Long before he was part of popular country trio Lady Antebellum, Dave Haywood acted as engineer and producer for his friend, Mary Bragg. The two met in high school and started singing together their first week of college.
With adjacent dorm rooms at the University of Georgia, Haywood and Bragg formed a band and even opened for a still-unknown Miranda Lambert. After Bragg graduated, Haywood and the now-Brooklyn-based Americana songstress began working on her debut record, “Certain Simple Things,” in the fall of 2003.
Video: “When Your Heart Belongs To Another,” Mary Bragg
“He was really the first person to push me to write songs. We were in a band together for three years and he’s like, ‘We’re gonna make a record,'” she recalls. “He said, ‘I’m going to send you these MP3s of me playing these random chords and I want you to write some lyrics and melodies.'”
Though she didn’t quite know how to do that yet, she gave it a try.
“We started making this record and we made it in his… they called it ‘The Treehouse’. It was his dude college apartment,” she tells Billboard.com. “Actually, he and Charles [Kelley of Lady Antebellum] started writing together at that time too. Charles and David went to high school together and were very good friends in college also.”
Recorded, engineered and produced by Haywood in Athens, Ga., the album was released in early 2004 and Bragg moved to New York shortly after.
“This record, for me, we did not know what we were doing,” she said. “It’s kind of beautiful in some ways because of that. It was our first effort to make something good, and he had never done anything like this before. He would burn me a CD and I would put the CD in my CD player and write. I barely played guitar when David and I started writing. I didn’t know how to shape the chords of a song or even how to shape melody very much. I really needed Dave to help me figure out where a melody should go.”
Before the days of GarageBand, Bragg and Haywood made the record in his apartment using Cakewalk software. Yet three albums later, Bragg says she still plays material from her debut release.
“There are actually two songs on there [‘Certain Simple Things’] that I still love and sometimes show up on our sets,” she said. “There really is a formula for making people love a song. Obviously you don’t want to keep to that formula all the time because it’s redundant and boring — not fresh.”
Today, Bragg’s songwriting process varies, and she always keeps a notebook on hand for when inspiration may strike. Her folksy third album, “Tattoos and Bruises,” saw a release earlier this year.