After an extended break, the members of Lady Antebellum experienced jitters leading up to their new Take Me Downtown Tour, which opened earlier this month in Peoria, Ill.
"We'd be lying if we said we didn't have a lot of anxiety and butterflies," singer Hillary Scott. But in every city so far, the 27-year-old singer said they've been blown away by the response. "We have this new sense of excitement to be on the stage, performing songs, having fun, and I think that would have never had happened if we hadn't taken a little break."
Following the yearlong Own The Night Tour, which took the Grammy-winning trio — Scott, singer Charles Kelley and multi-instrumentalist Dave Haywood — across the United States, Europe and Australia from the end of 2011 to 2012, the group left the road long enough to record "Golden," their fourth studio album.
Scott and her husband, drummer Chris Tyrrell, gave birth to a daughter. For everyone involved, it was a chance to process all they'd been through — multiple Grammys, platinum-selling albums and singles, high-profile tours and television appearances — and to allow the excitement to build back up. With another album's worth of material to work into the set, the new tour stops at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville on Saturday, Feb. 1, at 7 p.m., with special guests Kip Moore and Kacey Musgraves, who just won the Best Country Album Grammy for "Same Trailer Different Park." (Lady Antebellum nabbed that statue in both 2011 and 2012.)
It took about five songs into the Peoria concert, Scott said, for the nerves to disappear. "I was just about a foot off the stage, I was so excited," said Scott, whose job involves remembering all the words to the songs, slipping backstage for a costume change or two and being in the right place at the right time. "The first weekend of shows, other than just our excitement from all the preparation: They didn't feel like the first shows. They just flowed so well. We were prepared. We had had plenty of time to rehearse, and we felt confident in those rehearsals. We didn't have to think about anything other than soaking up the moment."
Bands with back-catalogues full of big hits will naturally struggle with song selection, and Lady A's no different. "A lot of our most successful songs have been mid-tempo," Scott said. "Between 'Need You Now,' 'Just a Kiss,' 'I Run To You,' and a live show is not going to feel energetic or exciting or fun without the really fast, uptempo songs."
One solution was to cobble together a medley of four popular radio singles. "It takes it away from what would be 20 minutes of our set down to about 7.5 minutes, and the audience gets to hear a piece of all of them," Scott said. "We're thankful because it's allowed us to put in songs with different tempos to keep people on their feet." There are quiet moments in the new show, but only a few; full-blown party mode is the theme.
"Golden," Lady Antebellum's fourth album, was a huge commercial success, despite being snubbed by the Grammy nominating committee. The album was a return-to-roots type of effort — in Kelley's words, a "roll-down-your-window" type of record — and Scott said they're already planning its follow-up.
"In the next couple of weeks, we're going to start bringing songwriters out to start writing for the next project," Scott said. "I can't tell you 100-percent where we're going, because we're still figuring it out. It's exploration-time. We're going to take our time. We're not going to rush. We're just going to write and be very selective. We're going to explore what we're not afraid to talk about, we're not afraid to do production-wise. We're not going to go too far left of the core of who we are, but I definitely think that we're going to see where it's going to take us, and we can always reel ourselves back in."
To prepare for a new album, Lady Antebellum receives submissions from various songwriters. They have virtually all the time they want to get to know a song, but Scott said if she's not sold on one by the end of the first chorus, her impressions don't usually change with repeated listenings. "That's just the way I am," she said. "The songs that stand out are the ones you go back to, over and over and over. That's my personal litmus test: if I want to go back and listen to it, there's a reason."
Occasionally, their label's A&R department will insist on them trying out a particular song, even if they aren't that into it. But Scott said it's a mistake not to give a tune a second chance.
"We were in a meeting, right before we went in to record our second record," Scott remembered, "and the last song that we played for our label was this really crappy work-tape of 'Need You Now.'" Scott was reluctant, but the label talked her into recording it. "Need You Know" went on to sell millions of copies and won four Grammys, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
"They had to talk us into recording the biggest song we've ever had," Scott said.
LADY ANTEBELLUM appears Saturday, Feb. 1, at 7 p.m. with special guests Kip Moore and Kacey Musgraves. Mohegan Sun Arena, 1 Mohegan Sun Blvd., Uncasville. Tickets are $59-$79. Visit ticketmaster.com.