Little Big Town Prove New Music Was Worth the Wait
Little Big Town fans -- the wait is over. On August 24, the group will hit stores with their fourth album, 'The Reason Why,' the follow-up to 2007's 'A Place to Land.' During the years making this new record, the quartet have experienced many joyful moments, including signing with Capitol Records and making their first full-length album for their new label home, as well as the birth of another child, Elijah Dylan Westbrook, whose parents are members Karen Fairchild and Jimi Westbrook. The songs on the new album reflect their happiness, their feisty attitudes, their maturity and most of all, a resounding confidence in stepping out of their familiar ways of writing and recording, including cutting four songs they did not have a hand in composing.
And so far, so good. Little Big Town are experiencing the fastest-rising song of their career, as the album's first single, 'Little White Church,' races toward the Top 10 on the country singles charts.
The Boot recently sat down with the band -- minus member Kimberly Schlapman, who had to run out for an appointment -- to chat about 'The Reason Why,' the changes they've gone through as a band over the course of 12 years, how they challenge each other, and in paying homage to 'Little White Church,' what they remember about their own weddings.
What's the story behind the album title?
Karen Fairchild: We were toying with lines from songs or inspirations of what the record could be called. And then we started talking about 'The Reason Why,' and we were like, 'Duh! That sums the whole career up.' That particular song is a love song on the record. It's about being in love and being happy in your life and grateful, and we are all those things. But 'The Reason Why' also has different meanings for the band. It's always been about the music for us, and that's really what is always driving us, so that's the main reason why we've been a band for 12 years.
How have you changed throughout those 12 years together?
Phillip Sweet: We've all gone through transformations individually. I was married and got divorced, and then Karen was married and divorced and then Jimi and Karen eventually got together.
Jimi Westbrook: [laughs] A lot of changes.
Phillip: There's so much that we've gone through over the years, but it's helped us stay on top of this train and which way its going. We've really found a balance in our personal lives and our professional lives, too. We're on Capitol Records and this is the first full-blown album we've been able to make with them. We want to make this the record of our lives.
Jimi: Hopefully, there's some maturity that's happened ... Of course, my wife's probably going, 'Maturity? You?' But with our personal lives and hopefully on the creative side of things, too. This was a really great creative experience. We were in a new and different place and feeling really inspired to step out and do some different things. We wrote with some new people that we've never written with and gotten ourselves out of our comfort zone a little bit.
What was it about this album that pushed the envelope further?
Karen: We're never easily satisfied with our music. We're always looking at the next thing and wanting to be better performers and better musicians and better writers -- that's innate in the band. There's a healthy spirit of competition, not amongst us, but in our craft of wanting to be better. We just had the right frame of mind that this was the time. We hadn't put out a studio album in almost three years, and it needed to make a statement. It needed to say, 'Hey! We're here and this is what we're about and we haven't gone anywhere. We've just been out making a record and having a few babies on the side.'
Jimi: It was also wanting to do something that inspired us again, something new even from a sonic picture where it sounds different. It's the harmonies and in the tracking and everything like that, we wanted to do something fresh.
Karen: Maybe some people want to make the same record over and over again, but we're not one of them.
How do each of you challenge one another?
Karen: We're like family now, all of us ... well, two of us really are family. [Jimi laughs] But the band is like a family, and iron sharpens iron, and hopefully, we're always pushing each other ... When I step up to the microphone to sing something like 'Shut Up Train,' I'm in a head space where I'm taking on that character, and I'm glad that I have that freedom to be all that I need to be as a musician, and I want to grow. And they've allowed me that capacity to grow.
Jimi: From my perspective, these are some of the three best singers in the world, so when you step on stage, you better bring it, because you know the other three are going to. That makes you strive to be better.
Karen: We know each other's strengths and weaknesses, too. Music can be such a vulnerable thing, so when you're delivering a vocal or writing a piece of music, it's easy to get sideways. Or sometimes you can get too introspective or get focused on the wrong thing. We're good for each other to go, 'Hey, hey, hey, don't forget, all you've got to do is deliver what you wrote.' There's different moments in the career of the band where we've tugged on each other. It's just so psychological.
Fans are constantly telling you how your songs have saved their marriages, changed their lives ... When you were first starting out, did you realize that you would have such an affect on people you didn't even know?
Phillip: You always hope that your music goes out and has life with others. If we're doing something that moves us, creating something that moves our heart, then naturally we want the other person on the other end to feel that same thing.
Jimi: That's what music means to us, so that's why you hope that it will be that for someone else.That's why we were attracted to music to begin with, because there's something that happens within someone's soul when it's touched by music.
Phillip: It's really interesting how music can knock down a wall and be an open connection between you and someone else where something else can't. When music comes along, it just opens your heart a little more. It's a really special medium -- that's why we've all been drawn to it since we were little.
Karen: 'Lean Into It,' that's a song about the band's story of perseverance. As we were writing the verses, we were thinking about so many of our friends and family that are struggling in these very difficult days of the economy and the loss of jobs and people making really tough decisions for their families, losing their homes, all kinds of choices that have to be made. We were inspired as we were writing the song thinking about our fans and our friends and family. And boy, did it take on new meaning standing at the Gulf singing that a few weeks ago in Biloxi. You sing that to a crowd down there, it takes on a whole new life. Again, the power of a song and music as a real healer for people. And that song in particular is a song about hope and about leaning into the storm and that's just for a season and it will pass.
'Little White Church' brings up thoughts of what maybe some of your own nuptials were like -- what's the first thing that jumps into your mind about your wedding days?
Karen: Well, we've had seven weddings in this band. [Jimi and Karen laugh]
Jimi: I've only had one!
Karen: I'm just kidding. Gosh!
Jimi: When I think back to our wedding, it was the perfect wedding. It was really relaxed and very comfortable in a friend's backyard with just the closest of family members. It was so cool. We got there and there was no formal structure. We all sat around, drank some wine, had some food, chatted, and then it was like, 'Are y'all ready to do this?' And we all just gathered around on the steps and did it. It was really relaxed and beautiful.
Karen: Phillip, yours was the same way.
Phillip: We wanted to have a sense of some tradition, but at the same time, it was outdoor at an old Civil War manor. And it was a mix of seeing my beautiful wife walk down the stairs of this manor and then we got married and then all of a sudden, we had this big party.
Karen: If you know Phillip and Becky, their life is a big party. [laughter] They are the socialites of the band. They got married, and then we all had a good time.
Jimi: A big dance party.
Karen: And we were with Kimberly when she got married on the beach. It was stunning! I've never seen her so happy.
How much fun are you having being back on the road with Sugarland?
Phillip: It's the Sugars and the Little Big Friends, as Jennifer [Nettles] likes to say. It's really cool. The first date we got back with them, we walked back to the dressing room, and Jennifer and Kristian with open arms, they said, 'Welcome home!' It feels so good. They're some of our best friends in the business.
Karen: We may never leave their tour! We might just hide in their wardrobe cases and just keep going on for the next few years.
Jimi: It's a lot of fun. They're real sweet people and good friends. There's only a few people that you come across that you have that connection with.
Phillip: You have all this beautiful stuff, and we haven't even talked about the show yet. [laughter] The show is pretty freakin' awesome. It is that inspiring.
Karen: Their set, they've outdone themselves.
'Life in a Northern Town' was a great collaboration between the two bands and Jake Owen. Will there be any more of those kinds of creative moments on tour?
Karen: We're talking about having a little listening party. Kristian and I keep saying we've got to exchange records because they've got a record launch right ahead of them, as well. And 'Stuck Like Glue' -- I want to kill them because I cannot get it out of my head. I've sang it all week this week.
The video for that song is fun, too!
Karen: It's adorable.
Phillip: Jennifer is so good in it.
Karen: She plays crazy great! [Jennifer plays a crazed stalker in the clip for 'Stuck Like Glue.']
Phillip: Really great! [laughter]