As far as Lady A's Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood are concerned, real men watch romantic comedies. They drink rosé. And when faced with the most feminine of song lyrics, they go all in.
Which is why you can hear their decidedly manly voices belting out, "I feel like a lady!" on Lady A's newly dropped single, "Like a Lady."
"Charles and I, and all of our masculinity, love singing along — and singing harmonies — to this tune," Haywood, the admitted rom-com fan, told a group of music journalists this week during a Zoom interview. "It's such a jam, and I'm so proud of our leading lady on this one."
That "lady," of course, would be bandmate Hillary Scott, who understandably took lead vocals on the '80s-fueled female empowerment anthem, which she co-wrote with Dave Barnes, Michelle Buzz, Martin Johnson and Brandon Paddock.
Both Kelley and Haywood say they knew it was a song made for the trio the moment they heard it. And Kelley, especially, discovered it came with a bonus. "I'm winning a lot of brownie points with my wife singing on this," says the 39-year-old band member, who's the admitted rosé drinker.
The trio also know the joyful, uptempo song will reflect their own mood once they return to the stage after pandemic restrictions lift.
"I think we've been so excited to get back out on the road … that we wanted to just almost push that forward as much as we possibly could and to release music, write music, perform music that just makes people happy," says Scott, 34.
The year of quarantine has proven a challenging time for the threesome, long accustomed to cycles of record-tour-repeat. "It's been a grief to not have that be available and to be able to do it," Scott says.
Adding to the stress was the unintended controversy that erupted last June after the band dropped "Antebellum" from its name, out of sensitivity to its Civil War connotations, and opted to be known exclusively by its longstanding nickname. The trio has since become entangled in lawsuits with Anita White, a Black, Seattle-based blues singer who has gone by the same nickname for decades.
With their suit and a countersuit over claims to the name still in litigation, Scott, Kelley and Haywood didn't comment on the cases, but the dispute has obviously weighed heavily on them.
The months of self-isolation, says Kelley, "made me realize how much I need Dave and Hillary in my life to lean on, especially with all the stuff we've gone through with the name change … We just feel like we're on a path together. We know what we stand for. We know what we want to be, what kind of example we want to leave our kids. [The name change] obviously didn't come out exactly the way we wanted it to, but I think anybody that knows us knows our hearts and what we really are trying to be a part of and represent and what we've always tried to do from the beginning."
Scott and Haywood revealed they both have been working to better educate themselves on issues related to race.
"I've been trying to really just go deeper in my ability to empathize with all people," Scott says. "I think that's our greatest work as human beings — just continuing to figure out how to be more loving and kind and empathetic as people. So, for me, that's been taking a private class with one of my close friends about racial diversity and how to learn more about the history of that in this country."
Haywood, 38, has engaged in regular conversations about racial reconciliation and history with a friend who's a professor of African American studies at Augusta University in Augusta, Georgia.
"He really shared with me the importance of first-generation students, people of color, having a chance at education and how life-changing that can be, not only for them, but for their families and for their generations to come," Haywood says.
The consciousness-raising no doubt led to the announcement this month that the band's charitable initiative, LadyAID, was establishing a scholarship fund to support low-income students attending historic black colleges and universities.
The year has ushered in other realizations among the band members, as well. Kelley, for one, has found he's grown closer to his faith. The challenges of the year have "made me realize, too, that it's nice walking through this journey in a group," says Kelley, "because there were times when I would get really down and then I'd need picking up, and there's times that they would get down and I'd be the one to pick them up."
For Scott, the months off the road have been a time to more fully focus attention on her daughters, 7-year-old Eisele and 3-year-old twins Betsy and Emory, whom she shares with husband Chris Tyrrell.
"I want to be the best mother I can possibly be, and to have the day-in-day-out to watch my girls grow and develop and see what they need … [without having] a half-packed suitcase in the corner all the time," Scott says. "So, it's been a gift to be able to fully settle into that role and the consistency that's been able to be there in that role."
Scott notes that her girls are at an age "where they're watching everything I do and everything I say," making her hyper-aware of the example she's setting. All three, she says, are proving to be "very strong and confident."
The new single, she adds, has already proven to be a hit in the girl-powered household — if only because it's so easy to dance to.
"They'll go, 'Mommy song! Play 'mommy song'!" Scott says, "because if it's not that, it's The Greatest Showman and Moana soundtracks. They love it. Any excuse to have a dance party."
"Like a Lady" is the lead-off single to Lady A's next recording project, which has occupied much of the group's time over the long months, and the new material will be front and center on their next tour. That reality comes with a sadness, they say, since they never got to tour with the music of Ocean, their critically acclaimed eighth album; its title song was recently up for a Grammy for best country duo/group performance.
"I think on tour," says Scott, "we'll definitely have to have just a moment to go, 'Okay, bear with us for a second. We're just gonna do a little medley of our favorite songs from Ocean.'"
Still, being able to record new material has kept the threesome pointed toward a future where a pandemic doesn't rule the day. In the studio, says Scott, "I think there was just this hopefulness and also this desperation of like, we're going to keep doing what we love to do, what we feel called to do, even though we don't know when we'll be able to really actually bring it to the world again."
Once they do return to the road, says Haywood, it will be with a heightened gratitude for one another. "We've had a lot of time to kind of sit and sort of re-identify who we are when we're not able to move and be on the road," he says. "And I've walked away with such an appreciation for each of them and for what we're able to do — and what we get to do."
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