BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
A few hours before kickoff, Lady Antebellum charmed a Houston room full of VIPs awaiting the Super Bowl tilt between the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots.
Two members of the country behemoth — Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood — hail from Augusta, so the experience of performing at a pregame event for what they consider their hometown team was obviously a thrill.
Fast-forward a few hours later, and the pair was experiencing the same misery of millions of non-Pats fans around the country.
“We had to leave early,” recalls Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott, “but the boys just wanted to be alone.”
The months since that disappointing February night have been much more joyous for the trio (Scott, by the way, considers herself a lifelong Atlanta Braves fan, so maybe not so much joy there).
The band’s seventh studio album, “Heart Break,” featuring the slinky, soulful single “You Look Good,” earned Lady A its fifth No. 1 title (as well as an album of the year nod at this fall’s CMA Awards).
An ensuing tour launched in May and will play its penultimate North American date on Friday at Verizon Amphitheatre in Alpharetta.
In early August, a cheerful, chatty Scott took some time to talk about the band’s continued success, life on the road with kids — she paused the conversation briefly to greet her 4-year-old daughter Eisele with husband Chris Tyrrell, but hadn’t yet announced their impending twins — and why playing Atlanta is so special to the band.
Q: You’ve been on the road since May. Are you at the point where it all becomes a blur?
A: I will say this has been the busiest year we’ve had in a really long time. When we hit the ground in January, we haven’t stopped. The tour itself has been one of the most fun, ever. We say that every time, but it’s a combination of things — having a new album to perform, we have horn players who are bringing this freshness, all of our kids are at really fun ages, so it’s like bouncy houses and kiddie pools in the backstage area. It’s been a really great summer. We love everybody we’re touring with. It’s truly like an adult summer camp.
Q: The tour almost wraps in Atlanta, and even though it isn’t your hometown, can you feel something special when you play here, given Charles and Dave’s connection to Augusta?
A: I’ve had a lot of friends here over the years, and it’s also a city that isn’t far from Nashville, so you’ll get a lot of people coming from Nashville. Because Dave and Charles and I have grown up together the past 10 years, their family and friends are my family and friends, so it’s nice to see familiar faces. It adds a layer of nostalgia for them and for me. The last time we played Atlanta, we had a really sweet memorable moment with this little girl and her sister and they had done a video for our song “Compass.” The baby sister had to have a heart transplant; we got them onstage to sing it with us. Atlanta has always been special, but especially since that happened. Atlanta is also a place where I’ll venture out to do some shopping; it calls me, even when it’s miles and miles away. I think I was in high school when I went to Lenox (Square) the first time and I was like, “Where ARE we?”
Q: What’s it been like spending time with (openers) Kelsea (Ballerini) and Brett (Young)?
A: She’s like my little sister. I’ve known her since she was barely 20. I watched her get a record deal, do her first photo shoot, get her first number one. Getting to watch her star rise has been such as joy. I truly love her like family. I’m so proud of the career that she’s building. Watching her from the wings, she’s kind of blooming into a superstar in front of us and the world is getting to watch. She holds the whole crowd in the palm of her hand and is so friendly and approachable. The same with Brett. He’s so calm and collected. He’s having a conversation with the crowd and bringing them in. And they’re great people. Everybody gets along great, and loves each other, which makes it fun.
Q: How is Dave adapting to fatherhood?
A: He’s such a natural. So is Charles. It’s been fun to watch Charles. This is the first major tour we’ve done since (his son) Ward was born, so watching him adapt to life on the tour bus – that was me and my husband with Eisley. She was on the road with us since she was three months old. She’s the mayor! She has her friendships with everybody out there – catering, production. She’s so sassy, but so sweet. To think about how these years are going to mold her into who she becomes, it makes me really proud.
Q: “Heart Break” was your fifth No. 1 album. I guess that feeling never gets old.
A: We honestly were so blown away by that. Those are the things that you sit in your room when you’re younger and dream about. It’s just a thing that you think will never really happen. It’s such a testament to our fans and they are so unbelievably loyal and we’re forever grateful. Without them, obviously, that statistic wouldn’t exist. And this record, being three years since the last one, and being so unbelievably personal, it’s so authentic and real for us. We feel like it’s the start of chapter two.
Q: I think “You Look Good” surprised people when it first came out because it was very different than what people expect from Lady A. Was there a deliberate decision to try new sounds?
A: We always want to do a little bit of a left turn, and working with a new producer (Busbee), we’ve known him for 10 years, but never really worked with him as a producer. We intentionally wanted our sound to evolve a little, but most importantly to be authentic in our songwriting and who we are. “You Look Good” was one of two songs on the record we didn’t write and (Busbee) played it to us toward the end of the recording process and he said, listen with an open mind, I feel like we’re missing something. And then he hit play and we were like, yeah, sold. When we listened to the whole record, that song encapsulated what making the record felt like. Sometimes you have to step outside of yourself to realize that someone else has done it better. That song transformed our entire show because we have horns now on stage; it added this whole new layer of sound. It’s been a huge game-changer for us.
Q: In hindsight, do you think the solo projects were beneficial to the band’s foundation?
A: I think we came back from the creative break so much more refreshed, knowing that we had not stopped for nine years, and if we were going to do something on that break it was going to be something we were so unbelievably passionate about. It was definitely beneficial. It just filled up different parts of our individual souls. Charles’ project was something he really wanted to pursue. We always said from the beginning, there should be no limits. The band took off and became almost bigger than the three of us in a way. We kind of neglected the fact that we’re all individuals and our differences are what make it work, so we had to give each other the blessing to go and pursue those things. I know I came back into Lady A – though I never left – mentality-wise, a better version of Hillary, for myself and the band.
Q: Backstage at the Grammys this year, you seemed really overwhelmed by the wins with your family (Hillary Scott & the Scott Family won best contemporary Christian album for “Love Remains” and best contemporary Christian music performance/song for “They Will”).
A: In the beginning, we felt the WHY of making that record was to say thank you to a little over 200 people who walked with my family through the loss of my grandfather to the loss of leukemia. We figured 300 people would hear it. It transformed in front of our eyes. We felt so humbled by the entire process and project. Ricky Skaggs produced it and we had so many talks in the studio. We didn’t know if there would be a single or just a record we’d put out and we wanted other families and people to have this, but how was that going to happen? Our label and the team, everybody caught the vision and they truly worked so unbelievably hard and Ricky said, “If the door opens you walk through it,” and that was our prayer the whole time. Every single opportunity felt like such a victory and it was one that we never expected to have the opportunity to get. It was our faith, our family, the emotions of celebrating it with our family but still grieving that so many of our family weren’t there to celebrate with us. I was a blubbering mess (at the Grammys), and afterward we were just speechless. We’d laugh, then we’d cry! This was a whole new genre in a world I never assumed to be embraced into like we were. I’m so humbled by this. We were just making the record we felt was important or true to us.
Q: Do you have any plans for a second album?
A: I think we’ll know if we’re supposed to do another record. I would love to, but the way the record came about was so organic and natural; my dad knew we needed to make it, I knew we had to make it; it was like nothing I’ve ever experience before. I think we’ll know when we’re supposed to do it.
Q: You’ve worked with an impressive lineup of people over the years. Who is still on the list?
A: It’s one of those things, like the way “CMT Crossroads” happened with Stevie Nicks was so organic. She would have been at the top of our list to do anything. That’s the thing with collaborations; they need to happen organically to feel real. For us over the years, there have been some opportunities, but because there’s three of us already and two lead singers, it’s got to be the right fit. That’s an ongoing conversation for us internally. Sometimes, it just has to happen and the stars have to align. Like, George Strait or someone who has been literally the soundtrack of our lives – or Alessia Cara or Justin Timberlake. Just different artists.
Q: What are the plans for after this North American leg wraps?
A: We’ll have a few weeks off after Nashville (the last tour date on Saturday) and then head to Europe and South Africa for three weeks and then we’ll do the CMAs and hunker down for the holidays and relish in a really fantastic and fun year. Those are always the weeks – Thanksgiving through New Year’s – you reflect on the year. But there will be rest!
With Kelsea Ballerini and Brett Young. 7:30 p.m. Friday. $26.75-$60. Verizon Amphitheatre at Encore Park, 2200 Encore Parkway, Alpharetta. 1-800-745-3000, http://www.ticketmaster.com.