The Cadillac Three Reflect on Their 'Legacy' & Working With Lori McKenna

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The Cadillac Three photographed in London on Dec. 2, 2013. 

Playing the world-famous Ryman Auditorium a few weeks ago was a moment that The Cadillac Three won't soon forget. As it so happens, the building that was host to the Grand Ole Opry for over three decades (1943–1974) was once a part of their everyday walk of life – literally.

“We've all seen some of our favorite bands there in Nashville growing up,” said the band's Jaren Johnston to Billboard. “If you're a huge Elvis fan, it's like going to Graceland. It's one of those things where (bassist) Kelby Ray and I went to high school right next door to the Ryman at Hume-Fogg High School, and walked by it every day. Growing up in downtown Nashville, it's definitely the bee's knees, and the top of the list for us.”

Playing at historic venues is nothing new for the Big Machine recording act, who just released their third album, Legacy. In fact, the group recorded a vinyl-only live album from the equally iconic Abbey Road Studios in London.

“That's about like playing the Ryman Auditorium,” he admitted with childlike enthusiasm. “It's one of those bucket-list moments where you just want to walk in the building, let alone play and record there. We were there all day, and sat and drank wine and smoked cigarettes where John Lennon and Paul McCartney sat and talked about songs. It's tough to put something like that into words, honestly.”

As hard as that feeling might be to verbalize, the group is actually very talented at putting emotions in lyric form. Besides their own singles “The South” and “White Lightning,” the band -- Johnston, Ray, and Neil Mason -- have also contributed to some of the top hits in the format over the past decade, such as “You Gonna Fly,” “Days of Gold,” and “Southern Girl.” The group is currently promoting the first single from the new disc -- “Dang If We Didn't,” which Johnston says stems from real life.

“It's just a true story of a dude waking up the next morning -- which is pretty much every day of our lives -- having gone a little crazy from the night before, and trying to pick up all the pieces and figure out what the hell happened.”

Legacy also contains a pair of tracks -- “American Slang” and “Love Me Like Liquor” -- which were co-written by Lori McKenna, who lends her vocal touch to the latter. From the outside looking in, it might seem like a stretch -- one of Nashville's most adventurous Southern Rock-style bands collaborating with one of the format's more introspective composers, but Johnston stresses that there are more similarities between the two acts than you might think.

“She's definitely got a thing, her own style, but if you listen to us, we do a lot of that too -- if you listen to 'Raise 'Em Up' or 'Meanwhile Back At Mama's.' We dabble in that as well. We are huge fans of Lori's records and her writing, and she's an influence on us as well. I think with a lot of the heavier stuff that we do, Lori really loves and pulls from that as well. She's always told us that she would love to be the fourth member, and that would be a truly amazing situation.”

The band has shared the stage with some of the biggest acts in the format, such as Florida Georgia Line and Eric Church. Johnston said they have learned from everyone that they have opened for, learning a lot more than just stage presentation from the latter.

“Opening for Eric was very cool. It was great to see an artist doing things his own way, making the critical people come to him rather than change it to catering to what was happening at the time. He wound up building his own thing, and we have taken a lot away from watching him in terms of sticking to our guns, and doing things our way, and not worry or cater to what somebody else is doing in the market right now. We have learned a lot from him, for sure.”

So, with Legacy now out, one might think the band is putting things on cruise control? Think again, says Johnston, as they are already in the studio, hard at work on album number four. “We're in the studio right now. We're just going to keep them coming. Being in the driver's seat – we did this album all by ourselves – I think it's a cool thing to not have too many cooks in the kitchen. I think we're at our best when that's the case.”