Sunday, 22 March, 2009 9:02 PM
Lady Antebellum: CMA New Artist Award Winner
by Andrew Southam
Nasvhille recording artists Lady Antebellum
2009 CMA Close Up News Service
The young artists who
comprise Lady Antebellum weren't the first ever to race onto the
stage, their faces radiating thrilled disbelief, and tell the world
that they truly did not expect to hear their names called as winners
at the 2008 CMA Awards.
That doesn't change the
fact that they really truly were stunned when presented with the
CMA New Artist Award by Taylor Swift, who had preceded them in 2007
as winner of what was known then as the CMA Horizon Award.
Out in the audience,
though, a few people were not surprised at all. Their mothers, to
name three, all of whom sat together as guests of their kids. And
then there was Mike Dungan, President/CEO of Lady Antebellum's record
label, Capitol Records Nashville.
"I told them afterwards
that even if they had not won that Award, they won with just their
performance. Just seeing them up there, I felt they connected so
many dots. And," he added candidly, "I cried. It was really
recognition of how great this band is."
Days later, Lady Antebellum
documented their CMA Awards experience with an installment of the
Webisode series they post each Wednesday at www.ladyantebellum.musiccitynetworks.com.
From opening shots of the threesome filming a Chevy/CMA Awards promo
spot while confessing to "nervousness" through a late-afternoon
champagne toast with their mothers and close friends in their Hilton
Nashville Downtown suite overlooking the already crowded Red Carpet
area outside the Sommet Center to their electrifying version of
"Love Don't Live Here" and their post-Awards backstage
thanks to fans, this online adventure arguably captures the very
moments when they crossed the line toward stardom.
Looking back during a
late-November lunch in Nashville, they were able to put some perspective
on that memorable night. "When they introduced us at our Murfreesboro
show as the CMA New Artist of the Year, it definitely brought a
new sense of excitement," said Charles Kelley as Hillary Scott
and Dave Haywood nodded their agreement. "Even though we're
on our second single right now, there are still so many Country
Music fans who haven't really been introduced to us. I had a different
feeling too, that night, after we won, seeing some of the other
artists, people we look up to, come up and congratulate us. You're
going, 'I didn't even know you knew my name!'"
"George Strait was
right there," Haywood added. "That was the first time
I'd met him. Being so new, it's cool when people know who you are.
We started less than three years ago, and there are lots of people
in this town who have been doing it a lot longer. We don't take
any of that for granted, that things have been able to work out
so far for us."
That process began long
before their first meeting. Haywood and Kelley have hung out and
made music together since attending Riverside Middle School in Augusta,
Ga. Both wound up eventually in Nashville, where Scott had been
raised in Music City royalty. (Her mother, Linda Davis, is a CMA
Awards winner too, having garnered Musical Event of the Year honors
for her 1994 duet with Reba McEntire on "Does He Love You,"
and her father Lang Scott is an accomplished musician.)
Scott had met Kelley
at a Nashville music spot, having recognized him from his MySpace
page; they struck up a conversation that ended in a writing appointment.
Soon Scott, Kelley and Haywood were writing, rehearsing and posting
demos on MySpace; by August 2006 they had booked themselves into
a residency at the 3rd & Lindsley Bar and Grill.
Their debut there wasn't
exactly auspicious. "About 25 people showed up," Haywood
timated. "I remember feeling pretty comfortable up there,"
Kelley ventured. "But I was basically standing in one spot."
"And," Scott added, "it was like, 'Are you going
to talk? Am I going to talk?"
Still, the crowd, and
its enthusiasm, seemed to grow from one show to the next. "I
remember not understanding why," Haywood admitted. "It
was kind of unexplainable, the way it worked between the three of
us. But when it works, you've just got to keep doing it."
"We recognized that
we'd stumbled upon something special here, even with just the dynamic
of there being three people onstage and being able to interact with
each other," Scott said. "But there was a lot of trial
and error ." "There were lots of errors," Kelley
cut in as his colleagues laughed.
Their stage chops improved.
Scott's soulful, nuanced singing and Kelley's edgy baritone developed
a symbiosis while leaving the perfect spot for Haywood to seal the
harmonic blend. "We wanted people to be able to define the
voices as we mixed them," Kelley explained. "I will say,
though, that when we met Hillary, I found my voice. I was singing
a little higher before and just out of necessity, to sing the male
harmony, I started taking my voice down a little bit. And I found
this low, kind of gritty voice that honestly had been kind of hidden
for a while."
The same high quality
infused their material, whose mix of polish and emotion, tight hooks
and extended melodies, more than met the standards of modern Country.
They evolved a group approach to writing, beginning almost always
with a progression that Haywood plays on guitar or piano. Then,
as Scott and Kelley explore possible melodies to stretch over the
chords, the lyrics take shape - or, as Scott put it, "we start
All three contribute
equally, though Scott came to the table initially with the advantage
of having learned about the process from Victoria Shaw. The Emmy
and ASCAP Award-winning songwriter had known Linda Davis for years,
but after watching Davis' daughter at 16 perform with other family
members at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel during one seasonal run of
"The Linda Davis Family Christmas Show," Shaw jumped from
her seat and ran up with an offer.
"I literally said
to her, 'I don't even know what I mean, but I want to work with
you,'" she said, laughing. "Hillary was this raw gem -
I mean, really raw, but she had something that just went straight
to my heart and my head. I said, 'Why don't you come over to my
office and we'll just talk?' So she came over, and I asked her if
she would sing a cappella, which she did. That's where she really
"My parents, who
were both friends of Victoria, have always been supportive,"
Scott recalled. "But they in no way pushed me to do this for
a living. If anything, it was the opposite. And honestly, it was
a huge fear of mine to appear that I was riding the coattails of
my parents, because I knew I was different and that wasn't the way
I wanted to accomplish this. So when Victoria asked if I was interested
in doing this seriously, I was like, 'Yeah!' We became a team. I
started writing with her and she started helping me develop as an
Scott's skills, added
to those that Haywood and Kelley had developed, were evident to
the music industry pros who began lining up for those early Lady
Antebellum sets at 3rd & Lindsley. Dungan made the trek after
Shaw had tipped him off about the band. Through working with Davis,
he had known Scott since she was 6 years old, but it was their impact
as a group that prompted him to welcome them to Capitol.
"What really separated
them from the pack, in my opinion, was Charles' voice, which on
its own may be a little to bluesy for our radio format," Dungan
said. "But when you combine him with Hillary and her great
performance, and you add Dave's sense of rhythm and getting to the
hook really fast and mastery at arranging these things, it's perfect."
The pieces came together
on their self-titled debut album, with Shaw and Paul Worley producing.
Though rooted clearly in modern Country, Lady Antebellum rocks hard
too, from the crunchy guitar of "Lookin' for a Good Time"
to the arena-shaking power of "Love Don't Live Here."
Often the pieces fit so snugly, as in the Bruce Hornsby-inflected
piano and down-home fiddle at the top of "Home Is Where the
Heart Is," that it can be hard to see any line between them.
None of that matters
to Scott, as long as it comes from the heart. "People gravitate
toward what's real," she insisted. "When Garth [Brooks]
is onstage, he allows all of those thousands and thousands of people
to see inside him, to see his personality. That's because he isn't
fabricated; fans could tell if he was."
"Don't listen to
it because it's Country Music - and don't not listen to it because
it's Country Music," Kelley summed up. "If you like it,
listen to it - and if you don't, don't. To me, it's all just music."
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