Lady Antebellum is one of the headliners at this year's Bi-Mart Willamette Country Music Festival in Brownsville, which starts Thursday and runs through Sunday.
The Grammy Award-winning multiplatinum selling trio of Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood will perform many of their No. 1 hits Saturday night, including songs from the group's newest album, "Heartbreak."
In a telephone interview this week with The E, Haywood, who plays guitar and provides vocals for the group, discussed the group's origins and its remaining goals, among other topics. Here's a transcript of the conversation, edited for length and clarity.
How did you guys get together? You and Charles Kelley go way back, right?
We sure do, all the way back to 10 or 11 years old. We grew up in Augusta, Georgia, both in the same circle of friends at the same middle school and high school. He had a middle school band, and I had a middle school band playing a bunch of Nirvana covers, Pearl Jam and stuff. I remember him being such a great singer, and we were always friends.
We started writing songs together in college. We both went to the University of Georgia, so we've been on the same trajectory from growing up in close circles our whole lives. We felt like we wanted to move to Nashville and chase a dream, so we took a chance on it.
Once we got to Nashville we had no idea what we were doing, living on credit card debt just writing music because we love the creative process of writing songs, not sure what we could do with them. We met Hillary Scott at a bar and asked her to come write with us.
Having a bunch of songs written together, we were like "man, we should start a band." That is the short version of our journey to Nashville, meeting Hillary, and starting Lady Antebellum in 2006.
Who were some of your influences as a band?
We love a lot of genres. There's a few that stick out. We love The Eagles, The Allman Brothers and Fleetwood Mac. Some of the vocal groups, since we obviously have male and female lead vocals, and a lot of three-part harmonies in all of our songs. We kind of study the way The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac did it and trade off lead vocals.
There's obviously a lot of country in there too, some classic and '90s country we grew up on, even Tim McGraw and Reba (McEntire). When we were really getting into music, those were big records for us.
Hillary is kind of our soul child, so she's got Gladys Knight and Aretha (Franklin), old Motown, soul, funk and R&B. We listen to a lot of current stuff these days as well.
Where did the band name come from?
We were taking some photos in front of an Antebellum (before Civil War) home, which is an old Southern home kind of like from "Gone with the Wind" with big white columns from the 1800s.
The name just popped out. I think Charles said, "that could be a band name, and what if we had a lady in front of it, because we have a girl in the group." It just felt weird. We didn't have any fans. There was no feedback from anybody. We were just trying to find something crazy and different to get five people to come out to a show. It ended up sticking, and we haven't been able to get rid of it.
Where and when did you guys get your start?
In downtown Nashville, there are a lot of bars that singer-songwriters are always playing at trying to get discovered. We were at this bar called 3rd and Lindsley, and we played there every week for a year. The owner would let us play, opening for different people.
Word started to spread to some of the record labels and different people in the music industry. We had a few record label presidents come out to see us. Mike Dungan from Capitol Records offered us a deal basically there after the show one night, and that's really where we cut our teeth, was playing in downtown Nashville.
After we signed our deal we were able to go make a record, put out our first few singles, and "Run to You" was our first number one.
How would you describe the Lady Antebellum style?
I think our sound comes from a lot of Southern rock and gospel harmonies. Hopefully, there is just some richness in the vocal textures and harmonies in what we do. We like to be a melting pot of different genres.
We're obviously a little more pop and contemporary in the country format, and that's just where we've landed with the stuff we've written and the stuff we love as well.
What does each member bring?
We write everything together, so it seems really collaborative. All of our songs are co-writes with all three of us contributing equally in the writing room.
Charles is an amazing lyricist and melody guy. He contributes a lot of passion, energy, and he's super driven.
I kind of live and die by the studio and the musicianship and instrumentation. I love instruments and try to play as many as I can: guitar, piano, banjo and mandolin. I play a lot on all of our records.
And Hillary, she is our female in the group who brings a lot of heart and soul and experience, to be honest. I think we pull a lot of our lyrical content from things that she wants to bring up and go through. These are easy concepts to dive into with her, because she's walked through some of these experiences we've written about.
How big of an impact did "Need You Now" have for the band?
It altered everything for us. We didn't really see that song being what it was. We loved it; we just didn't know it was going to do what it was going to do.
You can't ever predict a firestorm like that. It took us from being a Nashville country band to crossing over to pop and dance tracks, and the European market. We got to go all the way to Australia, Europe and Ireland and a lot of other places all over the world. It opened the door for a huge fan base. It was pretty career-changing, for sure.
You guys have released five popular albums and won several awards since then. How have you been able to maintain that success?
We try to stay true to the music. We're songwriters first. ... We just focus on the songs no matter what comes and goes, whether you're hot or not. All that matters is you feel like you're putting out great music.
We'll go through waves of our career, but we feel like we have a fan base that's along for the ride with us. If we keep our focus on writing and creating new stuff, I think we can continue to do this for a long time.
Is there pressure to keep the hits coming?
For sure. Once you have some success you feel the pressure from sometimes a record label or fans saying, "C'mon, what do you got next?"
Sometimes it's good to have some healthy pressure to keep you working hard. I can't ever complain about pressure, because it's a blessing that we get to do what we love. So, we're grateful that people are chomping at the bit to hear what we have to do next and sing next.
How does "Hearbreak" differ from your previous albums?
I think we really connected on this record. We lived in a house together to make it, so it really made us feel like we were back in 2006 just rediscovering each other. ... I feel like the music reflects that.
"Heartbreak" the song itself is a little spin about giving your heart a break. That was kind of what we did. We took a little of a year or two to give our hearts a break as our families were getting started, and that was the first record made after that. So, there's some symbolism for us personally in that record.
"You Look Good" has been such a fun song to play live. We're just super proud of all the songs on that record.
What can fans at the Bi-Mart Willamette Country Music Festival expect from your show?
We feel very lucky that we're at a point where if you're a country fan, almost all of our songs have been on the radio, so that's pretty wild for us to realize we're in this position now. An entire show is pretty much radio singles. If you're a Lady A fan you've pretty much heard all of the songs.
I know they want to hear "American Honey," "Run to You" and "Need You Now." We want to play what they know and give them just a touch of the new stuff, and keep them on their feet as much as possible.
Do you ever think back about the days before you made it big?
Oh, my gosh. We were driving around in a 15-passenger van or a cheap RV, just driving 12 hours to go play a show for a hundred bucks. Those were the days.
I was selling merchandise. Charles was driving the RV, and Hillary had the back bedroom to do her makeup and get ready for the shows. It was just a wild time. We went through that all together, so that makes us stronger these days to have success now.
Is there something you haven't achieved in your career that you would still like to?
There's always places we want to get to and play. ... We still haven't played at Madison Square Garden. That would be a dream bucket list item for us. I think we'd love to continue to explore the world. We have a lot of fans we've heard about in Brazil and South America. That would be a bucket list item.
What's next for the group and Dave Haywood?
We're writing, writing, writing. I'm literally in the studio right now getting ready to work on some ideas. So, we're always writing new music and seeing where we can go next and how we can push and try to stay creative. That's always the next journey.