Lady Antebellum with Rodney Atkins
"That's the core of our group, how we started," says Dave Haywood, harmony singer and multi-instrumentalist. "What spawned our friendship was that special writing chemistry. That's when we are the happiest, just sitting in a room together making music."
"Maybe it's a self preservation kind of thing," agrees co-lead singer Hillary Scott. "Especially on the road we have to work to nurture our relationship. I write so much from about what is happening in my life and the people closest to me, so knowing my friends care about what is going on in my life outside of Lady A, makes me more likely pour it all out into a song."
“Writing lets us chill and slow down a bit," says Charles Kelley whose edgy lead vocals merge and weave with Hillary’s velvet tone."
Lady Antebellum formed in 2006. Hillary and Charles decided to try writing together after a chance meeting at a Nashville music spot. Charles and his high school musician friend and co-writer Dave Haywood were living with Charles' brother Josh Kelley at the time. Late night songwriting sessions with the new trio soon became the genesis through which they discovered the remarkable emotional effect that was created when Charles and Hillary's vocals blended. With Dave's harmony sounds and instrumental prowess added to that mix the three young musicians realized they might not just be writing songs for other people, but perhaps would get to perform them, too. A Music Row "buzz" began to spread as the newly-formed trio started making appearances on local stages.
Soon key tastemakers began to believe in the group, including producer Paul Worley who has worked on all three Lady A albums. By April 2007, a blink of an eye in music industry time, Capitol Nashville had signed Lady Antebellum to a record deal and the trio began to ascend toward the constellation of country music stars with powerful hits such as "Love Don't Live Here," and "I Run To You."
The group's second album, Need You Now (released Jan. 2010) took the band to an even larger audience. To date the album has sold over five million copies worldwide, spawning three multi-week No. 1 hits (“Need You Now,” “American Honey” and “Our Kind of Love”), and scored five Grammy Awards. It has also received over a dozen other award show trophies. ‘Need You Now’ introduced the world, outside North America, to Lady Antebellum. The single was a huge airplay hit around the globe, reaching the No. 1 spot in numerous markets and achieving Top 5 Airplay in 30 countries world-wide. The album has sold in excess of one million units outside the US, and ‘Need You Now’ remains in the airplay charts more than 18 months since release.
"We never expected to be thrust into the international spotlight in the way that we were…from the success of just one song," says Kelley. "It was six months or so after the album came out that we were finally able to go play overseas. When we got there, we were floored at the life that 'Need You Now' had taken on. The power of that one song re-ally changed the scope of our entire career at home and in all these places we had only dreamed of playing."
In The Studio – Own The Night: The pairing with Paul Worley has proved a good fit. His warm temperament, creative sensibility and platinum experience with acts such as the Dixie Chicks and Martina McBride helped guide Lady Antebellum's studio development.
"Recording for us is an open forum of ideas," says Dave who readily avows, "One of my first loves is messing around with studio production. Paul has great vision for where these songs need to go. Over three albums we've learned a lot about the recording process, how to speak the language and what it takes to get it done. Naturally, as songwriters we envision these songs a certain way. It's not some far removed kind of thing with a bunch of session guys and us just showing up to sing. This is from the ground up—we are writing these songs, playing these instruments and creating the arrangements."
Lady Antebellum's third album, Own The Night is scheduled for release Sept. 13. The upcoming 12-cut set features the band's fastest rising single to date, "Just a Kiss" plus 11 additional tracks. Charles, Hillary and Dave wrote or co-wrote 10 of the songs, including "We Owned The Night."
"'We Owned The Night' opens the album,” says Dave excitedly, "and I really love this song. We reworked the title slightly to make it present tense for the album title–Own The Night. When people come out to our live show it's a call to action. Be confident, live in the moment and enjoy the experiences you're going through—own them. That's the premise of what we wanted to say."
Part of the challenge of a new album is translating it into a live show. "When we were tracking 'We Owned The Night' in the studio," says Hillary, "I was in the control room with Paul (Charles sings lead on it). Listening to the track inspired me to visualize our live show. I grabbed a legal pad and began drawing out the stage. That was the first sign to me that the song would be a cornerstone of this third album."
"Many of our songs have an interplay between Charles and Hillary and we feel strongly about creating that emotion live," adds Dave. "And being on tour with artists like Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban has also given us a lot of ideas. So yeah, we're excited to get a chance to jump up into arenas and give that a shot."
"People want you to entertain them," says Charles. "The fans feed off your energy. They see it on your face. So we've learned to let ourselves go on stage. With three people the strongest moments are when we are close and tight together. But it's a giant stage to fill up."
Being themselves has worked for this group. As Hillary recalls, "I'll never forget when we were on our first radio tour and a programmer said, 'I don't think two lead singers, a girl and a guy are going to work.'
"Especially with the name too," remembers Dave. "Programmers weren't sure if people could identify with two singers. It was a risk at the time. But for us it was just like, well that's who we are. How can we not do that?"
It's All About Our Fans! "We stay connected with everybody in a huge way online with our webisodes and social networking,” says Dave. “After a show we pull up Twitter to see what people are saying, especially when we're introducing a new song. We care about what they think and the internet gives us a way to get an immediate reaction."
"All these people who spend their hard earned money on a concert ticket or a CD, they invest in us and who we are," says Hillary. "Not just in the music we play, but in our lives. So the least we can do in return is reciprocate that trust in the form of continuing to tour, create music and do our very best at both."
"We are just as vulnerable about this music, self-conscious and need approval like anyone else," says Charles quietly. "We recognize we've been given an amazing opportunity and don't want to let anyone down. We hit the lottery. We’re just lucky we can sing and play instruments."
"I hope people realize we aren't taking it all for granted," says Dave. "This is crazy, but we want to enjoy it and do our very best. Twenty years later I hope people will talk about us and say, ‘They were just genuine people who made genuine music based upon their life experiences’."
Rodney Atkins: Rodney Atkins knows the value of taking the long way home, of veering off the beaten path onto that road less traveled once in a while. You can hear it in his music, in the lyrics of his smash single, “Take A Back Road,” a song that celebrates that feeling of getting away from the noise of everyday life, really living in the moment, and getting right with your soul. And you can see it in the way he lives his life: putting family first, listening to that inner voice and remaining true to himself, and striving to evolve and find unique ways of expressing himself through the music he puts out into the world. It’s a philosophy he tries to employ throughout his life, and it has led him to some amazing places.
“What does it mean to follow your own path? I try to think about that a lot when I’m making an album,” explains Rodney, describing the journey he took in making his fourth album, “Take A Back Road.” “To me, it’s going somewhere you’ve never been, because when you do that, you wind up seeing things that no one has seen before. Which means you can paint the picture differently.”
The hardworking artist gathered up a whole new set of colors when he set about creating his latest masterpiece/fourth CD, “Take A Back Road,” and he cranked the whole recording process up a notch in intensity -- which is saying something for a guy who is pretty darned intense to begin with. But he wanted this project, his first in nearly three years, to convey and express some emotions and feelings in an authentic yet different way. Simply put -- Rodney had a lot to say musically, and he wanted to say it in exactly the right way.
The East Tennessee native has an impressive track record with hitting on sentiments that strike a chord with the country listener: he’s had six number one hits from his first three albums, from “Watching You” and “These Are My People” to his most recent smashes, “Take A Back Road,” and “Farmer’s Daughter,” (which quickly skyrocketed to platinum,) and he’s sold over four million singles in the past five years alone. His lead single and title track, “Take A Back Road” has propelled him to even bigger heights with its irresistibly catchy chorus and easygoing, windows-down, breezy summer vibe. The tune is near platinum status just weeks after its release, but interestingly enough, Rodney wasn’t sure how it would be received when he first decided to record the song, penned by Rhett Akins and Luke Laird. “‘Farmers Daughter’ was one of the craziest download songs we had,” recalls Rodney. “It was peaking at 15-16,000 a week, and now “Back Road” is knocking on 40,000 a week. And we haven’t done a lot of press on that song either. So that was validation for me to follow my heart. Because when I got it, I was afraid to play the song for the people at the label, because I thought, “they’re gonna think I’m crazy” because of what it was. It’s pretty different. I knew before I could play it, my picture of where I wanted it to go had to be done.
“It’s one of those songs that the first time I heard it I thought, “Boy, that feels good.” And then it’s catchy, and something you want to just crank up, but then, the more you hear it, you realize it’s not just a ditty – it’s about life. If you want it to be just summer ear candy, it can just be that, but also it’s about getting right with your soul, coming down to earth.”
To capture just the right vibe for his new CD, Take A Back Road, Rodney teamed up once again with producer Ted Hewitt, who co-produced both the platinum “If You’re Going Through Hell,” (which featured the title track smash and 2006’s most-played song of the year) and “It’s America.” The two spent hours in Rodney’s home studio painstakingly crafting each vocal and track, with Rodney paying attention to every minute detail on song after song. It’s a process he cherishes almost as much as being onstage, and one he takes extremely seriously.
“In the studio I’m always flying stuff around, messing around with Pro Tools, moving stuff around, and my co-producer Ted, he really gets this stuff. I’m very much a thinker. Now you call it A.D.D. – I’m hyper-focused. It’s hard to find the kind of songs that will really set you apart, though. I think that’s the biggest challenge. That’s the ultimate goal. And Ted and I have talked about the accountability for the music and what works, and what doesn’t. You have to figure out what it is you came here to say, and stick to that, and not forget that. I think you live and learn. I have to record songs that won’t just be around for a little while. And you want to have something that people relate to - you don’t want to be thinking about listening to a song, you want to be inside of it. It’s like watching a movie.”
The songs on “Take A Back Road” are undeniably relatable --- from the sweetly honest battling couple who’ve drawn the lines down the middle of the bed in “Feet,” to the fiercely parental pride-even-through-the-tough-times in “He’s Mine,” the tunes are chock full of emotions that any couple or family in modern-day America could identify with and find themselves experiencing, and for Rodney, that real emotion is what he strives for in each and every note.
“I’ve had some success with my songs, and you’ve got to sit back and ask yourself, why did these songs connect? With a lot of songs, the approach is about how perfect things are, or how messed up things are – it’s one or the other. But for me, real life is there are ups and downs, and if you can, get both sides of that in a song.” Rodney also covers some new ground musically on the project with several tender love songs. Reluctant in the past to record them because many tend to express the same sentiments in the same predictable way, he found several songs for this record that capture the romance between a woman and a man in a unique, genuine way, without the shellacking or sugar-coating. Tunes like “She’s A Girl,” about the mystery and power a female can wield over a male, and “Cabin In The Woods,” about the beauty of stealing away to a remote place, approach the age-old subject in ways he could not only relate to, but felt fans would gravitate to as well.
“I’ve never recorded love songs before. My love songs have been “These Are My People” and “Watching You” and “Cleaning This Gun.” Or “Farmer’s Daughter” – that’s sort of a “Going Through Hell” love song. But I’ve never gone down that road, because I wanted to find or write the type of song that was about something you can relate to that really moves you. Not something that you just hear and say, “Oh that’s neat, or that’s pretty or that sounds good.” But something I can really relate to. It’s a different approach than you’ve heard in a long time. Love is not all blue skies and no bills ...it’s gutters leaking and the cat messed in the fireplace. It’s not convenient at all, and you’ve got to make time for it – that’s the toughest part of it.
“There’s also a tune “He’s Mine” about a father and son that is sort of a love song as well. My boy Elijah, he’s nine, and I started thinking about my teenage years and what I put my parents through, and what he’s gonna be like. And you start thinking, ‘Well it doesn’t matter...I’m gonna be there for him, and I’m gonna try my best,’ and it’s unconditional and that’s one of the most diverse songs - its “Watching You” the teenage years, but completely different.”
Although he can be soft-spoken and serious, Rodney demonstrates his appreciation for the funnier side of life as well through tunes like the warm and witty, “Family,” about a quirky clan of characters gathered at a family reunion, and the laugh-out-loud “She’d Rather Fight.” The CD definitely features glimpses into Rodney’s wild side, a side most often seen onstage during his energetic live shows, where he jokes he “lets his shadow come out to play.” And he took pains to ensure he captured that raw, live energy this time around on the new CD, feeling he had lost a bit of that spontaneity on his last CD. “This album is different in that it’s got more edge on it; it’s got a lot more dive-bombs. With a smaller band, songs like “Back Road” feel like it’s right up in your face and not affected. It’s a more soulful album...“It’s America” didn’t talk enough about the real world; it lost some grit for me. Grit to me is sometimes just being honest. And sometimes you just want to cut loose and have fun, and you have to do something unexpected...you just have to kind of roll with it. That’s how I try to be onstage, and the shows get better the more spontaneous they are, the less the band knows what’s going to happen. I like not knowing exactly what’s going to happen. But typically, I always know where I’m going. I’m not saying I always know how I’m gonna get there. But as long as I know where I’m going, I’m good. I like to just be in the moment, to focus on the power of now -- this album felt that way for me. I’m low-key, but I get excited on stage. I think if I didn’t have the outlet of playing live, I’d be frustrated a lot. Music was definitely my savior. It’s a way of saying things that, hopefully, because it’s in the form of music, will stay around awhile.”
Though his new crop of songs has some edge, and the vocal energy may be amped up a notch, Rodney is still the same, hard-working, patriotic, rock-solid country boy that fans have grown to know and love since his debut with 2003’s Honesty. He still relishes the time spent with wife Tammy Jo and his son Elijah, and still serves as the spokesperson for brands like Massey Ferguson and the National Council for Adoption, a cause dear to his heart as a child of adoption himself. Rodney volunteers for the council on a large scale, but also makes plenty of time to return to the Holston Methodist Home for Children in Greenville, TN, where he was adopted as a small baby as well, for visits. After all, the road back to the tiny hometown where he got his start may be a long one, and a long way from the glitzy one he travels now as a country star, but for Rodney, nothing could ever beat the power of taking that back road and returning home to your roots. It’s because Atkins has a rare gift for reflecting the lives of his listeners in his music—their hopes, their concerns, their spirit, their adversities, even their sense of humor. Simply put, as he sang in another chart-topping smash, “These Are My People.” A native of small-town East Tennessee, the adopted son of a loving family and the proud father to a family of his own, Atkins understands regular lives because he still leads one. “People always talk about image—‘You’re the guy in the ball cap, the All-American country boy,’” says Atkins, who does indeed still favor caps to cowboy hats. “But if the songs don’t connect with the folks listening, then none of that stuff matters.”
Atkins makes that connection again and again on his much-anticipated new album, It’s America. Just listen to the down-home philosophy of “Got It Good” and “Tell a Country Boy,” the heartfelt balladry of “The River Knows,” the fist pumping feel good “It’s America” and much more from across the musical and emotional spectrum. “I try to sing songs with an honest view of ourselves, of myself, of the struggle, of the laughter,” he says. “It’s about being human.”
Credit Atkins’ honest view to his upbringing. He was adopted as a frail, sickly infant from the Holston Methodist Home for Children in Greenville, Tenn. (for which he has passionately raised awareness and financial assistance since finding stardom), but two families returned him to the home because the burden of caring for him was too great. Then Allan and Margaret Atkins took him in. “From what I understand, I became more sick than I had ever been during that time,” he says. “But it just never crossed their mind to take me back.”
With their love and care that weak, ill child grew into a strong, healthy young man. He began singing in church as a boy, and learned to play guitar and write songs while in high school. Soon after he headed off to college, Atkins began making regular trips to Nashville in order to write, perform and learn the business. Word got around quickly about this talented and charismatic up-and-comer, and soon he was signed to Curb Records. Atkins’ 2003 debut album, Honesty, earned him a Top 5 hit with “Honesty (Write Me a List).”
Never one to stray far from his roots, Atkins, along with his wife of 10 years, Tammy Jo, continue to raise their family (7-year-old son Elijah and two teenage stepdaughters who affectionately call him “Big R”) and enjoy a simple life right here in Middle Tennessee. “My family is my priority,” he says. “I cherish them so much.” Atkins and longtime producer Ted Hewitt even recorded the vocals for If You’re Going Through Hell and It’s America at the singer’s modest home studio, little more than a closet really, amidst the hubbub of his happily full house.
This unique recording technique proved a winning one, and the chart-topping, platinum-selling If You’re Going Through Hell gave Atkins his true breakthrough. In addition to the overwhelming radio and video airplay, he earned the Academy of Country Music’s Top New Male Vocalist award, plus five other ACM nominations and two Country Music Association nominations. He has also had the opportunity to amass some amazing memories—from public moments like performing for a half-million people at the National Memorial Day concert in Washington, D.C., to private ones like getting to thank hero Garth Brooks for his inspiration. He’s performed for former President George W. Bush. Twice. He’s toured with the superstar likes of Brad Paisley, Brooks & Dunn, Martina McBride and ZZ Top. Similarly, he’s had the pleasure of helping the causes that mean a lot to him, such as the National Council for Adoption. “A lot of my dreams have become reality – I’m living the American dream,” he acknowledges. “It’s amazing to me.” Even so, Atkins hasn’t changed a bit. He’s still the caring husband and father who wants to see his family thrive, still the hopeful dreamer who paid his dues in honky-tonks across America, still the small-town boy who inherited his parents’ warmth and work ethic. He still feels an unbreakable connection to the fans who buy his albums, request his songs and fill up his shows. These are his people, and he has no intention of letting them down.
“With this record, I knew I wanted to keep making songs that folks can sing along with and laugh at and pump their fists to,” he says. “Sometimes it is the simple things in this great country that really make me appreciate it. When we share this sense of pride through music, you become friends with everybody listening. It’s an honor to go out there and represent the everyday man, and to represent country music and what it’s all about.”
Jana Kramer: If you ask Jana Kramer to describe her life in this very moment she would say, “Dreams really do come true.” The singer/songwriter/actress has already had success with three songs that were featured on The CW’s “One Tree Hill,” where she plays the firecracker actress, Alex Dupre. Jana will debut a fourth song on “One Tree Hill” this upcoming season that will air mid-January.
Jana is no stranger to the bright lights with her impressive string of movie and television roles, but she credits her recent break into the music industry as her most important accomplishment to date.
“I love acting, but my heart and soul is in singing. I’ve been terrified to pursue this dream because it’s so personal to me. If someone tells me they don’t like my voice, it’s a lot harder of a hit to take,” said Jana. “This is what I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve wanted to do music my entire life.
Growing up in Michigan, Jana is no stranger to the rich history of country music, crediting one of her favorite memories to baking cookies with her grandmother while listening to Patsy Cline. These little moments are one of the many reasons why Jana hopes to share her music with others.
And she’s doing just that as the singer-songwriter is lighting up country music with her emotionally moving songs and sweet, country vocals, selling over 150,000 digital singles in the first six months. All eyes are on Jana as she boldly graces country music with a fresh, new sound and powerful new music.
“Country music is in my blood. I love country music because it tells a story and I have a lot of stories to tell.”