The members of Lady Antebellum get asked a difficult question all the time: When are you going to write another hit like "Need You Now"?
That's a little like asking if they can pick a set of winning lottery numbers, twice. The probability of achieving one worldwide hit is astronomical. But two?
"How could we ever do that?" singer Charles Kelley said. "That was a once-in-a-lifetime song. But I think we'll continue to have success if we stay true to ourselves and our fans, our core audience, which is the country music audience. We're very flattered that more people are into us, but (pop music is) a genre and a world where it's much more, 'in one day and out the next.' As long as our country fans still dig what we're doing, we'll hopefully be here for a long time."
That kind of evenhanded approach has guided Lady Antebellum through one of the most difficult periods any band must navigate: instant stardom. "Need You Now" catapulted the trio from a well-regarded young country act with plenty of promise to multiplatinum international pop stars.
They toured places like Australia and New Zealand, with fans shouting their lyrics back at them from the last row, and have needed translators for some of their interviews. They earned a room full of trophies, including that most surreal night when they won five Grammys, including record and song of the year for "Need You Now." They became the go-to act for national anthems and guest appearances, climbed the country music ladder from opening act to headliner and pushed into the pop music world like few country acts before.
As they release their third album, "Own the Night," this week, Kelley, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood are philosophical about their expectations. No one hides their hope for a follow-up hit and would be disappointed if "Night" doesn't catch fire with fans. But standing firmly on a foundation they built long before the spotlight found them, they believe they did their part.
The rest has never been in their control.
"Whether we have that smash, the record is a collection of better, stronger songs, for me," Kelley said. "Only time will tell if the fans feel that way."
They already have spoken on Lady A's first single from "Night," making "Just A Kiss" their fifth No. 1 on Billboard's country charts.
"Night" is a collection of 12 love songs that reflects the remarkable and hard-earned grace that surrounded the band as it ascended the charts around the world. The rigors of instant stardom can tear a band apart and countless legions of one-hit wonders have fallen apart under the stress.
Lady A, however, thrived when things got difficult.
"I have to say they have handled the experience brilliantly," said Gary Borman, the trio's manager, who also oversees the careers of Keith Urban and Faith Hill. "They knew from the outset what some of the challenges were going to be and instead of sweeping them under the carpet or getting caught up in the excitement of the moment, they actually drilled down and took the opportunity and took the time to develop their skills of communication and found some balance in their relationship."
There are so many mistakes to make, from simple excess to a lack of attention to that all-important next song. Not only did the members of Lady A successfully navigate all those pitfalls, they managed to grow. Scott and Haywood entered into relationships (Scott's engaged and Haywood's happy but staying mum) during this period and Kelley says his marriage has only improved.
The trio said this stability was cemented in place during their early years together. The melding of University of Georgia buddies Haywood, 29, and Kelley, 30, with Scott, 25, the daughter of Grammy winner Linda Davis, wasn't initially so serene.
"It took us time to learn how to communicate with each other the best way and each of us receive it," Scott said. "We actually — I don't feel ashamed to say — actually had someone come and mediate a couple of times."
Kelley and Scott, who give the band its beautiful boy-girl harmonies, meet the classic definition of the "Type A" personality, outgoing and demonstrative. Meanwhile, Haywood, the man behind the musical ideas, is quiet and tends to keep his opinions to himself. Communication occasionally shut down as the trio tried to find its way in the music world, and with each other.
"The first two years were really hard," Kelley said. "The last two years have been really easy."
"I think it's honestly a really smart way to work through things," Scott said. "(We used) not really a therapist, but a communications specialist. ... We figured out how to argue and work through things, but argue respectfully. Because we agree on a lot of things — on most things — but on the things that we didn't, it was figuring out how to work through those things. Time and a couple of sessions with that mediator and we figured things out."
Their relationship really came together around the release of "Need You Now" in late 2009, just in time. The song, about a late-night booty call in the midst of a failed relationship, resonated with fans quickly and by the time the album of the same name was released in January 2010, the trio was already slipping onto pop radio and climbing those charts as well.
The next 18 months were like a dream with amazing new experiences piling atop one another.
The songs on "Night" reflect this period. There is some sadness initially and the corresponding songs about heartbreak: Scott went through a difficult breakup before meeting her fiancee, for instance. But for the most part, the album is upbeat, happy and self-assured, like its creators.
"I think we're the closest we've ever been as a group right now," Haywood said. "And I think that comes through in our songwriting. I feel like I know what Hillary would be comfortable saying and what we can dive into, and vice versa. And I think we work great in those scenarios. Hopefully the songs have a genuine feel to them because we feel like we write them from a very personal place."