“This collection of 13 songs we could have never recorded before now,” Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott tells Apple Music, “because what we're talking about is just so present for us where we are.” A dozen years on from the band’s first hit, 2007’s “Love Don’t Live Here,” Scott and her bandmates Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood have a good sense of what suits them best. Their ballads—lustrous works of soft-rock theatricality whose male-female harmonies swell with melancholy yearning—were what initially put the trio on the map. Over time, the Lady A repertoire expanded to include burnished takes on homey folk and rhythm-powered party tunes and other textures that filtered into the country mainstream in the 2010s. But partnering with a new label, Big Machine, and a new producer, Dann Huff—one of Nashville’s leading studio architects of contemporary country pop—for their eighth studio album Ocean has given the group a chance to reflect and return to an emphasis on the emotive. “What got us to this point in the early years was just writing and recording what spoke to us,” Haywood tells Apple Music. “We really tried to capture that earlier sound that, I think, had people fall in love with us in the beginning.” Now, though, the trio members are bringing ardent sincerity not only to familiar themes of late-night desire and loneliness (see: the glossy, crescendoing heartache of “What If I Never Get Over You”) but to the strain and pleasure of sustaining longtime attachments. The band has always functioned as a songwriting collective, but, paradoxically, on what Kelley describes as a “more open and honest and vulnerable” album, the mixture of carefully selected outside material and group-penned originals is roughly half and half. The aim was to assemble songs that could be sung from a posture of soul-baring. “None of us are going through things that somebody else hasn't gone through,” Scott says. “I think to be brave enough to talk about it, that just builds connection between the three of us as a band and with our fans. Just to be able to put their own story into it, but then also feel like they're grasping a deeper understanding of who we are as artists.” Here, Lady Antebellum tells the stories behind some of Ocean's key tracks.
Be Patient With My Love Charles Kelley: “It is my story over the past few years, just really kind of struggling with finding my direction and what I want out of this life. We'd been a band for 12, 13 years, and I've been married now for 10 years. You kind of get to this point where you're like, ‘All right, where is this going? Is it going to be the same?’ I just needed a reset, and around this time I really was struggling with my spirituality. I was struggling with my drinking, all of it, and just chasing after something. We were with [co-writers] Dave Barnes and Ben West at the time, and we started this song and it was this funny, fun, happy song that we wrote really fast. But I was like, ‘Something about this is not good enough. Let's write something real.’ And Dave Barnes just started strumming his guitar and the lyrics just poured out: ‘Might've done it this time/I drank too much wine/I might've said something that I can't take back.’ The irony is the lyric is saying, ‘I'm coming back to my senses,' but at the time I really wasn't. The reality of the song didn't come to fruition till about six months to a year after I wrote it. This is hands down the most vulnerable and open and honest I've ever been in my songwriting."
Let It Be Love CK: “It was shortly after that Hillary writes ‘Let It Be Love,’ which is another song about really owning some of your struggles and knowing that end of the day it's all about love and what we want our kids to learn from us. It really started this conversation of us not just trying to sit here and make a record of what we think are radio hits, but let's just make a record that speaks to us and we'll hopefully speak to the fans.”
Ocean CK: “That's one of Hillary's most vulnerable vocals I've ever heard from her.” Hillary Scott: “Ultimately what I hear in that lyric and what it makes me feel is just lonely. Like, this loneliness of the person you're with or the person you love being just really emotionally unavailable. But I've seen people commenting about it on social media how it could be for substance abuse or depression or the ups and downs that people deal with in their life. And that's where everyone kind of makes it their own story and interprets it their own way. But for me, it's just seeing the beauty in someone else that they might not be able to see in themselves in that current season in this relationship, and begging for them to open up.”
What I’m Leaving For CK: “It's about our lives, that pull we have as parents—this desire to go out and chase your dream, but still this guilt sometimes that you have leaving.” HS: “The first time we heard it, it stopped me in my tracks. Both my parents were traveling musicians, and a lot of my childhood, they were gone. They would be home a couple of days during the week, and they did exactly what we're doing now—they were in Reba McEntire's band. So when I listened to this song, not only am I that momma now, I was that kid. And so that extra perspective just laid me out on the floor. That song is so real for me, and I was really thankful for the opportunity to sing lead on it as a woman. Because times are changing now, and women have worked and been moms at the same time forever, but I think there's this platform that we have now as working moms to really say you can be passionate and driven and love the career and the work that you do and also be a fully engaged, dedicated mom—and to show my daughters that you can have both.”