By Brian Ives
“It was a very inspiring year,” says Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild, while discussing the group’s very busy 2016. Indeed, during the year, their classic “Girl Crush” won an armful of awards (including a GRAMMY for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals), they recorded and released Wanderlust — an album produced by Pharrell Williams — and finished work on their latest effort, The Breaker, which they teased late in the year via the single “Better Man,” which was written for the band by Taylor Swift.
Fairchild tells Radio.com, “There was a lot of creative energy, all year last year. We started with [working on] The Breaker record, and then took a break and started writing with Pharrell and put out Wanderlust because we were loving it so much. Then we came back to Nashville, toured and got back in the studio and finished The Breaker.”
Jimi Westbrook compared working with Williams and working with Jay Joyce, who produced The Breaker, as well as their previous albums, 2012’s Tornado, and 2014’s Painkiller: “It is two very different worlds, but they are so creative in their own ways. The whole process wth Pharrell is so different from anything we had ever done. You’re writing and recording everything at the same time, it’s very much ‘in the moment.’ Jay, on the other hand, is like this mad scientist in the studio with off-the-wall ideas. Sometimes when he brings them up, you’re like, ‘Dude, that’s crazy!’ and then you try it and you see the genius that comes from his brain.”
The two albums were entirely different projects, and Fairchild explains the theme of the latest release: “The Breaker is full of stories of reflection and heart. This is a record that I think you’re going to be able to get into your car, and roll down the windows and drive and it’s gonna make you feel good.”
“There’s lots of threads on the album of home and family and memories,” she says. “It has kind of a nostalgic feeling in songs like ‘Free’ and ‘Beat Up Bible’ and ‘We Went to the Beach,’ and then there’s songs that were definitely influenced by our own travels as a band, like ‘Lost in California.’ That’s one of those songs that always reminds me of us always moving and traveling. It’s a beautiful love song written by the Love Junkies,” a.k.a. songwriters Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna and Liz Rose, who also co-wrote “Girl Crush.”
“They’re on a roll!” Fairchild notes of the songwriters.
All four members of Little Big Town are writers in their own right, but the rule of thumb in Nashville is generally “best song wins”; in other words, it doesn’t matter who writes the song, as long as the song is good and it fits the artist. But Little Big Town has four lead singers, so there are creative decisions to be made when they agree to cut a song from outside writers. Deciding who sings lead is like casting a role for a film.
Philip Sweet concurs: “I think it is kind of like that. We really let the music kind of tell us. We’ll always pick the singer based on how the story will be told best.”
The album’s next single is the opening track, “Happy People.” “‘Happy People,’ I love that song, when we heard it we knew we had to cut it,” Sweet says. “Lori McKenna and Hailey Whitters wrote it, and it’s beautiful and poignant for the times we’re in right now,” he says, referring to the lyrics, which include the lines “These days ain’t always easy to find/They’re the ones that you want standing by your side/No time for greed, if they need some, give them some slack/And we’ll all be happy people.”
Fairchild agrees: “It feels very relevant, so when we were sequencing the record, it felt like it could have been written yesterday and it needed to be first.”
Kimberly Schlapman adds that her favorite song is “We Went to the Beach.” “I love, love, love that song and every time we start playing it, when Phillip starts that first verse, I find myself back in our [old] station wagon with the wood paneled sides, driving down to Florida and I see so vividly the hotel room that we stayed in, and the bedspreads on the bed, and I just have so many precious memories [associated] with that song. It brings tears to my eyes whenever I hear it. The second verse is about friends and the third verse is about the person that you love, and I feel like that song is going to ring true to so many people and remind them of happy times and I think it will be some folks’ favorite song.”