Lady Antebellum will happily sell you the whole seat when you come to a show. But the band really hopes you’ll never need it.
The country trio has returned to the road re-energized after more than a year away from touring. And the musicians have come back with a monster-truck-rally approach to what they want to see from their audience. Co-lead vocalist Charles Kelley said the group wants to rock its fans with its Take Me Downtown Tour. It stops at the Ironstone Amphitheatre at Ironstone Vineyards in Murphys on June 13.
“After being on the road in front of big crowds, you realize you need those up-tempo songs to get people up out of their seats the whole time, to drive a live show,” said Kelley in a phone interview with The Bee while taking a break in Nashville, Tenn., last week. “So we made a big effort to do that this time around.”
While the trio of Kelley, co-lead vocalist Hillary Scott and multi-instrumentalist Dave Haywood have had a slew of slow and mid-tempo hits like “Need You Now,” “Just a Kiss” and “I Run To You,” they wanted the audience on their feet with their new music. Set to be released this fall, the group’s next album already has dropped its first single – the catchy “Bartender,” about a delirious night out at the clubs. The song hit airwaves last week and already cracked the iTunes Top 10 country downloads and Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
The band’s fifth studio album comes on the heels of last year’s “Golden.” Kelley said in the past, they would cut a ballad, and another and another. Then, before they knew it, the tempo was set. But this time around, it was a different story.
“We said we want at least seven butt-kickers on this record, and I think we did that,” he said. “That way, when the ballads come up, they have more of a purpose. We thought, especially coming on the fifth record, it’s time to mix it up. Before, we said, let’s just pick the best songs. Now it was, let’s pick the best songs – but songs that can translate to the live show.”
Kelley said it was that time away from the road – done to give the band a break and allow Scott time to have her first child – that helped focus them. They had been going nonstop since breaking out big in 2007 with their debut single “Love Don’t Live Here.”
Since then, the band has gone on to win seven Grammy Awards, including record and song of the year for 2011’s “Need You Now,” and sold over 11 million albums.
“Being away (from the road) definitely gave us a lot of time to reflect on a lot of things, where we wanted to go musically, what our place is currently in the country music world,” Kelley said. “One thing we definitely realize is how much we missed it. After six years of running hard, it is easy to take a little bit of that for granted. If anything, we came back with a renewed energy and purpose. We know we’re going to have to bring it on this tour and with our new music to keep people’s interest. There are always new groups coming in and new music. This was kind of a wake-up call: Let’s get out there and capture people’s interest again.”
The band is set to play some 80 dates on the Take Me Downtown Tour. Its high-octane reintroduction to audiences also has included high-profile appearances on the “American Idol” season finale and kickoff of the “Good Morning America” Summer Concert Series late last month.
Part of Lady Antebellum’s new philosophy also involves a new approach to crossover success. In 2009, the trio had a megahit with the ubiquitous radio ballad “Need You Now” and album of the same name. The release hit No. 1 on the Billboard Country singles chart, No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 all singles chart and No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 200 all albums chart. Kelley admitted that the group chased crossover appeal after that, without the same results.
“I think after ‘Need You Now,’ maybe we tried to actively put out songs that might cross over,” he said. “It’s a double whammy, so to speak, if you can get one because it reaches so many more people. But we learned you can’t do that. Our next crossover probably will be completely different from ‘Need You Now.’ I think we have to be true to who we are. We learned to stay in our lane, do what we do best and write country music that’s our style. You can never predict which ones will be those ones. So we learned to not try, to just be us.”
Last July, Scott and her husband, Chris Tyrrell, who plays drums for Lady Antebellum, welcomed a baby girl. Bandmate Haywood and his wife are expecting a baby boy in September.
“It’s interesting. We’ve learned to kind of balance our whole life with this road life,” said Kelley, who is also married but so far not expecting. “You have to carve out time for your family. We’re lucky to have several buses and can bring our families out there. It’s not 12 people on a 12-bunk bus like it was in the beginning.”
As the tour continues, Kelley said fans can expect a new music video for “Bartender” soon, with some famous cameos. And then there are the shows, which Kelley said should require some comfortable shoes.
“Hillary said a couple of months ago, ‘We’ve never had a show top to bottom where everyone was standing up,’ ” he said. “Not that sitting down is a bad thing. But we want them up.”