The COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy for almost anyone, but it has been particularly difficult for musicians, who saw their entire lifestyles turned upside down when the live music industry, as well as much of the world, closed for months. Duos, trios, and groups, in particular, suddenly found themselves without the people they’ve lived with so much of their lives.
Lady A’s Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott have been physically separated from each other for the first three months of the pandemic – the longest they can remember being separated since forming the trio, formerly known as the Lady Antebellum, in 2006.
“What we have is a family; it is indeed a marriage,” Haywood said in a recent interview. The conversation takes place on Zoom, but he, Kelley and Scott are together again, sitting side by side on a couch in a Nashville office.
“It’s such a close relationship, so it was sad that we couldn’t be together,” he continues. “It was so uncertain. We had no idea how long this was going on, and we sort of wait every day, like ‘What’s going on? Are we going to have to change this?’ “
From their respective quarantine locations, Lady A has seen their plans for the year changed and canceled. They texted each other every day and had occasional meetings via Zoom, but being forced to stay away was, Scott admits, “really weird.”
“Honestly, I feel like I’m probably still dealing with this,” she adds, “just because there was so much life we were so used to living together every day, then she disappeared. “
Slowly, however, the trio found ways to feel like they were apart: they started hosting Zoom co-writing sessions, then began to see each other in a socially distant way. Lady A had just released an album, ocean, in November 2019, but with no way to support it live and so much to work on, they started writing a new one.
“It was a healing process for us,” Haywood said of their songwriting sessions during the pandemic. “That’s what we’ve always done – we started as a writing trio before we were a band – and so that’s what we dug.”
After releasing Chapter One – that is, the first seven of what would be a total of 14 songs – in June Lady A dropped the full version of What a song can do Friday (October 22). Ahead of the record’s release, Haywood, Kelley and Scott described the project as an opportunity to refocus and rediscover their purpose as a band: to, as Kelley put it, “to put music first and our hearts first” .
“Business should always follow art – like, display art and enjoy the process and feel confident in the process, not the result,” Kelley reflects. “And I think so many times it’s like we put together a project and if it isn’t as big as the last one, it was like, ‘Oh, we shouldn’t have done that. . ‘ It’s like, ‘No, be proud of that, and acknowledge our passion as well.’ “
But a decade and a half later, Kelley says, “I feel like there’s no need to try to prove anything anymore.” He later adds, “We may not be the greatest thing in the world, but it’s fine, it’s fine with us. We’ve really seen it all over the past 15 years: we’ve been on the top and the bottom and the middle, and as long as we stay together and stay true to our faith and our family and the three of us together, I think we will be here for a long time. “
At What a song can do, songs including “Talk of This Town”, “Fire” and “Worship What I Hate” evoke Lady A’s introspection while writing her new album. Some of those emotions come from the decision they made as a group – in June 2020, amid the Black Lives Matter marches and the resumption of the conversation about racism and racial inequality in the United States – to shortening their name from Lady Antebellum to Lady A, thus stopping their use of a word for the pre-Civil War South which is therefore linked to slavery.
“I know obviously it didn’t go a certain way, but it didn’t change our intentions,” Kelley said, adding, “Never in our career has nobody questioned our integrity and our intentions and who we are as people. And it was like, ‘Whoa, that’s not what we envisioned at all …’ “
Lady A’s name change meant they now shared a name with Anita “Lady A” White, a black artist who has used the nickname for decades. After the conversations between the two acts did not end satisfactorily, both sides filed lawsuits that have yet to be resolved.
“It challenged us all… to learn in private, to really dig in and educate ourselves more on all of these issues,” Scott notes. “I am so grateful to be now in a place where I feel like I am learning so much, I really try to listen and hold on in all humility because there is so much that I do not know not… but that I want to know and I want to understand. “
What a song can do Also features another kind of deeply personal moment: “Workin ‘on This Love,” a song Haywood wrote for his wife Kelli as a Mother’s Day gift. His inclusion on the album gives him his first singing tour within the trio, with Kelley and Scott in the background.
“I sent it to them with a disclaimer: ‘If it’s not a good idea then we can move on’, but they were so great,” says Haywood, as Kelley calls out, ” It’s a great song. “
“If the song sucked, we wouldn’t have done it,” Kelley adds. “I mean we feel pretty comfortable [to be honest about it]. “
“And I believe Charles when he says that,” Haywood replies.
“We have been very supportive,” Kelley continues. “Hearing the passion to want him to do it was obvious… and we’re in a good position in our career as well – trying new things doesn’t scare us at all.”
While Haywood, Kelley and Scott are not ready to say that the forced physical distance from each other due to the pandemic was a Well thing, they agree that being a trio helped them weather the storms of 2020 and 2021 better than they could have had on their own.
“Because of all the ups and downs we’ve been through so far, I think we had what we learned to rely on, to really apply ourselves to new circumstances, new challenges,” Scott says. , “and I’m so grateful for this foundation, because I don’t think we’d be able to sit here and say that without all the other stuff.”
The three artists took turns being each other’s rock: “There were weeks when one of us was the strongest in the band, and cheering him on, and that was just when the others really needed it, ”says Kelley. Together, they shared these experiences in “Fire,” a resilient track co-written with Justin Ebach.
“When you go through something like this, maybe this is where you learn the most and grow a lot more,” Kelley continues. “I think about that as a group: like, when we were most successful… it just got out of hand. We can get over that, and nothing is going to change. ‘”
Best Country Albums of 2021 – Critics’ Choice
There were plenty of creative country albums in 2021, but not all of them hit the mark. Artists are playing more than ever with distribution methods and packaging as much as they are new sounds, so you get double and triple, Part 1 and Part 2 albums, and digital EPs instead of a traditional 10 release. or 11 songs.
More than ever, this relied on staff opinion and artistic merit to allow a certain parity between the artists of the big labels and the independents. The 10 albums listed below are unranked, although the year-end list released in the fall will crown a truly best album of 2021.