The groundwork Hillary Scott & The Scott Family’s Love Remains actually started in 2011, with the passing of Hillary Scott’s grandfather, W.M. Scott Jr. The musical family leaned on traditional hymns to comfort each other, recording a few, originally, just intended for family and friends. Ultimately the idea snowballed to create an album, which was produced by Ricky Skaggs, who also provided vocals, instrumentals, and according to Hillary Scott, “ongoing mentoring and pastoring.”
Hillary Scott & The Scott Family consists of Hillary, her mother Linda Davis, an established country singer who still tours regularly and along with Reba McEntire recorded one of country music’s iconic duets: the 1993 No. 1 country hit, “Does He Love You”; Hillary’s 16-year-old sister Rylee Scott and her dad, songwriter, Lang Scott.
The first single from the project, “Thy Will,” called an “open letter to God’’ by Hillary, was written while she was in a dark place, after her second pregnancy ended in miscarriage in fall 2015. “I questioned why but never lost my faith,” she tells Billboard. “The four words that rang constantly, ‘thy will be done.’”
On Billboard’s Hot Christian Songs chart dated July 19, “Thy Will,” a lushly produced, piano-driven ballad, with a staggeringly powerful vocal performance by Scott, is bulleted at No. 2 and has been No. 1 on Christian Digital Songs for four weeks, selling 67,000 downloads to date. On the Christian Airplay chart, “Thy Will” climbs 17-15, with a 33 percent surge.
Inside the country genre, “Thy Will” is bulleted at No. 36 on Hot Country Songs and No. 30 on Country Digital Songs.
In their career, Lady Antebellum (with Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood) has rolled up six Hot Country Songs No. 1s, nine on Country Airplay and four on Top Country Albums. They have sold over 10 million albums in the U.S., to date, according to Nielsen Music.
Scott, who lives in Brentwood, Tenn., with drummer husband Chris Tyrell (who played on Love Remains) and daughter Eisele Kaye Tyrell (who turns 3 on July 22) spoke to Billboard about the personal struggles that fueled Love Remains and Lady Antebellum’s plans for a new album.
First off, after so many years with Lady Antebellum, what was it like to record with your family?
I must say that it was just precious from start to finish; every moment of the whole thing. Honestly, I feel like this was the album that I was meant to make. There’s a lot about this project that’s a creative statement for me.
Did thinking about the record start after your grandfather passed after battling leukemia in 2011?
Looking back at that season, he stayed the paw-paw I always knew, even though he suffered. He had this big booming voice that you could feel in your chest and an amazing sense of humor; he never lost that. He never lost himself. But he was definitely the catalyst for the album. When we walked through it with him, we did a Caring Bridge page because he couldn’t have visitors and we wanted to share with those people who couldn’t see him. Well, we started getting so many messages from people that referred to a prayer or a hymn or story, and that was like his therapy. There was repetition to some of the hymns that would come up; the traditional church hymn, “Blessed Assurance” being one of them. That song became the cornerstone hymn in creating this record and then it didn’t end up making the album.
How come it didn’t make it?
Well, the best way that I can describe it is that it was the song that we had to break through to get to the rest of the material, if that makes sense. And afterwards, it was no longer about that song anymore.
Did you record it?
It’s really interesting; yes we did. And when we listened to it and referenced it to the all of the other songs, it didn’t work. It was like the stepping stone to doing the album. It had its place.
So, the record is coming out July 29th, and in reading that pen-written note that was included in the press release (read it below), you sounded thrilled to get this album out.
I am so excited for the opportunity to talk about the source of our hope and our faith, and how we get through things. I feel like there’s a lot of people walking through life that are hurt or afraid, and not knowing how to deal with it; how to process, and essentially feeling very alone. This record is for them.
You referred to “Thy Will” as your open letter to God.
Yes. I basically poured out my heart, sharing everything going on. I was hurt, and in a sad place.
You wrote it after suffering a miscarriage in 2015.
[Lady Antebellum] played Bridgestone Arena in Nashville [on Sept. 11, 2015] and I had gone to the doctor a couple of days before that, and there was barely a heartbeat. And then I had to wait a week and come back. So, that week, every time that I’d start to pray, I’d get tongue-tied. The only words that would come were “thy will be done.” The morning of my doctor visit, my morning devotional just happened to be verses from Matthew, and I knew in my heart that I was not going to get the end result that I was hoping and praying for. But in that moment, I also sensed that at some point, I’d also know why, and that I would have some understanding as to why this happened. I just kept my eyes and ears open, because when you’re going through that kind of journey, you could either let everything around you wash over, and focus inward, or you could look around, and just say, “Okay, I’m going to find some meaning in this, no matter how raw and how hard it is, and how much it hurts.” I didn’t even know I would have the strength to get through it. Writing “Thy Will” was my first step in healing.
I love the line in the song, “You’re God and I’m not.”
It took a lot to get to that place, but when you finally get there, there’s a lot of freedom in that tipping point. It’s a turning over of all of your circumstances to God. You can’t see it, but there’s so much that He was carrying for me.
So, you still had solid belief during that time?
I never questioned God’s presence. I didn’t like it and I questioned why. We had prayed so hard about getting pregnant, and I thought it was God’s answer when I did in fact get pregnant. So then to have that taken away was shattering. I never questioned my faith but definitely questioned Him and why. It’s like what the song says. “I heard you, you said yes… so why is it no.” In reality, it wasn’t a no at all. It was more like, not right now. And the reality of it is that through the pain, God allowed me to write this song, “Thy Will,” that’s not just healing for me, now I am getting to watch the song be healing for other people.
What would you want your fans to take away from the song “Thy Will”?
Definitely comfort. Some of the lines in the song that still wreck me when I sing it: “I know you see me, I know you hear me, and your plans are for me.” You know, that’s true. There are just really bad situations and we live in a world where people lose their minds and do evil, the most unbelievably terrible things. But the truth is, God sees you, he hears you, and he’s for you. That’s what I would want people to latch onto, that even in the midst of your darkest grief, that no one should ever be completely alone; that you are seen and you are heard; that you have God to walk with you. Also, that there is goodness still to be found in the world, that there’s beauty to be found from the ashes of sadness.
You gave a pretty powerful vocal performance, so what was the actual recording process like?
We actually used over half of the piano-vocal demo in the final version that everyone hears. I went in and sang just one other time.
And by the way, that song is No. 2 as of this morning on our Hot Christian Songs chart and No. 1, for a fourth week on our Christian Digital songs chart.
Oh my gosh, you’re kidding. Oh my gosh, that is so amazing. Oh my gosh…[Laughs]…that is so, so amazing. Oh my gosh, I don’t get Google alerts on myself, it kind of weirds me out, so I missed it. How amazing, I mean that was my prayer, that it would just be heard.
Sonically, “Thy Will,” is right-down-the middle contemporary Christian-sounding. Was that something that Ricky Skaggs was comfortable with, since we know him for more traditional country and bluegrass music?
Yes, I think Ricky felt stretched, because the sound was pretty far from the bluegrass and mountain music that he embodies. At first he might have been a touch apprehensive, but only at first. In the end, I think he just loved it. The way I think of harmonies and vocal licks isn’t where he would go naturally, so it made for a real interesting pairing.
The album is a fusion of styles, from traditional Christian hymns, to contemporary Christian, pop, even rock and you definitely bridge the old and the new, especially on songs like “The River.” Was that the goal?
Yes, it’s the bridge of what all of those styles of music that Ricky Skaggs brings, along with my parents’ and my own tastes and influences. It’s kind of a marriage of all of it. I think that’s what people will hear when they listen. There are strong influences from Ricky, but on a lot of the album, it’s not that far of a departure from some of the Lady A tracks.
Was Ricky Skaggs the producer that you had in mind all along?
The way that I envisioned it, it was always him. When I asked him originally, he said that he was really booked, that he was having the busiest year that he had in over a decade; and that if we were on a strict timeline, that he definitely couldn’t do it. I just said, “Well, I want this to get done when it’s ready.” It all worked out and it took a full year from the start, when we began looking for songs, until getting the finished product. But in thinking about it, and honestly, I cannot say that I really even picked Ricky — every time that I would pray about the project or dream about it, I only saw him. It was always, just him.
Was your label (Universal Music Group/Nashville), supportive of the project?
Yes, Cindy Mabe (UMG President), has championed it from the beginning and Mike Dungan (Chairman/CEO), has also been very supportive, from the infancy, as a matter of fact.
Do you listen to Christian radio?
I do, a lot, as a matter of fact. I grew up in Nashville, so I have listened to both WAY-FM (88.1 WFSK) and The Fish (94.1 WFFH), a lot. I also listen to The Message on Sirius XM. Now with the single out, I have visited the stations, have done lunches and they’ve been really incredible to me, very welcoming.
Are you surprised that the single been welcomed at Christian radio?
Well, it’s a new world for me, so I have made myself available, and I’m kind of an open book anyways. I didn’t have expectations, but I wanted the song to connect, simply because I wanted as many people as possible to hear it. That’s why I am happy that they’re taking the music to both country and Christian. I didn’t want anyone to feel pressured to play it, just to play it if they wanted to. That’s the thing with this record: I want everyone to feel invited and welcomed and that no one would feel like it wasn’t intended for them or that they’re excluded. The programmers have been incredible. Also, I’ve just wanted to show them that I’m not perfect, I’m never going to say that I am, I’m never going to be perfect, but this is what God put in my heart.
Is there a plan to do these songs live?
For now there’s an album release event planned where we’ll be doing about half of the record live. And then, we’re trying to put plans together for a tour. Now, I don’t know, because he’s so busy, but I would just love for one day to tour with Ricky, and do multiple shows. I don’t know how or when that could all come together, but we definitely hope and have dreams of bringing these songs to life, for sure.
All three of you from Lady Antebellum are doing side projects: Charles Kelley put out the solo album, The Driver, Dave Haywood produced the Post Monroe EP, you have your album coming out, yet Lady A is doing shows this summer; so you don’t seem to be on any kind of sabbatical.
We don’t know what sabbatical means. We have already recorded four or five songs for the next album, and will be in the studio this fall. From the outside looking in, it may look like we’re not together right now, but the fact is we’re talking all of the time, we’re doing shows and we never really went away. Collectively, we just wanted to allow each other creative exploration as individuals.
So with Lady A recording and working on a new album, will you have time to effectively work your own album?
Yeah, the fall is really set aside for working on the Lady A record. We’re nowhere near being close to being done right now. So, I’ll have the entire summer and maybe do some shows with the Scott Family in the fall if it hopefully comes together. The guys know how important that this is to me, so they want me to see it through. We’ve all watched documentaries about bands and the dysfunction, and it’s not like we don’t have our quirks, but we’re all great friends. We always put the best for the band first and know how to compromise.
When you were really young, your mom used to take you out on the road. Are you doing that with your daughter?
Yes, she comes out. She’s potty-trained, knows how to use the restroom on the bus. The kid’s a road warrior. When I see her it’s like looking at me, only with blue eyes and blonde hair.
Did having your child make your faith stronger?
Indeed and it just made me want to be consistent for her, to not have highs and lows that might rattle her. It’s a constant struggle as a mom. My hope is that she always feels safe, not just physically, but also emotionally — that she knows that mom is okay.
So, how has it been working with your mom. There are some of those harmonies where you sound pretty darn similar.
It’s been amazing, and there’s one part on the song, “The River,” where I asked her if the finished harmonies were matched with her singing with herself. It’s actually me, harmonizing with her, and it’s just kind of chilling that our voices are so closely matched.
There’s something about family harmonies, and Ricky Skaggs has that experience from working with The Whites, so that must have been a plus.
Ricky’s wife, Sharon, and her sister, Cheryl White, provide vocals on “The River.” They are phenomenal. Ricky got in there and helped us a lot. Songs like “The River” have that old hymn sound, yet it’s also modern-sounding as well. That’s what we were going for.
Would you release “The River” as a single?
I would totally release it. In fact I am not afraid to release any of these songs as singles. I’ll let the professionals in that world guide me, but yes, I am proud of all of these songs.
Will your sister Rylee, who sings on the album, be following in her big sister’s path?
Oh, she’s going to blow right by me. I have no doubt.