Lady Antebellum had the second-best-selling album of 2010, thanks largely to the massive crossover title track, “Need You Now.” The country trio (Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood), who have six nominations at next month’s Grammys, headed back into the studio this week to begin recording their third album. “We were touring between the recording process the last two times we’ve done it. We actually just went ahead and decided we’re gonna take two, two and a half months straight in the studio to create this thing and not have all this distraction. Hopefully that will be a good thing,” Kelley told EW earlier this month when he interrupted a skiing trip to chat with us for our 2011 Preview issue, on stands Friday. “I always laugh and say that I thought we worked good in the chaos, and that was why it worked. We’ll see if having too much time, what that does to us. Hopefully it’s gonna make the process more enjoyable and not so stressful.”
Kelley says the group is more prepared to record this time than they’ve ever been. “I don’t know if it’s the pressure we put on ourselves or whatever, but we wrote a ton for this record while we were out on the road last year,” he says. “And we had a bunch of songwriters from Nashville come out on the road with us on the weekends and help keep us motivated to write. I hope we can do that for the rest of our careers. It will probably get harder and harder as we get kids and all that good stuff. But in the meantime, we were pretty tenacious.”
Kelley says the group penned about 50 songs, which they’ll narrow down along with some tunes that were pitched to them from other Nashville writers. He’s quick to tell you their mindset is realistic. “If we were to use the success of ‘Need You Now’ as the barometer for every other song, then we’ll probably be highly disappointed. That song will probably undoubtedly be the biggest song of our career. We can hopefully have success for 20 years, but we may not ever have the success of that one particular song again. But we might. You never know. But we’re gonna try not to chase it, is what I’m sayin’. If we try to chase that too much, we’ll start to deviate from what made the sound of the group.”
Still, it might find them: Ask him to name a song they’re excited about, and the first one he mentions is “Dancing Away With My Heart” — a sentimental reverie about first love they cowrote with their “Need You Now” collaborator Josh Kear. “We all remember high school dances, and how innocent those little moments were,” he says. Kelley’s wife noticed a common theme when she listened to the songs they were considering cutting. “I think there’s gonna be a lot of nostalgic songs on the record,” he says. “Maybe that’s just because we’re all getting a little older. Now we’re so busy and there’s a little part of us that yearns for a time when it was a little simpler. I don’t know what fueled that.” (Maybe because he and Haywood, who went to the same high school, had their 10-year class reunion last year and had to skip it because they had a show. “But we did make a little video for ’em saying we missed ’em and hoped everybody was doing well,” he says.)
While it’s obviously too early to know which songs will make the album, Kelley says they’re also excited about a track by Tom Douglas, who cowrote “I Run to You” (and that little Miranda Lambert hit “The House That Built Me”), called “Heart of the World.” (“Oh gosh, there’s another ‘heart’ song,” he says. Even a word repetition in your track list is something to consider.)
The trio doesn’t want to put more pressure on themselves, but Kelley knows what’s at stake. “Third records, they can be the most important ones in somebody’s career. They can kind of make and break. If people have enjoyed the first two, if you don’t come up with something special on the third one to really knock them dead, you can take a few steps back. Hopefully we’ll come out swinging on this record.” One of the things they’re talking about doing to make this album stand apart from the others — their first collaboration. “Probably not Bieber,” he says when asked if they’ll pull a Rascal Flatts. To each their own.