Hot on the heels of their wildly successful album Tornado, Little Big Town’s prescription for continued success and creative drive is in their sixth album, Pain Killer.
The two years since Tornado’s release have proven to be the most formative and motivational for the inspired family of artists, together since 1998. In the short time since Tornado, Little Big Town earned two number one radio hits with Tornado and Pontoon, a Grammy, two ACM and three CMA awards and an Emmy. They also found time to headline a sold-out tour, join Keith Urban across North America and host the CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock twice.
These hard-earned accolades and new opportunities provided a steady dose of inspiration at every turn, leading them to a fresh and very intentional approach to their latest studio album. They co-wrote most of Tornado’s songs as a group and knocked out production in a matter of weeks, whereas the road to Pain Killer was significantly longer in the making, and much more calculated.
LBT intentionally began writing and curating their songs early in their tour for Tornado in May 2013. They followed the creative energy wherever it flowed by splitting into different writing combinations.
“We decided not to lock ourselves into writing as a group. We wanted a more relaxed and free approach,” says Karen Fairchild. “There was no pressure to write as certain groups at certain times. We followed the inspiration instead of forcing it.”
“I don’t know that we would have written Tumble and Fall if the boys had been in the room,” she continues. “The writing process on that song was very therapeutic for all of us girls. Just as Faster Gun is a guy’s song, it probably wouldn’t have turned out the same way had the girls been in the room.”
New voices, including Ryan Tyndell, Blair Daly, Jeremy Spillman and Shane McAnally, joined long-term LBT collaborators, such as Hillary Lindsey, Liz Rose, Lori McKenna, Jedd Hughes and Natalie Hemby.
As a result, Pain Killer covers all new territory for LBT. The band and its writing and production partners favored multi-layered effects. They drew from a mix of influences including vintage 50’s country, 70’s country, funk, groove, a cappella, bluegrass and straight up rock n’ roll.
This evolution of LBT’s sound is the outcome of their free reign to write and craft as they chose, making Pain Killer as uninhibited as their creative process.
“We don’t think about boundaries anymore. We let go of that because it doesn’t work for us. We do better when we’re freed up,” Karen says.
Phillip Sweet offers an enlightened perspective on songwriting. “You chase whatever idea starts the creative process. It might be a lyric. It might be a melody. Sometimes a song unloads on you and you have to catch it and hang on for dear life. [Writing Pain Killer] was a healthy competition and motivating. The best songs won. There was no ego involved in that.”
Pain Killer proves LBT has a strong command on the courage it takes to create. “We have learned to trust ourselves. It’s confidence and experience. We’re braver than we’ve ever been on this record,” explains Kimberly Schlapman.
LBT recorded 23 songs for Pain Killer, ultimately narrowing the album to 13. “The creative process is such a living thing,” says Jimi Westbook. “We’ve become good at acknowledging when it’s not working. It’s easy to try to force it, but we’ve grown to understand when to move on. There came a point when the song selection came together and felt right. It had a great personality.”
The bonds LBT and producer, songwriter and musician extraordinaire Jay Joyce formed when producing Tornado carried over seamlessly into the creation of Pain Killer. This relationship, combined with the unstructured writing process and the use of their road band in the studio, gave way to a new adventure in experimenting with sound.
Jimi makes an astute observation of Joyce, “He is such an amazing, creative person and fun to work with. He takes you places you don’t expect to go; and that’s exciting, musically. You feel a lot of freedom in that.”
“Jay is like a mad scientist. He uses our voices as instruments. Literally!” Phillip exclaims. “It was a deliberate choice to use our voices in ways we hadn’t before. It was exhilarating.”
Today’s recording standards are streamlined and corrected, manipulated and often times overpolished. Joyce makes music very differently, as found throughout critically acclaimed partnerships with artists such as Cage the Elephant, Amos Lee, Eric Church and Emmy Lou Harris.
“Jay doesn’t believe in a cleaned up, pristine track,” adds Karen. “Sometimes you don’t even know what layers exist. He will wake up in the middle of the night and go lay down some great, totally unexpected elements.”
Kimberly also enjoys Joyce’s creative drive. “He is very spontaneous when recording. He leaves a lot in. That’s good for us!”
One sign of a successful collaboration is simple: LBT still listens to Pain Killer and hears sounds and effects they never noticed before, an experience musical craftsmen the world over are sure to envy.
“Pain Killer has a lot of different sounds without sounding unorganized,” says Joyce. “It’s a more artistic album than LBT has done before. It has a lot of integrity.”
The provocative album has something for everyone: A treatment for the broken heart or the shattered spirit, a rally cry for those exhausted by love yet still inspired by it, a testament to the enduring hope of a long relationship, a promise of perseverance and a shot of good, old-fashioned fun.
Pain Killer leads off with “Quit Breaking Up with Me,” a power pop anthem for those infamous on-again / off-again relationships that are plagued with drama and indecision. “It has so much attitude!” says Jimi. Written by Busbee, Natalie Hemby and Shane McAnally, it’s laced with punk, a shot of rock and rolls with LBT’s characteristic country sass.
“Day Drinking” was the first song LBT wrote as a group for Pain Killer, along with Troy Verges and Barry Dean, and is the album’s first single. Its fanciful marching band and quirky whistles work together brilliantly to create a playful song of summer. “People are genuinely happy when they hear it,” adds Phillip. “Day Drinking” set the tone for the album, motivating LBT to innovate with each new song. Recently selected as “Song of the Week” by USA Today, this first single continues to climb the charts.
“Tumble and Fall,” written by the ladies of LBT and Lori McKenna, Liz Rose and Hillary Lindsey, is a promise to persevere in a relationship despite the challenges and offenses that naturally arise. “It’s a reminder to be humble. Be vulnerable. It’s a peaceful song,” Kimberly adds. Featuring Jimi’s vocals and Kimberly’s soaring harmonies, “Tumble and Fall” is both heartfelt and delightful.
LBT knew early on in song selection that “Pain Killer” would be the title track. “Music, like medicine, can be a vice, a drug, a muse. But in this case, “Pain Killer” refers to the love drug,” says Karen. It is the magic potion made real, solving all problems with one fell swoop and intoxicating in the best way. Written by Karen, Jimi, Blair Daly and Lindsey, it is an upbeat, reggae-tinged tune perfect for a road trip, best enjoyed while riding with one hand out the window or on the back of a lover’s neck.
Perhaps the most affecting, jaw-dropping track is the down-tempo “Girl Crush.” This attention-grabber is stripped down to a power vocal with sparse backing. Karen’s soulful voice finds a fitting showcase against a retro beat, echoing the sounds of Patsy Cline and her contemporaries. Written by McKenna, Rose and Lindsey, it is one of the few songs to which every woman can relate. “’Girl Crush’ is one of the most brilliant lyrics I’ve ever heard. It takes a modern phrase and turns it at the hook. And it’s empty in the right places. It gives me chills every time I listen to it because the raw emotion really comes through,” Jimi explains.
One of the more cinematic and barrier-breaking tracks is “Faster Gun,” written by Jeremy Spillman, Ryan Tyndell, Jimi and Phillip while in “dude mode” in the perfect place for men to be men – a man cave, conveniently located at the studio. “Faster Gun” is one of the best examples of new sounds and layers for LBT. It sounds like a Tarantino flick – raw and liberated. “I could see it playing in my head like a trippy, acid western. It’s completely different than anything we’ve done before,” Phillip says. “Faster Gun” is the track that showcases LBT in a totally new light.
“Good People” is a musical high five to partners in crime and is the glue binding all of the tracks together. “We fell in love with it the minute we heard it. It felt great and we needed a moment like this on the record. It brought it to life,” Phillip says. Joyce, Hemby and Spillman wrote the song which spotlights Kimberly’s pure-tone soprano. This track is a gift to any friend who not only knows where the secrets are buried, but helped bury them.
“Stay All Night” is upbeat, totally rockin’ and full of life. “I love the groove. The phrasing is rapid fire and very rhythmic. It’s funky cool!” explains Jimi. “I’m so excited it made the record. The girls have lungs for days!” Written by Jimi, Phillip, Brent Cobb and Jason Saenz, “Stay All Night” is the party song fitting for a no-holds-barred night out. Jimi’s vocals cranked the dial to 11 while Joyce tuned guitar strings to one chord and used the entire instrument as a horn. Full of personality, “Stay All Night” is a shining example of sonic details masterfully woven.
Another powerful showcase of Kimberly’s full and lively vocals is “Save Your Sin.” It was written by McKenna, Rose and Lindsey as a swift kick in the behind to someone less than worthy of another’s heart. The upbeat and pulsing track is just what Pain Killer needs. “Kimberly freaking killed it,” Jimi says. “It’s like the Foo Fighters meets country with a big screaming vocal.”
Written on the road in a dressing room by the whole band with Spillman and Tyndell, “Live Forever” features the traditional harmonies that first attracted fans and critics to LBT. “It is the epic love song,” says Phillip. “Live Forever” is a master class in harmonies. It is the beautiful and profound track that anchors the album and expands on the talent the world has come to expect from Little Big Town.
In contrast to the classic LBT song that is laced with romance and sweeping vocal harmonies, “Things You Don’t Think About” is “total sassville,” says Kimberly. Written by Hemby, McAnally and Ross Copperman, it begins with a sparse groove followed by a chilling down beat. “You feel this arresting, visceral energy the moment it comes on. It’s a killer song about not taking someone for granted,” Phillip adds.
Little Big Town deeply understands and respects the creative process. They know the challenges a creative spirit faces in an unforgiving music industry. With this is in mind, they set out with Spillman, Hemby and Joyce to write a wake up call, “Turn the Lights On.” This hard-driving, rock n’ roll hymn is especially for those brilliant minds that have to continually hear “no” before they ever hear the “yes” that changes everything. It’s an inspiring and over-the-top reminder to anyone to get up off the mat and keep going. “Standing up for yourself as an artist is the hardest lesson to learn. Artists aren’t always nurtured once they become part of the business machine. It’s a lot harder for solo artists, but we have each other for the gut check,” says Karen.
The album’s coda, “Silver and Gold,” is a poetic, quiet song starring the characteristic LBT harmonies that have never been lost or lessened by time or circumstance. Karen, Kimberly, Joyce and Jedd Hughes penned it under the stained glass in Joyce’s church-turned-studio. Kimberly says, “Jedd Hughes is a poet and inspiration.” A simple, sonic masterpiece backed by a solo acoustic guitar, “Silver and Gold” is an encouraging reminder for a heavy heart that good still lives inside. “The vocals just wash over you,” says Phillip.
When reflecting on the entirety of Pain Killer, Jimi sums it up well. “Being in a studio, creating music and a moment that means something to people is magic. We love this record. The creative part of us is satisfied.”
With a keen focus on different vocal and writing configurations, LBT again astounds its fans and critics alike with harmonies that are typically found among voices sharing the same DNA. Their strengthening relationships and maturity earned over 15 years together all come together in this masterful production.
A remedy for everything that ails any listener, Pain Killer is an antidote of anthems and inspiration to heal even the most tortured heart. It is one big love letter to Little Big Town’s fans.
The first round of performers has been announced for this year’s CMA Awards. Luke Bryan, Carrie Underwood, Eric Church, Little Big Town, Brothers Osborne, Chris Stapleton, Jon Pardi and new Country Music Hall of Famer Alan Jackson will perform, as well as Garth Brooks, Miranda Lambert, Old Dominion and Thomas Rhett.
Luke is a two-time consecutive CMA Entertainer of the Year (2014, 2015), returning to compete for his fifth nomination in the category. He has garnered 15 CMA Awards nominations since 2010.
Up for three nominations this year, Eric is a three-time CMA Awards winner with 25 total career nods. He returns this year with recognition in the Entertainer of the Year category, in addition to Musical Event and his sixth consecutive nomination for Male Vocalist.
Little Big Town claims four nominations this year including Vocal Group, Album for The Breaker, and Single and Music Video for “Better Man.” They are seven-time CMA Awards winners with a career total of 26 CMA Awards nominations.
Stapleton is a five-time CMA Awards winner nominated for Entertainer of the Year, Male Vocalist, and Album for From A Room: Volume 1. He receives one nomination for Album, but can receive an additional trophy as producer. This is his third consecutive nomination for Male, which he’s won the past two years. He was also nominated for Entertainer last year and won Album for Traveller in 2015. He is an 11-time CMA Awards nominee.
The reigning CMA Vocal Duo Brothers Osborne received their first Music Video nod for “It Ain’t My Fault” and will once again vie for Vocal Duo, their third nomination in the category.
First-time nominee, Jon Pardi, vies for two categories with nominations for New Artist of the Year and Single for “Dirt On My Boots,” which he co-produced. He receives one nomination for Single of the Year, but can receive an additional trophy as producer.
With six CMA Awards to her name, Carrie, who is also co-hosting the CMA Awards with Brad Paisley, returns to vie for Female Vocalist, a category she’s won four times (2006-2008, 2016) and nominated for consecutively since 2006.
With 81 career nominations, Alan is the second most nominated artist in CMA Awards history. This year marks Jackson’s 24th CMA Awards performance since debuting in 1990 with “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow.” He will receive Country Music’s Highest Honor, induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, on Sunday, Oct. 22 during the official Medallion Ceremony at the CMA Theater.
The 51st Annual CMA Awards will air live from Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena November 8th at 8pm ET on ABC.
Keith Urban, Sam Hunt, Carrie Underwood, Little Big Town, Chris Stapleton and Jon Pardi earned nominations for this year’s American Music Awards. Keith leads the country nominees with three nods, including Favorite Male Artist – Country, Favorite Album – Country for Ripcord and Favorite Song – Country for “Blue Ain’t Your Color.” Sam picks up a pair of nominations, including Favorite Male Artist – Country and Favorite Song – Country for “Body Like a Back Road.” Chris earns a nomination for From A Room: Volume 1, while Jon picks up a nod for Favorite Song – Country for “Dirt on My Boots.” The 45th Annual American Music Awards will be broadcast live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles on November 19th at 8pm ET on ABC.
Luke Bryan’s Crash My Party and Tailgates and Tanlines albums were certified 4X platinum by the RIAA. Several of his songs, including “Drunk on You,” “Crash My Party,” “Play It Again” and “That’s My Kind of Night” were also certified 4X platinum, while “Country Girl [Shake It For Me]” was certified quintuple platinum. Luke’s “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” “Home Alone Tonight” and “All My Friends Say” was certified platinum.
Keith Urban is set to appear on a new television special, Grammys Greatest Stories, which will take a behind-the-scenes look at the past 59 years of Grammys performances and history. The two-hour show will include appearances by Paul McCartney, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Aretha Franklin, Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran, Celine Dion and U2, among others. Grammys Greatest Stories: A 60th Anniversary Special will air Black Friday, November 24th beginning at 9pm ET on CBS.
Country Music’s star-studded benefit concert COUNTRY RISING announced today that in light of last week’s tragedy, it will now support victims of the Las Vegas shooting in addition to those in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and additional Caribbean islands who have been impacted by the recent hurricanes. Tickets and VIP packages for the event will now go on sale next Friday, Oct. 20 at 10:00A CT on www.Ticketmaster.com. Citi® is the official presale credit card of Country Rising. Citi® cardmembers will have access to purchase presale tickets beginning Wednesday, Oct. 18 at 10:00A CT through Citi’s Private Pass® program. For complete presale details visit www.citiprivatepass.com.
Keith Urban is the latest mega-star to add his name to the bill, which also includes Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Sam Hunt, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Chris Stapleton, George Strait and Carrie Underwood. Due to a scheduling conflict with additional tour dates being added in Spokane, WA, Garth Brooks will no longer be part of the event in Nashville and will instead donate all proceeds from his two added concerts on November 12th to The Country Rising Fund.
COUNTRY RISING will benefit The Country Rising Fund of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, which was established to support charitable initiatives to help victims of the September 2017 hurricanes — Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria. Additionally, the fund will now also envelop victims of the shooting in Las Vegas last week. In the course of rebuilding lives disrupted by these devastating events, there are immediate needs and there also will be long-term needs. This fund will strategically support both as they emerge.
For more information, visit: www.CountryRising.org.