Lady Antebellum Discuses Winning CMAs, New Album

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Musicians Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum performs onstage at the 43rd Annual CMA Awards at the Sommet Center on November 11, 2009 in Nashville, Tennessee.

It's early November and snow is falling in Nashville. It's not real snow, of course-snow is a rarity in Nashville, especially in November when temperatures can still reach the 70s-and the snow is falling inside, not out. But white stuff is indeed coming down at the Sommet Center.


Country KMPS Seattle music director Tony Thomas notes Kelley's and Scott's ability to trade lead vocals as a plus for the trio. "Being able to have powerful male and female lead vocals allows for some real passion to come out, like on 'Need You Now,' " Thomas says. "And the harmonies between the three group members are solid and identifiable."


Producer Paul Worley, who co-produced the new album with the group, compares Lady Antebellum to the Dixie Chicks, an act he also produced. "There's a convergence of talent and energy with the three of them," he says. "Dave is the brains, Hillary's the heart, and Charles is the drive. They are all three creative people, but they don't overlap. The combination is powerful."


Dungan calls Lady Antebellum the "most ready-to-go artists or group of artists that I had ever seen. I felt like we could just hit the ground running. They were playing together just long enough that they were truly a unit."


While the trio had two previous hits-"Love Don't Live Here" reached No. 3 on Hot Country Songs in 2007, and "Lookin' for a Good Time" peaked at No. 11 in 2008-the real connection with its audience came with the passionate "I Run to You," which hit the top in July 2009. "Our fans grasped who we were with 'I Run to You,' " Scott says. "The message and that song is so much about what we're about. It was like two puzzle pieces fitting together. Now you know us and we know you."


'NEED' FOR SPEED


Meanwhile, the rapid climb of "Need You Now" took the label by surprise. "No one expected it to move at this rate," Capitol Nashville VP of marketing Cindy Mabe says. "None of their past singles moved [this fast]."


The group did "a tremendous amount of writing" for the new record, Kelley says. "We actually had more songs compiled for this one then we did the first, just because we'd only been together a year before the first record and we had two years before this one." Members of the trio either wrote or co-wrote eight of the album's 11 tracks.


"If I had to choose one word to describe this whole entire record, even the songs we didn't write, it would be 'honest,' " Scott says.


Worley says the threesome is "dedicated to great songs whether they write them or not. They also pick outside songs that are fantastic."


Next single "American Honey" is "very nostalgic," Scott says of the tune penned by Cary Barlow, Hillary Lindsey and Shane Stevens. "It's about back when things were simple. There's some days when you're in the daily grind that you think, 'Gosh, it would be nice to go back to being a kid just for a day, just for a half a day, just for an hour.' "


The song was the Hot Shot Debut on Hot Country Songs for the week that ended Dec. 13, arriving at No. 47.


Kelley shines on the thoughtful and string-laden "Hello World," written by Tom Douglas, Tony Lane and David Lee, which has the potential to be a major cross-format hit despite its length of 5:24, which is longer than radio typically prefers.


The waltz "If I Knew Then," which deals with missed opportunities, was written by Kelley with Monty Powell and Anna Wilson.

"Our fans are mostly going to gravitate toward the heavy songs like 'Need You Now' or a 'Hello World,' " Kelley says. "Those are the songs that are going to compel them to go out and buy a record, but we always have to remember that at the end of the day our goal is to be a touring act. We love touring and we love playing those live shows and we have to have that material, too."


CENTER STAGE


On Oct. 13 the group was met with enthusiastic cheers at Urban's all-star All for the Hall concert to benefit the Country Music Hall of Fame. "We felt like Nashville was embracing us," Scott says. "We were so overwhelmed."


The act was breathing rarified air indeed, sharing the big stage with Urban,

According to SoundScan, 13% of the group's debut album sales were digital. "iTunes was a big believer from the very beginning, and they are definitely part of this plan," Mabe says.


The label will take advantage of iTunes' Countdown program. Pre-orders began Dec. 22 with one new track per week being introduced up until release date. "We wanted to impact the Christmas holiday," Mabe says. A video podcast in which the band talks about the music will accompany each track released prior to street date. iTunes also has a bonus track, the extended video version of "Need You Now," and the group will record an iTunes Session in March.


Meanwhile, Best Buy will offer a limited-edition T-shirt with the CD. The group will be part of an extensive TV campaign with Target, and Lady A will do Walmart's "Soundcheck" program, which airs in stores and online. The group will also participate in AOL's "Sessions," Yahoo's "Maximum Performance" and Clear Channel's "Stripped" live performance outlets.


While Lady Antebellum is booked for "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" Jan. 28, other TV plans are still being put in place, according to Mabe. "We will definitely be in New York when we launch and probably L.A.," she says.


Meanwhile, the group hits the road Feb. 11, opening for Tim McGraw until August, and Lady A will do fair and festival dates as well. "There also may be a few one-off shows here and there during the year to test the waters and experience the headline role," Borman says. "We've talked about headlining shows in the fall but haven't committed to any yet, as we do not want to rush into it."


Social media comes naturally to the group, whose Web site includes a feature called "Webisode Wednesday," an often hilarious and insightful look at the members behind the scenes. "These kids were doing this long before they had a record deal," Dungan says. "They were documenting everything they had done."


Kelley credits Haywood with keeping the band current. "He's just always been on the cutting edge of that stuff and he really guided the ship when it came to all those things early on in our career, putting up the MySpace and the YouTube videos."


The trio acknowledges the pressure it feels to match the success of its first record. "No one is saying, 'This has got to be great,' but you know they're [thinking], 'This has got to be great,' " Kelley says with a laugh. "But a lot of the pressure is self-induced. We have higher expectations. Our fans really gravitated toward the first one and we need to come out and hit them over the head."


"We've got to top it," Scott says.


More than anything, the group wants to keep connecting with fans old and new. "I remember when I heard Lee Ann Womack's 'I Hope You Dance,' " Kelley recalls. "I thought, 'That's so good,' and I went out that day and bought it. Or when I was 10 years old and heard Pearl Jam's 'Jeremy' and I said, 'I want people to have that feeling about us.' "