.
Karen: Sometimes tape gets confusing. I think they were afraid of us not capturing the magic on a demo with no budget.
Philip: And we love live music and roots music anyway, and we wanted that to get across.
Kimberly: We recorded the album in a very unique way by today's standards. Instead of bringing a band in and having a few sessions in the afternoon and putting all the tracks down together, we actually started with just guitar and vocals, like we sing live everywhere, so that we could start to create the sound like we do live on the record, and then just embellish it, but not have all the instruments get in the way.
Karen: Maybe we shouldn't tell our secret. I don't know.
Jimi: We sang live, like a bluegrass record or something.

What’s the group dynamic like among you?
Philip: On the bus, Jimi and I will be playing Playstation 2 and the girls will be up front with candles watching Moulin Rouge. So, yeah.
Karen: We all have our unique gifts we bring to the table. Some of us are more intense than others and some of us are more laid-back, and it balances the others out.
Kimberly: It's like a family, truly it is.
Philip: And we've been together for four years, and we just seem to get along better all the time. It's fun to work with people you like.

What’s been the biggest thrill so far?

Karen: The Opry, for sure.
Kimberly: I guess just finally hearing the music on the radio, after working so long on the radio. I haven't heard [the single] in my car yet, I can't wait.
Karen: I heard it in my car, the end of it, and I about died. You do a double take, like, “Who is that? Oh my gosh, that's me!”

Do you have a goal in mind?
Philip: We just want to keep singing.
Karen: We just want to try to make good music and take that music to the people.