Interview: Lady Antebellum Return to Old Sounds, With a Fresh Spin, on ‘Ocean’
Lady Antebellum have come full circle on their new album, Ocean. The new project's title is a metaphor for the culmination of experiences that brought the band to a point of extreme self-analysis 13 years into their career.
The ups and downs of the country trio's lives helped them explore a new depth within each of themselves that, in turn, came out in their songwriting and strengthened their relationships with each other. With a distinct awareness and renewed sense of creativity, they created a record, out Friday (Nov. 15), that's a return to their origin, but from a fresh perspective.
"We felt a lot of permission to be pretty fearless again," Dave Haywood told The Boot and other media outlets at a press event in support of Ocean. "The environment was very supportive of us digging deep and sharing our deepest parts."
This collection of songs, produced by all-star Dann Huff, reveals a never-before-seen vulnerability for Lady Antebellum. After signing to Big Machine Label Group in 2018, they pressed reset and went back in pursuit of the sound of their first two records, aiming for evolved versions of the hits that defined them early on, including the massively successful "Need You Now."
"We were so free on those first two records, and then life happens, and trying to juggle more and more," Lady A's Hillary Scott says. "Then we hit a wall, and then we kind of broke through that wall, and now I feel like you’re hearing us free again, in a way."
That juggling has meant a lot of things for Scott, Haywood and bandmate Charles Kelley: They've become one of country's top-tier vocal acts, even earning a Las Vegas residency in 2019; in a more personal sphere, all three have become parents in the past few years -- a major life change that's involved self-reflection and lifestyle adjustments. The three confront those subjects through the songs on Ocean, along with topics including Kelley getting his drinking habits in check and reckoning with his spirituality and relationship with religion.
Many times, especially over the past two years, the singers say it felt hard to keep their heads above water. "There’s definitely a lot of introspective, heavy at times, topics," Kelley admits. "They’re heavy songs, but they’re, I think, refreshing in their honesty and relatable to people. We just wanted to sound as warm as we could."
Adds Haywood, "I think a lot of this album is a lot of that honesty, and is a lot of where we are currently. This is a very present record for us. We’re very self-aware. We’ve gone through our ups and downs and we’re here."
The Ocean track "Pictures" reflects on the deceiving outward appearance relationships can take on; "What I'm Leaving For," meanwhile, discusses the pain behind going on tour while missing their children at home. Songs such as "Be Patient With My Love" and "Let It Be Love" are letters to their families from a vulnerable standpoint that recognizes fear and discomfort.
Ocean's songs are contemplative, while still leaving room for a couple of fun cuts that will add to the excitement of a live set. They're sonically built around vocals and include elements, such as fiddle, that haven't made an appearance in Lady Antebellum's work since Need You Now. Huff's influence is apparent in its cohesive form; Scott says the producer "[saw] something in us that we’d either forgotten or didn’t see in ourselves."
Ocean is an organic timestamp of exactly where Lady Antebellum are as artists and people. The process they took to get to this point involved dissolving walls and riding out emotional waves until it felt like their feet were firmly on the shore, and all of the lessons learned along that path are showcased on an album that came together at exactly the right time.
"The times where you push through the awkward or the pain or the discomfort and communicate honestly, whether it be in songwriting or a conversation with each other or someone we love, it’s always worth it. You always feel better on the other side of it. You always feel more understood and seen and known and valued," Scott says. "We've learned to do that."
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