Charles Kelley’s new disc, The Driver, might very well be his solo debut. But, the singer — also known for his role as co-lead singer of Lady Antebellum — will be the first to tell you that he’s far from alone on the disc. The first single and title track has already found a home on the airwaves — and has netted him (along with collaborators Dierks Bentley and Eric Paslay) a Grammy nomination. And, though Hillary Scott’s vocals can’t be heard on the album, there are a couple of female artists on the album that you very well might be familiar with.
The legendary Stevie Nicks adds her touch on Kelley’s cover of Tom Petty’s “Southern Accents.” He tells Billboard that one doesn’t have to necessarily share a microphone with Nicks to be enchanted by her mere presence. “Every time I’ve ever been lucky enough to be in the same room as Stevie, it feels like a dream,” he said. “I first met her while filming the CMT Crossroads special with Lady Antebellum. She is such an open book and incredibly refreshing that you forget for a moment that you’re hanging out with your hero. She was very open to suggestions I made but she also had very strong convictions of her own as to what she thought would make for a great performance. The process was very collaborative.”
Kelley admitted the two found some common ground on the track. “We’re both giant Tom Petty fanatics so we wanted to make sure that we did the song justice. She is also a close friend of Tom’s, which I can’t say for myself. I can only hope that Tom hears our version and it brings a smile to his face.”
Kelley also rolls out the welcome mat for six-time reigning CMA and ACM female vocalist of the year Miranda Lambert on “I Wish You Were Here.” The collaboration happened at the last minute, he said.
“Initially we had intended on just making an EP of just five or six songs. Around that time, I performed a showcase in Nashville for some industry friends to share the music live. After the excitement of the performance, the thought of finishing out the EP into a full-length album started to take shape. I started immediately writing more and also digging into older songs I had on my computer. I’ve always loved the song “I Wish You Were Here,” originally written and recorded by Jedd Hughes, so I decided to give it a shot in the studio. After hearing the finished product I knew it was missing something. It needed some vulnerability to it in the form of a female harmony,” he said, admitting that Lambert came to mind. “Luckily, she had come to the showcase in Nashville and had been so supportive and encouraging after seeing the performance that I thought maybe, just maybe, she will want to be a part of this. Luckily, she said yes,” he added with a smile.
With The Driver being in stores now, February promises to be a month to remember for Kelley. Between the album, a scheduled trip to the Grammys and the fact that he and wife Cassie are expecting their first child, he says he’s definitely living in the moment these days.
“The album release is the culmination of a lot of hard work — that balances both high points of extreme confidence and pride, and low points of extreme self-doubt,” he admitted. “I’ve learned a lot about myself in this process and how much I lean on my wife and also my team for support. It’s been a head trip at times but also incredibly rewarding. I can’t say I have ever been more proud — until, of course, the baby comes,” he confessed, laughing.
The singer will kick off a solo tour run in Fort Myers on March 11, and will be on the road throughout the spring promoting the new music. He’s already got a few dates under his belt.
What was it like for him to be alone on stage? “I was a little nervous for sure. It took me a couple shows to completely settle in. It’s hard not having the support of my two best friends onstage to play off of. After a while, though, I learned to treat it as a separate thing. In the beginning, I kept almost apologizing that Dave and Hillary weren’t there. We three know we aren’t breaking up, but I wanted the audience to really know that and understand that this is just a desire to make art in a different vehicle for me. I feel, though, that all this solo stuff is only gonna help me in some way when I step right back into the group. We really aren’t and haven’t gone anywhere, we’re just taking a long vacation — for me it’s a work vacation,” he surmises.