What is “The Reason Why” some bands survive and thrive? It is not likely one thing, but many. In the case of Little Big Town, the reasons are plenty. They have sold over 1.5 million records and garnered 3 Grammy nominations, including The Road to Here’s nomination for album of the year. CMA and ACM nominations have arrived in abundance. Critical acclaim and end of year “best” lists have been copious. But this is a band with a history. A band that has always put music first… and that is the biggest reason of all. The music is the reason for the accolades. The music is the reason they survived three record label changes and personal tragedy. The music is the reason that the band has collaborated with a wide range of other respected artists from multiple genres. The music is the reason four people with families, leave home to work and travel tirelessly. It is with this clarity of vision and purpose that the band entered the studio to record their fourth album, confidently titled The Reason Why.
While they’ve never been afraid to break new musical ground, the band truly had no bounds in the studio this time around. From the heartland country rock of the title cut to the groovy mountain soul of lead single “Little White Church” and the stone country in the ballad “Can’t Have Everything,” there is a creative hunger and renewed energy evident on each track. It all started with the band’s approach, says Little Big Town’s Phillip Sweet.
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“For the first time, we were able to take off the road and really focus on making a record. It was an amazing creative time for the band. There’s a lot of push and pull that goes into making music, we believe that’s what makes it interesting.”
Though that extra time in the studio led to new sonic territory on tracks like the soaring “Kiss Goodbye,” the qualities that make up the signature Little Big Town sound remain intact. Namely, that trademark harmony.
“The harmony is the common thread through the record,” notes Karen Fairchild. “It’s always going to be about the harmony. It doesn’t matter if the textures behind us on the record change. We’re always trying to do something different, not just for the fans, but for us to be inspired.”
That inspiration comes bound to very high standards though. For every song that made the album, two to three were scrapped because they just didn’t make all four of them sit up and take notice. While those multi-dimensional harmonies form the heart of the Little Big Town sound, the exact ingredients of what makes a song work for the band is defined by their years together and the intangible magic that makes them who they are.
“There is a knowing. We kinda know when it’s hit that marker for us,” explains Phillip.
Achieving that level of personal satisfaction became a call the band had the luxury of answering on The Reason Why. “It truly is about the pure love of music and feeling connected to the lyrics we’re writing.” Phillip adds. “That’s the whole point. If it didn’t get us to that place, it didn’t make the record.”
That love for the music and love of harmony has always been the common thread for the band. From the first time those voices blended, sitting in Kimberly Schlapman’s living room, they knew this is what they were supposed to do…make music together. Karen and Kimberly had first met in college at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. While Karen and Jimi Westbrook had known each other from other touring bands, the timing of his move to Nashville didn’t seem like a coincidence. Soon after the three began hanging out together, they were introduced to Phillip through a writer/friend of Karen’s.
“At its core, the vocal blend is the same today as it was sitting in that living room when we first all four sang together,” Kimberly recalls. Karen chimes in, “Now there’s a maturity and a history to the band that can’t help but come through—the breathing together, the moving together. The knowing what we’re going to do without having to say it to each other.”
That kind of musical bond can only be forged over the span of many years and a lot of hard miles. Looking back on the past decade plus, Kimberly says, “It’s been 12 years so crammed full with story after story and drama after drama…crazy stuff in 12 years that most people might take a lifetime to live out.”
The backstory goes likes this—Early in their collaboration, all four band members were in relationships. Due to break ups, divorces, and in Kimberly’s case, the death of her husband Steven Roads in 2005, they all found themselves single again with their fellow band members forming their main support system.
Fast forward to the present and Little Big Town finds themselves with the happy problem of having less and less room on the tour bus due to their ever-expanding families. All four members have married and had a child in the last five years – Kimberly and husband Stephen Schlapman welcomed their daughter Daisy in 2007; Phillip and wife Rebecca had Penelopi Jane in 2007; and Karen and Jimi married in 2006 and added son Elijah Dylan to the family in March 2010.
The stability of these happy home lives afforded the band a stable environment in which to create The Reason Why, but that joy doesn’t translate into a bunch of sappy songs about babies. Instead, the new lives all around the band have actually sharpened the band’s creative instincts. “We’re not easily satisfied with the art we make. Never have been and never will be probably. We’re constantly striving towards the next goal, the next song, the next thing we want to accomplish. There’s a hunger and edge to the band that people might not realize on the surfa
That edge Karen speaks of is evident in the rocking, dirty slide guitar of “Why, Oh Why” and the hard charging “Runaway Train”. On the flip side, tracks such as “Kiss Goodbye” and “Shut Up Train” dig deep into the exploration of loss and “Lean Into It” also speaks directly to Little Big Town’s own story of perseverance in the face of adversity. Taken as a whole, the songs that make up The Reason Why offer a 360-degree view of life with all of its ups and downs. That element of variety is only heightened when taking into account that Little Big Town has not one, but four lead singers.
“Each person has their own individual style, so the face of the band changes with whoever’s singing,” Jimi explains. “It gives us the ability to have a wide range of what our music is.”
Now that they’re armed with this new batch of tunes, Little Big Town will now go out and deliver them onstage to the fans in cities around the country. Plans to reinvent their live show grew as a result of the new sounds on The Reason Why.
“When making a record, you think of how some of these songs might translate with your live show, and the different things you can do with them,” says Jimi “I’m really excited about all of these. Can’t wait to play them all.”
Of course, the crux of the live show lies in delivering great songs that entertain an audience, and that’s exactly what fans will find on The Reason Why. Kimberly admits she often thinks of the fans while in the studio, and Karen agrees saying, “We’re trying to take people on a journey when we’re making a record. A lot of time gets spent pouring over lyrics and how to deliver a song. We’re always trying to capture the fans by weaving in and out of moments that tell a story. Stories that are deeply personal and some that are not our own, but feel like they need to be told.”
After just one listen it is evident Little Big Town has pulled that lofty goal off beautifully. This is an album that will live in the hearts and music collections of their fans for years to come.
As Always … music first is The Reason Why.