There is a certain magic that happens when voices combine. Anyone who has ever experienced the saccharine-sweet harmonies of the Beach Boys or the rustic beauty of the Jayhawks‘s Mark Olson and Gary Louris can certainly attest to that. And those who appreciate the beauty of vocal sculpting should be well familiar with Little Big Town. For almost a decade, the Nashville-based collective has been filling rooms across the country with their magnificent four-part harmonies. On Thursday, Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Roads Schlapman, Jimi Westbrook, and Phillip Sweet will fill the concert hall of Santa Ynez’s Chumash Casino with the warm glow of their beautiful vocals, as well as a barrage of countrified hits. Brett Leigh Dicks recently spoke to the band as they prepared for their visit to Santa Barbara County.
Little Big Town is renowned for its four-part harmonies. When and how did the realization come that there was that magic there?
Jimi Westbrook: From the very first time we got together and hit that first chord, it felt right. From that moment we’ve believed in our abilities and in our singing together. It always felt like family. It is family. All we ever wanted to do was travel around and write songs and play them for people. There’s great joy in that for all of us.
You first signed with Mercury Nashville Records, which wasn’t very productive. You then migrated to Monument Records with much success. What was that experience like for the band?
JW: I think if you go back – Monument Records was, of course, our first major deal where we were able to put out music – we were really green then. We hadn’t been in the industry very long, and I feel like we probably compromised a little bit on some of the music. But it was more on instrumentation; kind of the way the sound and everything was recorded. I think if you go back and listen to that, all of the same elements you hear in our music now are present. They’re just portrayed in a different way.
Do you think that not having a definitive lead singer hampered your acceptance in the industry?
JW:I don’t think so. We just feel like there is a special blend when we all come together, which is really unique in itself because we’ve got four individual voices that separately sound so different. When we come together, it has this thing to it. We wanted that to be the identifiable thing, that no matter who’s singing the lead, whenever the harmonies come in you go, ‘Oh, that’s Little Big Town.’
What is you favorite type of venue to play? Do you prefer stadiums or dusty old bars?
Kimberly Roads Schlapman: Just playing in general is amazing. It’s hard for me to choose a favorite because I like different moments for different reasons. I love doing our new single, “Good Lord Willing,” as it’s becoming more and more familiar with the audience. It has so much energy, and when Jimi goes off at the end, I love how the crowd’s energy goes to another level. I get so excited at that moment every night! I also love singing “Vapor” in our live shows. That song is like the gospel to me. It hits home to me every time we sing it. My life was changed because of the topic of that song, and I strive to live every day by those words we wrote. It communicates uniquely with the crowd because some folks have made it through very difficult times, just as we have, and that song has also become their anthem. I’m really proud of that moment.
You guys were recently an integral part of the Grammys. What was that experience like?
KRS: We are thrilled that we got to attend the Grammys. We are huge fans of all genres of music, and the Grammys have been a part of all of our lives since we watched them on television as kids. We were star struck at every turn.
And coming from that, what do you guys consider to be a measure of success?
Karen Fairchild: It’s that live connection with the fans. I love seeing what the song “Evangeline” means to a young girl in the audience. There isn’t anything better than that. Or seeing a young couple get up and dance in the middle of the aisle at an arena. It’s an addictive feeling. It’s an amazing time for our band and we are incredibly blessed to be able to do what we love every day.
Little Big Town will perform live at the Chumash Casino this Thursday, February 26 at 8 p.m. For tickets and show info, call (800) 585-3737 or visit chumashcasino.com.