Interview: After a Challenging Year, Lady A Lean Into Lightness With ‘Like a Lady’
There’s a quote by children’s author Charlie Mackesy that Hillary Scott kept close to heart in 2020: “When the big things feel out of control, focus on what you love right under your nose.”
In Fall 2020, Scott stepped into the room for a first-time writing session with songwriters Dave Barnes, Brandon Paddock, Michelle Buzz and Martin Johnson that led to “Like a Lady,” the lead single off Lady A’s upcoming eighth studio album. The summery track ditches the polite standards associated with the phrase the song is named after, instead following a single woman for a night on the town where she treats herself to the highest liquor on the shelf and dances like no one’s watching.
“The second I heard it, I was like, ‘This has a female anthem written all over it,’” Scott describes to The Boot and other media. “We really dug into that goal of hoping to write a song that would celebrate what it's like to be a woman and a lady.”
Though two-thirds of the group is male, Scott’s bandmates were eager to support her. The song’s free-spirited nature put them in a post-pandemic state of mind.
“The message of female empowerment, we're so thrilled to link arms with Hillary on this. It’s always been fun to put songs out that feel very familiar to what we do, and then some are a little left of center, which I think keep fans guessing about where we're going, which is fun for us, too. It was a fun exploration in the studio,” Haywood says. “Immediately, I was transported to the stage. I think this is the song that is hoping to propel us towards the end of the pandemic and getting some positive music out there to let us start getting ready for shows.”
The group is leaning into lightness on their forthcoming album, setting the tone with “Like a Lady," which serves as almost a sister song to the group’s previous chart-topping single, “Champagne Night,” released in April 2020.
The singers were compelled to lead this new era with “Like a Lady,” wanting to release a carefree song after a year ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We also felt that there's no way we could have gone through what we all went through this past year and not put that down in the music and have it feel really present, and then the irony being "Like a Lady" is a fun song that makes us feel good,” remarks Kelley. “A lot of this record can be introspective, but we also feel this need to make sure that we keep it light-hearted. I think people after such a tough year really need to smile and feel good and have music that makes them feel good.”
Kelley says that the group has written more songs for this project than previous releases. He reveals that the writing process brought a sense of grounding into his life during such a chaotic time, reiterating to him the significant role the band plays in his life.
“It was the one thing that kept me sane and made me feel like I was being productive. There’s a lot of deep songs on this record that's more reminiscent of what you probably heard from us in the past,” he observes. “We learned so much about ourselves. One thing I learned was how much my identity was so tied to this band. I needed to realize who am I without the band, so I think it was an interesting journey. It made me realize how much I need Dave and Hillary in my life to lean on, especially with all the stuff we've gone through with a name change.”
“One of the hardest things we've ever been through as a band [was] when we couldn't gather together,” Scott shares. “There was a lot we all have combatted, feeling isolated anyway with the year that we've had, but then with the difficulties that we walk through as a band.”
One of their biggest challenges was the decision to change their name from the original Lady Antebellum to longtime nickname Lady A as a way to dissociate from the antebellum period and its ties to slavery. The group made the announcement in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a white police officer that sparked protests across the nation in support of Black Lives Matter and racial justice.
Days later, the band found itself in hot water when it was revealed that a Black, Seattle-based blues singer named Anita White has been operating under the stage name Lady A for more than 20 years. Soon after, the band posted a photo on social media of a screenshot from a video call with White in an attempt to make amends. But the situation took a litigious turn when the country group issued a lawsuit to White, asking the court to affirm their rights to the nickname Lady A that they had trademarked in 2011, while still allowing White to continue using the name.
White’s counteroffer asked for $10 million, with plans to split the money evenly between rebranding costs, donating to Black organizations and supporting Black artists. She also released the resilient song, "My Name Is All I Got," in response. The band caught flack from multiple sides, as some fans were upset over the decision to change their name, while others called them out for not doing it sooner and for appropriating the name of a Black artist in spite of their pledge to support the Black community.
“I've definitely tried to set the intention more of being a student, waking up every day and looking for lessons to learn, looking for wise counsel to talk to, to learn from,” Scott notes, adding that she’s been taking private classes with a close friend about racial diversity and the history of race relations in America.
“I’ve been trying to really go deeper in my ability to empathize with all people," she adds. "I think that's our greatest work as human beings, is continuing to figure out how to be more loving and kind and empathetic as people.”
Haywood says he’s been having conversations with a friend who is an African-American studies professor at Augusta University in Georgia, who’s taught him about the importance of people of color who are first-generation college students and the impact it has on their families. Additionally, the band has expanded its charitable arm, Lady Aid, to establish the Lady Aid Scholarship Fund to support students attending historically Black universities in Haywood and Kelley’s home state of Georgia and Scott’s native Tennessee.
“Education is a huge thing we believe in and wanted to propel that forward. I think we really understood over the last year the importance of education and how impactful that can be,” Haywood explains. “We wanted to diversify that and to grow it and to do our part, to expand that wherever we could, and this felt right in line with supporting youth, supporting people of color and making sure that that we're doing our part.”
The trio plans to take all they’ve learned over the past year and channel it into the new album. Though they’ve written enough material for multiple projects, the group confirm they are not going to follow in the footsteps of peers such as Thomas Rhett and Eric Church, who are releasing double and triple albums, respectively, instead focusing on making one full album. As they prepare to celebrate their 15th anniversary in the summer of 2021, Kelley says that the distance and trials they’ve faced as a band have reinforced the strong bond between them that fans can expect to hear in the music.
“We feel like we're on the path together. We know what we stand for. We know what we want to be, what kind of example we want to lead for our kids. It’s not always going to come out exactly the way we wanted it to, but I think anybody that knows us knows our hearts and what we’re really trying to be a part and represent and what we've always tried to from the beginning,” he expresses. “I think a lot of that is in this music.”
Lady A performed "Like a Lady" during the 2021 ACM Awards in Nashville on Sunday night (April 18).