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Grammy Winners Little Big Town Talk About the Risks of ‘Pontoon’

Little Big Town
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

One could see the look of pure jubilation on the faces of the four Little Big Town members as they accepted their Grammy for Best Country Duo/Group Performance on Sunday night (Feb. 10). “This is such a long time coming for us, we’re so thrilled,” Phillip Sweet — the admittedly emotional one in the group — said, gushing into the microphone. ‘Pontoon’ is the band’s biggest hit to date. It may also be their biggest risk, which is saying something for group that has never met vanilla. 

In fact, every song on ‘Tornado’ feels like a risk, and most pay off handsomely. Throughout the years Little Big Town have invited more and more songwriters to help them pen the songs for their albums. Their 2012 release features an all-star lineup of writers (led by Natalie Hemby) in addition to those they wrote themselves. The more voices they include, the more defined and focused their sound has become. It’s a paradox.

“I think that was just a natural thing,” Sweet told Taste of Country. “We decided to write with some different people on this record and we made some really great new relationships and got pitched amazing songs. And for us, the songs that moved us the most are the ones that made the record — whether we wrote them or not.”

Karen Fairchild says the band was focusing their creative energy on their live show instead of new music, but once the got in the studio, they made a pact that would lead them to the Grammy Awards. One thing is clear about this country foursome: After over a decade making music, the most exciting moments are still to come.

ToC: Did you know ‘Pontoon’ was a hit when you recorded it?

Jimi Westbrook: We felt like it was. From the time we first heard that song, we felt there was something unique and special about it. Of course I don’t think we had any idea it would strike a chord as big as it did. But yeah, that was the first song we dove into on this record and when we tracked that and listened back, we felt like it sounded like a hit.

Were you nervous about having something you loved be rejected?

Karen Fairchild: Maybe a little bit. But we did it with great purpose because we knew that safe wasn’t gonna get us anywhere. It wasn’t creatively satisfying to be safe. And safe does nothing for the band. It’s better to just really move the needle in a big way, and if they love it, they’re gonna go crazy over it. And if they don’t then you move on to something different. You loved it and you tried it, and at this point in our career, after making so many records and being together for so long … we had the discussion, like ‘No playing it safe on this record, roll the dice and roll ‘em big, and if it pays off it’s gonna be amazing — and if doesn’t, so what? We’ll move to the next song and see what happens.’

I’m proud of us that we did it because it was gutsy and some people thought we were crazy.

Did you think you played it too safe on previous albums?

JW: I always felt like we always lived in that land of pushing the envelope a little bit. We’ve always been a little bit left of center. I think people have kind of viewed us that way. So I think that’s a little bit of where we live.

PS: Now I feel like it’s something that we just wanna make music that moves us and if that’s left of center … we try not to worry about that too much.

KF: The other thing is just more about being bold in choices of songs — and confident. Not in a cocky way, just in a confident, bold way. We get a collective gut feeling as a band, and when we do we like to just go with it and play it out and see what happens.

Next: Which Little Big Town Song Is One of the Top 100 Country Songs Ever?

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