The year is only a few weeks old, but there's already quite a bit of excitement coming out of the Nashville scene-thanks to Capitol Nashville's Lady Antebellum. The Grammy Award-winning trio has just released a new single, "Downtown," the leadoff cut from its fourth, still-untitled studio album, scheduled for release later in 2013. Radio received the record Jan. 21; iTunes and other digital outlets are set to release it Feb. 5.
The breezy track is definitely a change of pace for the group, with a quicker tempo and some of the most ambitious guitar hooks it's ever recorded. In addition, Hillary Scott, who shares lead vocal duties with Charles Kelley, takes on the song's lyrics with a more flirtatious vocal approach that may surprise fans.
"It's a departure, but I think an exciting one," Scott tells Billboard in an exclusive interview.
Capitol has high hopes for the single, and with good reason. Since its 2007 debut, Lady Antebellum has topped Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart six times. The group's biggest hit, "Need You Now," reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. In addition, its three studio discs have all been certified platinum, and the trio has netted seven Grammys, six Country Music Assn. Awards and six Academy of Country Music trophies.
Kelley says the band intentionally stepped outside of its comfort zone. "Our goal was to try something different and show a different side of ourselves to the fans, because the last few singles have felt really serious," he says. "With us just doing our first arena tour last year, [we] are constantly craving more uptempo songs to do live. This will be a good one to translate live."
Lady A's Dave Haywood says the band was surprised by the song, written by Natalie Hemby, Luke Laird and Barry Dean, and wanted to surprise fans as well. "It caught us off-guard when we heard it," he recalls. "It was one we didn't write, but when it was pitched to us, we thought, 'Whoa, we would have never done that.' We wanted people to have the same reaction to it."
Radio is definitely having such a reaction. KAJA San Antonio leads with 26 plays through Jan. 22, according to Nielsen BDS. "We couldn't wait to share it with our listeners," PD Travis Moon says.
WGH Norfolk, Va., is second with 11 plays. PD Mark McKay says the song has a "more playful sound than we'd heard from them recently, with a cool groove to it-a nice change of pace, and tempo, from Lady A."
Universal Music Group Nashville senior VP of marketing Cindy Mabe says the excitement for the track and upcoming album is huge around the office. "They have stretched and grown the sound of our format," she says of the group. "But [they] have still been able to have fun and show their personalities, and that's never been more true than on 'Downtown.' It's sassy, edgy, sexy and completely unexpected."
To push the single, the trio will perform on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" on Jan. 28 and CBS' "The Talk" on Feb. 6. The act will also appear on CMT's "Crossroads" with Stevie Nicks in Los Angeles on Jan. 29, which has the band on cloud nine, Scott says. "We have been pinching ourselves every single day."
The trio will be on the road through June and then take a break due to Scott's pregnancy. But don't be surprised if the rest is a brief one.
"We might be back out on the road this fall, but we're going to let the music dictate it," Kelley says. "We're itching to perform these new songs for the fans."