Country act Lady Antebellum renews energy, heads for Scranton’s Froggy Fest
Lady Antebellum returns to the touring circuit this summer with a whole new spring in their collective step.
The trio of Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and David Haywood spent most of 2016 on hiatus — a period that allowed both Scott and Kelly to make solo albums, while Haywood spent some of his time producing music for other artists. Now the reconvened group is watching its frisky R&B-ish, horn-accented single, “You Look Good,” climb into the top 10 on Billboard magazine’s Hot Country Songs chart, while their new album, “Heart Break,” debuted atop Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart. And Haywood said the group is as energized as at any point in Lady Antebellum’s 10-year career.
“I feel like this album and this past 18 months is really a larger story, I think, for us as a band,” Haywood said in a recent phone interview. “This definitely isn’t just another record. This is a really special moment for us in our career. For us, we knew, creatively, we were getting to the point where we were a little drained and we felt like we had kind of tapped the well of ideas. So that’s when we entered into last year and said, ‘You know what, it’s time for us to take a breather musically.’
Lady Antebellum will perform at Froggy Fest, which starts at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at The Pavilion at Montage Mountain in Scranton and features special guests Kelsea Ballerini and Brett Young.
“Creatively, as a band, it’s like OK, we’re 10 years in, which is crazy to even say. We’ve got to figure out a way to continue to push ourselves musically. And sometimes, it actually takes just a little bit of living to get there, a little bit of normal life,” Haywood said. “I mean, all of us have young kids. Those are a lot of special moments, those first two and three years of a kid’s life. So really being home and having family time, and then being able to do some fairs and festivals (during 2016) was really just such a great, kind of perfect mix. I think once we got back into the fall of last year, we all sat on the bus and said, ‘Alright, I don’t know what it is, but I want to change it up and I want to do something different.’”
A first step was choosing a producer who could bring a fresh perspective to the next album, and Lady Antebellum chose to team up with Busbee, who has worked with pop acts such as Pink, Shakira, Gavin DeGraw and the Backstreet Boys, as well as country stars Rascal Flatts, Jason Aldean and Keith Urban.
Then Haywood, Scott and Kelley scheduled two sessions — one in Florida and the other in Los Angeles — where they would live in the same house and write and record what became the “Heart Break” album.
“I think more than anything it was trying to get back to the way we started,” Haywood said of the sessions. “I think with any relationship or anything, you’re always trying to get back to that time and place when it was just truly organic and you truly weren’t thinking about anything other than just having a great time and making music together. And that’s how we started in 2006.
“Me and Charles lived in a house together, and Hillary came over every single day, all day long. Gosh, when you’re kind of living the day to day together, you’re so in sync together with where everybody is and where they want to go writing wise and creatively.”
This time the trio was joined by eight outside writers while in Florida and then went to Los Angeles, where they wrote with Busbee and recorded with session musicians. Haywood feels the approach the group took in making “Heart Break” achieved the goal of bringing freshness to the project. The R&B groove of “You Look Good,” the soulful sound of “Good Time to be Alive” and the sing-along “oh-oh-we-oh” vocal hook that gives “This City” a contemporary pop dimension are among the new twists. But there are also songs like the ballads “Somebody Else’s Heart” and “Big Love In A Small Town” that will be like musical comfort food for fans familiar with Lady Antebellum’s back catalog.
“There’s a whole new energy,” Haywood said. “There was a whole new approach to this record, and I think we ended up with just a whole new excitement coming through on these songs. And ‘You Look Good,’ I think, was such a great first representation of that, the fun, the swagger, the horns. That excitement on that track is what we’ve been feeling as a band.
“Our focus was all about the songs, picking the best songs. And there are definitely some that are a little bit reminiscent of the first album or two, some of those kind of classic duets, and then there’s some exciting stuff like ‘You Look Good’ and ‘Heart Break’ that I think push our sound a little bit — so something for everybody, and I can’t wait for everybody to hear it.”
With “Heart Break” having become the band’s fifth No. 1 album, Lady Antebellum is heading out on a summer tour that will have the group headlining amphitheaters across the United States into September. And Haywood said he, Scott and Kelley are eager to translate their renewed enthusiasm to the concert stage.
“The single we have out now, which is the name of the tour, really lends itself to a lot of high energy and exciting moments,” Haywood said. “The reason we put out this song, ‘You Look Good,’ is because it really sums up the energy and the fun. It’s trying the horns and just figuring out ways to keep pushing for us. I think it represents the energy we feel as a band, and that’s what we’re taking into this tour as well.”
Although Lady Antebellum got known early in their career for their ballads — “I Run To You,” “American Honey” and “Need You Now” are among the group’s nine No. 1 country hits released over the course of six albums that have sold a combined 18 million units — the group has mixed more uptempo songs into both “747” and now “Heart Break.” This has helped the group create a set list that’s better suited to the large outdoor amphitheaters that make up most of Lady Antebellum’s tour dates.
“It’s kind of a crazy juggling act because I feel like the more energetic and uptempo songs you have, it actually makes the ballad a more special and unique moment,” Haywood said. “For example, there was a point in time where we really had just kind of percentage-wise a lot of ballads. And you can only have so many big special, slow, dramatic moments in a show or you lose people. So now I think with the amount of content and songs that we have, and especially with ‘You Look Good’ and the title of the record is a song called ‘Heart Break,’ which is another great, fun tempo song, it really allows those ballad moments to actually be more special.”
Reach Weekedner via email at [email protected]
IF YOU GO
What: Froggy Fest featuring Lady Antebellum, Kelsea Ballerini and Brett Young
Where: The Pavilion at Montage Mountain
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Additional information: Tickets start at $26.25 and are available online at livemu.sc/2tCGEb7.