Lady Antebellum ‘Owns the Night’ At Home and Abroad

As this interview hits the web, Lady Antebellum is wrapping up the Australian leg of its Own The Night 2012 World Tour. Once completed, the massive tour will have played 105 shows to over 1 million fans in 11 countries on three different continents. The demand for tickets was high enough to cause sellouts in Los Angeles, Chicago, Frankfurt (Germany), New York City, and three nights at Sydney Opera House. MusicRow spoke with Hillary Scott, Dave Haywood, and Charles Kelley just before they left for Australia and discussed international touring as well as the group’s highly-anticipated fourth album and meeting “Bruuuuuuuuuuce.”

Lady Antebellum performing in Manchester

MR: Are you excited about Australia?
Hillary: We went for the first time last year with Keith Urban. He took us to open for him, which was such an amazing way to see the country. It was awesome to be able to be there with him and meet his fans, and now we’re going back headlining.

MR: Who are you taking with you?
Charles: It’s actually going to be local acts. Our manager had a really cool idea of picking a couple local acts there, so we’re excited about that. We didn’t know what to expect as far as ticket sales. We opened up first nights and they all sold out so we’re doing multiple nights in each place. We’re doing three nights at Sydney Opera House so that’s going to be a big moment for us.

MR: You had to open up extra dates in Europe as well, right?
Charles: It was pretty wild. Again, we didn’t know what to expect going over and doing a full-fledged tour and the response was amazing. There were definitely certain pockets where it was really strong. I didn’t realize Ireland was going to be that great. We did two nights in Dublin; I can’t wait to go back there. Can’t wait to get back to Scotland.
Dave: The London show we had to actually get a bigger place. We’ve been surprised by how many people have been reached by our music around the world. Keith was great in introducing us to Canada and Australia. We opened for him in both countries and are lucky now to be able to go back on our own.

MR: How did the European tour stack up against your expectations?
Hillary: The fact that our music has traveled so far is the most humbling feeling. Our show is going to be a little different from the standpoint of production because getting everything we had here in the States and Canada all the way over to Australia and Europe [wasn’t feasible].

MR: Were there any standout moments from the last few months of touring?
Dave: For Europe, the meet and greets. A lot of the fans were literally crying to meet us. They were so appreciative of us coming that far. We had one girl at one of our shows come from Brazil…
Hillary: That was in Germany…
Dave: …because that was the easiest way for her to see us. When you’re talking to someone and they’re in tears, thanking you for your music and  for traveling, it makes you want to keep playing these places. That was a standout for me.
Hillary: Everyone shared a personal story as to why our music had impacted them. That’s the ultimate compliment; that’s way bigger than us.
Dave: Also from London, I can’t leave out our show where we got to open up for Bruce Springsteen in Hyde Park.

MR: I have that next on my list of things to ask about…
Hillary: We got to meet him!
Dave: He talked to us for 15 minutes. A lot of times you meet other artists or people you look up to and shake their hand, say ‘hi’ and, ‘cool, nice to meet you.’ But he just started talking and dove into the first time he was playing and touring internationally back in the 70s. He was trying to encourage us to keep touring internationally, which is something I’ll never forget. I mean, I never would have forgotten what he said anyway. But he blew us away.
Charles: I was too busy looking at his sunglasses and how cool he is…
Hillary: [He was] the epitome of a class act. You have the opportunity to meet people you look up to and have really admired, and sometimes it’s a little disappointing. With him it was not. It was everything you could ever dream of wanting to have in the experience of meeting one of your heroes. He’s just the real deal. I was a huge fan before, but now, Bruce all the way.

MR: Springsteen has become this important touchstone for country songwriters. Do you guys find yourselves drawing on him for inspiration?
Charles: He was very descriptive in his writing. It was like, how do you take a simple subject and have a way that we all can put ourselves in that moment? When he’s talking about those moments of childhood and high school and racing down the road, and you put yourself in that spot. Writers like him and Kristofferson, they just have a way of saying something very simply, very poetically. I’ve heard Bruce is a fan of a lot of Country music because Country is great about telling a story. It’s not just about the melody, it’s about the lyrics. His music is, the core of it is the lyrics…
Hillary: I wonder if he likes “Springsteen”
Charles: The Eric Church song?
Dave: I think he heard it.

MR: I think he gave it his stamp of approval.
Hillary: You think about for our parents, and us who have grown to love Bruce—I wasn’t born when became the star that he is. That’s the soundtrack to a lot of our lives. It’s ingrained in who you are and in your character because you grew up with it.

MR: Do you have any rituals to prepare you for a show?
Charles: Woodford Reserve [laughs]. Actually, we played a lot of ping pong this year. This was the tour of ping pong.
Dave: “The year of the pong.”
Charles: Dave and I called ourselves ‘The Dynasty.’ We were on a doubles team together and it got really intense.

MR: Who were you playing?
Charles: The band and crew.
Hillary: It was no girls allowed…
Charles: Everybody had their own teams. Dave and I were a team, we recognized each others’ strengths and weaknesses and it worked really well. I have to say, we had the best record out on the tour so that’s something to be proud of.
Hillary: No one’s here to counter that.

MR: So if your crew and band members beat you in a game, do they get in trouble?
Dave: We threaten them with flights home, docked pay…
Charles: A couple times it did look like they were throwing some games…
Hillary: They just want you to feel good about yourself.

Own The Night World Tour stage in Zurich, Switzerland.

MR: What’s the dynamic like for when you’re on the road? Do you each fall into a role?
Dave: We always travel on the same tour bus and have different things we allow each other to take the reins on. It’s a laundry list of stuff.
Charles: Dave–the instrumentation side of it. I’ll maybe plan on how we should pace it out and what songs should go where and talk where. Hillary was really big from a production standpoint on what was visually going to be coming out, the lights, where we were going to walk. Everybody took their leads and it worked out great that way.
Hillary: On the road here in the States we got into a routine where Charles would go play golf and Dave would be in the studio working on a demo of a song and I would be out with the dog or something. We got into our own little routines. In Europe, we were thrown out of what we were used to and gravitated toward each other. We had so much fun. We went out to the bar together after a show and had a Guinness. We were close before, but Europe was such a sweet time because we really talked and reconnected.

MR: Did getting out of that routine inspire some ideas for the new album?
Hillary: We dreamed and brainstormed, that’s what we talked about.
Charles: For me, it was noticing what songs were globally the songs people could relate to, the kind of universal truths. ‘I Run To You’ was one of those songs wherever we went—like opening for Bruce Springsteen, people were ready for him and that was obvious…
Hillary: They kept screaming [his name] and I thought we were getting booed.
Dave: [laughing] Rookies!
Charles: [The fans] were great, but one of the songs I could tell everyone was really grooving on was ‘I Run To You.’ I love the combination of that driving beat and universal lyric so we focused on a lot of that. This new record, I keep calling it our ‘roll down the windows’ record because it’s definitely more tempo-driven and organic. I think it is one of those records, when people get it, [that] will hopefully be a little bit of a surprise if they’ve heard our last two records. Our last two records were pretty intense and this one will be a little more…
Hillary: Lighthearted.
Charles: Lighthearted… It will still have some intense and lyrically-driven songs but is definitely more live show-oriented.
Hillary: Depth to the lyrics but not as dramatic.
Charles: Less drama.
Dave: Drama-free.

MR: No more drama?
Charles: [laughing] Don’t worry, there’s still going to be a couple of drama songs.
Hillary: There always are, but definitely fewer.

MR: What else can you tell me about the project?
Charles: The last record we used a lot of loops, a lot of big string instrumentation. Most of the stuff we’re using was just the instruments that were just tracked, less overdubs. Just let the songs speak for themselves. We spent more time picking songs.
Hillary: …and we don’t know where it will end up but we’ve cut more outside songs already for this record than we ever have. It’s not that we haven’t written a lot, because we have, but we’re searching and we’re going to find the right songs.
Charles: Trying to find songs that are a bit of a departure. Still familiar, but maybe a road we haven’t been down. A little more tempo-driven. That’s the main thing.

MR: Have you chosen all the songs?
Dave: About halfway. This is the one time where we truly don’t have a deadline.
Charles: And it won’t go out until it’s ready.
Dave: We’re going to wait—spend the rest of the year, go in next year, spend the right amount of time it takes to get the right songs.

MR: What’s the process like for you finding and writing songs? How do you know you’ve found the right one?
Charles: All different ways. We’re in constant contact with our producer and manager, playing for our wives and band. When you start noticing the same thing, it’s like ‘That’s a special song.’ You start hearing it over and over again and honing in on that and going ‘Okay, now that’s the one.’ That kind of what happened with ‘Need You Now.’ We trust the team around us and believe in ourselves and want to make a well-rounded record. It’s creating a well-balanced piece of art.

MR: As you are recording this album and adding to your body of work, do you feel pressured to compete with your past success or can you shake it off and start fresh?
Hillary: I think we’d be lying if we said there wasn’t some on [2011’s Own The Night], comparing to [2010’s Need You Now]. You can only naturally do that, when the second record was the career-changer for us. Being one more record removed from it and having more experience onstage, we’re a lot more assured of who we are as artists and and as a band. We’re just going in with this pure excitement and joy because we have time to soak it all up. The last record happened so fast. We started recording, went out to the Grammys, had that crazy night [six wins, including Album of the Year] and then came home and said, ‘We’ve gotta get going.’ It was a lot of pressure and as much as we tried to not acknowledge, it was still looming. It was that big elephant in the room. With this record, we have time. We can push ourselves and continue to cultivate what we’re doing for as long as we want until it’s ready. There’s a lot of freedom in that and it’s exciting.

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