“We couldn’t go away for almost two years and come back with another version of the same thing,” says Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum. “We had to do something fresh and new.”
And so, for their new album, Heart Break—the sixth release from Scott and her bandmates Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood, and their first new music since 2014’s 747—the multi-platinum-selling group mapped out a liberating approach. It’s not as if they were slacking during the hiatus (Kelley released the Grammy-nominated The Driver, Scott won two Grammys for her faith-based project Love Remains, and Haywood produced and wrote with several developing acts), but they always knew they would get back to making Lady A music. The question was how.
“We knew we wanted to take that break to be with our families and chase some new creative paths,” says Haywood. “But even during that time, I remember Charles saying ‘Guys, let’s figure out how to use this time as a way to really dig into this next record, make time to do nothing but create music together. How do we come at it in a totally different way?’“
So the trio embarked on a new mission—setting aside time to put themselves in new surroundings, and concentrate on writing and exploring musical possibilities with no distractions. They rented a house in Florida, living and working under the same roof, and when the experiment proved successful, they set up a second retreat in Southern California.
“The goal was to give each other our undivided attention,” says Scott. “Being in a new space meant we could really free our minds to focus solely on our art. We took some of our favorite writers and some writers we hadn’t worked with before to a new inspiring backdrop, where we were able to just write and soak up the process.”
Even more crucially, along the way, the members of Lady Antebellum were able to dive into their relationship as friends. “We’d wake up and Dave would have cooked breakfast and it was amazing,” says Kelley. “Making drinks and staying up talking until 3 in the morning—we hadn’t gotten to do that in forever.”
“Being together every day, living in a house together, that was the special ingredient this time,” says Haywood, while Scott adds, “We’ve always been close, but we got to reconnect even deeper into our friendships, and that was really priceless.”
Since teaming up in 2006, Lady Antebellum has sold over 18 million units and had nine No. 1 singles on the country charts. They have won seven Grammy awards (including both Record and Song of the Year for “Need You Now” in 2010), and they were the first artists in the history of the CMA Awards to win Single of the Year in back-to-back years. All of this making music country music that Kelley describes as “a little bit rock and roll, a little bit of pop, a little bit of R&B thrown in, just because that’s what we love—Dave and I grew up in Augusta, Georgia, the home of James Brown, and Hillary grew up in Nashville, and we just kind of mix it all together.”
When it came time to incorporate that sound for Heart Break, another key element was producer busbee, whose previous work with Lady A includes the No. 1 hit “Our Kind of Love,” and who has recently collaborated with the likes of Maren Morris and Keith Urban. “busbee pushed us into a really neat place and he’s such an integral part of this new chapter for us,” says Haywood. “He challenged us, pushed us, he never settled for just an ‘ok' vocal performance in the studio....or a mediocre lyric. Having known him for nearly eight years really made us all comfortable enough with each other to be open and say exactly what we felt."
“I think he sees part of us that we can’t see, a unique sense of objectivity just from knowing us from a different perspective,” says Scott. “And he wasn’t afraid to call us out on something, which was awesome.”
The group’s desire to shake things up made evident by the album’s first single, the swaggering “You Look Good,” which came complete with a funky horn arrangement. “I’d been begging for horns on a song for years!” says Scott. “One of my favorite songs growing up was ‘Sir Duke’ by Stevie Wonder, and that feel transports you to another place. It was the perfect song to embody the excitement and fun that we had making this record.”
“We love writing the serious songs—the heartbreak songs, the love songs—but the recording process was so different and so fun and we felt like we wanted to lead with that,” says Kelley. “We wanted it to be a little bit of a question mark, where you weren’t sure if it was us—we wanted to take a little bit of a left turn where you don’t always know what to expect.”
Elsewhere, Heart Break ranges from the wry call to independence of the title track (“probably my favorite song on the record,” says Kelley) from which the entire project sprung, to the sweet melancholy of “Somebody Else’s Heart.” The dramatic, surging ballad “Hurt” is a powerful vehicle for Scott’s voice as she soars over a spare rhythm section and classic string arrangement.
With the clever extended metaphor of its lyrics and percolating groove, “Army” has a feel that’s a throwback to ‘70s pop, while the bright, breezy lift-off of “Think About You,” with an R&B-style guitar bouncing off of a banjo lick, is entirely of the moment. And as Lady A hits the road, the group is excited to add this new range of sounds and colors into a set already packed with a familiar arsenal of hits.
The trio had a hand in writing 11 of the 13 tracks on Heart Break, more than they’d ever written on a previous album, resulting in their most intimate and heartfelt work to date. “It’s really our story,” says Kelley. “Songs about our spouses and kids—they have a universal feel to them, but there’s a lot of our personal stories here.”
What’s evident is that coming back from their hiatus, the members of Lady Antebellum are fired up and ready to go, with a new sense of both their history and their possibilities. “I think we came back from the break with an appreciation for what we’ve built,” says Scott. “We’ve always been very thankful for our journey, but there’s a heightened sense of gratitude for one another and for our career that we’ve been so blessed to have.”