Q&A: Phillip Sweet of Little Big Town
Celebrating the release of one of its fastest-rising singles, "Pontoon," the country quartet Little Big Town is preparing for a notable month.
The group -- which includes Phillip Sweet, Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman and Jimi Westbrook -- will perform "Pontoon" on the CMT Music Awards on Wednesday (6/6). However, Little Big Town earned a nom for a different tune -- its rendition of Coldplay's "Fix You" from the concert special "Music Builds: The CMT Disaster Relief Concert."
They will also take part in the CMA Music Festival June 7 through June 10 and "all the big events that go along with that," said Sweet, via telephone from Tonica, MS. Little Big Town will kick off a tour with Rascal Flatts the following week.
"It's awesome," Sweet said. "We have a lot going on. We also made this new record and put out 'Pontoon' recently. It's really catching on. People are really starting to dig it early. It's one of the most fastest-rising singles we've ever had."
Although in the can, the album has yet to be named, Sweet said. But the collection, produced by Jay Joyce, is expected to be out in the fall and include "Pontoon."
The album will be Little Big Town's fifth since it rushed the music scene more than 14 years ago with hits like "Boondocks," "Bring It on Home" and "Good as Gone." According to a press release, the group has earned more than 25 award show nominations and has taken home the award for ACM Top New Vocal Group.
In early 2011, Little Big Town created an online video series called "Scattered, Smothered and Covered" where they countrify cover songs. The videos have had more than 2 million views.
Sweet took the time to speak with SoundSpike about the popularity of "Pontoon," the inspiration behind the new album and working with Lionel Richie.
Why do you think "Pontoon" has taken off?
Phillip Sweet: Good timing. The song just spits. People want to hear it and play it. I don't know. It's a good question. Plus, I think we have a really good team of people behind us that are working really hard and a great label that's really behind the song we have. They want us to make it and do good things with it. It's fun. We're going to perform it on the CMT awards coming up. The tour with Rascal Flatts is going to be fun. We're getting to play some of the new record live all summer until it comes out. I think the album will release in September.
That must be fun to finally play new material live.
Absolutely, it's real fun. We love workin'. It's the heart and soul of what we are and what we do. There are a lot of aspects to this job. You have to stand on stage and deliver it. That's the real heart and soul of it. We love it. It's fun to try out some of the new things that we haven't done before now.
What can you tell me about the new album?
You can hear the evolution. You can hear tangible growth in our sound. I mean, of course our harmonies are always going to be Little Big Town harmonies. But it's bolder, it's a little louder. The overall feel of the record has this amazing live energy to it. Partly because that's the way we recorded it. We used our live band that we have on the road with us all the time. We had Jay Joyce play and just a couple other musicians. Just a real skeletal crew. We rehearsed for four days of the songs we thought we would want to do. We went to the studio three nights in a row. Just like we were doing a live show, we'd come in a little later in the evening, have a little show. We'd hit record. We're trying to capture the moments and the live energy. We had so much fun doing that. We listed back to everything and, at the end of seven days, we said, "Oh my God, we have a record here." I didn't realize how much work we had done. We were having so much fun. Everyone was pouring all their heart soul and energy into that. I think you can feel it and hear those things in each song. The way one track flows into another. Everyone wants to say that their latest album is the best work they've ever done. We're so excited. I think people are really going to love it. I hope they love it as much as we do. We're super proud of it.
Do you have a name for it yet?
I knew you were going to ask that. We're close. It's yet-to-be titled. "Pontoon" is doing amazing right now I'm just so thrilled. We're seeing amazing social media numbers and stuff. We've never seen that before. We're seeing bigger stations that haven't added us in years add us. It's kind of good to feel that love from radio and the whole industry. It's always been a bit of a work to get our songs up the charts for some reason. This feels a little easier than it has in the past. Over time people finally start to learn about the band. You can't dial it in. You have to keep that fresh attitude every day. You never know who's in the crowd, who's seeing your music. If you mail it in that one time, it could be that one time that someone important was in the crowd. We give it 100 percent all the time.
What was the inspiration behind the new record?
There's a strong sense of purpose behind the sound of this record and feel and the lyrics. We wanted it to be spirited and fun, so there's lot of good, fun party moments. Part of our journey in growing as a band is now we have little young children in our lives. You think about the legacy you leave behind every day. There's no real profound political statements on there. We're just making music.It's not rocket science. We're just making music and loving it at the same time, the energy and love and passion has been strong.
How did you decide to cover "Fix You." It's such an amazing song.
I love that song too. That was really an honor to be nominated for that. It was really special. It was just the four of us acoustic. That was for the tornado relief concert. There's this emotion behind it for us that's really special. Because it's fan voted, that just means the world to us. But we had been doing part of it in our live show previous to that. We were doing the song we had on "The Road to Here" called "Lost" and we'd transition out that song to the end [of "Fix You"]:
"Tears stream down your face." It was one of those things. It felt like it was the right moment, the right thing to say. The very simple, sensitive emotion and the pain people were going through, we thought it would help someone through it.
What was it like to work with Lionel Richie on "Deep River Woman."
Oh my God, fun. He's so fun. It felt easy. It didn't feel like work. He was really just so generous and kind and so encouraging. He walks in [the room] and he owns the room. He's one of those kinds of people. He's so charismatic; we did the tracking and the signing and stuff, all that was really fun. It was fun to have those headphones on in the studio and to see through the glass you hear him singing in the earphone and he's doing it right there beside you. It was great to do that particular song. That was one they recorded with Alabama back in '73. It was just a cool moment. It's one of those rare things that gets to happen to you as an artist. I'm so thankful we've had some of those experiences. You can't pay money for one of those things. He's great.
9 - Nashville, TN - LP Field (CMA Music Festival)
15 - Hartford, CT - Comcast Theatre (with Rascal Flatts)
16 - Mansfield, MA - Comcast Center (with Rascal Flatts)
23 - Bristow, VA - Jiffy Lube Live (with Rascal Flatts)
24 - Virginia Beach, VA - Farm Bureau Live at Virginia Beach (with Rascal Flatts)
27 - Milwaukee, WI - Marcus Amphitheater
29 - Cuyahoga Falls, OH - Blossom Music Center (with Rascal Flatts)
30 - Darien Center, NY - Darien Lake Performing Arts Center (with Rascal Flatts)
1 - Joliet, IL - Joliet Memorial Stadium
6 - Bangor, ME - Downtown Bangor/Bangor Waterfront (with Rascal Flatts)
7 - Scranton, PA - Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain (with Miranda Lambert)
13 - Dallas, TX - Gexa Energy Pavilion (with Rascal Flatts)
14 - The Woodlands, TX - The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion (with Rascal Flatts)
18 - Omaha, NE - TD Ameritrade Park (Red Sky Music Festival)
20 - Clarkston, MI - DTE Energy Music Theatre (with Rascal Flatts)
22 - Cincinnati, OH - Riverbend Music Center (with Rascal Flatts)
27 - Maryland Heights, MO - Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre St. Louis (with Rascal Flatts)
28 - Tinley Park, IL - First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre (with Rascal Flatts)
4 - Detroit Lakes, MN - Soo Pass Ranch (WE Fest)
9 - Charlotte, NC - Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre (with Rascal Flatts)
10 - Raleigh, NC - Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion (with Rascal Flatts)
11 - Camden, NJ - Susquehanna Bank Center (with Rascal Flatts)
18 - Louisville, KY - Kentucky Exposition Center (Kentucky State Fair)
19 - Des Moines, IA - Iowa State Fairgrounds Grandstand (Iowa State Fair)
29 - Marshfield, WI - Marshfield Fairgrounds (Central Wisconsin State Fair)
30 - St. Paul, MN - Minnesota State Fair Grandstand (Minnesota State Fair with Rascal Flatts)
31 - Noblesville, IN - Klipsch Music Center (with Rascal Flatts)
1 - Burgettstown, PA - First Niagara Pavilion (with Rascal Flatts)