On a cold afternoon in Nashville, Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild, Jimi Westbrook, Kimberly Schlapman and Phillip Sweet spare an hour to sit with media on Music Row in between two landmark career moments. A few nights prior, the quartet performed their brand new album, Nightfall—top to bottom—at New York’s iconic Carnegie Hall. (The prestigious venue has only welcomed a handful of Country music headliners in its history.) The following Sunday, the group will head to L.A. for the GRAMMY® Awards, where they’ll celebrate their 13th career nomination for “The Daughters.” The three-time GRAMMY® winners won’t take home a trophy, but they already consider the song a huge win.
“It’s been a sweet victory for the song and that message being recognized—not just by the GRAMMYs®, but the world stage,” Sweet, the father of an only daughter, says. “It’s such a beautiful message about these double standards we still seem to be putting on [women]. Hopefully, this message keeps reminding us that we need to shake that off for the next generation so they won’t have to have this tired conversation anymore.”
The “Girl Crush” singers have seen “The Daughters” resonate with Little Big Town fans of all ages—even more so than their current single, “Over Drinking.” “It just proves that there’s still work to be done—equal pay, equal play; just fair treatment for ‘the daughters,’” asserts Fairchild, who wrote the song with Sean McConnell and Ashley Ray. “We have to empower little girls, and we have to make them believe in themselves,” Schlapman adds. “Hopefully, this generation is going to kick those chains off and have the freedom to be anything and everything they ever wanted to be.”
While “The Daughters” was the first track Little Big Town debuted from Nightfall, it joins a strong lineup of songs that don’t shy away from brave messaging, while somehow managing to stay apolitical. Little Big Town continues to raise eyebrows concerning the unfair expectations placed on women on “Sugar Coat,” the aching aftermath of a breakup on “Questions,” the marginalized of society on “Problem Child” and the natural—often painful—progression of life on “Trouble With Forever.”
If the strong messaging feels deliberate, it’s because it is. “Everything was very intentional and unapologetic,” Sweet admits.
A renewed sense of fearlessness also came from writing with songwriters the group hadn’t previously collaborated with and producing the majority of the album themselves for the very first time.
“The songwriters in this town long to say something. They are often pounded in the head just to give single after single after single—right down the middle,” Fairchild explains. “And yet, when they get a chance to get in the room with artists who want to say something, they crave it. I think that gives you the best of both worlds—an artist who’s willing to say it, and writers who want to say it. Those collaborations are really special when it happens.”
These lightning-in-a-bottle moments happened so frequently in preparation for Nightfall that the band recorded a total of 30 songs, which made whittling down the track listing a grueling task. The four members—generally always on the same page musically—narrowed it down to 18 songs before cutting the final baker’s dozen. “It was difficult,” Fairchild admits, “but these 13 felt like the tightest storytelling we could offer people.”
If the vivid storytelling on Nightfall was calculated, the band self-producing the bulk of the record was not. In fact, no one was more surprised by the production credit than the four members themselves. “We had started working on songs,” Sweet reveals, “and the next thing we know, we’re 16 deep and we’re like, ‘OK, well, here we go. We are doing this on our own.’ We were so immersed in every aspect of the process.”
“It’s a testament to the producers we’ve worked with before—Wayne Kirkpatrick and Jay Joyce,” Fairchild attests. “We learned from two incredibly talented music lovers and music makers. If we hadn’t had that experience, I don’t think we would have been able to do it.”
Just like they thoughtfully crafted cinematic songs in the studio, Little Big Town will bring the stories on Nightfall to life in a creative way this spring in smaller theaters across the nation, where they’ll play multiple nights in numerous markets giving fans a one-of-a-kind visual experience paired with a rare intimacy the group first captured during their 2017 Ryman residency.
“Those shows were so special—every one of them—and so intimate,” Schlapman shares of the residency. “And we wanted to do that again.”
“It’s selfish, really,” Westbrook continues. “We wanted to just showcase this music in a beautiful way and in places where you can really listen and absorb and be immersed in this experience.”
As their hour with media wraps, the conversation naturally turns from touring to Little Big Town’s unique vocal blend—where both male and female take the lead as effortlessly as they harmonize. The group seemingly embodies the very ideals fighting for top billing at the moment: love, equality and a strong sense of belonging. It’s been their calling card since the band formed two decades ago. They haven’t changed who they are to fit industry trends or societal agendas; they’ve always been resolute in where they stand. And the new songs on Nightfall? Well, they speak for themselves.
Yet, despite their obvious resolve, the group can’t help but contemplate their place in the current landscape—especially with two leading ladies. “You might have more success if you didn’t have us,” Fairchild earnestly admits, looking at her husband (Westbrook) and Sweet.
“I like the success we have,” Westbrook quickly counters.
“I think it’s really cool that Jimi and I get to stand next to two strong women in this band,” Sweet acknowledges. “And that’s a testament to our message as a group. We are a united front. We are a team. We are equal in each other’s eyes.”