Charles Kelley on Solo Project: 'I'm Just as Dedicated to Lady Antebellum as I Ever Have Been'

Austin Hargrave
Lady Antebellum's Charles Kelley photographed at The Rosewall in Nashville on August 26, 2014.

One of the biggest country stories of the fall has been the announcement that Lady Antebellum's Charles Kelley has decided to record a solo project. His first single, "The Driver," a collaboration with Eric Paslay and Dierks Bentley, which has peaked at No. 41 on Hot Country Songs and No. 31 on Country Digital Songs so far and is building radio airplay.

Kelley told Billboard that, so far, his fans have reacted positively to the song.

"It's been a lot of fun. I think that it's been exactly what I was going for," he says. "The fans really seem like they are gravitating toward the song. My goal was to cut some music that I love and also that spoke to me as a songwriter. This is one of the most proud moments for me as a songwriter. I'd put it up there with [Lady A hits] 'Need You Now' and 'I Run to You.' It's about everything that has been a part of my world for the past eight years: all the people behind the scenes, the drivers, the crew and, of course, the fans. I really love the song and am grateful that people have gravitated toward it and what the lyrics are trying to say."

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But if you're thinking that Kelley's solo turn means the end of Lady Antebellum, think again. Kelley says both Dave Haywood and Hillary Scott (who is recording a Gospel album with her family, including mother Linda Davis) are totally onboard. "When they heard the music, they got it and understood why I wanted to do it. It is a little different from what we do as a band. I told them that if we're going to take time off anyway, I would really love to put this music out. The only conversation we had as a band was to make a sure that we protected what Lady Antebellum is. I told them I wasn't going to sit there and try to re-create a Lady Antebellum album without the two of them. I wanted to make sure that it sounded and felt differently, and I think they understand that this is just an artistic detour for me. I needed a little bit of a shakeup. They both have been very supportive and both of them came to my showcase. They've been amazing. They know I'm just as dedicated to Lady Antebellum as I ever have been. They know I'm restless and can't ever sit still. This is just me putting out more music. I've got a lot of songs that will never see the light of day, and that allows me to put them out there."

The singer will head out on the road for a club tour beginning Saturday in Cleveland at the House of Blues, which he's particularly stoked about. "It's going to be different, but I'm really confident as a performer. The past eight or nine years has really given me the confidence to go out there and go for it. It will be fun for people to see a different side of me. There's a little more restrictions with Lady Antebellum as far as a live show goes. I think I'll be able to go out and create a little looser of an environment, being in a club, and can interact with the fans more and have some spontaneous moments."

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He feels that adrenaline will serve him well once the CMA Award-winning trio goes back out on the road. "For me, that's what I'm craving, and I think when I get back out there with Hillary and Dave, it will make me appreciate what we do even more. I love our catalog of songs and our fanbase."

While he knows that group of fans knows his voice well, he also views this as a chance to become acquainted with a whole new group of followers who might know the voice, but not his name. "In a sense, this is me starting over fresh. A lot of people don't associate Charles Kelley as the guy from Lady Antebellum. It's going to be comparable to having to go out and prove yourself as a new artist, and that's a lot of the fun of this for me," he says.

Kelley stresses that even if he hadn't recorded the project, the trio was going to take a break. After the success of their Wheels Up world tour, the trio felt they had put an exclamation point on the first phase of their career. "I think that might be why we felt we could take a break this year. It was an amazing tour, with Hunter Hayes and Sam Hunt. I think Hillary said it best that the tour was this nice little ending paragraph on that chapter of Lady Antebellum. We're ready to take six months to a year off and decide what we want to sound like going forward. I think because the tour was so successful, we decided we could do a few things like this and that the fans would allow us to chase some sounds. I think if the tour hadn't gone well, there would have been this thought process of having to push the pedal down and get back to where we were, but I think we're able to step back, take a breath and enjoy life for a second."

Charles Kelley solo tour dates:
November 28 - Cleveland, OH
November 29 - Asbury Park, NJ
December 1 - New York, NY
December 3 - Charlotte, NC
December 5 -  Atlanta, GA
December 10 - Kansas City, MO
December 11 - Oklahoma City, OK
December 12 - St. Louis, MO
December 17 - Dallas, TX
December 18 - Houston, TX
December 19 - New Orleans, LA

For 2016 dates, check out CharlesKelley.com.