Lady Antebellum are putting the final touches on their fourth studio album, due this spring, and if the lead single “Downtown” is any indication — and Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley, and Dave Haywood say it definitely is — it’s going to be a fun one.
On the song, which EW is streaming exclusively below, Scott sings lead and sassily asks why her partner doesn’t take her out and show her off anymore. (There’s a playfulness we haven’t heard on a Lady A single since “Lookin’ for a Good Time.”)
Listen after the jump, and find out what they have to say about why this album is different, what they have in common (or not) with a certain PBS television phenomenon, and why their recently-announced CMT Crossroads pairing with Stevie Nicks will be awesome.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Before we begin, I should you warn you that I’ve already referred to the song as “Downton” twice in conversation.
Charles Kelley: [All laugh] You know what’s the funniest thing about that, I remember before I started watching Downton Abbey, I kept being, like, “Why do people keep calling it Downton? They’re so proper!” Then I was like, “Oh, it’s because it is DOWNTON Abbey.” That’s really funny you said that. I thought about that the other day.
Tell me why you picked this song (written by Luke Laird, Shane McAnally, and Natalie Hemby) for the album and as the lead single.
Kelley: I think being out on the road, and just getting off our first arena headlining tour, it was like, man, it’s all about having fun songs up there that translate great live. This one, I think, is gonna be one. But more than anything, I just think we, as a band, were just ready to show a different side of us musically. Our third record [Own the Night] sounded a lot like what we had become known for in the past. There’ll still be songs on this record that sound familiar, but we just wanted to stretch our sound a little bit…. What I’ve told some friends is that I haven’t seen our label, our management team, everybody that works for us, this excited about new music from us in a long time. I think everybody’s feelin’ a renewed energy.
Hillary Scott: We really went into this album thinking about our live show. I think we tried to do that on our last one [Laughs], but we really accomplished that on this. We recorded a lot of songs that we didn’t write on this album, too, which is new for us. On every other record, we’ve only not written a handful. We found some special songs that we just really wanted to put our voices on.
Kelley: That helped push our sound.
Scott: Absolutely. It got us to really think outside the box of what we’d all do naturally and what comes instinctively to us in the writing room. Whenever you start recording outside songs, they’re gonna be different. And it kind of runs the gamut of subject matter, and feel, and the emotions you feel when you hear the songs.
Dave, anything you’d like to add to that?
Dave Haywood: Well, the first time we heard that song “Downtown” –
Haywood: “Downton.” Yes, Lady Mary.
Kelley: That would be a really fun webisode.
Scott: It would be a really fun webisode.
Haywood: [In proper British accent] “Please preview our new single here, ‘Downton.’” [All laugh] I mean the first time we heard it, it jumped out to us. Our label had sent us a CD of songs. It kind of reminded us of some of the old Sheryl Crow stuff — just a fun vibe and energy to the song with a lot of cool instruments. We got to a point in our career where it was like, we can either continue and just keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing, or we can take a left turn. This song was a 180 for us, and we fell in love with it. So we’re trying to go more for the roll down your windows, live show, entertaining, upbeat kind of stuff.
The “Downtown” chorus is catchy as hell.
Haywood: It’s funny, my wife’s always like, “Why don’t you ever take me out anymore?” Right when we got married, we were going out all the time. Eight months into marriage, it’s let’s just cook and sit here and watch the ID Channel. I think it will be something that people relate to a lot.
Also funny, I quoted the first line of the chorus to someone — “I don’t know why you don’t take me downtown” — and the look I got back was hilarious… Delicate question: Have you thought at all about the double entendre?
Kelley: Oh gosh, that’s really funny. You need to get your mind out of the gutter.
Haywood: Yeah. I don’t know where you’re goin’ with that. Why would you dare say that?
I was just thinking of Brad Paisley making the “motorboatin’” joke for Little Big Town’s “Pontoon” at the CMA Awards and wondering if he could joke about this. I don’t think he can go there, you may be safe. [All laugh]
Scott: In music, it’s always open for interpretation. So you can be as clean-minded as you want, or not [Laughs] if that’s how you so choose.
Let’s talk about the episode of CMT Crossroads you’ll be taping with Stevie Nicks later this month. How are you preparing for that?
Kelley: We just got off a conference call with her a few nights ago. She’s havin’ us over to her house. [Laughs] It’s just wild. I think one of the cool things about it is, it was her idea. I don’t want to tell the story of how it came about, ’cause she wants to tell it on the show, but it was her idea, which I think is incredibly humbling. It wasn’t just the higher-ups putting this thing together.
Haywood: She’s one of the biggest influences on music that there’s ever been. So the fact that she would even be excited to do anything with us, let alone know a lot of our music. We obviously know all of hers. We’ve all worn out those records. So we’ve been talkin’ about which songs to do, which harmony parts to take, things that she wants to try to do. So she’s really into it. It wasn’t just something that a couple of people set up and everyone has to show up. She is fired up to do it, and we are through the roof about it as well.
I can hear you guys doing “Go On Your Way” so clearly in my head, it’s like you’ve already done it. Any song choice you can tease?
Kelley: One thing we all wanted to do was “Landslide.” We’ll probably tackle that. She’s got a song called “Edge of Seventeen,” which is a really fun kind of rocker. I don’t want to give it away too much, but it’s gonna be pretty fun.
I also wanted to touch on the announcement you made in your Jan. 16 webisode: the passing of Charles’ Lady Aunt B [a hilariously combative character he played in drag]. So we’ll never see her again?
Kelley: It became too much damn work to keep up with on Twitter. Ohmygod.
Scott: I’ll love her forever, but she sure was mean to me.
Kelley: She was. Like anything, it ran its course. I started thinking about when we’re at shows and meet and greets, and people are always gonna put me on the spot now to do Lady Aunt B. I was like, you know what, I’m gonna go ahead and before I embarrass myself any further, nip this in the bud. But it was a lot of fun to do. I’ll come up with a new character soon.
And in the meantime, you’ve got appearances on The Tonight Show on Jan. 28, and The Talk on Feb. 6. Anything else you’re working on?
Kelley: We’ll be touring up through June. Right now, we’re just focusing on finishing the record and promoting the single and getting excited for Hillary’s little baby.
Has that made recording this time around any different?
Kelley: She’s got about three hours of good energy and then it’s like –
Scott: Nap time. I’m into my second trimester now, so the energy’s startin’ to come back a little bit. Slowly but surely. But the studio’s been really fun. My voice hasn’t changed at all because of my physically changing. I just feel more confident. I’ve heard so many women say this, you feel so empowered — once you get past the initial shock of ohmygosh, my body’s not my own anymore. [Laughs] You really start to feel strong and confident in a way that you’ve never experienced before because you’re walking around incubating a human being. It’s amazing. It’s a really fun, fun phase of life. We’re all excited about the change it’s gonna bring. As we said before, it’s like everything feels new again, which is a beautiful place to be.