Dave Haywood is on the road once again with Lady Antebellum, but it’s a different lady who’s occupying his mind on this tour: his wife, Kelli, who is back in Nashville expecting their first child.
“It’s a little stressful being on tour when your wife is 8½ months pregnant,” the singer-guitarist says.
And you can imagine how Kelli feels.
“We’ve had a fun journey,” he says. “I think pregnancy is intended to be nine months so you can prepare as a family and try to get as ready as you can, but obviously there are so many unknowns. We’re excited about it.”
The Haywood baby is expected to arrive in September, the same month as a new album from the Grammy trio, which formed in Nashville in 2006, along with Charles Kelley and Hilary Scott. Taking its name from those grand Southern mansions, Lady Antebellum jumped onto the pop-country bandwagon with a fresh poppy blend of male-female harmonies.
Having debuted on a Jim Brickman single in 2007, Lady A hit the country charts in 2008 with twang-rock single “Love Don’t Live Here” and then blew up big time in ’09 with hot country booty call “Need You Now,” the title track to a six-times-platinum album. They went home in February 2011 with five Grammys.
Lady A’s fifth proper album, due Sept. 30, is “747” and is off to an auspicious start with “Bartender,” a hit single about a woman out with the girls while trying to shake off a heartbreak.
The trio did the previous four records, plus the Christmas album, with Paul Worley, the Nashville session guitarist who discovered the Dixie Chicks. This time, Lady A changed things up, going with Nathan Chapman, who’s worked on all four Taylor Swift albums.
“We wanted to make a conscious effort to re-evolve,” Mr. Haywood says. “You want to push yourself and do something outside your limits for a new project. I love the stuff he did with Taylor. He feels like a fourth member of the band when he’s in the studio with us. He’s got a guitar in his hand, humming ideas to people.”
The idea going in was to try to capture the band’s stage energy on “747” and likewise generate songs that translate well live.
“We really focused on ‘How can we make this sound so in-your-face and sound infectious on all these tracks?’ ”
So, the band stocked it with “a lot of fun, upbeat summer songs and a couple good ballads we like.
“So, I think the main focus is ‘How can we put as much energy as we can into the project and make it feel like something we’re doing out here on the road when we’re playing to all these people in big amphitheaters.’ I think people hopefully will hear from us a newer sound.”
The guitarist says he has been “wearing the record out” since he got a copy of it a few months ago, the downside being “by the time the album comes out, I’m always sick of it,” he says.
One of his favorite tracks on “747” is the song “Lie With Me.”
“It’s more organic and kind of stripped song that we found. It’s an outside one. We wrote six songs on the record, but this is one we didn’t write. It’s got a great spot in Charles’ voice and feels like Lady A, what we can do really well.”
The group has been working a few new songs into the sets on this tour, which he says has been well received.
“We’re kind of hitting this stride where I feel we’re playing the best shows we’ve ever played,” he says. “When we look out now, people are on their feet the entire time, and it’s a lot more high energy with our set list. Some of the songs and singles we’ve been releasing over the past year or two, like ‘Downtown’ and ‘Compass’ and ‘Bartender,’ have been huge for us at the shows now. The big moments of the show now are high energy up-tempo moments, which is a lot more fun for us. Five years ago, it was a lot more ‘sit down everybody and enjoy it.’ It was more mid-tempo-based or slower-paced. Now it has more energy than ever.”
Part of that change is the overall heightened excitement for country shows and country artists that we’ve seen over the past few years with some of the more energetic newcomers filling stadiums.
“I feel like everywhere we go, we’ve toured so many cities and weird parts of states. We’ll be in upstate New York and just have 12,000 people absolutely loving what we’re doing. I just think it’s a testament to the genre and how real it is. Internationally, it’s been growing a lot. It’s exciting for country music that it’s not an old Tennessee and Texas thing. It’s starting to be huge from coast to coast.
“You’ve got a lot of these guys playing stadiums. Jason Aldean and Kenny Chesney and Luke Bryan and a lot of guys we’ve known for a long time are killing it, on top of the world right now. It’s just a hugely popular format that a lot of people want to latch onto and a lot of people want to be a part of.”
Why country? Why now?
“It’s a real thing that everyday people live,” he says. “It’s a batch of songs that people can identify with. Some of these genres are really just kind of beat driven, a lot more dance or pop. I think country’s grown and continues to be the lyrical front leader of all the genres, with lyrics that pave the way first and the songs build around that. I think that’s what’s so relatable about the genre.”
Scott Mervis: email@example.com; 412-263-2576; Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.