NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Little Big Town is having a moment.
The country group earned its first No. 1 hit after 13 years as a band with the song “Pontoon.” The platinum-selling summer anthem propelled the quartet’s latest album, “Tornado,” to its own chart-topping debut on the Billboard country albums chart. It sold nearly 113,000 units when it debuted last month, more than double Little Big Town’s last CD.
Karen Fairchild, one of the two women in the group, likes to think that a particular handbag purchase pushed “Pontoon” over the top.
“I like to mark moments with a fashion item, and there’s a certain bag I had been eyeing for two years,” said Karen Fairchild. “There was one left in the certain leather that I wanted, and I thought, well, we’re No. 3, and everyone says we’re going to go No. 1. So self-fulfilling prophecy, belief, good faith. I bought the bag, and I said, ‘This is my No. 1 bag.’”
“Pontoon” is also the group’s first top 40 hit on the pop charts, peaking at No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also got a boost from an online video featuring some of their celebrity friends singing the tune such as Lady Antebellum, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert’s Pistol Annies, Darius Rucker and Luke Bryan.
“That video is so cool and so flattering for us, because they all have busy schedules, and it’s a commitment to take the time to do that. We’re so appreciative,” said Jimi Westbrook.
The group has a lot to be appreciative of, because the road to the top was anything but paved. Since 2002, only three other Little Big Town songs have cracked the country top 10 — “Boondocks,” ‘’Little White Church” and “Bring It on Home.” Such mixed success at radio — a critical component in country music — might have sunk any other act, but Little Big Town has persevered. Westbrook acknowledged the emotional journey it has taken for them to get here.
“I was actually listening to a couple of the songs, of course, just getting some of those new ones in my head again, and I got a little misty-eyed just listening to ‘Self Made’ and thinking about the journey that we’ve been on as a band, how great this record feels just on a personal level,” he said. The group recorded their album, “Tornado,” in one intense week, using a new producer, Jay Joyce, and their road band. The process allowed them to channel creativity in a completely new way.
“We went in there to the studio and just played music like we would do on the road, like we do every day and capture that live energy, try to capture that moment,” said Phillip Sweet.
“This collection of 11 songs represents that moment in time and where we are as a band. And it feels new, from the writing to the recording,” added Fairchild, who is married to Westbrook. “There are great party songs on this record and things that will make you smile and feel good, but there are some that will really, really make you feel.”
The four group members, who are up for three Country Music Association Awards, couldn’t be prouder of the result.
“I think this for us is the sweetest payoff, because we’ve been a band for a very long time and we’ve worked really, really hard,” said Kimberly Schlapman. “Karen used to say, ‘We can’t let anybody outwork us.’ And I don’t think anybody has.”