Don’t be getting any ideas about Lady Antebellum breaking out of the field we call “country” and following Taylor Swift to a wider realm unrestricted by radio formats.
Just because you might have had that idea in 2010, when “Need You Now” was Billboard’s second most-popular pop single?
“There may be another time we could possibly have a crossover (hit), but those things are so rare,” says Charles Kelley, who visits Mandalay Bay Friday with bandmates Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood.
Just because Lady A’s current tour stops have been including a cover of Avicii’s “Wake Me Up”?
“We just decided to put that in the set, it’s such a fun song,” Kelley says. “I think every artist throws in a cover or two. You get kind of bored doing the same old covers from 20 years ago or something. We thought it would be kind of fun to do something that’s on the chart as we speak.”
Just because the trio’s new No. 1 country hit “Compass” was sent to them by pop writer-producers Stargate, who also crafted several hits for Rihanna and other pop stars?
“It felt almost like just a really modern hoedown kind of song. It had that ‘four on the floor,’ ” Kelley says. “We added a whole bunch of country elements to make it almost an anthemic type of hoedown country song. It felt very warm and organic to us. It was fun to explore some different stuff like that.”
Still, don’t be getting any ideas. “Country’s definitely where our home is,” Kelley maintains.
But, he adds, that’s because country music as a whole continues to expand its borders rather than breaking up into niches as pop radio did.
“I feel like the genre itself is just growing so much, allowing everyone to kind of try different things,” he says.
“I think right now we’re really in line with the genre. I think maybe when we started, maybe we were pushing the boundaries a little bit,” he adds. But now, “the genre itself is just growing so much and allowing people to try much more experimental kinds of sounds. I don’t see us going anywhere different.”
Lady Antebellum’s rapid ascent is also a sign of how quickly careers are made in today’s country environment, and how fast the players change. Some concert reviews of the “Take Me Downtown” tour with Kip Moore and Kacey Musgraves devoted as much attention to Musgraves (“Follow Your Arrow”) as to the headliner.
“The genre’s always changing so much, the styles are always changing and people’s tastes. For a group like us, it’s about how can we stay relevant,” Kelley says. “I think the minute we kind of take the foot off the gas, the fans will kind of look past you. I think we’re always trying to find that new sound.”
In spring 2010, the irresistible hook of “Need You Now” and the album of the same name had Lady Antebellum nominated for seven Academy of Country Music Awards, even as it played a free concert on Fremont Street to honor a booking that had been locked in months before.
It was a fast track for the trio who had released their debut album in 2008, after Kelley and Haywood had teamed as songwriters, and found Scott — the daughter of ’90s-era singer Linda Davis in Nashville, Tenn., where all three still reside.
The three followed “Need You Now” with almost nonstop activity: two more albums and touring that bumped them to an arena-level attraction, before Scott gave birth to a daughter in July and took what became an extended maternity leave. A tour first scheduled for October was postponed to January.
“We kind of recharged our batteries a little bit and got remotivated again, to just get out and really fight for it and enjoy it even more,” Kelley says. “With anything, you can start taking it for granted and I think for us, not having that rush of being onstage for that long made us just crave it again and go out with a newfound energy.”
Did six months off seem like an eternity?
“I will say I was so used to running so hard it was hard for me to find out what to do with my time,” he says. “But it was good because we wrote a lot of music and really appreciated what kind of opportunity we get to get up onstage each night.”
The break brought a rerelease of the album “Golden” as a “deluxe edition” with new songs including “Compass.” Kelley says the hit was part of a search for songs to pump up the energy of an arena show.
“That was our goal, to really show the fans how we’ve grown as performers. I think we just learned how to put together a show now,” he says.
“Music always kind of takes you in whatever direction it’s supposed to, and it’s hard to say what our next direction’s going to be,” he adds. “But we’re definitely trying to write a lot more up-tempo music for sure.”
In retrospect, “maybe we went back to the well one too many times, maybe trying to re-create ‘Need You Now’ or something,” he says. “We’ve learned now that we really need to stretch ourselves as much as we can, and I think that’s why we cut songs like ‘Downtown’ which were really very different for us, and the fans responded so hugely.
“It showed us that we really do need to take more chances with our music, and I think we’re starting to do that now.”
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0288.