The R&B mainstay and the rising country star discuss their new single and what to expect from their performance for the special ACM Presents: Our Home.

By Marcus Jones
March 27, 2020 at 09:16 PM EDT

A collaboration between R&B mainstay John Legend and rising country star Kane Brown might seem out of the blue, but for them, the release of their duet “Last Time I Say Sorry” couldn't have come soon enough.

“When we finished the song, we were hype about it ourselves," Legend tells EW. "We got a really good feeling about it and were both itching to put it out as quickly as we could. Of course, our management and record labels and everybody slowed things down a little bit, but we've been ready to put it out for a long time."

Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images; John Shearer/Getty Images

The duo met after Brown performed his hit song “Homesick” on The Voice last fall and then stopped by Legend’s web series Trailer Talk. Now that the song is finally out, they're preparing to perform it live for the first time during the ACM Presents: Our Country special April 5.

Below, Legend and Brown chat with EW about how they approach collaborating with artists of different genres, how the “Last Time I Say Sorry” can help couples communicate during quarantine, and how they expect their virtual duet will work.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can you walk us through how this collaboration came together, from Kane’s performance on The Voice to releasing it today?

KANE BROWN: Well, I got to do Trailer Talk with John and I had this song originally that I wanted him to jump on, but he said he already had one like that. When I went out to L.A. to play Staples Center, I got to write with him, and I don't think we really knew who we were writing it for, or what we were writing it for, we just kind of started talking about our life and relationships with our wives. We both just connected on a different level, and I feel like the song came pretty easy to us. I don't know if that's how you felt, John, but it came pretty easy to me, and I just fell in love with it immediately because I connected with it so much.

JOHN LEGEND: Yeah, I think what made it work for both of us was that it was connected to real life. I think everybody that's in a relationship with a partner that's been, you know, going back and forth with you — everybody does things that they need to apologize for, and part of it is you should say you're sorry, but the whole point is to not do the thing that you have to keep apologizing for. So if you say you're sorry but don't change your behavior, then it's not really a full apology, it's more just trying to appease that person, or trying to end the conversation, when the the ideal circumstance is that not only do you apologize, but you try not to do that thing that made you apologize in the first place. So Kane and I were basically going back and forth talking about that and how we deal with that in our own relationships, and the lyrics really reflect the conversations that we were having.

How was the recording process between you two? John, I noticed you have a more country inflection in this song; did Kane provide feedback on how to sell that?

LEGEND: [Laughs] Not really. I've never really had a big country hit or anything like that, but I've written with some country artists before and I've definitely listened to plenty of country. I think I was trying to find a way for us to write a song that could play on country radio but also play on all kinds of stations: mainstream stations, pop stations, whatever. We just tried to find that spot that felt right for both of us, and I think we found it.

BROWN: Honestly, for me it was scary as hell because it's John Legend. So it honestly helped me. I had him sing on the track first, and so he did his part, and then I went in and did my part. So he, without him even knowing it, coached me like The Voice on the singing of the song, which really helped, and I feel like that really brought it together.

Both of you guys have done all sorts of collaborations that expand genres. How do you choose which collaborations you do, especially the more unexpected ones?

LEGEND: A lot of times it's really just going off the vibe, going off of chemistry you have with certain people. For me and Kane, it literally boiled down to we really enjoyed singing together during Trailer Talk… I think it was as simple as just us hearing our voices together in that moment, and realizing that we sounded good together, and figuring out a way to do it again.

BROWN: For me, I like just to do collabs because I feel like that's a great way to introduce fans to new music they never listen to, especially the ones that people would never put together or imagine. For me and for John, I don't feel like my fans would have ever expected me to have a song with John, and I don't think his fans would've ever expected him to have a song with me. When you have a great song like this one, or at least I think it's great, I think it just brings those worlds together, and everybody starts listening to music, even if they haven't before. And it's a great marketing strategy. And just a great plan, period. And it's fun as well, it's awesome.

Speaking of bringing people together, we're in an odd time right now where some couples are driving each other crazy now that they’re stuck inside together. Do you think this song can help with that miscommunication?

LEGEND: Yeah, I feel like that's a skill needed for all times, but definitely, definitely when you're together 24/7 like you are now. You have to learn how to communicate with each other, and how to recover from whatever mistakes you make. We always make mistakes. Especially guys, I feel like we're always making mistakes. When you're in close quarters for a long period of time, it just heightens your awareness of when you mess up.

Yeah, and so now it's like “cue the music,” and then "Last Time I Say Sorry” plays.

LEGEND: Exactly. [Laughs]

BROWN: Yeah, we made it where the guy doesn't even have to apologize, they just play the song.

You guys are scheduled to perform this for ACM Presents: Our Country. How are you making what I imagine will be a virtual duet work?

LEGEND: It will be virtual. We're gonna collab over the internet and make it work. We're excited to do it, and it'll be the first time we've sung the song for the public, and it's going to be very unique because of our unique circumstances we're in.

BROWN: It's definitely weird for a first live performance.

Have you already given it a test run? The frustration with some of these video chats right now is that you'll say something and the lag will immediately make it so you're talking over each other.

LEGEND: Yeah, we're trying to make it happen. It's not easy [with] the time lag on a lot of these FaceTime and Zoom calls and everything, but we're going to make it work.

It’s an interesting thing they’re doing. A special like this can feel very much needed.

LEGEND: Yeah, I think all the artists are trying to figure out ways to stay in touch with our fans and keep them company during this crazy time. I'm glad that ACM is still putting on a show, as unorthodox and different as it's going to be this year. We're all just trying to stay connected with each other and help each other out, and hopefully we can help with this music.

BROWN: I love that they're doing this just because, how we're talking about everybody going crazy in this quarantine, and the artists doing all these shows on Instagram and stuff like that, I think it's cool just to feel like we're still having that award show. Even though it's in a different way, it still feels like life's going on. That's kind of an important thing.

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