Karen Fairchild Reflects On the Early Years With Little Big Town

Little Big Town just announced the release of their tenth studio album, Mr. Sun, out on September 16. It’s a long way from when the group first began, which started with Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman, with neither of them ever predicting the massive success that was waiting for them down the road.

“It’s like a lifetime ago,” Fairchild reveals on Apple Music Country’s Trailblazers Radio with Fancy Hagood. “Kimberly and I went to college together and after school, she made an independent record. She was singing in bluegrass honky tonks from here to Knoxville. She lived in Knoxville. So she came in town one week, and I was singing demos and anything I could do. I sang at an Amway convention. I would do anything to make money singing. That was my only goal.”

Fairchild hadn’t yet delved into songwriting when she and Schlapman first started plotting forming a group, but it was something she admits she wanted to do, even though Fairchild said the process of writing a song seemed “mystical” at the time. But although Fairchild was struggling on her own, she was hesitant to join forces with anyone else, including Schlapman.

“I knew I had things to say, but I hadn’t really dove into that process, or learning the process,” Fairchild recalls. “So I was just trying to make a living, and Kimberly came back to Nashville. We had lunch one day and she said, ‘What if we stopped pursuing solo things and did something together?’ At the time, I had been in other bands and stuff, and I was like, ‘I just don’t…’ I loved her so much, but I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I want to do another band thing.l The Chicks were exploding and so we were never going to be able to do a girl group that would ever rival what they were doing. So we left it at that.”

It wasn’t until Schlapman made the permanent move to Nashville that Fairchild realized perhaps Schlapman’s idea was a good one.

“Through brainstorming, we just realized what we did growing up was, we sang family harmonies,” Fairchild recalls. “So whether it was with my dad at church, or for her, with her family. That’s where the idea came about, and then finding Phillip [Sweet] and Jimi [Westbrook] was the hard part.”

“We sang with a lot of people and we knew that if the chemistry wasn’t right, then it didn’t matter how good they were. It was never going to work,” she continues. “If you don’t love the people you’re around, because it’s the 22 hours off the stage that are difficult. It’s not the two hours on stage.”

It’s been 20 years since Little Big Town released their eponymous debut album. Since then, the quartet has had chart success, sold millions of albums, and filled large arenas. It’s success Fairchild attributes to the decisions they made early in their career, and have never wavered from since then.

“When we first started out and we didn’t have any money,” Fairchild recounts. “We were so broke, and we just set some rules. It’s not really rules. It was things that we knew would keep the band together, and that was taking care of each other first over anything, no matter what was going on in the business. If somebody was hurting, we were always looking out for each other. I think that has just always been the mantra of the band. It’s like, we can have people around us that aren’t getting along, but we’re usually like-minded.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Little Big Town does not operate like a democracy, where the majority rules. Instead, they actually all agree, on every song the group does, or they won’t do it.

“Our rule is that we don’t talk you into doing something you don’t want to do,” Fairchild says. “So we’re not going to be a three to one … It’s got to be the four of us saying, ‘No, we all want to cut this song.’ Then you’re looking ahead ten years and you’re singing some crappy song you didn’t want to sing and you’re mad about it still. So those kinds of things, they’re not really rules, they’re just things that we set up to protect each other.”

Little Big Town will release “Rich Man,” their debut single from Mr. Sun, this Friday, July 22. Pre-order of Mr. Sun is available here.

Photo Credit: Universal Music Group / Blair Getz Mezibov