“It wasn't really planned,” Jimi Westbrook tells Apple Music of his group Little Big Town producing their ninth studio album Nightfall. "It was one of those things where we had written so much for this record and had so many great songs. We thought, ‘Well, let's just go into the studio and just start working on some of these things that we feel so inspired by and just get them under our belt.’ Then we're 12 songs in and we're kind of looking at each other: ‘Hey, are we producing this record?’” Westbrook and the rest of the group—Karen Fairchild, Phillip Sweet, and Kimberly Schlapman—fleshed out arrangements with their road band and a few co-writers. Both the songs and the sophisticated soft-focus interplay of their voices, often featuring Fairchild singing lead, avoid loud, obvious emotional expression in favor of softer, more subtle shades of disappointment, apprehension, and longing. “Nightfall has a vibe, and it can be a lot of different things,” says Westbrook. “It can be romantic, which is kind of the way I feel like it starts off on the record. It can be a reflective time. It can be a time of loneliness and sorrow. I think this gives you a chance to kind of run through the emotions that could represent.” Here Westbrook goes through all of Nightfall track by track.
Next to You "I'm proud of the dynamics we got on this song. With the lyrics, the stark vocals in the front and the atmospheric kind of thing in the background, you feel solitude. Being married or in a relationship is tough, and I think that you feel that isolation of two people in a moment when things aren't going great, but that underlying love that's there is still running. I love the sparseness of that. Then it just becomes this overwhelming, chaotic outro. That's what we wanted to do from the beginning to end—to be this slow, gradual build that just starts the smallest and gets so huge."
Nightfall “I love the lift of that chorus. We did that with Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian, who Karen wrote that with. They are incredible musicians. Throughout this record, we tried to [say], ‘If we're going to bring a sound in, make sure it's important. Make sure it matters.' Every sound you hear in there is definitely intentional and it comes in when it does to add another texturing layer.”
Forever and a Night “We wrote with Foy Vance for that song. We just fell in love with that guy. I grew up singing gospel music—everybody did in the band at some point or another, so that is a big influence of ours. I think there's a beautiful reverence in a way because of those gospel-style vocals that kind of are haunting in the background.”
Throw Your Love Away “Kimberly and Karen wrote it. That is a feel-good groove on a sad song, which is awesome. Our band, man, they know how to grow. I loved that we kept a lot of space in that and the sounds of the acoustic [instruments] that are so up in your face and you hear the wood.”
Over Drinking “We're a big fan of straight-up country, stone-cold country. It's a part of what I grew up loving. It doesn't feel like a stretch for us. We wanted it to be dirty and gritty, the sounds on the guitar. We had already decided we were done with the record, and then some friends sent a video clip of them singing this song after they wrote it. We went on the road that weekend and cut it—drums and guitar and bass, on the road—and then booked the studio the next Monday. This all happened within four days, and then it was the single.”
Wine, Beer, Whiskey “We had just written 'Problem Child,' which was such a serious song, and there was just this heaviness. So at the end of that, we literally offered our co-writers wine, beer, or whiskey and one of them started singing, 'The wine, the beer, the...' We're like, 'Damn, that's hooky,' and 30 minutes later, we had written a silly song about drinking. I was doing a mouth trumpet because it felt like it fit in between the bars. We got our buddy from The Brummies to come over and stack a few trumpets on it, but our mouth trumpets are actually layered in on the track. You can hear them towards the end.”
Questions “Karen wrote that song while we were down at the beach with some friends of ours. It's that time when you've broken up with somebody and you know it's over. You're not ever going back, but every now and then, you're kind of like, 'Do you ever think about me when you hear this song?' I think that's a natural thing in a breakup that everybody's experienced one time or the other. It feels cinematic to me that it starts in a small space and then the layers keep coming. We co-produced that with Jon Green, who is an amazing writer and artist and producer. She had written it with him.”
The Daughters “From the moment Karen played that song for me, I was just blown away by the lyric. It's said in such a provocative way, but it gets your attention, and that's the whole point. It's like, 'Why are we still putting these same tired standards on women?' We wanted it to be where you're focused on what we're saying, but then, hopefully, have that emotional music bed behind it that conveys the spirit of that song. I'm proud of Karen. It's an incredible song, and she really drove the ship on the production of that song in particular, because it meant so much to her. I still remember listening to her cut that vocal that night and just being brought to tears by it.”
River of Stars “That's one of those dreamy, ethereal tracks. I feel like I close my eyes and I'm traveling through space and time. I love the way it feels as much as I love what it says, when you crank it up and you get lost in it. I love that about music: It transports you.”
Sugar Coat “I think that track in particular became so cinematic. When we approached the vocals, hopefully, you're feeling them as the background, just kind of this support of what's being said. There's so much drama in that track, and the strings on there, so beautiful.”
Problem Child “That song makes me think of my kid and it makes me think about young people in general. They're just facing a lot of things, so many more things than we did. It makes you think about social-media bullying and the way that there's never escape from those types of situation now. I think there are a lot of people who feel like they are outsiders and they're disenfranchised. I hope that I can convey to my son that, 'Listen, we all feel this way sometimes. We all feel alone. We all feel like we're on the outside sometimes. It's okay, though; you're not the only one.' It's a somber song, but I hope that there's hope in it.”
Bluebird “That was put after ‘Problem Child’ on purpose, because it feels like the sun breaking through. It's almost the closest that Karen will come to being Karen Carpenter.”
Trouble With Forever “The dissonance in the little [vocal quartet] chord at the end just kind of happened accidentally, and everybody loved it so much. Marc Beeson is one of the writers on there, and he said that's the story of his grandparents, just the beauty of relationship. It's not a perfect story, and it isn't perfect for any of us, but it's real life. I just think it is a beautiful, soft way of ending the record.”