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Little Big Town's 'Painkiller' Intoxicates

Grammy-winning group gives Rolling Stone Country an exclusive preview of upcoming album

Little Big Town in Jacksonville, FL on June 14th, 2014.
Rick Diamond/Getty Images
June 24, 2014 2:05 PM ET

In the more than 15 years they've been together, the members of Little Big Town — Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook — have written songs in a number of configurations, both within and outside their group. For their latest single, "Day Drinking," Fairchild, Westbrook and Sweet teamed with Troy Verges (whose credits include Carrie Underwood's "Wasted" and Hunter Hayes' "I Want Crazy") and Barry Dean (co-writer of LBT's first Number One single, "Pontoon"). What they ultimately concocted is a summer anthem dedicated to what is clearly a popular pastime for Music City tunesmiths, considering that songs sharing a similar title have been cut in short succession by Parmalee, Jerrod Niemann, Kellie Pickler, Chris Young and Dustin Lynch.

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"When we wrote it, we had no idea that there were any other songs out there called 'Day Drinking'," Fairchild tells Rolling Stone Country. "The Parmalee record wasn't out and Jerrod's record wasn't out when we wrote it. And Luke Laird is a good friend of ours and he's written a song called 'Day Drinkin'.' We didn't know until way after the fact. It must've been something in the water! We've watched that happen several times in the last 15 years as a band, where something gets in the creative mojo in Nashville and everybody starts writing similar ideas. And it's not that far-fetched for a bunch of writers in Nashville to be talking about day drinking."

The lead single from the group's upcoming album, Painkiller, "Day Drinking" opens with a distinctive hook that's whistled throughout the song. Fairchild says the whistle came about during the writing session because she was too hoarse to sing the melody she had imagined for the tune. The singer also notes that she and producer Jay Joyce, independently of one another, both had the idea to have the whistling accompanied by a drumline. The result appears to be another summertime sing- (and drink-) along smash for the group whose previous album, Tornado, released in 2012, has sold more than one million copies, creating anticipation for the follow-up disc, which could hit stores as early as September.

Fans are already getting a dose of Painkiller throughout LBT's live shows, including the laid-back, beachy title track that's peppered with a little taste of reggae.

"We knew the record was going to be called Painkiller way on into the process because we love that song," says Fairchild. "That song is really kind of tongue-in-cheek — 'be the person that numbs my pain.' We started talking about tying that thread through the whole record, to ease your pain. Don't we want the whole record to do that for people, anyway? Whether it's a sad moment, or a song that's more thoughtful and has a lot more substance in the lyric, we want music to take us away. Painkiller is the common thread through all the songs."

Westbrook, who is married to Fairchild, says the group's live show has some new production elements that have allowed them to experiment with material from the upcoming album, including a track called "Save Your Sin," featuring the Georgia-born Schlapman on lead vocal.

"'Save Your Sin' will surprise people because you've never heard Kimberly sing like this before," he explains. "First of all, the girl can sing to the rafters, it's unbelievable. She's putting some growl and gravel on it in that upper range."

"That's probably one of the most rocking things that we've ever done as a band," adds Fairchild. "Pure tone, good Georgia singing — it's a good combination. It's that sweet and that sass altogether."

Another new song making its way into Little Big Town's live show is "Turn the Lights On," which the group now uses to open their concerts. There's also a ballad with the flirty title "Girl Crush."

"The record is bold and provocative and yet it's very fun," Fairchild explains. "It's not a departure, it's the next step."

Fairchild and Schlapman have also been working with a group of songwriters collectively known as the Love Junkies. Individually, as a unit and with other co-writers, Lori McKenna, Liz Rose and Hillary Lindsay are three of the most successful writers in town. Together they penned the group's Top 30 hit, "Sober."

"Kimberly and I wrote with them, and that was an inspiring situation for me personally to be a part of," says Fairchild. "To write with a group of women and to see what comes out… We wrote a song called 'Tumble and Fall,' that might be one of my favorite things that we've ever written. It's about a relationship that wants to really stay in there and fight for it. Jimi ended up singing the lead on it, so I love that moment on the record. I love that I had this hook idea and that my husband ended up singing it. That's a special moment."

While the world at large still has a few months to wait before hearing Painkiller as a whole, Westbrook is confident he and his bandmates have crafted something unique. 

"It's cool to me at the end of the day to step back and feel like it's fresh," he says. "It feels like something I haven't heard before. That's not easy to do all the time. I love that part of it. It feels like it's its own thing."

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