I guess I’m just a housewife now,” chortles Miranda Lambert, 2010’s CMA Female Vocalist of the Year.
Lambert is joking, of course. Between promoting two new recording projects and a fall tour, the much-decorated, multi-platinum country artist has seen more of her tour bus than husband Blake Shelton, whom she wed in May 2011.
In truth, it’s hard to imagine her any other way. Since Lambert’s 2005 debut Kerosene, she’s carved out an identity as country’s feisty, outspoken femme fatale: the girl who’d sooner burn down the homestead than set up a batch of preserves. Marriage hasn’t tempered those instincts, at least not when it comes to her fearless brand of country-rock.
“I think I’m still the bold writer that I was when I wrote ‘Kerosene,’ but I also feel like I’ve broadened my spectrum in terms of what I write about,” she says. “The things I want to say are a little bit different now than on my first album, but of course I was 17 to 20 when I wrote ‘Kerosene’ and I’m 27 years old now. I’m not a kid. I feel like I have more grown-up things to say.”
That maturity is reflected on Four the Record, Lambert’s fourth solo release, due out in November, as well as Hell on Heels, the debut from Pistol Annies, her side project with fellow songwriters Angeleena Presley and Ashley Monroe. Lambert’s trademark no-nonsense approach remains intact, but these days, her characters don’t need guns and gasoline to express their empowerment.
Case in point: new single “Baggage Claim,” a fiery uptempo in which the protagonist ditches her lover’s emotional baggage at a metaphorical baggage carousel. It’s not the locked-and-loaded literalism of hits like “Gunpowder & Lead,” though the point is the same.
Lambert co-wrote the song with frequent collaborator Natalie Hemby and Luke Laird. “Luke’s a great guitar player and Natalie’s great with words, so it was a fun co-write,” she says. “Luke has this groove to him that I can’t produce because I’m not the guitar player that I need to be. I love to write with people that play well because it expands my boundaries.”
That’s a frank admission from a writer responsible for so many chart-toppers, no? “I only know so many chords,” she explains. “I play in my band, but I’m pretty much straight chords. I’ve got good rhythm and that’s about it.
“It limits me. When I write by myself, I have a fear my songs will all sound alike, because of my guitar playing. So when I write with someone that plays piano or is a great guitar player, it’s so exciting. I love to come up with a new groove and a new melody.”
Indeed, Lambert takes her songwriting extremely seriously, something belied by the effortless hooks and disarming grooves of hits like “White Liar.” While she may make it look easy, Lambert is always working to build those creative muscles.
“I don’t know that songwriting is something you can learn,” she says. “I just think if you have something to say and you have somewhat of a gift for songwriting, you can really hone your skills. I hope to get way better as a songwriter.
“One thing I never want to do is always lean on co-writers. I take it very seriously to have at least one song on a record that I wrote by myself. Because I think sometimes it’s a lost art. I love to see other artists, when I see on the credits that they wrote a song by themselves. It’s like, ‘Okay they’re real writers!’”
When she does co-write, it’s usually with close friends or family (such as husband Shelton, with whom she wrote three songs on her last project, Revolution, and one song, “Over You,” on Four the Record). She eschews the Nashville stereotype: four writers around a publisher’s conference room table.
“I hate that! I feel like I cannot be creative, especially when it’s like, ‘Okay you have this writing appointment from 2 to 4 and this one from 4 to 6.’ It doesn’t feel inspiring to me.”
While one hopes a co-writing session will produce hit songs, it’s the rare collaboration that results in a successful new band. Pistol Annies, whose first album, Hell on Heels, debuted in August at no. 1 on Billboard’s country album chart, has its genesis in Lambert’s writing partnership with Angeleena Presley and Ashley Monroe. As they worked together, the fruits of their writing sessions were too different for either artist to perform alone — but too good to waste. “So we just decided to start a band,” Lambert laughs.
“All of the songs are written by us three girls or a combination of us three, and it’s just different, it’s cool. It’s not contrived at all, it’s very organic.”
It also gave Lambert a chance to scratch a creative itch that she feels sometimes goes ignored on her solo projects.
“With the Pistol Annies, I can show my country roots,” she explains. “I have this really country side. I love Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard, but I feel like a lot of my music leans more toward a Southern rock feel, especially live. And I also feel like, live, it takes the pressure off me for a minute, you know? It’s on all three of us, it gives me a break.”
Lambert certainly deserves a break, but her packed schedule means any secret housewife aspirations may have to wait. But make no mistake, tying that apron is still important.
“I’m pretty nest-y when I’m home,” she laughs. “I love to bake and do household things like wash dishes and cook and do the laundry. That kind of makes me feel normal.”
Miranda Lambert joined BMI in 2001. Dig deeper at mirandalambert.com.
Lisa Zhito is a Nashville-based arts & entertainment writer. She profiled will.i.am for the summer 2010 issue of MusicWorld.