Lady Antebellum Talk Soaring to a New Sound on '747'

Lady Antebellum, 2014.
Niño Munoz

Lady Antebellum

If you think there's a little something different about 747, the new disc from Capitol Nashville's Lady Antebellum, Charles Kelley says you are very much spot-on.

Lady Antebellum's '747' Track List Revealed

"We were working with a new producer, so I think that has helped set off a little bit different of a sound," he told Billboard. "We wanted to sound a lot bigger and a little more in your face than records in the past. We went out of our way to make sure that we found songs that had a lot more drive and energy to them. We really wanted to find songs that would translate to the live show like 'Freestyle' and 'Bartender,' so that's how we approached this record."

Kelley feels that they achieved their goal -- at least that's what fans have told them. "We've tested out some of the songs live, and you can tell they were thinking, 'This is going to be a different record,' and you can see their excitement," he said. "As a band, we want to keep things fresh, and our hand on the pulse of what's happening. I feel like our last records -- while we're very proud of them -- have been a little bit more mellow, and this one just has a lot more energy. There are certain songs that do kind of borrow from the '70s southern rock sound or 1980s sounds." The lead single, "Bartender," has already topped the Country Airplay chart.

After working with Paul Worley since their 2008 debut, they enlisted the help of Nathan Chapman for the new disc. Lady A's Dave Haywood said there was a renewed creative spirit that came into play. "There's an infectious energy, and it's almost like he's the fourth member of the band," he said. "There's this youthful excitement where he's got an idea, and we've got an idea. He's like a big kid in the studio, kind of goofy. People might think he's all reserved in the studio, but he turns into a 6-year-old kid who has just learned to play guitar. He loves it and loses sleep over the arrangements. As far as his approach, he doesn't mind taking chances with adding overdubs or sounds or different effects. I felt like there were moments where we were re-inspired -- staying late past midnight working on tracks and putting our ideas down on the record with him. It was a different kind of energy than we've had in the past."

Fellow member Hillary Scott agreed with Kelley's assessment, telling The 615 that it was time to shake things up. "We took a half a year off, and so much of the landscape of country music had shifted in a really exciting kind of way. We would go out on tour and see that our uptempo songs were the ones that were really connecting with the audience. That whole environment really carried over into the live show. It also carried over into our writing. It just led us to a place where we weren't afraid to take some chances. We've always said we could reel ourselves back in, so we might as well go for it."

While the album does push the envelope on several cuts, the award-winning trio are not totally reinventing the musical wheel. There are a few of their trademark ballads on 747, including the beautifully poetic "One Great Mystery," of which Haywood said, "We wrote that with Josh Kear, and it was the one big ballad moment to have on the record. It's the kind of stuff we love and that we've cut a lot. I think it's a sweet lyric. We were in the studio and almost ditched it at the last minute, but the guitar player hit a Vince Gill groove, which kind of became the root of the song. It took off from there," he said proudly.

Kelley said that, as artists, the last thing you want to do is become stale in your approach, and 747 allows them to break from their comfort zone a little bit. "I think that's why we wanted to work with a new producer and why we worked so hard. We knew we could give more to the recording process than, maybe, we had put into it the last couple of times, especially more of the preparation that takes place before the recording process -- more of the writing. I think that's one thing that had suffered the last couple of years. We were so busy that we couldn't write as much as we wanted to. We just made it a priority again, and we were taking chances. We were so afraid to step outside of the box that we pigeonholed ourselves a little bit in years past to a specific sound. This time, we just thought 'If it feels good, do it. Don't be afraid.'"

747 is set to be released Tuesday.