The trio of Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood was intentional about striking a balance between capturing the lighthearted moments in life with complex emotions, ranging from the playful hit “Like a Lady” and encouraging one and all to raise a glass with your closest friends, as demonstrated in their rowdy collaboration with Thomas Rhett, Darius Rucker and Carly Pearce on “Friends Don’t Let Friends.” These carefree numbers are counteracted by deep, inward reflections on songs like the introspective “Worship What I Hate” and the resiliency-fueled “Fire.” “It takes you on a journey that you feel all of the emotions in this album. The fun songs make you feel joy and happiness and want to dance around your house or go out with your girlfriends. Then there’s moments too that bring you inward, make you think, make you feel seen,” Scott describes of the album’s intent in a Zoom interview with Sounds Like Nashville. “There’s definitely a lot of different flavors on this project,” adds Kelley. “I think the main core of it was making sure we recorded and put out songs that felt present right now.”
Presence was an integral element when crafting the album, particularly in the title track that speaks to the power of music. The trio has lived and breathed this precious gift throughout their 15-year career that includes 11 No. 1 hits, five Grammy Awards and connected them to countless fans across the world. “The reason we named the record that was we started thinking about over this past year and through the pandemic, music helped us get through this year so much. It felt so much like our story too, getting me thinking about being out on the road, and if it wasn’t for all this music over the past 15 years and the fans gravitating towards it, we would have never gotten to see the world like we have and travel all over and have our eyes open,” Kelley expresses of the song’s nature.
Throughout the album, the idea of being present manifests distinctly for each band member. For Scott, that moment arrives in “Worship What I Hate,” a poignant ballad on which she sings lead, opening up about insecurities surrounding body image and a dependence on technology that detracts from being in the moment. “‘Cause I gave so much time to nothing / I focused on who I was / Not who I’m becoming / My fears they took up space / My eyes couldn’t look away / I didn’t even realize / I worshiped what I hate,” she confesses in the piano-laden chorus. It’s a moment of raw vulnerability that Scott took to heart as she entered the writing room with Haywood, Natalie Hemby and Amy Wadge. It stems from a place of true honesty, Scott learning a valuable lesson in being present with her husband, Chris Tyrrell, and three young daughters, eight-year-old Eisele, and three-year-old twins Emory and Betsy, during the pandemic. “My husband says about our generation, our kids aren’t going to look at us and say, ‘you weren’t at all my baseball games or soccer games,’ they’re going to look at us and say ‘you were there, you just weren’t paying attention,’” Scott shares in a sobering observation. “That is a huge part of that song for me of bringing me back to life of ‘don’t miss this. They’re only little for a little while.’” The song is also a model example of letting one’s guard, Scott holding a mirror up to her inner demons, yet harboring the strength to heal them. “The other parts of my own inner work around embracing who I am, the ways I need to change and also celebrating that, acknowledging that change is needed and stepping towards it is a success,” Scott continues of the meaning behind “Worship What I Hate.” “That’s what I hope people hear by the end of it is this isn’t this depressing confessional of what I’ve made an idol in my life. It’s that I’m acknowledging it and I can do something about it now.” For Haywood, his moment of presence and vulnerability shines through in “Workin’ on This Love,” an open-hearted letter he penned solely for his wife, Kelli, marking the first time he’s taken lead vocals on a Lady A song in what he cites as a “vulnerable, very personal” number.
Meanwhile, Kelley feels most present in “Talk of the Town,” the album’s opening track that finds a distraught former couple wishing their names would be removed from the town’s rumor mill following a recent breakup. Kelley describes “Talk of the Town” as “the strongest, most present” song on the record, correlating its message with the band’s headline-making name change. Following the murder of George Floyd in June 2020 and the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests for social and racial equity that occurred in the aftermath, the Grammy winning group announced they were changing their name from Lady Antebellum to Lady A to disassociate themselves with the era of the Antebellum South that included slavery. Soon after the announcement, Seattle-based blues singer Anita White came forth to reveal that she had been performing under the name Lady A for more than two decades. After the two acts met over a Zoom call to discuss the matter, the situation took a litigious turn when they could not come to an agreement over usage of the name, the country group filing a lawsuit to retain the rights to use the moniker, with White countersuing for $10 million, $5 million of which she would use to rebrand and the remaining $5 million to be divided amongst Black Lives Matter, a legal defense fund for independent artists and Seattle charities. The issue is ongoing in court, with Kelley insisting that the change came from a place of pure intention.
“For us, it strengthened our purpose even more about wanting to be a band that really represents love and it only strengthened our desire to broaden and push our charity work even further. I think a lot of this has come as we’ve grown and we want our music and our shows to be a welcoming environment and it felt like the right move to make,” he explains of the meaning behind the name change. “I think over time it’ll show itself as a beautiful moment, hopefully, because our intentions are really true with this. We’re making sure that no matter what the outcome, we know that we’re going to be a band that is trying to do our best at every stage and make sure our music reflects that as well.”
With What a Song Can Do, Lady A hopes that fans find strength in the stories and feel heard and seen in the music. “My hope is that it meets you where you are and that you get to go on a little journey through it and see yourself in it,” Scott professes of how she hopes the album impacts listeners, comparing the journey to a “rollercoaster.” “Some days you feel really confident and hopeful, and then other days you feel introspective and with a little less hope. I hope that what people hear in these songs is that we take that same journey as human beings too, and this is our way of getting it out and into the world in this musical form, ultimately in hopes that they can relate to it and put themselves in it too.”
What A Song Can Do is available now.