With four-part harmonies unlike anything country music has ever heard, Little Big Town has hit the big time with their unique, folk-rock infused sound. They've reached platinum sales status, garnered Grammy, CMA and ACM nods and developed a large and loyal fan base -- all hard-earned accolades for the four friends who've weathered years of storms to get to where they are today.
After their AOL Music Sessions taping, Little Big Town – Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Roads Schlapman, Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook – sat down with The Boot to talk about their long road to success. But we, of course, couldn't keep the conversation 100% serious. They also tell us some funny fan stories, a romantic secret and even a ghost story in this candid interview.
'You have to see them live!' is a phrase we often hear about Little Big Town. What makes your live show stand out?
Karen: I think that maybe people are wondering if what happens on their record is really real ... A lot of times they go to shows and then they get disappointed that it's not reflective of the music that was made in the studio. So then they wonder, 'Well what is really the art of it if somebody can doctor stuff so much in the studio?' And so for us, it's all about that raw, real moment where you're connecting. We live and die by those moments. There's nothing but us, a bass and guitar and drums, and if we play wrong notes or sing out of tune, it's all right there. But we like that, because that's where the humanity of it all comes in.
Jimi: We just love playing live, too. Hopefully, when people come to see us they see the excitement in us.
Phillip: We were having this much fun when we were driving ourselves all over the place and not sleeping. And now we have a little more ...
Jimi: Well, now it's a little more fun.
[laughter]You've been on the road for a decade, and you've hit some big roadblocks along the way. If you could go back and give advice to Little Big Town in 1998, what would you say?
Phillip: Hold on!
Karen: Grow some thick skin and get ready for the bumps and bruises.
Kimberly: And have hope, because you don't know what you're gonna go through. It's going to be really tough, but on the other side, it's going to be great.
Phillip: The things that made us tough are those bumps and bruises.
Karen: We are a story of perseverance. We just kept going and going, and kept writing and working on the creative side of what we were doing, and it ended up paying off because people connected with the lyrics we were writing. So maybe it's better if you don't know!
Kimberly: I wouldn't want to give advice to that band, because we were so innocent and green and had no idea. I mean we thought, 'We have a record deal, woo hoo! This is all we gotta do is get a record deal.' And now we've had four. So we had to do lots more than just get a record deal. And thank God we did, because not only are we different musicians, we're different people and we're better for it.
Your latest home is Capitol Records, which recently re-released 'A Place to Land.' First of all, we hear one particular recording session for that album was spooky.
Phillip: We recorded at this studio in Franklin [Tenn.] with Wayne Kirkpatrick, our producer, and his studio is this old house. We think there's a ghost in the house.
Karen: Something weird happened after we recorded 'Evangeline.' We came in the next morning, and there was water pouring out of the light fixture ... So I took off running to see if the studio and the amps and the tape were all right. It was all fine -- the water stopped at the kitchen.
Kimberly: But it totally flooded the house.
Karen: And someone told Phillip's wife that ghosts often use water to speak their sorrow.
Phillip: It was weird because we left the studio that night, and there was an upstairs restroom ... and I turned the light off and everything. Well the next day, the door is closed to the bathroom, the light is on, and the faucet is on full blast.
Kimberly: We went on the hunt for the ghost last week. We took a video camera and went through the house in all the creepy places, and we didn't see her. We've named her Beulah, though. Her name is Beulah if she's a girl.
Jimi: I think she's a man and she was pissed, that's why she flooded the house.
Kimberly: Because we named her Beulah!
What has been the fan reaction to 'Fine Line'?
Kimberly: Women are waving their hands while we sing that song. They're right there with us.
Jimi: Pointing and singing.
Karen: A couple of girls the other night were looking at me, and it was like they were preaching or something. I love it -- people are really connecting with the lyric, and the girls definitely seem to be.
Jimi: Because all men are losers.
Karen: No, that's not true! It's just that the girls at the shows are really paying attention.
Did you ever think 'Boondocks' would be such a career-booming hit?
Jimi: We knew it was special, but I don't think we realized what that song was gonna do. I'm still shocked by it every night ... People will ask, 'Do you get tired of singing that?' I never ever. It just resonates with fans, whether you're from the country or not. It's being proud of who you are and where you're from that rings true with a wide span of people. It's absolutely amazing to watch.
Kimberly: Everybody has roots, and that song makes you identify with your roots.
Do you have any funny fan stories?
Kimberly: A fan brought us her prosthetic leg last week ... She wanted us to sign it. She was the most spunky, precious little thing.
Karen: She was adorable.
Phillip: It was nice to give her leg back to her after we had signed it, like, 'Here, you might need this.'
Jimi: Come on, that's funny! She thought it was funny, too!
We've heard there are two stars backstage who steal your spotlight: Kimberly's daughter, Daisy, and Phillip's new baby, Penelopi.
Jimi: They rule the roost!
Kimberly: I don't know what we'd do without them. They've changed our lives. We thought we were happy before, but it's even better now.
Karen: They're learning to walk on the bus, which is hilarious because they get up with a sippy cup, and Daisy will take off. And she forgets that she doesn't have bus legs, and we're down the highway, and she's like, 'Whoooa!' But we're safe, don't worry.
Karen: Don't write us letters.
When it comes to big decisions, is it important for all four of you to agree?
Jimi: As long as we agree with the girls, everything is fine.
Karen: That's not true! If it's a big decision, we don't move forward until the four of us say, 'Yep, let's do this.'
Kimberly: We know each other so well that we're normally always on the same page. So we call it our collective gut.
If you could change anything about the country music industry, what would you change?
Jimi: How long do we have? No, I'm just kidding.
Kimberly: Honestly or politically correct?
Karen: Diversity ... It's nice to see country music open up.
Jimi: Like Jack Ingram. Bands like Jack and like us, that have been wanting so much to be out there, to get our music to the fans, to see them open their doors to us and say, 'Yeah, we're gonna play you and we're gonna get you out there, so that the fans can be introduced to your music,' is fantastic. We would love to see it continue to blossom in that way. We love it when someone comes up to us and says, 'You know, I'm not really a country music fan, but I've been listening to you guys. And now I've been listening to Josh Turner or Dierks Bentley or Keith Urban.' And that's great because there's a lot of great music in this format, and sometimes it has this stereotype on it and it's not fair. There are great songs, great songwriting and great performances, and the more people are exposed to it, the more the format grows.
If you had to choose a fifth member, who would it be?
Jimi: Do we have to pay them?
Kimberly: There is no fifth member! We are not dividing this up five ways!
Phillip: It would be cool to have Tom Petty hang out with us for a while.
Kimberly: Dolly Parton!
Karen: If we had Johnny Cash, we'd have bass.
Kimberly: And an angel because he's in heaven.
With all of the award shows you've attended, have you ever been star struck?
Phillip: I think when we ran in to Kris Kristofferson.
Karen: He walked in the hallway and he said something to Kimberly like, 'Love your music.' And we had been dying to meet him the whole night! And she was talking to a friend, and because she's so polite, she was zoned in on her friend. And somebody went, 'Kris Kristofferson just said something to you.' And she chased him down the hallway, and he was gone.
Kimberly: I didn't even see him! That's terrible. Come back, Kris!