How Lady A’s ‘Love You Back’ Came to Lean on Classic Sound and the Strength of a Memory

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What’s past, according to William Shakespeare, is prologue.

And what’s past for Lady A is prologue for the band’s current single, “Love You Back.” It’s a song about a memory – a persistent, aching memory about what could have been – and its reflective sonics fit nicely with the trio’s past. That proved itself during the 2023 Request Line Tour after the trio began playing it regularly on June 30 in Fort Myers, Fla.

“It was in between ‘American Honey’ and ‘I Run To You’ in our set list, and that feels right in line with each of those songs,” says Lady A’s Dave Haywood. “It’s kind of got some warmth and organic stuff to it, We’re able to tell both sides of the breakup, which is kind of like ‘Need You Now.’ It checks a lot of boxes for us.”

While the band’s classic sound is the prologue for the tone of “Love You Back,” the prelude to its creation is a TV show. Songwriter Emily Weisband (“Looking For You,” “Can’t Break Up Now”) doesn’t recall exactly what show, but she does remember a piece of dialogue in which a character admitted to a friend that he couldn’t break free from something in his past.

“He said [something] like, ‘I’m wrapped up in the memory,’ and someone said, ‘Well, it can’t love you back,’” she notes. “I massaged the way that it was set up for the song, but it was just a striking comment. And I remember thinking that is such a simple thing to say, but there’s so much to unpack in that. It just felt really achy and longing, and there was just something there for me. So I wrote it down.”

Weisband tossed that idea out in several writing rooms, though it never quite landed until she showed up at the home studio of Lindsay Rimes (“Whiskey On You,” “Cool Again”) with James McNair (“Glory Days,” “Lovin’ On You”) last spring. Her co-writers got it, and Rimes began singing a nostalgic melody that kicked off the chorus, layering it over chords that evolved into a rather complex progression for a country song. Instead of just three chords and the truth, “Love You Back” infuses minor sevenths and suspensions that create instability and dissonance in the sound.

“A lot of that stuff just happens instinctually,” Rimes says. “I’d like to think maybe my chord encyclopedia is good, and then, if you can, marry that with the emotion of the song. That’s what I love doing in the room.”

The fairly linear melody at the start of the first verse certainly captures the vibe. It consistently hangs on to a specific note, much the way the singer is hanging on to an old relationship. Meanwhile, the writers filled the storyline with small images that suggest big meanings – some of them capturing moments that took place between the couple and others documenting dreams that went unfulfilled. A “Sarasota sunrise,” inserted into the chorus, stands out by evoking all kinds of scenery with just two words.

“You’re getting four S’s out of that alliteration with ‘Sarasota sunrise,’” says McNair. “That’s why it’s so sticky.”

Another image – a wedding under an old oak tree – is a sweet moment that never took place. The protagonist can’t seem to get past the disappointment. “We just had that line in there to add an extra layer of maturity and kind of turn the knife again,” McNair notes.

Rimes produced a rock-edged demo with McNair singing lead, and they left with a sense of accomplishment. “It was a solid work day,” Weisband says. “It was like a few hours of sitting and chipping away. If it ever got hard, it was a good kind of hard, like we knew we were on to something really good. So it wasn’t like banging our heads against the wall as much as it was just really digging in, making sure that it was as big of a hit as we wanted it to be.”

Their publishers pitched “Love You Back” to a few artists, including Jason Aldean and Cole Swindell, who seemed to like it but passed. Meanwhile, Weisband had a co-write with Lady A’s Hillary Lindsay for a female Christian artist, and a morning or two later, Weisband started to see “Love You Back” as a potential song for them. She texted it to group member Charles Kelley, who responded immediately. He loved the song, but wanted Weisband to join him in the studio and redo the demo as a male/female duet.

They changed the key to fit Kelley’s voice better and rejiggered a melody in the chorus to smooth out the potential harmonies. His bandmates gave it a thumbs up. “When I first heard it, the lyrics took me obviously to relationships that were important early on in college, and timeframes around dating and figuring out life,” Haywood says.

Working with producer Dann Huff (Keith Urban, Thomas Rhett), they softened the rock tone from the demo and found an appropriately hazy sensibility. Bassist Craig Young, who’d played on the band’s earliest sessions, returned to work with them, and he added some slinky, mysterious runs that sound like a fretless bass from a Paul Young or Gino Vannelli record. “I think it’s his technique,” Huff says. “He has a really slippery kind of [touch]. He just has his own thing, and he doesn’t play like anybody else that I know.”

Huff sensed that the part was a bit unusual, but he didn’t shy away from using it. “I ran into Dann at a show for Kane Brown or something,” Rimes remembers. “I’d just heard the song, and he’s so humble. He goes, ‘Oh, I hope that bass line wasn’t too busy in the pre-chorus.’”

Haywood noodled around with the track in his home recording studio, ultimately developing a mandolin riff that keyed off the melody, creating a sort of melancholy pastiche. And all three Lady A members ended up at Huff’s home studio to work on vocals with Kelley and Scott each taking lead on a verse, Scott singing lead on the choruses and Haywood filling out the vocal stack with a harmony part that sometimes usyed the dissonant notes in the chords. The unresolved sound of those harmonies mirrored the unresolved prologue in the text.

“None of them are what I would call traditional harmony singers,” Huff says. “Hillary is a little more traditional, with her gospel, bluegrass kind of background. But Charles always comes up with different harmonies, and Dave, certainly same thing.”

BMLG Records released “Love You Back” to country radio via PlayMPE on Nov. 27, and it rides at No. 47 on the Country Airplay chart dated Jan. 27. The past is prologue to a song with real potential.

“We’ve had so many people talk about a memory of a parent, the memory of a loved one they lost, and the sadness and the grief around that,” Haywood says. “When people start plugging in their own story, that’s where I go, ‘Okay, I think the song is somehow touching people’s hearts.’”

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