Little Big Town is breaking new ground in country music. The vocal quartet insists on not having a regular lead singer, and a group composed of two men and two women is rare in the country field. Little Big Town recently visited our VOA Washington studios to talk with Bernie Bernard about their debut album and their involvement in a national voter registration campaign.
Nashville, Tennessee is where Georgia women Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Roads met Arkansas natives Jimi Westbrook and Phillip Sweet. Little Big Town has been compared to everyone from classic rock group The Mamas And The Papas to the Dixie Chicks. Kimberly and Karen like to refer to the harmony as the lead singer in the group.
Kimberly: "That's never been done in country music before, so we had a little bit of a fight on our hands at first, because everybody said, 'You're going to have to pick a lead singer, or radio won't accept it.' But, that was one of the main things we wanted to do. Just let the harmony be the lead of the band and not show out any voice, really."
Karen: "There's real character, we feel like, in the blend of the four voices when we sing together. And so, we felt like that was an identifiable enough thing for radio to say, 'That's who they are when they all sing together.' There's a 'Little Big Town' sound."
All four members of Little Big Town had been writing songs and working on demo tapes when they discovered how naturally their harmonies came together.
Jimi recalls the first time they realized that they had potential as recording artists. "It was pretty special," he said. "In fact, the first song we worked up in Kimberly's living room, where we had a lot of those first meetings and brainstormings, ended up on the record four years later. It's a cut called 'Somewhere Far Away.' When we hit that first chorus and all our voices went to our own little places, we looked at each other and said, 'Man, that feels good!' And it just felt natural."
Little Big Town's Phillip Sweet explains the songwriting and vocal arranging process. "Whoever sounded the best on that particular melody or wherever the story leaned," he said, "that's kind of where we would try the different voices out and see what best fit. As far as writing, it kind of worked the same way, very organic like that. We'd just throw it around kind of have a big party."
Little Big Town was in Washington, D.C. recently to perform the National Anthem at a White House event, and to announce their participation in an outreach campaign. Kimberly, Phillip and Karen tell how the group will be performing at shopping malls across the U.S., meeting fans and encouraging people to register to vote.
Kimberly: "We're doing a 21-city tour where we go to these towns and do a little show and have people there actually to register people to vote right there on the spot."
Phillip: "The tour is called 'Love Your Country: VOTE' and we just really excited about bringing communities together."
Kimberly: "This is completely bi-partisan. It's more patriotic than it is political. We just want to send a message to the world that we, as Americans, are going to unite no matter what side we're on. We're going to unite and stand behind our leaders. The first thing we can do in that step is to be able to vote."
Karen: "It's a great place for this format. It's a great campaign for this kind of music, because country music reflects, I think, Middle America, the heartland of America, and so it's a great campaign."
Country music cable television network CMT will have weekly live reports from the band along the stops on their "Love Your Country: VOTE" tour.