Last year, you mentioned getting majorly amped to go large-scale with production for your arena show. Obviously, you lose a bit of that element in smaller venues.
You can go too far with that, though, and lose the connection. We all love these smaller shows when we can’t think about production. The fact that we can stop while we’re playing and we can hear somebody in the back row of the balcony say something and we can go, “Cool. Let’s play that. Let’s figure it out.” We like that.
You mentioned viewing the release of this past summer’s singles as something of an experiment. Did you feel it was ultimately successful?
The songs were released two weeks apart. It was one song at a time. I got to ask the fans about the song in-person, see if they’d heard it and see what they thought about it. And by the end of the summer you had these six songs. And I was able to specifically highlight certain songs and be like, “What do you guys feel? What do you guys like the most?” Everything we released this summer was definitively very artistically driven. The group of songs on 21 it was about: ‘Does this feel good and right?’ That’s always the goal. But sometimes you’re like, “I need one more fast song on this record.” [Laughs]
Have any of the songs surprised you in how they’ve connected with fans?
I didn’t think people would know “Trouble With Love” as much as they do. We put out the acoustic version and didn’t realize what was going to happen as a result of that. We ended up having to re-invent it and having to do the electric, full-band studio version right afterwards, which was really fun. I’ve actually gotten some requests for that one, which makes me really happy. My inner Nineties-country-music-obsessed soul is really happy with the way that it turned out. The studio version is like all the stuff I grew up loving. I do love the acoustic version of that, though. It was really fun. I was really finding all those acoustic voices — mandolin and resonator. I’ve always had those but I’d never really spent time with those instruments and understood the language that they want to speak. I think it’s helping me going into the studio now and playing more like a mandolin player.
How did your collaboration with Lady Antebellum on “Where It All Begins” come about? You supported them on their Wheels Up Tour.
We’ve been talking about, ‘Man, we should totally get a day and write together’ forever. And it never happens when you’re both on the road. We finally figured it out and it was right as we decided to do the [Wheels Up] tour together. We hadn’t announced it yet, but it was right in that time. We got together and we tried to write, like, three other things. Dave [Haywood] had this really music-y thing and I heard this total groove on top of it and I was like, “Oh yes! This is my zone! Yes, please, more of this!” And then Charles [Kelley] just started singing and I could have sworn I heard him say, “Where it all begins.” He says he never sang it. It became a very soul-spilling song.