Lady Antebellum: The Kings (And Queen) Of Country Pop In advance of its third album, the Nashville trio behind the megahit "Need You Now" discusses forming the band, picking a name and handling success and criticism.

Lady Antebellum: The Kings (And Queen) Of Country Pop

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SCOTT SIMON, host: Hillary Scott, Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley; each an accomplished musician in his or her own right. Taken together though, they form the country-music super-group, Lady Antebellum.


LADY ANTEBELLUM: (Singing) It's a quarter after one, I'm all alone, and I need you now.

SIMON: That's their hit "Need You Now". You've probably heard it a lot. That single was certified five times platinum. This is 5 million digital downloads. It's been a relatively quick trip up the charts for Lady Antebellum and the group is set now to release their third studio album in as many years. It's called "Own The Night."


ANTEBELLUM: (Singing) You had me dim the lights. You danced just like a child. The wine spilled on your dress and all you did was smile. Yeah, it was perfect. I hold it in my mind. Yeah, we own the night. Oh, yeah.

SIMON: Lady Antebellum joins us, of course, from Nashville. Hillary Scott, Dave Haywood, and Charles Kelley. Thanks so much for being with us.

HILLARY SCOTT: Absolutely.

DAVE HAYWOOD: Thanks for having us.

SIMON: Could you tell us once and for all, how did you guys find each other?

SCOTT: Well, it's kind of an interesting story and we have to first of all give all of the credit to fate because a lot of things could've not happened the way it did and we wouldn't be here right now. But Charles and Dave have known each other since middle school. They grew up in Georgia, in a town called Augusta. There's a big golf tournament there every year.

And I grew up in Nashville. And the boys went to middle school, high school, college together and then right out of college after they'd been out a year, moved up to Nashville to start writing songs and then kind of had the dream of being songwriters. And I actually met Charles in a bar in Nashville. I recognized him because I'd heard some of his music online.

And so I walked up to him to compliment him and just tell him I was a fan and he said, you know, well, my buddy Dave just moved up from Georgia. Let's get together and write some songs. And decided to play a show live out one night at this bar in Nashville and then we were hooked and we haven't looked back since.

SIMON: And we should explain. Charles Kelley, you're the brother of Josh Kelley, a well known artist.

CHARLES KELLEY: Yeah. Yeah. Josh, you know, it was kind of where we wrote most of our music in the beginning was at his house. So, yeah, he kind of talked Dave and I into moving to Nashville. It was the best decision we ever made.

SIMON: And Hilary Scott, we ought to mention your mother's a singer.

SCOTT: Yes, she is. She is a singer/songwriter. Linda Davis is her name and she and my dad both toured with Reba McEntire for the majority of my childhood. So this industry is all I've ever known. So the fact that this is what my career is now I guess should be no surprise.


SIMON: Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley, can I get you to tell us where the name comes from, Lady Antebellum? I mean, I kind of know what an antebellum period, the U.S. history between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.

HAYWOOD: Yeah. You know...

SIMON: Oh, I'm sorry. You guys insist that I call that the War of Northern Aggression or something like that?


HAYWOOD: No, it's funny. We actually didn't mean anything by it. When you're looking for a band name - I know it sounds weird, but everything you look at and everything you observe and read you kind of think, man, maybe that could be our band name. And you're looking at all these different random things to come up with something hopefully unique.

And we were taking some photos one day in front of one of these old antebellum homes and, you know, one of us said the word and we all kind of stopped and said, man, that could be a name. There could be something with that word. It just feels kind of country and nostalgic and we thought that it had a unique sound to it. It had a lady in the group, obviously, and threw Lady in the front of it for no reason.

I wish we had a great resounding story to remember for the name, but it stuck ever since.

SIMON: Let's listen to a bit of a song from this new album, if we could. This is your other single "Just a Kiss".


ANTEBELLUM: (Singing) Just a kiss on your lips in the moonlight. Just a touch of a fire burning so bright. I don't want to mess this thing up. I don't want to push too far. Just a shot in the dark that you just might be the one I've been waiting for my whole life. So baby, I'm all right with just a kiss goodnight.

SIMON: Now the three of you wrote this song together, I understand. Do you have strategy and philosophy about how you write a song that reaches into people?

SCOTT: Honestly, I think the only goal we set out for is just making it really honest and using our own life experiences to inspire that song. The ultimate compliment we ever receive is from a fan is that a song of ours really relates to them. Because I think about how many songs at different points in my life described how I felt better than I could in my own words, you know, and I think we want people to be able to relate to it.

SIMON: How do you write a song with three people? And then it sounds like you have outside contributors beyond that.

HAYWOOD: Well, a lot of times, we start very musically, I think. I'll have a guitar, I'll be on the piano, and we'll kind of start musically with some melodies. Charles and Hillary are great with, you know, putting vocal melodies on top of the instrumentation. It's a real collaborative thing. There's actually not one specific way we do it. I mean, we'll start an idea in an airport, start on an idea on the tour bus, kind of wherever we are on the road or back home.

An idea can hit you, a melody, and we'll take it from that. And we pull from all of our experiences. I will say lyrically we don't necessarily use exactly some person's story that they're going through. But we all have these experiences and these stories. I think "Need You Now," you know, is a great example.

We've all been at that point where you have this desperation and longing for somebody and even, you know, late at night where you truly miss somebody that you had a once in a lifetime connection with. So we pull from each of our individual stories to collectively make kind of one story and we kind of just end up where we end up.

SIMON: Let's listen to another track, if we can, from your new CD "Own the Night" and that is "Wanted You More."


ANTEBELLUM: (Singing) Wasted too much time, should've seen the signs. Now I know just what went wrong. I guess I wanted you more. And looking back now I'm sure I wanted you more. I guess I wanted you more.

SIMON: There are a lot of love songs on this album, people have noticed.

HAYWOOD: Yeah. You know, a lot of relationship songs. You know, that one's about falling out of love, actually, you know, and...

SCOTT: Or realizing the person you love doesn't love you back.

HAYWOOD: Yeah. Doesn't love you as much as you love them.


ANTEBELLUM: (Singing) In the end it seemed there was no room for me. Still, I tried to change your mind. I guess I wanted you more.

KELLEY: I don't know. You know, it's funny. I always tell people, it's like we just write about what we know. You know, we don't know much about changing the world and politics so we stick to love songs and I think it's stuff that everybody can relate to, you know.

SIMON: And that phrase now that we sometimes hear and some people, you know, I don't mind telling you some people mock it, country pop. Can that still be a kind of insult in certain precincts of Nashville?

HAYWOOD: I don't know. I mean, we're definitely, you know, have much more of a contemporary sound than I guess a lot of traditional country but I just think the genre as a whole has just opened itself up a lot. But we love all types of music. You know, we love pop music. We love rock music. We love R&B and country and so we just kind of pull from all our influences.

So I don't really take offense as long as people, you know, are coming out to the shows and buying the records and becoming fans of the music, you know, because at the end of the day, you know, the music is what's going to speak to you, not whether you call us a country pop band or whatever it may be. You know?

SIMON: We'd like to get you to tell us which one of your songs you'd like us to play as we end this interview. And tell us a little bit about it, please.

HAYWOOD: Maybe "Dancing Away with My Heart." That would be a good one. We're really proud of that song and I think, you know, it's a very nostalgic song; kind of about, you know, maybe your prom or whatever it may be, that first love and wondering what they're doing now. So, yeah, "Dancing Away with My Heart."


ANTEBELLUM: (Singing) I can still feel you lean in to kiss me. I can't help but wonder if you ever miss me. I haven't seen you in ages.

SIMON: Well, thanks very much for being with us.

HAYWOOD: Thank you. Enjoyed it.

KELLEY: Thank you.

SIMON: Hilary Scott, Dave Haywood, and Charles Kelley in Nashville. Of course, they are Lady Antebellum.


ANTEBELLUM: (Singing) For me you'll always be 18 and beautiful and dancing away with my heart. You went off to college at the end of that summer and we lost touch...

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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