“It’s kind of about the last nine years of my life,” Charles Kelley says of his debut solo single, “The Driver,” while taping EW’s newest Basement Series video. “‘The Driver’ represents everybody behind the scenes who feeds this dream of ours. And the next verse is the dreamers and believers; they’re the audience. And then the last verse is the singer, pouring it out each night. It’s our homage to the whole circus that it is to be a touring musician.”
Of co-writing the track with Eric Paslay (who is featured on the studio version of the song, along with Dierks Bentley) and Abe Stoklasa (who is featured here on guitar and singing Bentley’s verse), the singer says the process was very organic. “I had that first verse idea for a while. When [we] got together to write one day I said, ‘Guys, I got this idea but I want to make it relatable to the audience too. They had the idea of bringing in the dreamers and the believers representing what it is to be a fan — and we were fans. You know, one of the lines in there is ‘when I was younger, sitting right where you are / sending a prayer to the highest star.’ … I remember watching Dave Matthews and going, ‘Gosh I wish I could be on that stage right now.'”
Kelley announced his solo project earlier this fall as Lady Antebellum wrapped up their world tour and announced a hiatus. While Kelley hasn’t detailed whether the project will be an EP or full album, fans shouldn’t expect him to head back towards Lady Antebellum’s style of sepia-toned love songs. “The thing that I wanted to do with this solo project was make sure that it definitely stood on its own,” Kelley says of his vision. “If I went ahead and essentially just made a Lady Antebellum record without Hillary [Scott] and Dave [Haywood], people would be like, ‘Well, why in the hell are you doing this?’ I wanted to make sure I had my own personal stamp on it.”
What that personal stamp will look like, Kelley says, “I’m influenced really heavily by a lot of southern rock and ’70s-type of music, the Eagles. So I wanted to bring that kind of nostalgic feel to the project. And I tried to write more story songs — like ‘The Driver,’ as opposed to just straight up love songs. But the main thing I wanted to do was showcase the gritty side of my voice — to make it sound a little grittier and edgier than anything I had done with Lady Antebellum.“
Kelley hasn’t given a timeline for his project, but he’s kicking off a solo tour at the end of November. A full list of dates and tickets are available here.