The members of crucial country music trio Lady Antebellum thought about naming their eighth studio album “Pictures,” a suitable nod to a collection of songs capturing a snapshot of the group’s life.
But that didn’t seem right.
“We just started wrestling with if that was an accurate title to represent the rest of the record … or did it feel a little light?” Hillary Scott, one-third of the award-winning Nashville outfit, said to The Nashville Tennessean, part of the USA TODAY Network.
Spoiler: She’s right.
Instead of returning with a handful of snapshots, Lady Antebellum dives headfirst into “Ocean,” a 13-track sea of overpowering emotion that swells with honesty and stirs with intimate nuance. The album, out Nov. 15 on Big Machine Label Group, sails between life stories of near-drowning intensity to moments of relaxed splashes.
“Ocean,” for Scott and bandmates Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood, just made sense.
“We started thinking of ‘Ocean’ and the waves, the ebb and flow of our career and our life and our music, our friendships, our personal relationships,” Scott said. “All of the emotions that are stirred up in you, depending on your circumstances at the time, of what an ocean makes you feel.
“And we just feel like that was a truer metaphor.”
Kelley interjected: “You’re either ridin’ the wave or … it’s crashin’ on ya.”
Ridin’ the wave
Riding a wave for 13 years that’s seen the group conquer the Grammy Awards and contribute to a Broadway musical, Lady Antebellum enlisted a new record label, Big Machine, and producer, country hit-maker Dann Huff, for "Ocean."
Behind Huff — known for his work with Taylor Swift, Keith Urban and more — “Ocean” offers a return to a warm, Southern sound heard on the group’s first two albums, a sonic callback to mid-tempo megahit “Need You Now” that’s matched by a lyrical maturity of a band wielding more than a decade of life experience.
“Ocean” doesn’t rely on framing time-tested generalizations of love, family or relationships — the album’s emotional throughlines. The songs instead dig into intimate nooks and crannies, illustrating the sometimes tough moments of a relationship reserved for behind closed doors.
“It’s feeling our way through all of those feelings that get to healing,” Scott said. “That’s what this record is to me. It's still in the middle of it but knowing that we’re toward the right direction.”
The “Ocean” sessions kicked off with a tone-setting Kelley co-write, “Be Patient With My Love.” It's a sobering five-minute story that hears the Georgia native singing “Because I’m comin’ back to the man that I was once, so please don’t give up/ Be patient with my love.”
The album continues to tug at emotions with the heart-wrenching “What I’m Leaving For” and “Let It Be Love,” a tightly harmonized callback co-written by Scott that reminds listeners “Love lifts you up/ I know it’s hard sometimes to see it but it does.”
Songs like “Be Patient With My Love” and “Crazy Love” (a tribute to a relationship’s not-so-subtle moments) were the result of a “mini midlife crisis,” Kelley said.
“It’s not for everybody,” Kelley said. “It’s not going to be the record for some dude that wants to go drink White Claw and go out and party that night. … I think it’s a record that if you dig in and really listen to it, it’s the most vulnerable and honest we’ve been as a band.”
Haywood — who co-wrote three “Ocean” tracks, including the album’s dose of pop-leaning positivity, “Alright” — lauded his bandmates’ transparency.
“I think Charles’ courage to be vulnerable … (and) Hillary’s emotional vulnerability, those are the things that give you chill bumps,” he said. “Those are what we’re searching for, those moments that are real.”
And, all in all, it was a cathartic process.
“We just went through such a heavy season, and we came out on the other end, and we were so … proud of ourselves to have come out on the other end,” Kelley said. “We were kinda like, ‘Let’s put it out there.’
"It wasn’t a scary thing," Kelley continued, "to air out our (expletive).”
With Big Machine
Lady Antebellum enters an era with Big Machine after fulfilling a contract with Capitol Records Nashville, the group’s musical home for more than a decade. Jimmy Harnen, the Big Machine Label Group Records president who previously worked with Lady A at Capitol, approached the group as it explored options for a new home, Kelley said.
“It really came together organically,” he said. “They had such a passion for the songs, too. Like (with) ‘Be Patient With My Love’ and ‘Let It Be Love,’ Scott (Borchetta, Big Machine founder and CEO) and Jimmy both went, ‘That! That’s the Lady Antebellum we need.' ”
The label encouraged Lady A to “chase the art again,” Haywood said.
“They’ve been so freeing to let us chase after … songs that really mean something for us,” Haywood said. “I felt we had a lot of freedom recording this record under their supervision.”
For example, Haywood said, “ ‘The Thing That Wrecks You' is such a super dark, artistic piece with an outro that’s so selfish for us to just do — and to have Little Big Town on it — but, who cares? Let’s just do it. And that’s been our mentality.
“Let’s do what inspires us and what moves us.”
Or, as Scott put it, the label looked to Lady Antebellum to “make the record in 25 years you’re going to be so proud of.”
Still, Lady Antebellum isn’t waving off commercial success — far from it, actually. The album’s lead single, “What If I Never Get Over You,” stands at No. 11 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart and continues to climb; the song has earned nearly 25 million streams on Spotify since debuting in May.
The group has seen songs skyrocket to top radio charts, while others grind for weeks before falling without substantial impact. On “Ocean,” did the group struggle with a give-and-take between artistic and commercial viability?
“There’s always that,” Kelley said. “The thing about it is … we like commercial music. My favorite stuff was always big, commercial Tom Petty hits. They’re timeless. They can live in any generation and almost any genre, and they just sound like big ol’ melodic hits.
“Even the stuff that’s artistic ... it’s very melodic.”
From “Need You Now” to “Ocean” and what might come next for Lady Antebellum — it’s all part of a tide that doesn’t plan to stop any time soon.
“Let’s just enjoy the ride, man,” Kelley said. “If we’re playing theaters or … stadiums, as long as we have fun doing it, let’s do it.”
Lady A's new album
"Ocean" drops Nov. 15 via Big Machine Label Group.
'Ocean' track list
- “What If I Never Get Over You” (Sam Ellis, Jon Green, Ryan Hurd, Laura Veltz)
- “Pictures” (Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott, Sarah Buxton, Corey Crowder)
- “Crazy Love” (Charles Kelley, Nathan Chapman)
- “You Can Do You” (Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley, Corey Crowder, Jordan Schmidt)
- “What I’m Leaving For” (Sam Ellis, Micah Premnath, Laura Veltz)
- "Be Patient With My Love” (Charles Kelley, Dave Barnes, Ben West)
- "Alright” (Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott, Busbee, Justin Ebach)
- "Let It Be Love” (Hillary Scott, Jordan Reynolds, Amy Wadge)
- “On a Night Like This” (Dave Barnes)
- "Boots” (Charles Kelley, Ross Copperman)
- “The Thing That Wrecks You” feat. Little Big Town (Daniel Tashian, Tenille Townes, Kate York)
- “Mansion” (Chris DeStefano, Hillary Lindsey, Josh Miller)
- “Ocean” (Tofer Brown, Sarah Buxton, Abe Stoklasa)