The path to Charles Kelley’s new solo project was short and straight. His Lady Antebellum bandmates were in agreement that after nearly a decade, they needed to take some time to recharge before beginning a new chapter. Kelley had a few ideas for songs that wouldn’t quite work for the trio. Call it a side project, or a solo project, or whatever you want to call it. Kelley calls it “personal.”

The 34-year-old says the six songs on his new EP (coming in early 2016) explain why he felt he needed to do this. Titles include "Your Love," "The Driver" and "Leaving Nashville" (don't worry, he's not).

“It’s the direction I think I’ve always really loved the most and wanted to go, but the band after ‘Need You Now’ started going this direction,” he says, gesturing to the side and referring to the more polished, mainstream sound they perfected with albums like Own the Night and 747.

If we’re gonna do this, I don’t wanna go chasing what’s happening,” Kelley recalls producer Pau Worley saying. ‘It needs to come out as something vastly different and very artistic.’

In many ways he’s scratching an itch, but he’s quick to point out that he wouldn’t have thought about it if he thought a solo project would jeopardize the future of Lady Antebellum. When Scott asked for a little time once the Wheels Up Tour wrapped, Kelley found an opportunity.

“I said ‘Guys, I’ll only do this with your blessing, but if we’re gonna take several months off … can I put this out? Would that upset y’all if I do this?'"

Haywood pitched in. Kelley looked through dozens of songs his bandmate had written for the trio but never cut and considered several he always thought were special. In the end, Kelley only co-wrote two of the six songs on the EP. One is “Your Love.”

“I think every since 'Love Don’t Live Here' I’ve been chasing that sound and never been able to write it,” he says of the song most similar to Lady A’s sound. It begins the album, and from there, things get grittier.

“My influences have always been more, kind of ‘70s and Southern rock, Bob Seger, California country kind of feel. So kind of what I wanted to capture with this project and the timing was perfect.”

Paul Worley produced the project, and they recorded it at his Skyville studio in Nashville. It’s an old open room with asbestos tile walls. Worley tried to talk him out of it, but Kelley wanted an organic, ‘70s sound.

“I wanted the amps seeping into the drum mics,” he says. “I wanted our engineer to have to fight it a little bit, and I think we got the best drum sounds we’ve ever captured.”

The Driver
Capitol Nashville

Vocally, Kelley works within a range he’s more comfortable with. Worley pointed out that over the years he’d lost some gritty texture. Kelley says both he and Scott often sacrifice the best part of their voices for the good of the group. “I feel like my voice has gotten a little higher and higher and prettier as the years have gone on and as the sound has become a little more mainstream," the singer says.

These songs are lower and dirtier. You hear grit on “The Driver." The key was finding personal songs Kelley wanted to sing, that didn’t sound like Lady A. Kelley and his brother, Josh Kelley, wrote one called “Round in Circles” that got scrapped because it was too Lady Antebellum. It may turn up on their next album, he says.

Yes, the band will be working on that soon, after Kelley takes time to welcome a baby boy with wife Cassie, and after he takes time to do some solo shows at bars and clubs nationwide. An unexpected side effect of going solo is that it’s left him inspired to make music with Haywood and Scott once again.

If the trio’s next album is their biggest since Need You Now, you can thank “The Driver.”

The Best Album of 2015? It's Obvious, Isn't It?

More From Taste of Country