Hillary Scott on Her New Gospel Album and Lady Antebellum’s Next Move

She also discusses the new school of female singers in country music.

By Brian Ives 

Today, Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum releases her first solo album, Love Remains. Although it’s actually a collaboration with her family, and in fact the album started out as her father’s album.

Inspired by the passing of her grandfather, the album combines country music with southern gospel, and features traditional hymns as well as brand new songs.

Radio.com recently spoke to Scott about the album, Lady Antebellum’s tenth anniversary (they will hit the big one-oh in August) and how she feels about the new crop of female country singers who have been getting airplay in recent months.

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We’ve spoken to Charles Kelley about the decision for Lady Antebellum to take a break so you and he could work on solo projects, but give me your take on it. 

It was March of last year, and the guys and I, with our manager, sat down and had a really honest conversation about this next year, and I’d had some talks with my family about some things we wanted to do and music we wanted to make together. And so we talked about it, and honestly, we gave each other the gift of time. We had been working as Lady Antebellum so hard for almost a decade, and this was our chance to, as our manager says it, pull apart a little bit and individually take our creative journeys in this amount of time, to then put us all back together again and reemerge stronger than ever.

So that’s really been what’s it’s been about, and for me, this [solo] project was a way for me to continue to show fans more of who I am. I think if you follow me on any kind of social media you know I’m very family oriented, I’m very heart-forward in the things that I post and how I try to live, and I think these songs are a reflection of that.

This album was originally going to be your dad’s solo album, and you were going to guest on it. Explain how it became a Hillary Scott album.

My grandfather, who was truly the patriarch of our family and truly like another dad to me because I lived with [my grandparents] for a lot of my childhood since my parents traveled so much, he passed away from leukemia five years ago. And we just had this amazing community of people rally around us through that. And my dad had had enough time to process, a little bit more, all the grief we were all feeling, and he wanted us to really use our gifts of song to record a handful of hymns to send out as a thank you.

So it all started out as him saying, “Can you get permission from the record label to put your voice on these songs we were just gonna send out for people?” And I said, “Of course.” And that was right before we left to do some touring in Europe and Australia with Lady A, and I thought about it, and talked to my husband about it, said a lot of prayers about it. I felt so blessed to be part of building a career for 10 years with a lot of eyes and ears watching and listening, and I wanna give the world the opportunity to hear this music [that we were making].

And so I talked to my dad [about releasing it]. He said, “Let me talk to your mom.” And that was kind of how it all began. As then as it was all starting to form together, we had a list of hymns that we wanted to record. We approached Ricky Skaggs about producing it; he said yes. And as the whole process has gone on, though, I realized I had some things to say. I’ve co-written three songs on this record, and my parents wrote a song, and we found songs that we loved. So it’s gone from a bunch of hymns, a list of hymns, to two hymns and a lot of original material. And the way I like to put it is this album is our family’s heart just poured out in music.

Was your father’s original intent to just have you as his backing singer?

[Laughs] Not at all. We all sing together, and you’ll see that on the album when you hear it. My mom sings lead on some songs; she and I have a duet together; my dad sings; my little sister sings, so we all kind of interchange singing lead and harmonizing together.

That must have been wonderful.

It was absolutely precious. It’s really hard to talk about it without crying, just because so many moments with my family have been missed over the touring years, and the really busy schedule that we’ve had. And so we made up for a lot of lost time, and we got to laugh together, and heal together, and grow together, and all the while Ricky being like the family umpire keeping everybody in check.

Was there a vibe of, “I’m the singer of Lady Antebellum, you guys have to listen to me”?

[Laughs] With my mom and dad in the room, they look at me and go, “We changed your diapers. You are not anybody but our daughter in this room.” So it was very much a collaborative effort.

What did Ricky Skaggs add to the sessions?

Unbelievable spirit, wisdom, incredibly brilliant ears, the way he hears the harmonics of instruments and how they blend or how they don’t. He’s playing on the record, he’s singing on the record, so he brought to this project every single strength that he possesses, and all the while encouraging us every step of the way. And I was actually just texting him walking into this interview. He’s become a part of our family. It’s been the most precious experience.

So are you guys going to do this again?

Oh, yeah. Ricky was like, “So when are we gonna do this again, Sis?” I was like, “Well, you say the word, I’m there.” So the sky’s the limit. We haven’t made any plans, but gosh, we had so much fun that it would be a shame not to do something together again.

Johnny Cash did gospel albums, Willie Nelson has done gospel songs, so this isn’t too far from traditional country.

And I think that was why I was really not too concerned about the subject matter. I knew there were gonna be some people, just like when you release any song or any type of project, that it’s not gonna be their thing, and that’s okay. I just needed to creatively explore this side of myself, and more than anything I felt it in my heart that it was something I wanted to share with people and to share with our fans. And so I think it’s definitely in line with country music.

Growing up, was I in church every time the door was open? No, I wasn’t. But so many of my memories of growing up and learning how to sing  were in church. I mean, “Amazing Grace” was one of the first songs that I ever learned to sing.

The title song on the album, “Love Remains,” is written by the same guy that we co-wrote “I Run to You” with, who also wrote “Hello World.” His name is Tom Douglas. And it’s very much a country song. So absolutely. Lady Antebellum played the Ryman a few years ago, and we did a medley of hymns together. Just because, depending on the room, depending on the environment, those songs just really kind of grab people and they’re a part of how we grew up and who we are.

“Thy Will” is a heavy song, especially the line, “You’re God and I’m not.” Are you comfortable talking about that line?

Yeah, I’ll talk about it. This song is truly like a page out of my diary. It is a very normal thing to question why things happen. Faith has always been a huge part of my life. But I think God knows that… he created us, so he knows we’re gonna question; he knows how we’re wired; he knows us. And so I think sometimes people need to be given permission to be not okay and to admit you’re not okay, but also have faith and trust that you will be.

And I think for me going through what I went through, one of the things I learned is that I’m stronger than I thought I was. And I think going through hard things is the only way you find that out. And so I feel like that’s a very universal experience. All of us in our own walks of life have gone through things we never thought we could get through, but then all of a sudden we wake up one day, and we’re through it, and we’re okay.

And yes, when we think about it, it still stings, and it still hurts. But it’s not keeping us down; it’s not keeping us from moving forward. And my faith is what has pulled me through that, and knowing that yes, I am capable of a lot of things, but I can only go so far, and I believe that that’s when God takes it over and brings you through, and that’s what this song’s about for me.

You’ve said that these are the songs that help you to get through every part of your life. What other songs mean a lot to you?

There’s a song that I wrote called “Beautiful Messes.” Because I was doing this project, I never, ever wanted to send the message that I’m recording these songs because I’ve found complete inner peace in who I am and what I believe, and I’ve got it all figured out. That is the opposite of the message that I’m really trying to get across to everyone. It’s that I am broken, and this is where I go to feel whole.

The song is about those of us who have been through a lot of things and ups and downs, and those of us that are brave enough to share our stories, that’s when magic happens. That’s when connections are made with people. That makes amazing and incredible magic in this life, in this world.

You watch and see all these individuals who have gone on to found incredible organizations that go on to change people’s lives, whether it’s because they’ve been abused, or because they grew up and didn’t know how to read, or whatever it may be. Whatever you’ve gone through in your life, if you use your story and are brave enough to share it, someone else is gonna go, “I felt that way” or “I’m feeling that way now. Let’s do something to make that not happen for somebody else again.”

So that’s what that song’s about. That’s the heart, that’s my heart and why I did this record.

Do you feel like people who aren’t devout Christians can enjoy this album?

Absolutely. And I’ve even been told that already over social media, from fans who have heard it and say, “I don’t really consider myself a spiritual person” or “I don’t really claim one faith or another, but this song really spoke to me.”

Absolutely. I feel like music can be appreciated no matter what it’s saying, or if there’s even no words. I never want to make anyone feel that they are not welcome to this music. And there’s a lot of songs I listen to that I don’t agree with every word, but man, I’m dancing around my house, and I’m dancing in my car as I’m driving downtown to a meeting, and I’m like, rocking. I just think it’s just the most amazing part about music to me, is that.

Your album seems very inclusive, not judgmental.

Oh, listen, I have my stuff that I’m working through just like the next person. I just wanna love people well, period. That is my goal in my lifetime is to make everyone I come in contact with feel loved and meet them where they’re at, just like I would want that for myself. This album, this is my story; everyone else has their story. I’m not trying to tell anybody how to live. I’m saying this is how I find peace; this is where I find joy. If that’s where you find yourself too, wonderful. But I just wanna love people well, truly.

Have you been writing for the next Lady Antebellum album?

Yeah, I’ve been writing a ton lately just for the love of it. A lot of them fall under the category of something that Lady Antebellum would definitely record; some of them don’t. And it’s been really awesome creatively, just kind of energizing to just write strictly because I love writing songs. And we’ve written as a band a couple of times already and are starting to stockpile a big list of songs that we’re considering for the next project.

So I can’t really even say we know which direction we’re going yet, but we are determined to make an album that we are completely proud of and that we really feel that our fans will think is authentic to who we are as a band, but also showing a different side of us.

Do you guys pay attention to what’s hot on country radio?

We, of course, are paying attention. I think we’re too much of country music fans not to pay attention. So we’re definitely paying attention, and I think one of the things that’s so exciting about the country music genre right now is… it’s always been extremely varied, and you’ve had the most traditional, whether it be George Strait or Josh Turner to the most pushing-the-envelope like Sam Hunt or Florida Georgia Line, and there’s a lot of room in between there, and there’s a lot of influences that we’ve all had as country artists outside of even country music that works its way in. It obviously has, with the way that our genre looks right now.

For a long time, it felt like women were getting short shift in country music. But in the past few months, that seems to be changing: how do you feel about the new artists coming up?

It’s amazing. I feel like there’s room for it all on the radio. But the female perspective is so important, and it connects on a heart level, which, yes, I love all of the songs that make you escape and that make you wanna go on vacation and that make you wanna just dance around in your living room. But I also think that we are very emotional beings, and to have that narrative on the radio, when that’s a lot of who’s listening, is really important.

And so the fact that that has changed, and we’ve sort of transitioned into a new season of hearing more female voices on the radio, it’s exciting. And artists like Cam and Kelsea Ballerini and all these other artists who are writing their own songs, you’re hearing their stories too, and I think that that’s a very powerful thing.

Cam’s “Burning House” just sounded so different when it first came out.

That song, to me, was such a breath of fresh air. Every time I heard it on the radio, it was almost like I would get sucked into the speakers… and you just listen to every single note and every syllable of every word she sings, and it’s beautiful. That’s a flawless performance, that song.

This year is Lady Antebellum’s tenth anniversary; how do you feel about that?

As much as it feels like a really long time, it has flown by. I know everybody says that, but it’s weird, it’s like I don’t really remember much of life before it, but at the same time, it feels like it’s happened in the blink of an eye, and I can’t believe that we’re in double digit years of doing this.

And we don’t take that lightly. In this industry we realize that is a huge feat. And it’s because, not only the three of us staying solid and respecting each other and making music we’re proud of, but it’s the team around us, too, that have just nurtured us and taken really great care of us.

On Charles’ album, there’s a song called “Leaving Nashville,” about someone who kind of didn’t make it in country music.

That song’s a masterpiece. It’s amazing. And that’s true, there are a lot of people who are extremely talented, more talented than we are, who can pick up any instrument and play it backwards and forwards, and for some strange reason the stars didn’t align. It’s heartbreaking, it really is. That song is such a truthful, heartbreaking depiction of that.
I think that’s in any industry, but because your heart is so wrapped up in music, like when music is your job — I can’t even believe that’s a sentence, because it doesn’t feel like a job — but when music is made to bring you your livelihood, your way of providing for yourself and your family, your heart is all tied up in it. And so one thing I’ve really tried to do because of that is make sure that my relationships are solid, because if you don’t have that, and you’re heartbroken over a song not working, that’s a low spot to be. And so it is, it’s very, very humbling, and we’re very grateful for the journey we’ve had.

With the career we’ve been given, a lot is required. A lot of eyes are on us, and we have a lot of people who depend on us with their livelihood, their families, so there’s a lot that comes with that. But it’s been an incredible journey, and we can’t take it for granted, because you just never know. Everything can change in an instant, and you just have to be as present as you possibly can be every step of the way, because it is, you just never know.

Related: Interview: Charles Kelley Talks ‘Leaving Nashville’ 

As a songwriter, are you still “on the market,” as someone who wants to get cuts on other people’s records?

All day long, every day of the week. I just flew out to LA for a week to write out there; I’m writing in Nashville a lot. Absolutely. I think it only makes you a better writer all around when you’re thinking about an angle of a song that pulls you out of what you’re used to doing, or you’re writing with people, new people that have a different style, and you can just learn from each other. That’s absolutely a huge, huge goal of mine.

Do you write songs with a particular artist in mind when you do that?

We get an email out like every couple of weeks of what artists are looking. And so you can, you can go in with that in mind.

But I really just try to go into every writing session wanting to give it all I’ve got and really just wanting to create a song that I’m proud of, and then wherever it falls and whoever it’s meant for, every song has a journey of its own.

We obviously get sent songs every day that we consider, and we cut a lot of outside material… but don’t just send a song to us because you think we would cut it. If you think it’s a good song, send it, because you just never know what kind of life it can take on when you throw two lead singers and an incredible harmony vocalist on it. It can change it; it can bring it to life in a different way. And so I don’t ever try to get too pigeonholed in that approach, because I want it to just find the right home.

Like Sara Evans, for instance, “A Little Bit Stronger,” her song I co-wrote, and it was very personal to me, the most personal song I’ve ever been a part of until “Thy Will.” And I really wanted and hoped that someone who had been through something, who would believe every word when they sang it would cut it, and she was the perfect, perfect artist.

So, when you wrote it, did you just feel like it didn’t belong on a Lady Antebellum album?

You know, when we were recording, it was our second album, and it was considered, it was in the pile, but I personally was in a much different place than when I had written that song. And so there was another song that we chose called “Ready to Love Again” for that album, because I was ready to love again. I wasn’t in that same place of like, “I wake up every day and I cry when the radio’s on.” And that was an important song for me at that time, but I was hopeful, and you want your albums to be a representation of really where you are as a band and where we were individually. And so that’s why I didn’t make that one.

It must take discipline to make that choice; you still had to know that it was a good song, regardless of what your life situation was at that particular point in time.

Charles has fussed at me a couple times since then about it, but you know what? It was meant to be Sara’s, and she was sweet enough to ask me to sing on it with her, and so that was awesome, and it was meant to be hers. And it went on to be a really, really great success for her, and that’s wonderful.

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