Hometown heroes Lady Antebellum will return to Augusta on April 4 with a whole new spring in their collective step.
The trio of Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood spent most of 2016 on hiatus – a period that allowed both Scott and Kelley to make solo albums, while Haywood spent some of his time producing music for other artists.
Now the reconvened group is watching its frisky R&B-accented new single, You Look Good, climb the country charts, while a new album Heart Break, is ready for an early June release. And Haywood said the group is as energized as at any point in Lady Antebellum’s 10-year career.
“I feel like this album and this past 18 months is really a larger story, I think, for us as a band,” Haywood said. “This definitely isn’t just another record. This is a really special moment for us in our career. For us, we knew creatively we were getting to the point where we were a little drained and we felt like we had kind of tapped the well of ideas. So that’s when we entered into last year and said you know what, it’s time for us to take a breather musically.”
Now Lady Antebellum is preparing for a summer tour that will have the group headlining amphitheaters into September. But before then, there is a special show on the calendar – the group’s April 4 appearance headlining the annual Drive For Show – Rock Fore! Dough concert at Lady Antebellum Pavilion at Evans Towne Center Park.
This is the first time Lady Antebellum has played the Rock Fore! Dough show, although Kelley was on the bill as a solo artist last year. Haywood, who like Kelley grew up in the area and graduated from Lakeside High School, is excited that Lady Antebellum is finally able to be part of the concert, which raises money for First Tee of Augusta and the organization’s youth golf learning facilities and programs.
“I’m really thrilled that we’re making it back to Augusta, especially during Masters Week, and especially for this show,” Haywood said. “I’ve just known about this for so long and our schedules have just never aligned. I know Darius (Rucker, who also is on the bill this year) has done it many times and he keeps telling us ‘You’ve got to get down there, man, it’s such a great, fun party.’ And obviously, it’s such an exciting week of the year to be in Augusta for the Masters and have all that excitement.
“It’s a great cause, and a great week and I’m excited that Darius is there. It will be fun to play with him, and Kip Moore (who also is on the bill) as well,” he said. “I can only imagine by the end of the night, there’s probably everybody on stage doing some kind of cover back and forth is how I’m going to go ahead and guess the show will end. But it will be fun and a really exciting night.”
The chance to perform with Rucker and Moore won’t be the only thing unique and special about the Rock Fore Dough show if guitarist/keyboardist Haywood, singer/guitarist Kelley and singer Scott have their way.
“Our new single (You Look Good) has horns on it and we’ve actually been in talks with our old high school to see if we can pull a few of the horn players from Lakeside High School to join us up on the stage that night and play,” Haywood said. “We wanted to do something special for the local community.
“I was in the jazz band in high school,” he said. “So I was playing guitar and playing in the jazz band with all the big trumpets and saxophones. And Josh Kelley, Charles’ brother (and country artist in his own right), was also a guitar player in the jazz band. So it’s a special tie to Lakeside High School and to Evans and the whole community of Augusta. So I’m looking forward to trying to make that show as special as possible.”
Haywood hasn’t lived in Augusta since Lady Antebellum came together in 2006 after high school friends Kelley and Haywood moved to Nashville and teamed up with Nashville native Scott. But he said still feels very connected to Augusta.
“My family is still all in Augusta, my mom and dad, my brother and sister and their spouses. So basically my home is still there,” Haywood said. “I make it back probably two or three times a year for holidays and different events.”
In fact, Haywood was in Augusta over the Christmas holidays, which gave him the opportunity to share a special moment at Evans Towne Center Park with his young son, Cash Van Haywood.
“I was there at Christmas and took my son down there to the pavilion and got to show him our little plaque on the wall,” Haywood said. “It was a full-circle moment having a 2-year-old up there and being able to show him that. So it’s very special. It means a lot to us, truly.”
Lady Antebellum means a good deal to the Augusta area as well. The group has sold more than 10 million copies of its six previous albums, had five No. 1 singles on Billboard magazine’s Hot Country chart and won multiple Grammy Awards.
But after feeling they were running a bit low on creative steam following the 2014 album, 747 – and thinking country fans might be ready for a bit of a break from Lady Antebellum – Haywood, Kelley and Scott went on hiatus.
By last fall, though, the trio was ready to re-connect as a group. To help achieve that goal, Haywood, Scott and Kelley scheduled two sessions – one in Florida and the other in Los Angeles – where they would live in the same house and write and record what became the Heart Break album.
“I think more than anything it was trying to get back to the way we started,” Haywood said. “I think with any relationship or anything, you’re always trying to get back to that time and place when it was just truly organic and you truly weren’t thinking about anything other than just having a great time and making music together. And that’s how we started in 2006. Me and Charles lived in a house together, and Hillary came over every single day, all day long. Gosh, when you’re kind of living the day to day together, you’re so in sync together with where everybody is and where they want to go writing wise and creatively.”
This time the trio was joined by eight outside writers while in Florida and then went to Los Angeles, where they wrote with producer Busbee and recorded with session musicians.
Haywood feels the approach the group took in making Heart Break achieved the goal of re-energizing the trio.
“There’s a whole new energy,” he said. “There was a whole new approach to this record, and I think we ended up with just a whole new excitement coming through on these songs. And You Look Good, I think, was such a great first representation of that, the fun, the swagger, the horns. That excitement on that track is what we’ve been feeling as a band.
“Our focus was all about the songs, picking the best songs,” Haywood said, summing up the Heart Break project. “And there are definitely some that are a little bit reminiscent of the first album or two, some of those kind of classic duets, and then there’s some exciting stuff like You Look Good and Heart Break that I think push our sound a little bit – so something for everybody, and I can’t wait for everybody to hear it.”