Lady Antebellum recently released their latest album, Ocean; you probably know this, as they’ve been tirelessly promoting it, and it’s one of the best country albums of 2019. As they were wrapping up their promo dates and getting ready to announce a 2020 tour, we spoke with the trio — Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood — during a stop in New York City.
First things first! I think what everyone wants to know from you guys: is there going to be a follow up to “Turkey Mode?”
Charles Kelley: Like a “Christmas Mode?”
Hillary Scott: It was all Charles’ brainchild.
Dave Haywood: He was inspired.
Charles Kelley: Me and Dave and the band, we all sat down and wrote that just sitting around in 20 minutes. Like goofing off before a show. It was fun. Dave put together the track on his lap-top. [LAUGHTER] It was down and dirty.
So you haven’t come up with the next one yet.
Charles Kelley: Not yet. There will be another at some point.
Hillary Scott: We have to be inspired!
Dave Haywood: Yeah. It hits when it hits!
I feel like Christmas is a good holiday for that. There’s gotta be a good St. Patrick’s Day or Valentine’s Day one.
Dave Haywood: “Santa Mode!”
Hillary Scott: Yeah, with Kelley over here, the St Paddy’s Day would be great.
Charles Kelley: We’ll do one at some point.
Dave Haywood: That would be very funny.
That would be awesome. Other than your own Christmas record, what are your favorite Christmas records for this time of year? I guess you could use your own too if you want.
Hillary Scott: I love the Kacey Musgraves Christmas album [2016’s A Very Kacey Christmas]. It’s such a fun one. My little girl loves it. She does this great version of “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” I have memories of us dancing around our living room in front of our Christmas tree to that record. It’s amazing.
Charles Kelley: A recent one that I will say is that Michael Buble one [2011’s Christmas] is hard to beat. Of course that Frank Sinatra one [1957’s A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra] is timeless.
Hillary Scott: James Taylor [the 2006 James Taylor At Christmas album].
Dave Haywood: James Taylor. John Denver is a fun one [1975’s Rocky Mountain Christmas].
Hillary Scott: Trisha Yearwood [1994’s The Sweetest Gift].
Dave Haywood: I kinda grew up listening to all those.
Have you seen Kacey’s Amazon special?
Hillary Scott: Yes! It’s so good! It’s so good! My little girl, again, she’s 6, she loved it.
When I heard you were doing a song for Ocean with Little Big Town [“The Thing That Wrecks You”], I was figured that it would probably be done in different studios. Then I saw the photo of all seven of you guys. How did you figure out where everyone would “fit” on the song?
Hillary Scott: Working everybody’s schedules out was the hardest part. But once we found it, we just got in there and we are really great friends with them. So we kind of blocked our parts and left all of the space for them to do what they do. And they have been working together for so many years. It’s almost like they have their own language. We feel the same way.
Surely you guys have your own language too.
Hillary Scott: Yeah. But four parts adds a little bit of a different dynamic. But I think Dann Huff, our producer, deserves the “casting director” credit. He was the one that had to get in and kind of figure out who was going to go where, and how to make space for everyone. But we are so thankful that they did it. We love the song. It’s our first true collaboration we have ever had. And we are glad that they said yes!
Dave Haywood: I love that we were there together too. We didn’t want to do it if it was just a, “Hey, here’s a file. Sing to it.”
It was very collaborative. But it was a great day. We were thrilled. The whole thing has been very collaborative. I mean, I feel like we are in a great spot as a band. We are just very grateful to be at this level where we can dig into the art, and choose music that we are passionate about. It’s just a fun season [for us]. We wouldn’t want it any other way. I can’t imagine ever doing anything without being in the same writing room, the same studio working together. That’s where our strengths come out.
Did the solo albums help that? A lot of times you need to go away and then you’re like, “God, I really love being in the group.”
Charles Kelley: We definitely appreciate it more. I think the solo records, it was like an interesting almost flexing a different muscle, in a way.
Hillary Scott: We know that what we have as a band is greater than the sum of its parts. We truly are so special in what we have been able to be a part of all these years.
But I think we have been on a journey of figuring out who we all are within the band and individually. I think that’s what this record is showing everyone. We have all been through a lot and done a lot of work on ourselves, and we will be forever. That’s what this record kind of shows.
You have been a group for a while, and you address more adult topics on your album.
Hillary Scott: We all gotta grow up at some point! But thank you for saying that!
Dave Haywood: It makes me think about a song on the record called “What I’m Leaving For.”
You have to be a parent to be able to sing that song.
Dave Haywood: We could have never cut that song on our first or second album, or on the Need You Now record. There’s just so much, like “Be Patient With My Love,” and even “Ocean,” and “Let it Be Love,” “What I’m Leaving For,” that are all so timely for where we are exactly right now as a band.
A couple of years ago, Little Big Town toured with Miranda Lambert; they each did their own shows and then they did a set together. Now that you have a song with Little Big Town, would you do a tour with them like that?
Hillary Scott: That would be so much fun!
Charles Kelley: You never know. We have kicked it around before. I know, because we are really good friends with their manager too. There have definitely been talks. At some point in our careers…
Hillary Scott: We have to.
Charles Kelley: I just don’t see us not doing some sort of tour. But right now while we are at a spot where we can headline and do our thing, we are going to chase after that. We got a tour we are about to announce soon.
We are just taking whatever comes to us and trying not to overthink or worry like we have in the past where it was like, “We gotta be the biggest thing in the world.” We are kinda like, let’s just make really great music.
Hillary Scott: And balance our life.
Sometimes the man or woman at the top is not always the happiest person in an organization.
Charles Kelley: We found that out even in ourselves. Around the height of “Need You Now,” that was the most stressed out we all three were. And honestly, we were overworked. We don’t want to do that to ourselves anymore. We want to have a nice balance.
Hillary Scott: Our kids are only little once.
Charles Kelley: Then there’s that struggle where obviously you want as many people as possible to hear your music. It’s always going to be a wrestle of how successful versus… you know?
Hillary Scott: When they are older, and are like “Mom, you are not cool anymore,” then I’ll go work more! We all will. But right now, they are — it’s too precious. We love what we do. I mean, we love that we get to do this. This is a gift. But our little ones are a gift too.
Charles Kelley: We feel like we are in a really good balance. We are definitely ready. This album launch has been really busy. This holiday season couldn’t come fast enough. But it’s been good.
You guys were kind of at the forefront of the country/EDM crossover thing. In 2015, you did “Something Better” with Audien, an EDM artist. You guys performed with Zedd even before Maren Morris worked with him.
Dave Haywood: That was at the CMT awards show [in 2015].
And then after that, she had a huge hit with “The Middle” with Zedd. But were you guys fans of that kind of music?
Charles Kelley: I think what probably brought that up for us was “Need You Now.” There were so many remixes.
But remixes can be done without you. when you worked with Audien on “Something Better,” that’s more of a collaboration.
Charles Kelley: I wouldn’t say we were necessarily super passionate about it, but we were like, “This is kind of interesting.” If the song wasn’t so good…
Hillary Scott: I love that song.
Charles Kelley: We thought that song was so freaking amazing. We didn’t write it, but…
Hillary Scott: The melody was great.
Charles Kelley: Yes. We were like, “We can definitely put our voices on that.” In everything we do, we are open to venturing into any different worlds. As long as it feels authentic.
Dave Haywood: I mean the song is great. Some EDM songs are just great simple guitar/piano songs.
Charles Kelley: They really are. Like that Chainsmokers song [“This Feeling” with Kelsea Ballerini]. Gosh, that could be a country song.
Zedd is a classically trained piano player, and used to play drums in a rock band.
Dave Haywood: I know! He is legit, man. He is really legit.
[After chatting a bit about other current artists, the conversation turned to Lizzo and Billie Eilish]
Charles Kelley: I don’t know how anyone could not like that Lizzo record. I was like, blown away.
Hillary Scott: It’s so good.
Dave Haywood: Amazing. It’s so catchy.
It feels like it could have been made in the ’60s, ’70s or ’80s.
Dave Haywood: It could have. It’s pretty timeless.
And she plays the flute!
Dave Haywood: I didn’t know that!
Hillary Scott: Oh, you gotta watch the videos. She’s amazing. I saw her at the Ryman. I feel like I witnessed lightning in a bottle. The electricity in the room. And then there’s the Billie Eilish record too.
Charles Kelley: I will admit I haven’t gotten into that yet. I haven’t really listened to it.
Hillary Scott: The production on that record… I told Dave the other day, it gives me the same feeling as like a suspense film. Her voice! At any moment she could just explode, but it never does. It builds this tension and this amazing ambiance. It’s amazing.